Therapeutic Self-Centeredness

Perhaps this one will be a true "musing"...

If you've read my most recent posts (though not terribly recent, I'm sorry to observe), then you're likely aware of my position as a psychology intern and therapist extraordinaire at a local hospital. I've enjoyed my unique (read: lonely) perspective as a Christian psychologist, poised to catch those moments in which psychology and faith intersect. Usually, the crossroads are sublime. Sometimes they are not. This is a musing about the latter.

Therapy is sort of an individual thing. Even in group therapy, the focus is on improving yourself, building your coping and interpersonal skills, learning how to overcome your depression/anxiety/self-pity/mass media-induced neurosis. Accordingly, self-esteem is paramount. Therapists exhort clients ad nauseum to use positive self-talk, make a list of positive qualities about themselves, identify strengths and successes, disregard the opinions and past abuses of others. And there is merit to this, in the sense that no person was intended to be a doormat, nor deeply and permanently depressed.

But the opposite of, and cure for, self-loathing is not self-worship. I don't believe the answer to low self-esteem is to build a shrine to self and lie there prostrate. How I want to scream this to my clients, even as I listen to my co-therapist encourage a group of used, abused, weepy-eyed, self-flagellating women (we had a gender-homogeneous group today) to put themselves first. These women roll out their laundry lists of thankless tasks: cleaning, cooking, caring for the kids, putting up with a sour (at best) relationship, enduring emotional havoc from aging parents. They pour themselves out daily for others and are realizing that this is draining, impossible to sustain indefinitely.

As I listen, I hear much of what is biblical about femininity: nurturing, caring, raising children, having a sensitivity to the emotions and behaviors of others. To an extreme, perhaps, and many of these women do not know how to set boundaries or to say no when it might be appropriate. I also hear much that is biblical concerning the human experience: it stinks sometimes to live in a fallen world among fallen people. And sometimes we feel ugly in our own skin.

I agree with secular psychology on one point: the answer requires a drastic re-aligning of priorities. But it is not a re-aligning that places the self in the top position. Far from it! Fulfillment will never - not EVER - come from selfishness, even well-intentioned selfishness designed to salve a wounded ego.

Rather, the answer is in reorienting ourselves so that our primary and ultimate allegiance is to the One who created us to be women (and men) bearing His image. My spirit resonates with the struggles of these women: I, too, feel the pressures of balancing a home and work, of pushing myself to sort the laundry when I don't feel like it, of cooking meals when I'm tired, of cleaning things that I'll never be thanked for. But I do believe that many of these tasks are at the heart of what it is to be a woman: a suitable help-mate for a man. I do not find the strength to do these things through scheduling regular bubble baths and pedicures (though those are nice when they happen), nor by washing my own clothes and dishes and letting the rest of the house go to pot (that was an actual suggestion today, to show the rest of the family what an important job she does). I find the strength to do these things through worshipping my God and believing His word that He created me to serve and to nurture. I find fulfillment in the thankless because I do all to the glory of God, not to the glory of me or my husband. I feel worthwhile because charm is deceptive and beauty fades, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.

I wonder if our therapies are rendered less effective because we emphasize the self so heavily, to the exclusion of considering other, higher priorities. Ironically, our therapeutically self-centered culture is making us all the more neurotic because we can never raise our self-esteem high enough - until it is too high, and then we have a whole different set of pathologies.

Yes, we are to see value in ourselves and in our work. But that value is to flow from the ultimate worth-ship of our Creator, who created us in His image and declared that, behold, we are very good. And we are to always remember that our value is only because He has made it so: apart from His grace, we are in a state of abject wretchedness. The women in my therapy group are only feeling the reality of their condition! When my self-esteem is low, I return to the truths of Scripture and believe, even when my heart doesn't feel like it. I believe that God is God, and I am not. I believe that I ought to esteem myself lowly. And I believe that by His good pleasure and grace, He has placed me a little lower than the angels, nay, has clothed me in the righteousness of His Son and adopted me as a co-heir of heaven.

How could listing my positive qualities, filthy rags such as they are, possibly compare with the inestimable riches and beauty of the crown of life? What positive self-talk could I possibly craft to encourage me more than to say I am a daughter of El-Shaddai? When my spirit groans in this fallen world, may I not yield to therapeutic self-centeredness, but may the Lord help me to cast my eyes heavenward, to cry "Come quickly, Lord Jesus!" and to be faithful by His grace until He does.

God and Psychotherapy, Part the Second

I'm not sure I have the energy to make this post quite as eloquent as the one about angel-guy and reality, but as I witness the ongoing intersection between therapy and faith, I feel compelled to share.

Actually, this post will be more of a musing than a story (thus perfectly befitting the title of my blog, for perhaps the first time? do I often muse? how can one tell?) (I might not muse, but I certainly digress). ANYWAY...

I've noticed that clients seem reluctant to talk about their faith in session. I've had several who, just in passing, have mentioned something about God or religious beliefs, or some Christian song that they enjoy singing. Because I love Jesus and was trained at Regent University, I'm usually on that like a hawk. "Oh, are your beliefs about God important to you?" "Oh, do you enjoy singing Christian songs? What are your beliefs about that?" It is glorious when this occurs, like a sudden, unexpected beam of light shining down onto my therapy couch.

I'm always amazed when my clients seem surprised that I should ask. Those who have opened this door have turned out to identify as Christians, and to report that their beliefs are of core importance to them. How could such a person claim to desire healing without incorporating such a central component of their humanity? It blows the mind, really. Have we, as a field, professed so much hostility toward religion that our clients, the very ones for whom we exist, feel afraid to mention their love for the Lord?

One feels inspired to cuss. Or would, perhaps, if one weren't such a thoroughly sanctified girl.

I have one client in particular, whose name is startlingly appropriate to this story (we'll call her Faith, not her real name). She has been struggling with overwhelming guilt and shame related to her daughter's experience of abuse in the past. Faith has been stuck in a very deep depression for over a year, and to make matters worse, is somaticizing her distress as physical pain throughout her body. She feels little relief from her pain, even with medication and a sporadic exercise regimen. It is difficult for her to function from day to day because of the staggering weight of her guilt and sorrow.

I was trying to help her identify activities that lift her mood, even a little. She mentioned reading, and I asked what she enjoys reading. Her reading material of choice includes books about God, love, and becoming a better person. Choosing to believe that she was not referring to anything Olsteen-related, I asked about her interest in God. Does she have a relationship with God? Is this important to her? How has she experienced God since she learned of her daughter's abuse? Has she felt a disconnect between what she knows about God, and the way she feels her relationship with him is now?

Well oh my stars. If this woman didn't just light up at the mention of her God. We didn't solve world hunger, or even permanently do away with her depression, but we had such a conversation as has rarely graced a therapy room. It turns out she has felt very distant from God lately, and this is very distressing for her. She believes in Jesus, but it is incredibly difficult for her to let go of the guilt that comes from blaming herself for her daughter's abuse.

Does this not change everything about the way we will move forward in therapy??

In fifteen minutes we moved from a cold, stuck, barren place in which Faith has little hope for ever improving, to a warm, beautiful, living place in which Faith remembers her love for God, her passion for beauty, and her gift for writing poetry. Next time I see Faith, she will bring her old writings and we will speak of the only thing that is really True. Before she left that day, she smiled for at least five minutes and complimented my hair.

And all I did was agree with her that God exists, and He gives us good things, and that sometimes what we know about Him is very different from the way we experience Him. I gave her permission to speak about that which is Real in a way that her guilt and depression never will be. All I did was spot an unlocked door, and nudge it open enough for us to peer through together. And I do believe we'll be walking through it in the near future: the door to forgiveness and hope.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. With depression as significant as Faith is experiencing, progress tends to be slow and recovery is not always complete - i.e. some symptoms and/or some tendency to relapse will always remain. I blame the genetic component of mood disorders. But if we can reduce the heavy burden of guilt, I would imagine that we will see some level of improvement.

You know, it's interesting. That morning, as I laid in bed struggling to wake up and leave my warm (canoe-shaped...but that's a different post...) cocoon, I said a prayer for the clients I would see that day. Wednesdays are my full days, and I am there roughly 11.5 hours, so it takes a fairly strong kick in the pants to get me going. I find that it helps to minimize my stress and fear of exhaustion if I pray over that day's workload (go figure). And I prayed for Faith, who previously had been a bit of a frustration to me because of her stuck-ness. And lo and behold, the Lord saw fit to enter into the healing process that very morning.

I love my job.

[editor's note: I guess this turned out to be both a musing and a story. I have such a gift for smooth transitions and combining literary genres.]

Get It???


Operation Snowball

Joel and I sat down to a long-overdue business meeting this morning and hashed out our budget. Actually, our first step was to list our one-year goals as a couple, including family, financial, personal, and professional goals. These goals may or may not have included "no more back pain!" and "get a normal job!". I won't tell you which goal was whose.

This was a great experience. I'm reminded of a well-known piece of wisdom: Begin with the end in mind. If you don't know where you want to end up, how will you ever get there? It was neat to envision where we want to be in another twelve months. We also hope to do the same with five-year goals and perhaps longer-term goals than that, but this was a good start.

When we had listed our financial goals in particular (though some of our personal goals are related), we realized that our next priority had to be examining the budget. We have been sorely remiss in not evaluating our financial situation monthly, or even bimonthly, in the recent past, with the result that we weren't entirely sure where we stood in relation to our financial goals.

Enter Operation Snowball.

I don't know whether you're familiar with the Snowball philosophy of getting out of debt. It's from the Dave Ramsey school of thought, I believe (if not him, then someone similar with perhaps a different hairstyle). You write a budget that involves minimum monthly payments toward each of your debts, and look to see whether you have a monthly surplus or deficit. We found ourselves extremely fortunate to have a modest monthly surplus - the advantage of going from one income to two, and downgrading our housing for this year. This is where the Snowball philosophy kicks in.

As we looked at putting all of our monthly surplus toward the debt with the lowest monthly payment, we realized we could be rid of that one by January (!!). Roll the monthly surplus and what we had been paying toward that debt into a payment for the second-lowest-monthly debt, and we can be rid of debt #2 by May! Wow, this is really working! And miracle or miracles, when we take all of the monthly surplus + debt 1 payment + debt 2 payment and put it toward debt #3 each month, we'll be done with that one a short time later. Voila, financial goals #1, 3 and 4 passed and surpassed with style.

We are really, really motivated to stick with this, but we sometimes have trouble with willpower. Therefore, we decided to dub our aggressive budget plan "Operation Snowball". Any time we feel tempted to splurge on something outside the budget, we will squint menacingly at one another, yell "Operation Snowball!" and exchange fist pounds (the exploding kind). Should you ever witness this, you are welcome to participate by throwing your hands in the air and waving them like you just don't care. Perhaps then we will be able to resist the siren song of the strawberry kiwi Gelato from Rita's.

I'm not so optimistic about resisting the Sesame Chicken from Zhuang's Garden, but like I always say, baby steps, people.

The Fictions of Our Healing

I spent today on the partial unit because they were short-staffed due to something about a state inspection. Hopefully they only reviewed charts that I have not yet touched, because I doubt that my paperwork wherewithall is on par with state regs at this point.

And also, it's a "partial hospitalization" unit, not half a hospital wing. It can be a bit confusing when we healthcare professionals toss around the medical jargon, I know. Basically, the patients come in for a day of structure and group therapy and return home around 2:00. They need more support than just weekly outpatient therapy, but don't require the constant supervision of inpatient care. Anyways.

My brain and schedule have been so full lately that I fear I have not been on the lookout for "bloggable moments" as much as, say, mid-July, when my life was to file my nails, eat bon-bons, and pine for my husband. How things have changed! Now I get up at dawn, eat cafeteria food, and pine for my husband.

So I was thankful when, just this morning, a bloggable moment basically smacked me in the face. It's my honor to bring it to you, and hope you find some worth in its reading.

Picture a room, large enough for two long tables pushed together on one side (for lunch, therapeutic recreation, and psychoeducation group) and a circle of a dozen or so chairs on the other. A noisy air conditioner in each of two windows stands silent, abandoned in favor of audible therapy. The air hangs heavy with the remnants of this morning's muddy coffee and the closeness of fellow sojourners about to bare their souls. There is one empty chair in the circle, and a girl jokes that her hallucinations have a place to sit today. This is a place where the lines between reality and non-reality tend to shift around a bit, and are sometimes ignored altogether.

Reality. For one weathered man, reality is a foreclosure, an abusive wife, and a suicide attempt two weeks ago. For the new girl, it's somehow picking up the pieces and her baby girl and moving on from the suicide of her live-in boyfriend. The quiet lady in the corner is "down" today; yesterday she was "up" and couldn't stop fidgeting, drawing, talking, drinking coffee. The other therapist and I value reality and work so that our patients are in touch with it; our patients, on the other hand, would sooner spit on it than live it. And they tell us so.

This is a tough crowd. A cynical bunch. What does a white-bread little girl know about reality? They want to know. I'm a no-fat double latte to their whiskey on the rocks. Oh they're kind, they let me sit in their circle and ask polite questions about their troubles, offer bland suggestions about deep breathing and challenging negative thoughts.

As though I'd be coping just fine with the things they carry in those dark, tattered corners of their souls.

Enter a man with the name of an angel. He's fat, and he has a mustache and the kind of voice you'd pair with Steve Urkel if you didn't know better. He came to us for the first time yesterday from inpatient, after a brief stint in the regular hospital. Angel-guy has chronic health issues and attempted suicide by altering his meds. He's not cool by a long shot, and he hasn't been here long enough to know that the only people who talk about God are the schizophrenics with "religious preoccupations".

We had just begun morning process group, and it was one of those days when, in the words of my co-therapist, you just know you're going to haul out your crowbar and start playing dentist. Like pulling teeth, I chimed in, clarifying his allusion so that the more easily frightened in the bunch wouldn't be sent into full-blown panic attack mode. That's not a joke. You never know whose meds were adjusted by the doc yesterday.

Bless his heart, angel-guy stepped into the void of going first in group. His voice was shaky because he struggles with social anxiety (in this group, who doesn't?), but angel-guy took a deep breath and talked to us about God.

Nobody else noticed anything amiss. The other group members probably (barring auditory hallucinations) heard a guy saying, among stutters and stops, that he knows God is still there, but it's hard to feel connected with him right now because he's so depressed. My co-therapist probably heard delusions teeming with maladaptive thoughts, a sick man so intent on connecting with a mythical deity that he won't be able to discard his unhelpful beliefs and focus on his own health.

Me? I watched the paradox of reality shattering un-reality before my very eyes. In this room, where supposedly the sane lead the insane, the craziest thing of all was happening. Suddenly the fictions of our healing were fatally wounded by the Truth. We were children offering each other jellybeans for our ills while one simple, pathetic man spoke of the Bread of Life, a sovereign God who has spoken peace once and for all if we would only take and eat. He knew that reality, true reality, was somewhere just beyond his grasp, if only it would find him again.

It was a moment that loses something in the translation. But in that moment I wondered what we were doing. In that moment, my soul wept bitterly, and even now mourns, for the lost who believe they are found by cognitive therapies and relaxation techniques. Our healing is dressing mortal wounds in pretty colors if we do not offer the balm of Gilead. Our foolish reality, ignorant of the eternal God, is a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

Oh, there is a place for our pretty colors and positive thoughts. I feel no less called to offer compassion and help to those who suffer in the prison of the mind. If we can liberate our patients from the chains of depression, anxiety, and psychosis, so much the better. But let us not delude ourselves into believing we have saved them from anything particularly important. Indeed, perhaps it is those with chronic and persistent mental illnesses (and other chronic health problems, certainly) who are not "cured" by our treatments and believe themselves to be beyond hope in this world, who are the nearest to understanding their true plight. And it is up to us to offer hope that is beyond this world.

Father, God, show me how you would have me serve as a psychologist for Your kingdom.
Make me an instrument of the peace that passes all understanding.
Where there is hatred, let me model unconditional love.
Where there is injury, may I speak of true pardon.
Where there is doubt, help me to show that there is Truth worthy of our faith.
Where there is despair, may hope be evident in my ministering.
Where there is darkness, go before me as the light that defeats all shadow.
And where there is sadness, may I demonstrate the joy that lies deeper than circumstance.

Lord, I encounter pain on a daily basis. It seems my caseload consists of Job after Job. Grant that I would not seek merely to treat superficial problems of thought and feeling, but that I would also seek open doors to conversations about Your reality, which is our true reality. Even while I am constrained by law and ethics, sharpen my intellect with discernment and poise my tongue to speak the truth whenever possible. Help me to remember that to love is to point to you.

And Father, when I am weak of heart, remind me of this man who was not afraid to speak your name into the darkness.

Message in a Bottle

I've been running a mile a minute this week with the start of my internship. My brain is hurting from all the hospital orientation and psychiatry department orientation and meeting supervisors and having 12 patients' charts to read and schedule appointments in the next week. They have me booked almost solid with meetings and trainings through next Wednesday and starting my rotation on the adult partial unit next Thursday.

If you'd like to know what that entails, try to catch me sometime when I'm not sleeping or at work.....Right.

So consider this a little message in a bottle, scribbled quickly on a napkin and chucked into the drink as I dash by. I'm ok, you're ok, and internship is going to be great once I settle into some sort of a routine. I'm excited at all the fantastic experiences I'll have - including a forensic rotation with Dr. Larry Rotenberg, who is a self-described "passionate, atheistic Jew" and a forensic evaluation guru across the state of PA and beyond.

And perhaps I'll even finish my dissertation one of these days!

Gender Bender in the Military

Dr. R. Albert Mohler, Jr. posted an article yesterday commenting on the present state of gender policy in our military. As a Christian who believes in Biblical gender roles, I found Dr. Mohler's perspective to be both intriguing and concerning. A few excerpts:

A nation's moral character is revealed in the way it fights its wars. This report, filled with documentation, reveals that our nation's moral character is now being redefined before our eyes. If it is true that a majority of the American people affirm their readiness to see women "join combat units, where they would be directly involved in the ground fighting," the American people are demonstrating their disregard for the moral wisdom of the ages. The nation is forfeiting the responsibility of men to act as protectors of women, and acquiescing to the failure of men to fulfill their duty.

* * * * *

When women are injected into combat, the dignity of women is undermined. In the extreme conditions of combat, women are exposed to the very worst that human beings can do and a physical violence that exceeds the imagination. There is no shortage of arguments against this practice. Biological arguments document differences of physical strength and stamina. Psychological arguments consider not only the psychological profile of women in combat but the difference the presence of women makes on men fighting alongside them.

* * * * *

Are we a nation ready to admit that our men must be accompanied by women on the battlefield? Are we ready to break down the necessary lines of respect between men and women? Is this really who we are? Will Americans look the other way and refuse to see this quiet circumvention of morality? Far more than the future of the military is at stake.

* * * * *
* * * * *

Dr. Mohler presents practical as well as moral arguments against women serving in active combat alongside men. The whole article is worth the few minutes of time it will take to read its entirety.

As a fairly assertive, perhaps strong-willed (I've been told) woman, part of me feels as though I should support the feminist goal of equality with men in the military, as in all areas of life. But it seems to me that equality in worth does not necessitate fulfilling all of the same roles (I know, I know, no new territory here, fellow Reformed Christians). I am perfectly content to be a high achiever in academia and psychology, to be a student of theology and music, and to increase my skill at tasks required to make my house a home. I can excel at many things while accepting my God-given role as a woman, as one who is to be protected and honored, generally a receiver rather than an initiator, and primarily a homemaker rather than a provider.

There are always occasions for these gender roles to be bent out of necessity, but as a general rule, this is where the Lord has created me to be - by a man's side, yet behind him in order to be led and protected. The dominant side of my personality finds that this is a wonderfully challenging role, as God conforms my spirit in submission to both Him and to my husband. For many women, it is difficult to submit to the authority and leadership of men. For many men, it is easier to allow the strong women around them to take charge than to do the hard work themselves of leading, providing, and protecting.

This indeed is at the heart of the curse on all creation: The Lord said to Eve, "Your desire will be for your husband, but he will rule over you" [Genesis 3:16]. I read once that the word for "desire" here is the same that is used when the Scripture speaks of Satan "desiring" to have us. The ESV Study Bible notes that "for your husband" could be translated "against your husband". It is a desire for power and authority, for control. Ladies, we are destined to struggle for power if we do not acknowledge that this is part of our curse, and repent of our desire to be in charge. When we feel as though we are naturally inclined to assume authority, we must seek ways to do this in a Godly, feminine way - by leading other women and children, by managing our homes with excellence, and by channeling this drive into our God-given roles in the church and in the world.

Men, I pray, step up into the difficult place of leadership. Return to the wisdom of the ages - respect us women, honor us, protect us and fight for us. Lead so that we don't have to. Women, in turn, let us allow men to do these things for us. It doesn't mean that we are the slightest bit incapable of doing these things for ourselves; rather, it is God's ordained way for us to bear His image rightly. In marriage, we portray the bride of Christ who has been chosen, pursued, and bought with a price. In the created order more broadly, we are the lovely crown of creation, created especially to give nurture and help, to offer our strengths in complement to those of Adam. Bear your feminine image proudly, women! By adorning ourselves with Godly femininity, we will encourage the men around us to grow in Godly masculinity.

And what could be better than that?

The Elusive Quiet

Lately I disgust myself. It's easy to read through the Old Testament and shake my head at those silly, grumbling Israelites, yet I find myself doing the same. Worse, even, since I live on this side of the cross, God's most tangible proof of His covenant faithfulness.

And so I grumble. The murmurings of my heart belie an unquiet spirit. Only a short time ago, I danced before the Lord in thankfulness for my internship, an affordable apartment, signs of fertility, and positive reports on the health of my family. What a short memory I have! Like the Israelites, I so easily lose sight of the wonderful things God has already granted and grumble for the blessings I hope He has promised me.

Thus and such a friend has a new house and a beautiful baby, I remind God. Where is my child? When will we have a forever home? I focus so intently on my hopes for the future (not all bad), comparing my present to that of my peers (usually bad), and forget all about what the Lord has done in the quite recent past (definitely problematic). In these times it's helpful for me to return to the Old Testament and learn the lessons of the Israelites. Yes, they looked forward to the Promised Land and, ultimately, to the coming of the Messiah who would rescue His people from the just wrath of God. What promises! What a future! But how much time did they spend grumbling and complaining, comparing the bland manna of their wilderness journey to the garlics and leeks of their slavery in Egypt?

As Sara Groves would say, I've been painting pictures of Egypt and leaving out what it lacks.

Lord, help me cling to the blessings you have already freely and generously given. Let them remind me that you are a God of fulfilled promises...that your will for my life is my salvation and sanctification, to become more Christlike rather than more yuppy-like. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand in the house of my dreams with a wraparound porch and five bedrooms full of children. You are my portion; be thou also my vision, thou Lord of my life.

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and [all that you need] will be added unto you." Matthew 6:33

My Favorite Anniversary Yet

In celebration of our third year of marriage, Joel and I spent last night at a charming Bed and Breakfast (run by fellow Grovers, no less, who gave us a "Grove City Discount"!). We enjoyed a unique dining experience at Fenz complete with cheesecake and coffee, and promptly whisked a complimentary bottle of red wine and three fresh chocolate chip cookies up to our room upon our return to the Australian Walkabout Inn. The wine was sipped leisurely while we lounged in the hot tub that was located about five feet from our bed. The cookies served as late-night refreshment during our private viewing of the mid-90's blockbuster smash "Outbreak" (it was like reading one of my favorite Michael Crichton novels, only with an all-star cast and special effects, and from the comfort of a four-poster canopy bed). What a lovely night it was!

This morning, we awoke to fresh coffee and a four-course breakfast cooked extra specially for us. I should mention that we were the Walkabout's only guests last night, which entitled us to a free upgrade to any room of our choice (best of five, baby), and all the culinary attention we could handle. Fresh pineapple zucchini bread, spinach strata, chicken artichoke sausage, fresh berries, and a bottomless mug of java. We were not remotely hungry for the remainder of the day!

Following a leisurely breakfast, we checked out and headed for Amish country. We made it as far as a brief drive-through of Strasburg when the Walkabout called with tidings of Joel's phone charger. On our second attempt, we took a route that took us past a Mennonite Historical Society building that was holding an outdoor used book sale. If you know Joel and me, as I'm sure all five of you do, you realize that this was the highlight of our anniversary! We bought twelve books for $22 and have several aged additions to our theological and classic literature libraries. It only took an hour of weeding through The Purpose Driven Life and Prayer of Jabez to find some Reformed gems. Joel's getting out his library embosser as I type!

Onward and upward, we left the book sale for Starbucks (Joel had a gift card) and decided to hunt down a local Farmer's Market. We found success in the little village (town?) of Bird in Hand, and bought a tasty treat for some dear friends of ours who shall remain nameless so as not to spoil the surprise. We spent the afternoon driving around the area east of Lancaster in search of Quilt and Craft shops and other fun authentically-Amish attractions. We learned that we love us some Mennonite handiwork, and our (possibly long-term) goal is to buy an Amish quilt for our bedroom. These run several hundred dollars (the most expensive we saw today totaled $1600!) so we'll be saving up for a while. Other highlights included an "Amish flashlight", which consisted of a block of wood with a match sticking out of the end, and a kitschy wall hanging that says "Get kisses from the misses when you do the dishes!" This we will hang in the kitchen, more as a reminder to Joel than as true decor.

We stopped at one particular quilt shop whose proprietess, Emma Witmer, flipped through at least 20 quilts for us, rattling off the names of the patterns, stitches, and prices as only a seasoned expert can. It is our hope to return there one day to purchase a work of art to grace our bed. Those Amish quilts are truly amazing!

After a full day of exploring the Amish countryside, we returned home via a more local Farmer's Market where we picked up some sweet corn and fresh raspberries. The corn was possibly the best we've ever tasted, and the raspberries will garnish the last of Joel's "Welcome Home" chocolate chocolate chip cake with fudge frosting.

I'm sure there are details I've missed, but all in all, we've had a simply delightful anniversary celebration. What fun it was to meander about rural Pennsylvania with nary a worry and nary a plan, drifting where the wind blew and stopping wherever we pleased. If you are planning to visit any time soon, we will likely coerce you into a day trip back through Amish country. Don't worry, it may be a whole different world, but it's only about half an hour away.

To the husband of my youth: I love you more today than I did three years ago. It's hard to believe that much time has gone by - and at the same time, doesn't it feel like forever? Here's to many more years of abounding laughter and ever-increasing love! Tell Gramma Roach that we're on a roll so far, heading toward our fifty-year honeymoon :-).

In Which Ramblings I Ponder Theological Purity (Snobbery?)

The gospel of Jesus the Christ is more precious to me than life. In fact, it is life.

I speak as chief of sinners, as one who is hateful, prideful, selfish, adulterous, faithless, resentful, bitter, malicious. I have sinned against God and man, have scorned His law before His very face. There is nothing in me, nothing at all, worthy of anything but the pure, boiling wrath of God poured out for all eternity in just punishment. I am fully, utterly depraved by virtue of having been born.

And Christ stands before this most holy, holy, holy God and intercedes. Beloved, He says to me, You are washed whiter than snow. Because I chose you, before the foundations of the world, to belong to me as one of my covenant elect, I was obedient to the Father unto death for your sins. Blessed child, I am the fulfillment of the Old Testament sacrifices. My blood, shed once for the forgiveness of many, is sufficient to justify you before the Father. My righteousness is sufficient to be counted for you forever. Christian, nothing you do, or fail to do, can separate you from My love! The Father has given you to me as an inheritance and nobody can pluck you from My strong hand! Not by your own merit, but by the Father's grace is He pleased to look upon me and count you forgiven.

Rejoice, beloved!

My heart leaps at these most precious truths. The church we have been attending here - Covenant Reformed Church, of the URC persuasion - proclaims these truths boldly, joyfully, and most assuredly every week. The pastor clearly expounds upon our wretchedness, the purpose of corporate worship as a covenant renewal service, leads us in corporate and private confession, assures us of our forgiveness and right standing before God, and administers the Lord's Supper (yes, weekly!) as a visible, tangible sign of the invisible work of Christ's sacrifice. Each time we have been there, I have felt tears spring to my eyes at the unashamed announcement of my sin and, miraculously, the assurance of grace to God's covenant people.

Because the Lord has been impressing these truths upon my heart in sharp relief, my heart is likewise enraged at any perception of error in this soul-piercing/life-giving message. In Barnes and Noble the other day, I picked up a book by a notable leader in the Emergent (Emerging? Have they Emerged yet?) movement in hope of skimming through it myself for some firsthand info. The gross error on the back cover alone evoked a visceral reaction similar to what might be expected upon simultaneously chewing spoiled meat, stepping in raw sewage, and being showered with sour milk. I actually could not prevent my face from contorting and my stomach from twisting.

This raises the question for me of the importance of being familiar with a movement or teaching in order to most intelligently and effectively dialogue with/refute it. Along similar lines, how are we to relate to those who depart significantly from orthodox theology (let's say, even, from Reformed theology) when we so strongly grieve the error represented in these people's doctrine. Scripture exhorts us to cling to the truth and to abhor evil and falsehood. How does that play out in terms of doctrinal differences between believers? Or in terms of familiarizing oneself with unorthodox teachings, perhaps heresies, in the name of being conversant with unbelievers or erring brothers and sisters?

Brethren, we must not be soft on doctrine. Ours is a system of belief based on facts, upon revealed truth from the very mouth of God. We declare truth; this is what sets us apart from the world and, indeed, gives us something to say to it.

I recently began a book by Doug Wilson entitled, "A Primer on Worship and Reformation". In the book, Wilson compares the apostate Christian to an adulterous husband. The man who engages in promiscuous flings, flirts with trouble, is not better because he is married. We do not say, well at least he has a wife! Quite the opposite! How much worse it is that he is not only being foolish, but he is also violating his marriage vows. Wilson compares this to the Christian whose doctrine is in error; we ought not to say, well at least this person is a brother in Christ. Rather, we should be even more fired up that this person believes wrongly about this or that doctrine. Because he is a child of God, his error is that much more egregious.

I confess I had never thought of it this way before. Wilson has more to say about the importance of fighting error within Christian circles, and about pursuing unity - but not at the expense of doctrinal standards. According to Wilson, conservatives pursue standards at the expense of unity, while moderates too often uphold unity without concern for standards. Neither is the correct approach.

I haven't gotten far enough in the book to learn what Wilson's solution is. I certainly hope that he offers one! Meanwhile, what say you? What of believers who differ on the matter of, say, perseverance of the saints, or the doctrines of predestination and election? To toss a grenade, how about paedobaptism vs. credobaptism? How important are these doctrines, and how do we handle disagreement? Where is the line between theological purity and spiritual snobbery?

And go...comment away!

Til Pilgrim Days Are Done

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down, thou weary one, lay down,
Thy head upon My breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary and worn and sad;
I found in Him a resting-place,
And He has made me glad.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Behold, I freely give
The living water; thirsty one,
Stoop down and drink and live."
I came to Jesus, and I drank
Of that life-giving stream.
My thirst was quenched, my soul revived,
And now I live in Him.

I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"I am this dark world's Light.
Look unto Me; thy morn shall rise
And all thy day be bright."
I looked to Jesus, and I found
In Him my Star, my Sun;
And in that Light of Life I'll walk
'Til pilgrim days are done.

["I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say", Lutheran Hymnal #277; Horatius Bonar, 1808-1889]

*Indelible Grace did a beautiful, soothing version of this in 1998 [music by Kevin Twit], and it is this arrangement that caught my ear tonight as I drove home through light rain and a reflective mood. 'Til pilgrim days are done...maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

The Faithful Bride

This week's challenge to myself: Do I love the things of God as much as I love the things of myself? Do I long after Christ as I am longing after my husband while we're apart?

I am (rightly, I think) consumed with thoughts of my husband, longing for his company and his arms around me. As I pine, I'm reminded of my status as a member of the bride of Christ. As a pilgrim in this world, I eagerly anticipate the day when my relationship with Christ will be consummated. With a tangible example now of what it's like to long for my husband, I pray that the Lord will give me this same passionate longing after Himself.

Just a thought.

Kaye Wedding Preview

Who's the biggest shutterbug I know? Hint: She just emailed me a link to her Shutterfly album of Steele/Kay wedding photos. That's right, you are in for a special treat today; I've got a special sneak preview of the nuptials, before the proofs are even back from the photog. Enjoy!

Shutterfly Album

Thanks a million, Susan! You're the best! I'm so glad you never go anywhere without your camera :-).

Also, Kory's cousin Christen posted some of her pics on Facebook. What a beautiful wedding it was!

In the interest of full disclosure, I was crying like an idiot right before/during this last photo. Brittany, on the other hand, was cool as a cucumber. There's so much I could say about the wedding but I don't even know where to start! So....I won't. But my baby sister is now my very grown-up Mrs. Kaye sister. Woa!

Stay tuned for Bachelorette Luau pics as soon as I locate everything I need to upload from my camera.

Such a Dainty Drinker

If you ever have a tea party, invite Niko. She's quite the politest and most delicate drinker-upper I've ever seen. Her method? Reaching down into the glass to scoop out a wee taste, and then cleaning her paw delicately of its sweet nectar. Quite prim and proper, especially for a cat.

Niko used to employ the old face-into-the-glass trick. But most likely the tall glasses get a bit tight around the ears, making it tough to get out quickly, and I have born witness to a few nasty bouts with carbonated beverages. Niko's bright: she needed a new way to drink people-drinks, preferably one that allowed her to test the waters (figuratively and literally) and make a quick getaway if need be. Her solution? Behold, the Dip 'n Sip:


then Sip!

Takes awhile to drink a glass of milk this way, but it's form over function, I always say. (Do I?)

Surely this is worth blogging about, even if I didn't have loads of time on my hands and nobody to share it with.

A Shopping Excursion

Hey kids, grab yer best bonnet and hitch up the horses, it's a shopping trip all the way up into town!

That's how it felt, anyway, to leave the digs and head out to our major shopping center to make a few exchanges. I've been holed up here for awhile (aside from a sojourn over the river and through the woods to help Aunt Beth paint Drew's new room, but more on that later) without really poking my head out into civilization. Different little errands have popped up, but I have been putting them off, mainly due to the whole three-days-without-a-bath thing. Nobody needs to see that, you know?

But today I had freshened up and decided that, darn it, I was going to take back the dining room seat cushions that didn't quite fit our chairs. And also to look for a few different kitchen textiles and such. There's something about trying to unpack and decorate that just doesn't WORK when you look around and feel like your brand-new decor items just aren't feng shui-ing for you.

So off I went! Little did I know that it was to be one of the most highly successful Ross (Dress for Less!) ventures of my life to date (considering I didn't even know about Ross until three years ago, that's saying something!). To understand what made today so special, you should know that I have been eying (yes that is the correct spelling) the many patterns of knock-off Talavera-style serve-ware that Ross carries. Unfortunately, most of the patterns that catch my eye tend to have something like a big rooster front and center. Ugh, right? I am not a rooster girl.

So imagine my delight when I found this gem:

Beautiful blues, greens, even some of that warm red to tie in with the living room, and NO ROOSTER!! I don't know why this is so difficult for the Chinese fake-Mexican artisans who paint this stuff, but my heart rejoices at the poultry-less fruit of their labors. I bought this pitcher as a main accent piece, and two bowls, two square plates, and four oversize mugs. Oh, and a spoon rest, considering mine has been in two pieces for a solid year.

I was so pleased with these purchases that I promptly also purchased a new kitchen rug and towels. Yes, after all the effort of buying a pretty rug on Craigslist before we moved. But like I said, when you are without feng-shui, something's gotta give - and in this case, that something was our seat cushions and kitchen rug.

Getting these new things home was enough motivation for me to motor through all of our remaining boxes - the crowning achievement of a momentous day. The last boxes were all of our decorations, photo frames, candles, etc. I learned that when you move from a modestly-decorated house into a smaller apartment, it will look as though a decoration store threw up all over the place. We are down a piano and bay window, so we are short on decorable surfaces. The result is a shrine to ourselves on top of our one bookshelf (seriously, we are going to start replacing wedding photos with pictures of other people ASAP...) and a fun hodge-podge of glassware and Willow Tree figurines on our china cabinet.

Good times. Do you even care? Doesn't life has been reduced to living alone, with the highlight of my week being a shopping trip into town. All the excitement needs an outlet, and that outlet, my friend, is the two minutes you just wasted reading my blog.

Fear not, Joel is visiting this weekend and you will enjoy a break from my aimless ramblings. Perhaps I will even remember to post a Psalm on Sunday...

Tuesday's Tidbits

1. The Internets are surprisingly easy to set up when two conditions are met: (1) Internet Juice is flowing to your phone jack/modem, and (2) your LameSys router isn't trying to run expired firmware. We are now 2 for 2, having spent some QT with Matthew the Verizon Man and purchased a new Belkin router thanks to the astute insights of one Christopher King, IT genius. Houston, we have liftoff. [Matthew kindly promised not to tell the neighbors that I have been borrowing their sketchy, unreliable internet since I moved in.]

2. It is impossible to trim a cat's hind claws when you are the only human present. [note: applies to non-tranquilized cats only.]

3. Apartments do not spontaneously unpack and decorate themselves during a prolonged period of absence. Neither do cats have the ability nor motivation to tidy the place up. It is much the same as when I left, aside from mounds of litter tossed carelessly onto the closet floor. If humans were like cats, bathrooms would have drains in the middle of the floor.

4. If Mom Pearce had not provided me with 8-10 servings of baked ziti with meatballs, I would have pitched a tent outside of the Arby's down the street. The ziti is my lifeline. Thank you, Mom!

5. Keller Williams says, "I can go three days without a bath, but I'll never be whole without my better half." This is proving true.

Come home, Joel!

Blink of an Eye...

Things that have changed in the past 2 weeks:

I live in Reading.
My sister is married.

Things that have not changed:

I am exhausted.

Look for meaningful posts later this week...

I Am That Cat Lady

So "we" moved to Pennsylvania on Saturday, and by "we" I mean that lots of people helped move the things that Joel and I own to a little two-bedroom apartment in Sinking Spring, and then Joel promptly left me here to drown in a cruel ocean of boxes and loneliness.

Actually, he departed with great angst and sadness because he realizes it is his husbandly duty to continue working at his stable job until he lands something in the correct state (and county, Lord willing). It's amazing to me that despite a full year of a long-distance relationship, I still become an emotional wreck when he leaves me. You'll be relieved to know that with the help of my cats and generous portions of Party Cake ice cream, I have pulled myself back together.

All that to say, I'm here! And I have a LOT of time on my hands. The nice people at Giant have gotten to know me well, since my regular outings there to swap Redbox movies are the highlight of my days and constitute my entire social agenda. I already have a Bonus Card and am well on my way to racking up points and savings!

Many, many thanks to Becca and Liam for visiting the other day (I love that we're close enough to do that now!); your company was a beautiful respite from the sound of silence. Literally. You know what I'm talking about, Liam.

Not much else to say. I think I'll go organize my closet by color and sleeve length. Or perhaps sort the recycling...that's not really part of it, but it's still very important.

Psalm Sunday on Tuesday

Oops. In all the excitement (read: frazzled stress) of packing our worldly belongings and getting ready for The Big Move (or BM, which is a fabulous abbreviation, don't you think?), I neglected to post a Psalm this past Sunday. Allow me to correct this oversight by posting a Psalm that has been near and dear to my heart for many years. This Psalm amazes me with its breadth, covering a range of aspects of God's intimate love and provision for His children. As we prepare for the BM, this Psalm is again precious to me as it speaks of God's hand over us, going behind and before, of His inescapable presence and knowledge of our innermost hopes and fears.

I also notice how the Psalmist doesn't stop at observing God's love for Him. In light of God's infinite love and intimate involvement in the very knitting together of his body and soul, the Psalmist goes on to proclaim his love for God's Word, presence, and justice. And the Psalm concludes with a plea for the Lord to prune away any "grievous way" that is in him. The Psalmist's desire for obedience flows from his knowledge of God's love and faithfulness; in response to God's love, the Psalmist's heart burns within him with zeal for the Lord and for His commandments.

May my heart echo the Psalmist's words when he cries out, "Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!" May I be reminded that even in times of great stress and difficulty, when I am utterly self-focused in my busy-ness and exhaustion, my life is not about me. I find comfort in the Psalmist's example of always turning from his vexation toward the saving grace that is God's redeeming work. Nay - of His asking the Lord to turn him when he cannot turn himself. "Not what my hands have done..."

How small my troubles seem when I reflect on the intimacy of God's love for me, and that while His love accepts me just as I am, He loves me too much and is too good to leave me as I am. When I focus, instead of on my own joys and sorrows, on the infinity of who God is and what He has done, I am reminded that I am not in control (far from it!), nor am I to dwell on my own self-interests.

Rather I am called to dwell in the Lord's good presence and, as I am fully known by Him, to ask His help in revealing and repenting from my grievous ways. Oh, that I would find goodness and beauty as I bow before my God in worship, and that He would graciously prune away my sin so that I might reflect His glory ever more fully! Oh, that I would seek this because my heart is being enlarged by His grace, causing me to run in His ways! Oh, that I would bear the glorious name of my Father with the honor that is due Him!

Psalm 139

1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 You search out my path and my lying down and are acquainted with all my ways.
4 Even before a word is on my tongue, behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is high; I cannot attain it.

7 Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence?
8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
9 If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me.
11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light about me be night,”
12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day,
for darkness is as light with you.

13 For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret,
intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them,
the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand. I awake, and I am still with you.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God! O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent; your enemies take your name in vain!
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts!
24 And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!

Amen and amen.

Warning: Clip Art Ahead

I don't really know of an eloquent way to present what has amounted to an unceremonious end to my academic career (ergo, pictures instead of words!). Oh, I'm not totally finished...there's still that final exam on Thursday, along with a brief presentation before the final, and my dissertation to write this summer, and my internship to do before I graduate.

But all that aside: Never again will I sit through another lecture for the purpose of gaining knowledge toward earning credit-hours for a degree. Ever. Classes are d-u-n, DUN! You know how that makes me feel?

[the actual caption for this photo was "cracked-out happy cat". yes, yes i am.]

But you know what else will never happen again? I'll never be in the same room with these amazing people all together ever again. (Unless you count the inevitable pre-graduation sweatfest in which we bathe in the wetness of our own stench beneath those hard-earned doctoral robes and hoods. But I'm not counting that.)

(not pictured: Joni Lynn and Aaron)

And that? Makes me feel more like this.

This group of people has been my family during a most formative time in my life. Nobody else understands our experience of graduate school, from clinical interviewing class to navigating the internship process. In more ways than I can count, I have become who I am now through four years of intense work, manic schedules, shared laughter, and myriad growing pains as we've built relationships and learned what it means to become a clinical psychologist. When I sit down and think about it...well....I don't want to sit down and think about it.

What I'm trying to say is, even this final transition (second-to-final if you count graduation next year) is fraught with a complex roller coaster of emotions. It is difficult be truly joyful, but neither can I be completely downcast. The Lord has brought us thus far, and now is the time to ACT: "acknowledge, consolidate, and transition" (thank you, Dr. Jackson, for that final pearl). While the goodbye is bitter, it is sweet to move forward in the Lord's perfect will and timing than to cling to a season that is past. Such is life. But my heart is heavy, even while it is light.

Goodbye. I love you all, truly and deeply (in the least possible creepy way). I am better for having known you, and I pray that in some tiny way you might say the same of me.

One thing's for sure though. In the words of that most sagacious swine...

Integration Capstone

At Regent, we talk a lot about the integration of Christianity and psychology. That is, how do I approach my clinical work from a Christian worldview? To what extent do I bring my faith into the therapy room, and to what extent to I view myself as a "Christian psychologist" as opposed to a "psychologist who happens to be a Christian"?

One of the last courses of our academic career at Regent is an Integration Capstone class, in which we spend hours just sitting around and chewing on the thoughts and ideas of high-profile integrationists, as well as our own perspectives on integration. Our capstone assignment, if you will, is to develop a 5-10 minute presentation of our own approach to integration, a landmark experience or event that shaped our integration journey, or just some kind of personal interaction with the topic of integration. I thought I might share my own presentation with you here. What a long, strange trip it's been as a Christian doctoral student in clinical psychology, alternately experiencing antagonism both from psychologists and the church. It is my prayer that, by the grace of God, my career will be a journey of integration and a testament to how God is Lord over all things, even psychology.

My thoughts, if you are interested...

My integration journey has been sort of a gradual one; that is, there is no particular landmark event or experience I would point to as “the one” that shaped my integration philosophy.
But as I look back over the past four years, I can identify a few driving forces and overarching themes that have been the most influential, so those are what I’ll focus on now.

The obvious driving force behind my integration development has been the hand of God. But as far as the particular instruments that God has used in my life, the most influential by far has been my husband. I know how that probably sounds, but it’s really true. As Joel has pursued God throughout our marriage, he has been constantly pushing me also to learn more about what I believe and why I believe it. He loves the Word of God and is always challenging me to compare my attitudes, opinions, and actions against the standard of Scripture. In fact, when I haven’t been reading about psychology, I’ve been reading up on my theology. As a result, I can see an overall trajectory in my life over the past few years toward a greater understanding and love of Scripture, and greater application of Scripture to all aspects of my life.

I obviously have not mastered this, and so I want to be careful to say this with great humility. But I can definitely say that God has been gracious in opening my heart and mind to see Him and His truth more and more clearly.

A major piece of this growing in my faith has been a growing knowledge of and appreciation for the sovereignty of God. If you had asked me at the beginning of our program if God was in control of everything, I would have said, “of course!”. Obviously. That was a part of my basic understanding of Scripture and my faith.

But as I progressed through my training and especially as I started to see clients, this truth became ever more precious to me. I started out with that whole idealistic thing, where I thought I could take every single client to a place of wholeness and happiness. As I realized how foolish that was, I became incredibly troubled at the thought that I couldn’t “fix” people. That’s why I signed up for this gig, right? But I learned to find comfort in two things: First, I had a supervisor who challenged me to think more realistically about my expectations for therapy. Duh, right? So then I started to view my relationship with my clients as a particular chapter of their lives, a small piece of their overall progress.

And second, I clung to the sovereignty of God and His promises in Scripture. He is often gracious even to those who don’t love Him, sending rain on the just and on the unjust, but He also declares that He will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. He is a God of healing and peace, but not everyone is guaranteed healing and peace in this lifetime. And that’s ok. My job is to be faithful to His calling in my life, to be obedient to His Word and do my part with excellence. As a psychologist, that will obviously mean offering compassion and working toward healing for my clients; but when healing doesn’t come in the form of gigantic therapeutic gains, I can be ok with that and acknowledge that this person is ultimately in the palm of God’s hand, along with the rest of creation and His children. God is God, and I am not.

One other aspect of integration I’d like to mention goes back to my husband. As I’ve spent the last few years wrestling with what it means to be a Christian psychologist, and as Joel and I have grown together in our faith, he has challenged me to apply Scripture to my work as a clinician. There have been some particularly tricky client situations that have stretched the limits of my understanding and pushed me out of my comfort zone. When I’ve shared these situations with my husband (in a strictly de-identified context, of course), he has questioned how my therapeutic goals line up with my beliefs as a Christian. At times I’ve been able to answer him easily, but sometimes – I just didn’t know. I feel blessed to have such a person in my life, who is not a psychologist but has sharpened me as an integrationist and pushed me toward forging a unified identity out of these two areas of my life.

So where do I stand now, in my integration approach? I’m not totally sure, I haven't quite worked all the kinks out; but I do know that if God is truly Lord of all and Lord of my life, then my psychological work must be subject to Him as well. I find great harmony between the techniques we use, and the truths of Scripture, so implicit integration is often easy for me. I love the opportunities for explicit integration as well – using Scripture in therapy, discussing spiritual questions, etc. For me the challenge to integration comes with those tough clients, difficult cases, and situations that might try to blur the edges of my Christian convictions. But I remember that at the end of the day I answer not to the APA, not to an ethics board, but to the God of the universe. I obviously will do my best to adhere to all legal and ethical standards of the profession: it’s not that I hope to be a renegade Christian therapist bringing everybody to Jesus. But I do hope to be so familiar with the Word of God and so attuned to His spirit that I can exercise discernment and wisdom in fulfilling my ultimate responsibility to Christ even and especially as a psychologist.

Psalm Sundays

I've had a thought for a new series to do on the blog. If you're very clever, you may be able to discern the topic from this post's title. I know that it is very enigmatic and cloaked in mystery; therefore, I will explain.

It's common knowledge that we often use excerpts from Psalms in worship. Many worship songs are taken from the praise portions of Psalms, including "Better is One Day", "Forever", "Not to Us", and many more. One of my personal favorites is "God, Be Merciful to me", which draws its lyrics from the content of Psalm 51, a beautiful hymn of penitence, restoration by God's grace, and resulting praise and testimony.

My hope is to blog on a different Psalm each week (usually on Sunday, but sometimes I am impatient so you might see them on Saturdays as well). This will not only test my self-discipline and time management skills, but will also hopefully give me an opportunity to explore the context and content of both well-known and less familiar Psalms as I go along. It's basically my own little study of the Psalms, and you get to eavesdrop. I can hardly imagine your excitement!

Because I am quite the theological and spiritual giant. A near-finished work, if you will.

Perhaps a bit of pruning yet in the humility department, but I digress...

The Psalms provide such a range of emotional expression that is often not seen in some worship settings today; at times, it seems that we may take repentance and confession for granted, skipping straight to gratitude and joy. (As an aside: this is why I love liturgies that include a time of confession and assurance of pardon; my soul depends on regular repentance, and leaps at words of forgiveness!) Well-meaning Christians often squelch opportunities for expressing and anguish and sorrow, choosing instead to focus on the "joy of the Lord" and the positive emotions that are supposed to come with our salvation.

But the Word of God is a weighty, awesome thing for us to behold. In it, we find emotional outpourings that verbalize the difficult realities of living in a sin-sick world and, indeed, often being sin-sick ourselves. We also learn of the myriad reasons why we rejoice and praise the Lord, particularly in the context of sin and trials - His faithfulness in the past, promises for the future, and new mercies each day. These things are best exemplified in Scripture's overarching covenant narrative, culminating in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ; the writers of the Psalms devote much ink to the past, present, and future saving works of God.

Let us follow the Psalmists' examples of honesty and authenticity, and use their words to express the full gamut of emotions. May we learn an appropriate progression from vexation to renewed trust and praise. May we treasure God's Word, cling to it, and repent when we depart from it; and may we know the true joy that flows from God's life-giving Word of both grace and law, which are one in Christ.

To begin, I turn to Psalm 119, the longest Psalm and longest chapter in the Bible. Its author is unknown, but he expresses heartfelt admiration to God, and gratitude for the great gift of His Word. Psalm 119 celebrates the Torah, or covenant instruction, as the perfect guide for life [notes taken from ESV Study Bible]. It is evident that the author's love for God's law is a direct result of his love for God Himself, and that this in turn is due to God's reviving and saving actions. He earnestly prays for the Lord to help him uphold the law, and acknowledges that only by God's grace can he do so. This relationship is perhaps best expressed in his enthusiastic declaration that "I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!" Notice how the author's ability to love and obey the law is attributed to God's opening of his eyes, giving of life, and graciously teaching the law to his heart. Thus we can proclaim with the Psalmist, soli Deo gloria!

Because it is so long, and I have already proven myself to be long-winded in this post, I will focus on a select portion of this excellent Psalm.

Psalm 119:9-32
How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.
With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
Blessed are you, O Lord; teach me your statutes! With my lips I declare all the rules of your mouth.
In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches.
I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways.
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.

Deal bountifully with your servant, that I may live and keep your word.
Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.
I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not your commandments from me!
My soul is consumed with longing for your rules at all times.
You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, who wander from your commandments.
Take away from me scorn and contempt, for I have kept your testimonies.
Even though princes sit plotting against me, your servant will meditate on your statutes.
Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors.

My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word!
When I told you of my ways, you answered me; teach me your statutes!
Make me understand the way of your precepts, and I will meditate on your wondrous works.
My soul melts away for sorrow; strengthen me according to your word!
Put false ways far from me and graciously teach me your law!
I have chosen the way of faithfulness; I set your rules before me.
I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; let me not be put to shame!
I will run in the way of your commandments when you enlarge my heart!

Oh, the depths of the riches and the wisdom of God that may be found in this Psalm! There is much to say and comment on, but there is nothing I could add to the meaning of this text. Lord, teach my heart to love your Word and your statutes as this Psalmist does! Enlarge my heart, and cause me to run in the way of your commandments!

Sisters, Sisters

Matching with an internship position in Reading was an enormous answer to prayer. I still thank God every time I remember how undeserving I am of matching when many others did not. Did I doubt that I would match? That's a tricky question...I had faith that God could match me, but didn't want to cross the line of presumptuousness. Know what I mean?

But I will say that on Match Day, I cried and believed that God had done the biggest, most incredible thing possible.

And ever since then, He has been showing me just how easy and small my internship was for Him. His good gifts have been just falling all over each other in their hurry to bless me. I can't explain how or why, other than the grace of God is just that sweet, and He has chosen to blow my mind during this season of my life.

Are you ready for this?

1. Healing and reconciliation in relationships that I was 100% certain would never heal and reconcile in my lifetime. 100%. Certain. And suddenly hearts were softened and phone calls made, conversations had and the past forgiven. An internship ain't no thang next to the thawing of frozen hearts!

2. Amazing spiritual growth, and my parents finding a new church home at Hillcrest. Mom and Dad, I have been so blessed to see the Lord working in your lives this past year! His hand is incredibly evident in all aspects of who you are.

3. The opportunity to continue to build relationships with the Dorianis. They barely preceded us to Virginia Beach when my aunt took a position at Regent University, and they are now again moving to within 45 minutes of us in Pennsylvania! We really admire and respect this family; Joel and I have learned much about marriage and parenting by watching their example. It would have been sad to leave them in Virginia Beach, and now we don't have to!

4. And the icing on the cake: Brittany's fiance just took a position in none other than Reading, PA!!! I am almost overwhelmed just thinking about this fact. For the first time in eight years, we will live within 20 minutes of each other (possibly within walking distance, but their apartment hunting is yet ahead of them so I hesitate to presume...). My sister, my best friend, and now neighbor! This just blesses my heart more than I can put into words. To be a regular part of her life, and she of mine, is more goodness than one soul should be allowed in this life.

I'm ashamed to say that these tremendous blessings (and I'm sure that I am forgetting many!) are not things that I prayed specifically for. Well, perhaps I prayed for Brittany and Kory to somehow live near us, but I had written off that possibility, given her track record for exotic and distant choices. What little faith I have! God has been putting my prayers to shame, giving so much more than I dared to ask. I agonized over my internship, begging and pleading, and it's as though the Lord said "An internship? Ha! Watch what happens when I move my hand..."

I do not take these blessings for granted. My heart is heavy with gratitude and awe. Glory, praise, and honor to He who gives and takes away! He has chosen to give for this season. Because of His great generosity, my life is a song of joyful testimony. My prayer now is that even in times of want, when the Lord answers my prayers with a gentle "no", that even then my heart will be no less full of thankfulness, joy, and contentment.

So even as the semester is whirling to an end, as dissertation data must be tallied and entered by hand, as a seemingly endless stack of boxes must be packed, my heart is just DANCING in anticipation of what the Lord has done, and what He will do next. We are praying for a job for Joel. In light of God's promises in Scripture, and knowing the great faithfulness and generosity He has shown us already, how can we doubt that the next step is already established as upon a solid rock, waiting to appear as the Lord illuminates our lives by His grace.

Soli Deo gloria!

See you in Reading, sister :-).

It's Really Happening...

I've spent the week packing (and simultaneously NOT doing the assigned readings for my 1.333 summer classes - so good at multitasking!)...Our belongings are disappearing from sight, yet our house is fuller than ever with boxes, bins, packing paper, cats chewing on the above...partially digesting some of it...

I also remembered that, oh yeah, I should be doing data entry for my dissertation. So I'll ramp that up this week, spend some quality time in my chair's office going through files and manually entering couple scores into SPSS. On my projected timeline, data entry was supposed to be completed by May 29. Suffice it to say, I shall need to light a fire under "it".

We continue to pray for employment for Joel in Reading. If you're reading this, we covet your prayers as well. The Lord has always provided for us, and we are eager to see what He has in store for the next leg of the adventure. Hopefully His perfect plan involves steady income - but if not, we're still grateful for His blessings. But I don't think it will come to that; I've been blessed with a husband who is willing to do any job to make ends meet, from Burger King to Barnes and Noble (he'd much prefer the latter, and spend his breaks turning all the Rob Bell books backward on the shelves).

How about you? Is your May hectic? If you've recently left Virginia Beach (Tylers, Monnettes, etc.), know that you're still very dear to our hearts and are constantly in our prayers. Love!

It Wouldn't Be a Christian Goodbye Without Michael W. Smith

My heart is aching over all the goodbyes we've said recently, with more still to go. Last Thursday we enjoyed our last evening with John, Christine, and Brody boy, and tonight we said goodbye to Jess, Natali, and baby Eve. We're mindful as we spend time with other friends that our opportunities for fellowship with them are numbered. It's like watching significant chunks of our life just fade to black, piece by piece...soon we will be on our own in a truck headed for PA. We're eager to see what the Lord has in store for us there, but it is so difficult to leave this chapter of our lives behind. More difficult than I expected.

It's like I have a fever. And the only prescription is Michael W. Smith.

Because Friends Are Friends Forever, when the Lord's the Lord of them. Come on, it just wouldn't be a Christian farewell without Smitty on the soundtrack. Feast your eyes and ears, and may your heart be comforted as we're all packing up the dreams God planted, in the fertile soil of you...

The tears are flowing (along with the early 90's cheese), just like church all seriousness, this is a painful season for the Va Beach Pearces. We're so grateful for the time God has given us here with our friends and church family, and are thankful that Smitty's words are true - we never really say goodbye when we're united in Christ. A lifetime's not too long to live as friends.

Living on the Edge

Joel and I celebrated the end of the semester last night with a long-awaited Date Night. Our big plans? Boston Market, a few beers, and cleaning out the office.

Don't be fooled, this was an all-you-can-organize, ruthlessly-downsizing, one-time event!

When Joel suggested that we spend our date night organizing the office, my first reaction was of the expected knee-jerk "did you get into the catnip?" variety. But after thinking about it for a second, I realized there was nothing I would rather do than to FINALLY go through our files, organize and consolidate, and have the office look like a room again (as opposed to a massive walk-in pseudo-filing system). Four hours with my hubby, enjoying a quarter dark and mashed potatoes, and the satisfaction of knowing our date night has long-term benefits for our lives? A huge grin spread across my face, and at that moment I knew that my dominant personality trait is NERD. (Was there ever any doubt?)

In other news, we've stocked up on boxes for our big move. Someone tipped me off that the VABC stores have good-sized boxes for packing heavies/breakables, so I stopped by to get a few. It wasn't until I stacked them in the dining room that I realized we would have the appearance of moving up the coast with our large stock of specialty liquors:

Captain Morgan Private Stock? DonQ Cristal? Evan Williams Bourbon Whiskey? Check, check, and check. Niko was totally pumped until she realized the boxes were all empty...

Poor girl. And Joel didn't leave her much catnip, either.

*Editor's note: A quick proofread alerted me to the fact that this post makes us sound/appear to be total alcoholics. Really we're not. In all the file-sorting excitement of last night, I totally forgot about my one "girlie beer"(read: candy-flavored malt beverage) and left it to gently warm under the torchiere lamp (yum). And Niko is the one who's all about the Jim Beam. You can take the cat out of the barn, but you can't take the barn out of the cat.

This and That

I just don't have the time to formulate an entire blog post on each of these great articles, so I'll simply point you in the direction of the originals:

A great article by Tim Challies over on the Ligonier blog:
Escaping Anonymity. Challies comments on our unparalleled level of anonymity and, as a result, lack of accountability in today's generation. As he points out, anonymity might be comfortable but it is far from what God intends for His children.

Two related posts at Pyromaniacs concerning church attendance:
Why You Need to Be In a Church This Sunday - slightly abrasive, this article packs a punch but lays out a crucial Biblical theology of church attendance. "Is Jesus your Lord in reality, or in theory alone?"

Thinking Like a Slave - I found this one to be a less frictional read, but nonetheless points out the overarching fallacy in all our "God commands me to go to church, but...." arguments: "Every one of them views the Christian life as a process of negotiation." Read the entire article!

On the gendered attributes of God:
Our Father, Who Art in Heaven, a post by Aron on his blog, Some Posts, gives a lengthy excerpt from C.S. Lewis's essay notes concerning the masculinity of God. Especially pertinent, as Aron notes, in light of recent controversy (i.e. female depiction of God in The Shack?). God is neither male nor female, but reveals himself consistently as having masculine names and attributes. A tasty morsel to whet your appetite:
"…The male you could have escaped, for it exists only on the biological level. But the masculine none of us can escape. What is above and beyond all things is so masculine that we are all feminine in relation to it. "

Re-imagining God in the Shack - critique by Mary Kassian of the church's tendency to reinvent God in feminine ways. Particularly provocative: her mention of the Christa, a female image of Jesus complete with "undraped breasts and rounded hips." One such statue was unveiled in 1984 at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan. What?!

Enjoy and, as always, please leave a comment if you found any of these particularly helpful, provocative, or just plain irritating. I like to know that somebody is out there reading these things :-).

Spiritual Porn?

Dan Philips over at Pyromaniacs makes a startling comparison: Porn and Paper Pastors.

I felt convicted as I read the article because I fear have been guilty of comparing my pastors with those whose words have been carefully researched, revised, and reprinted on page after flawless page. I have forced my pastors' words through a fine sieve of precisely articulated theology straight from the pen of [Sproul, Piper, Calvin...]. And when my pastors' live, in-person teaching doesn't measure up line for line with the immortal words of R.C. or some dead Puritan, I find myself shaking my head in disappointment.

How fair is that? Not so much at all.

And Dan Philips likens our love of "paper pastors" to the fool's love of pornography. We lust after the unreal, give our hearts to those whose words and images are edited and airbrushed to perfection, rather than loving those who have good and bad days and labor beside us in the ugly reality of our very own sin.

And by "we", I mean "I".

I appreciate this re-calibration of my perspective on famous pastors and theologians. Not to dismiss their often brilliant work, but to put them in their proper place: While their work is certainly helpful and can be foundational to building a sound theology, it ought not to replace a discipling, mentoring relationship with a flesh-and-blood minister of the Word. Never before have I paused in utter gratitude for the great gift that is God's appointed shepherd.

Enough of muddying up the issue with my own dim thoughts. Read the article for yourself - what do you think? Is John Piper really the porn of the Christian world? (Or, at least does he have the potential to be?) C'mon guys, leave your comments...I know you can do it!

Babies Everywhere!

Brand-new Liam, the impending Petite Monnette, sweet Jacob, adorable Cullen, and the manchild Brody. My life is peppered with all these adorable little ones, with the effect that my baby dreams have started back up in full gear. This morning I had the clearly articulated thought, "If I don't have a baby soon, I will die."

Clearly, I am a 100% rational being.

That, following a dream last night in which a five-month-old Liam was already reciting catechism answers. Is it any wonder that my maternal instincts are in overdrive?

Add to all this the fact that we will have sweet, sweet health benefits at TRHMC for the next year - we could potentially have a $500 baby! - plus four weeks paid vacation (not counting possible maternity leave), and I am completely convinced that we would be utterly foolish to not have a child in the next year.

Any other "yes" votes? Grandparents? Anyone?

But the timing is still TBD. I'll defend my dissertation this fall sometime (Oct/Novish) and "graduate" next May (sans diploma, since I'll have to accrue my remaining internship credits before Pat will confer my degree). Joel will be working and hopefully attending an online MLS program starting in January.

Since a blog is, like, the totally best and easiest way to cull wisdom from a solid five people, how do you think we should time this? What should we be thinking about, other than blatantly cranking out a kid on somebody else's dime (which, really, isn't that enough?)?

More importantly, who will volunteer to be a free live-in nanny next summer?

I will totally slip you a twenty if you tell my husband that we should start trying next month. (love you, honey!) We are going to meet Liam this weekend, so he might be an easy sell next Tuesday....

Whew, I feel much better, now that I've spewed my baby feelings all over the internets. Emotional modesty what?