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 :-).