Broken Things: God can’t use perfect people

I always wanted to be a counselor. From the time I was just a kid, I found myself sitting on couches, listening to people’s stories. When I suggested the idea to my parents prior to heading off to college, my dad seemed confused by the idea of it. He was the son of immigrants, grew up in a gang in East LA…he did not get the concept of sharing your story with a STRANGER. Plus we had church, which was supposed to be where you got that kind of support. So instead of focusing on an actual profession right at first, I attended a liberal arts college and studied Communications and Political Science and got a Masters in Education so that I could teach high school history and government. I loved teaching but even then, my favorite part of the job was building relationships with students and mentoring them in life. My revised plan became to continue in the field of education and be a school counselor someday. But marriage and my girls and a few moves across state lines changed all that. I now realize that our journeys are not completely our own, and there may have been just a tiny bit of wisdom in the madness of God’s plan for me.

When I finally went to seminary to get a degree in Clinical Mental Health, in my forties, I was actually thinking that I would use my degree in a ministry setting, since at that time I volunteered in those capacities on a regular basis. I was going to grad school again because I had a number of life experiences by this time that gave me some wisdom to speak into other people’s lives and I wanted to enhance that life experience with some big time book knowledge. But my time in my second-time-around grad school, mostly outside the classroom, broke me in so many more ways. Once again, life journey often outweighs book stuff. I have seen things now…hard things. I know now, all that real life was so that today, I can sit across from almost anyone and empathize with their situation, using an emotion I have once experienced, maybe not in the exact way, but similarly. It took me awhile to fully understand that it isn’t the perfect stories that minister to people, but rather brokenness and rebirth that encourages the downtrodden and broken hearted in their pain.

Have you ever been weary? Are you broken hearted now? Do you wonder what you have to offer anyone? My guess is that if you have endured trials in your life, you are more than prepared to be a mentor, a soul mate and an encourager. You might be just getting started in leaving a legacy of helpmate and friend. When people are perfect, they really have nothing to offer the hurting world. Who wants to be told how to live by someone who has not faced struggles? Are you ready to accept the challenge of taking your brokenness and turning it into service to the world?

When I look back at the times in life that I felt broken…when I was lonely, depressed, struggling in relationships, financially wrecked, betrayed and overcome with grief…I never felt that I had something to offer anyone. But once the wounds began to heal, because of God’s mercy, good counsel, the elapsing of time and support of other encouragers, I started to realize the power that comes from overcoming the battles of life. Do you have some power that has yet to be tapped into?

 

This morning, I was listening to this song…and I once again was reminded that in brokenness, we are simply in training for our calling. Are you ready to join in the hard work of turning your sorrow into dancing?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

Holy Week Counseling: Make your life a prayer

I will be the first to admit I don’t get as much counseling for myself, as I would like. I have never had a manicure from someone with manicured nails either. It is probably true for most professions. Fortunately, I have some friends who are amazing listeners, good question-askers and love me, even in my weakness…so they are just like a good counselor!

Last week I had lunch with my friends Jayna and Carla. We met on a mission trip and there is something about serving side by side that builds a bond that is supernatural. We are able to share from the deepest parts of our hearts…the stuff that is raw and painful, but we can also be a source of hope for one another in this crazy world, as we encourage, pray for and crack jokes with one another that we think are hilarious. If you don’t have any friends like this, you need to find some.

We were having a conversation about prayer and how disappointing it can be when you pray so hard for something and the answer is…. silence, or no, or not now…. All three of us have some real prayer requests right now. We are all three in some trenches of life and if there is a magical formula for getting our prayers answered, we want to know what it is. Someone pass us the magic wand if you have been hogging it!

Of course there is no magic wand. Sometimes in life, our challenges don’t go away with the wave of a hand. Sometimes there are struggles that sit next to us for long periods of time and the more we pray and the more the answer is no, the more we want to give up hoping.

Jayna knows about cancer. Her beautiful daughter has been battling brain cancer most of her life. I can tell Jayna that my numbers that had been going down, went up again and she knows what that feels like to hear. She knows what hope has to be mustered if you are going to stay in the fight and that even when God is silent, He is working.

Jayna encouraged me to make my prayers an act of worship. She reminded me that prayers are not just about asking for what we need, but they are petitions ensconced in praise to our Lord who walks beside us in the Valley of the Shadow of Death…where we need not fear.

This week is Holy Week, a time when we reflect on the suffering of Christ and the liberation of our souls when He is resurrected. I wonder how many times in His life, even prior to the week leading up to his crucifixion that He felt lonely and sad, frustrated that life wasn’t just a little bit easier in the day to day. I wonder how many times He wished his Dad would just “fix it”. But we know that Christ continued to battle for our hearts, our souls and our minds by living His life to the fullest. His life was lived sacrificially, in obedience, one foot in front of the other. And in that, He pointed to heaven.

Who is with me, to start today…to live in a way that we point to heaven in our struggles and even when the answer is silence, no or not yet, we remain faithful because the God we serve is our hope, our redeemer and the reason we live? Who is ready to make their life a prayer that allows God to be all He is both in heaven and here, on earth?

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

2019: Choosing to live with a gun to my head

Almost exactly 21 years ago, Mike came home from work with the good news that he had been promoted. He excitedly told me, a woman pregnant with twins on bedrest, that we were moving to Salt Lake City. You can imagine the response he got as I processed the information that after waiting for over three years to have those babies, I would immediately be moving away from my all my family and friends. I look back at that time now and remember thinking it was the hardest thing I would ever go through….hmmmm.

The Robie and Bell families back in the day….

Living in Draper, Utah, was not what I had planned. I thought it was going to be the most awful, no-good thing that ever happened to me. I look back at that time now and smile. I cannot fully express how grateful I am for the personal growth that took place during that time. Most of that growth occurred because, through an act of God, Mike and I got connected with a group of folks who were following a call to start the first protestant church in town. Ironically, the leadership team of South Mountain Community Church were people that I had crossed paths with throughout my life in California. We had not officially met, but we were connected through friends and family in a supernatural way. Paul and Jini Robie and Mike and Joanie Bell are the real deal…

Jini Robie, to this day, holds a place in my heart as the most authentic, most challenging “pastor’s wife” that I have ever known. In my opinion, her efforts to minister to the women of our little community fostered a growth in that church that was nothing short of amazing. I look back at the time spent sitting in a circle, first with just a few of us, and then an increasingly larger circle, talking about God, about life, about being God-filled women…learning, loving and laughing.  Many of us were new to the area; searching, or in need of friendship.  I marvel at how Jini’s no-frills approach spoke to each of us in a powerful way. We grew in our relationships with one another, our families and, most importantly, with our Maker.

On one particular occasion, I specifically remember Jini talking about something she had recently read about persecuted Christians. She had heard of a family held at gunpoint, where the parents were asked to renounce their faith to save the lives of their children. I was a first-time mother of six-month-old twins, and at the time did not appreciate having to evaluate if I was committed to the Lord enough to give up my kids’ lives or mine. I did not want to think about what it would be like to have a gun to my head for any reason!  But that conversation impacted me, and I woke up at 2 am just the other morning thinking about it. I do some of my best thinking between the hours of 2 and 3 am…

Recently, as many of you know, I have been put in a position to HAVE to think about serious life and death issues. I have been put in a position that I have to evaluate what is important to me…what legacy I want to leave….how I will invest in others…how I will spend my time… But before this whole thing gets overly dramatic, I want to stress that my prognosis is very hope-filled. I have a team of doctors committed to giving me the best of modern and naturalistic medicine. I believe I have MANY years to sit and contemplate…plus it is my plan is to be an over-achiever and defy all odds…but contemplate I will what it is to live fully in Christ and become all I am meant to be.

Most likely, I will never be in a position where terrorists invade my home and put a gun to my head. But I have a metaphoric gun pointed at my head, and I am strangely accepting of the position it puts me in. Maybe God loves me enough to force me to hurry up and get my health protocol ironed out so I can pursue my private practice more than ever, commit to my ministry with a sold-out passion, and invest in people intentionally and with a sense of urgency. Have I been too lackadaisical in my former approach to life?

What is it that you are called to? What passions do you need a nudge to pursue? Is there some physical or emotional baggage that you need to iron out in order to be the man or woman that God has created you to be? Maybe you would like to join me in living 2019 as if you have a gun to your head….

As always, let me know if I can help.

With love,

Sonia

New Luggage: Turning the old baggage of life into a story

A couple years ago, I made the decision to “invest” in good luggage. I was done with the discounted luggage I had picked up at Marshalls or TJ Maxx that had to be repaired with duct tape after a few trips. I do my share of globe-trotting, so I felt it was time.

I have a clear memory of going with my parents to The Broadway, a local department store in my hometown, back in the 70’s, to buy the yellow, hard-sided, 5 piece set that my family took to Venezuela, the first time the Gusiff family went together for an almost month-long stay. So I dragged my husband, Mike, to Macy’s, where there is a decent sized luggage department, to help me make an adult-like purchase. I did online research and considered size, shape, and wheel quality in my purchase. I read a number of customer reviews. I applied for a Macy’s credit card and I made the purchase.

My bag has been around the world, on family vacations and business trips. I thought we were going to be life-long companions. The literature had promised me something like 30 years. That was until I hoisted it off the conveyor belt after my latest trip to Mexico and the handle and a wheel were not okay. I could barely role that 50 lb. monster out of the airport. (Actually, Mike could barely roll it…let’s be honest, he is my bellhop when I travel…) My reliable luggage must have gotten hung up somewhere between the plane and me, and the damage was too much.

Isn’t that the way it goes? We are traveling through life, things are cruising along and then we get hit with some unexpected damage: An illness, a job loss, a death or a break-up. After a while, we have accumulated enough of these experiences to say that we have “baggage”.

We all have baggage. We all have struggles, hurts and deep pain that has caused us to stumble at times in our life. I spend my days sitting with others who are in the midst of battles that seem overwhelming and unbeatable at times. One of the most powerful counseling tools is when the client is in a place in therapy, where they are healed enough to use their life situation for the empowerment of another. Sometimes the best way to heal from our own hurt is to help another in their similar battle!

In the car on the way to work this morning, I heard the opening lines to Big Daddy Weave’s song, My Story, and almost burst into tears!

If I told you my story
You would hear Hope that wouldn’t let go
And if I told you my story
You would hear Love that never gave up
And if I told you my story
You would hear Life, but it wasn’t mine

I have a story that has its share of dramatic moments. I bet you do too. How do we cling to the promise that God works together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)? How do we reframe the struggles of life and learn to tell our story in a way that communicates not only the pain but the victory?

What part of your story are you willing to share with someone going through the same thing? Are you willing to sit with another person through the loss of something important in their life because you know what that feels like? You might be surprised at how much you are blessed when you do!

I mentioned a trip to Mexico. It was actually my 12th mission trip in the last 8 years. This time, I served on a team of women, all volunteers with Thrive Ministry. We all have a story. We are cancer survivors, widows, divorcees, women who have buried their children, trauma survivors and so much more. But the Maker of Heaven and Earth, the King of Kings, The Great Healer, our Amazing God has allowed us to use our stories. We get to experience the joy of serving other people who are hurting and when we do, our story doesn’t feel as overwhelming, as painful.

A package just came in the mail today. It is my new luggage. Same brand, just a newer model. I can’t wait to see where we go next!

With love,

Sonia

Gratitude Is Not Faith

GratitudeI often meet with people who begin therapy with, “I have never told anyone this before.” Part of my job is to be an unbiased, objective listener so I am used to this pre-qualifier. I will never get used to what often follows. What often follows, is simply an honest admittance that life is hard and there is no one in this person’s life who will let them be real about life occurrences that happen to so many of us: illness, death, job loss, disappointment, addiction, betrayal, abuse, spiritual battles, and the list goes on. Why is it that so many have few people to share life with?

There is a wave in our society right now that is calling for “gratefulness”, for the abundance that the United States has experienced for a long time. It is true, that as a nation, we are rich in resources and opportunity. Most, and I don’t mean all, healthy people in the United States have access to some support, to live a life beyond the streets. For that, there absolutely has been a lack of understanding of what it means to live without and to fight daily, to simply live. When I travel with Thrive Ministries, around the world, I see firsthand, the poverty and degradation that many in our world are subject to. I serve a population of women sacrificing daily to see this eradicated, so the need for gratefulness is not lost on me. Our first world mindset often forgets that the majority of souls, living in this world, are every day facing the challenge of simply staying alive another day and for many, making life choices that sacrifice their hearts and souls to survive. Our nation would do well to cultivate a spirit of gratefulness, to keep our hearts humble and motivate us to share more than what is expected. Gratefulness is a wonderful attribute.

But as most people can attest if they live long enough, our life journey is more than having food on the table or even, having the latest cell phone. Even those in the most fortunate of situations, still battle through life. From the poorest to the most wealthy, people suffer. All people encounter difficulty far beyond what they ever imagined as they dreamed a plan for their life. As a Christian, I believe that God can turn any pain into dancing. I have experienced it in my own life and I have seen it in the lives of others. However, I wonder if this attachment to gratefulness or a “positive outlook” has clouded our need for honesty, for God’s work, and for faith that all things work together for good. Yes, all things work together for good, but NOT ALL THINGS ARE GOOD!

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