A Love Letter with Tinsel

Christmas is a reminder that we are loved, but we often have trouble accepting it.

At this time of year, we all often see reminders of the real reason for Christmas, and we do need them. The onslaught of holiday events, family gatherings, shopping Loved at Christmasfrenzy and commercialism can be pretty overwhelming. In the midst of the chaos, we need a nudge to center our focus on a simple, humble birth in an ancient, middle-eastern stable.


So, we remember that Christmas is the celebration of Jesus’ birth and that’s good. But then we have to remember that He was born for the specific purpose of dying. He was born as a sacrifice for us. The first Christmas gift was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger.   


But why? Why did He do this for us? We certainly didn’t deserve it. We didn’t earn it. We had messed everything up royally. So why?


We’re told that it was because He loved us, and I believe that to be true. But, it’s too easy to let those words slip out without really considering their meaning. I think most of us have trouble letting that idea fully sink in.


We can accept God’s love when we think of others. We have no trouble accepting that God loves our children, our family members and our friends. We can even accept that He loves the world. But, we have a little more trouble accepting that He loves us, individually.


We may intellectually believe that God loves us, but we have trouble feeling it. We have difficulty accepting it, because we often feel so unlovable. We see our faults, failures and mistakes. We know that we don’t deserve that kind of love.


I believe that the biggest stumbling block for many is their inability to fully accept, and feel God’s love. It’s easier to imagine a wrathful, disapproving, punishing God. The idea that we could be completely and unconditionally loved, when we are so inadequate, seems to be too far a stretch.


But then, here it is. That annual reminder that you are loved completely, unconditionally and sacrificially. The reminder that you matter, that you are precious. Try to accept it.


Recall how it feels to sit in the sunshine on a warm, summer day. You can feel the sun’s rays soaking all the way through you. Imagine God’s love doing the same, soaking through every cell of your body. Accept the gift. Hold onto it. Enjoy it. Let every light, ribbon and tinsel remind you that you are loved this Christmas. And when you read the Christmas story, remember that it is actually a love letter to you, wrapped in tinsel.

Evidence of an Afterlife

I think you might enjoy these reports of near-death experiences.

Today, I would like to share two books that recently impacted me. The two books are “Evidence of an Afterlife: Theevidence of an afterlife Science of Near-Death Experiences” and “God and the Afterlife.” The authors are Jeffrey Long, MD and Paul Perry. “Evidence of an Afterlife,” their first book, provides information about the phenomenon, with case examples. “God and the Afterlife” focuses on the nature of God provided by the descriptions. Personally, I preferred the second book, but the first was helpful.

Jeffrey Long is a Radiology Oncologist physician, but he became interested in near-death experiences early in his career. You’ve probably heard of people who came very close to death and later told of an experience with heaven, meeting deceased relatives or even God. Of course, there have been several books and movies about the experience. A near-death experience is usually defined by its name. The person was near death, and he or she had an experience.

In 1998, Dr. Long established the Near Death Experience Research Foundation (NDERF) to study the phenomenon. He set up a website and invited people to write about their experience, and answer a lengthy questionnaire. At this point, the site has received over 4000 entries from all over the world. The questionnaire explores not only the near-death experience, but also changes that may have taken place after the experience. The questionnaire has been translated into over twenty different languages.

The amazing thing about such experiences is their consistency. While not everyone offers the same description, most experiences are very similar. The most common experiences involve an out-of-body experience, heightened senses, intense and generally positive emotions or feelings, passing into or through a tunnel, a brilliant light, and encountering deceased relatives. Many also report a life review, learning special knowledge, and a moment where they had to decide to stay in that realm or return to life.

I was most impressed by the consistent reports of intense, unconditional and indescribable love during the experience. They said that they felt surrounded by this incredible love, like they had never experienced. They said the love emanating from God was beyond description. They often said that God was love.

I was also impressed by the ways this experience changed the lives of the reporters. Most said they no longer had any fear of death, and that they gained a new love for others and themselves. They said that they felt a peace. And these changes continued over twenty years after the experience.

The author also deals with the arguments of skeptics, and presents evidence that, to me, seems pretty convincing. In many of the experiences, the person was able to describe events occurring in other rooms, that would have been impossible for them to know. Also, many people had these experiences when their brain functions should have made any conscious experience impossible.

As I noted earlier, there have been several recent books about one person’s near-death experience, but this is the first time I have been able to review research into over 4000 such experiences. I think you might be impressed as well.

When Bad Things Happen

Here are five truths that can help you when you are going through life's valleys.

Certain realities in life can only be seen through eyes cleansed by tears.

                                                                         Pope Francis


Why do bad things happen? A national survey asked people what they would ask God, if they could ask him only onewhen bad things happen question. The number one question posed was, “Why is there suffering in the world?”

The only accurate answer to that question is, “I don’t know.” We may speculate. We may have our theories, but there will always be events in this life that are beyond comprehension.

For what it’s worth, I’ll briefly share my personal thoughts on the question, noting that others have voiced similar opinions. First, I don’t believe that God causes bad events. I believe God suffers along with us when we suffer, because He loves us. I also believe that God can, and does, use bad events for good. I believe we experience pain and suffering in this life, because we live in a sinful and broken world. Much suffering is directly caused by sinful behavior, our own or someone else’s. Other times, bad things happen where no sin was involved, such as physical illness or natural disasters. In these cases, it makes sense to me that such events occur simply because we live in a broken world.

So, we’re left with the reality that bad things do happen. Since we can’t change this reality, we need to look at how we can best respond to it. There are several truths that can help us with our response.

  1. Bad things happen to everyone. We are not alone or unique in our suffering. We may perceive that life is easy for some, but we would be wrong. Others may hide their dark days or seem to handle them well, but they still occur. Understanding that life is difficult for everyone helps us accept our difficulties with more grace.
  2. We don’t have to feel alone. When bad things happen, we need to lean on others. We need other’s support. If you are a believer, you know that you need to lean on God during these times. I know that my spiritual growth accelerates during my difficult times. During such times, I am reminded that I need to depend on something greater than myself.
  3. Others don’t have to feel alone. We naturally reach out during the bad times. We want to help, to support, and to encourage. We are blessed when we reach out to bless others. Bad times spur us to do this.
  4. We see life more clearly. Bad events help us see what is really important. Issues that once seemed so important, fade into the background. Our bad times work like a miner’s sifting pan, allowing the unimportant and trivial to fall back into the river, while highlighting the true gold in life.
  5. We reorganize our priorities. I have worked with many people who have altered their life’s direction following a negative life event. Some have come to a place of gratitude for the bad event, as a needed turning point.

So, we are left with the reality that bad things happen to everyone. We can’t avoid them. We may not be able to understand them. But, we can work on how we respond to them, and that can make all the difference.


Comments: Please share the steps you have found helpful during the bad times in life.

Are You Making Jed Clampett’s Mistake?

Are Self-Esteem Wounds Causing You To Miss Out on Gifts You Already Own?

When I was a kid, I liked to watch the Beverly Hillbillies. For those of you who are way too young, this was a Jed_Clampettsituation comedy about a poor mountaineer family who struck oil on their property, became rich, and moved into a Beverly Hills mansion. Each episode portrayed their confusion, ignorance, and occasional wisdom, as they encountered some aspect of Beverly Hills life.

Jed Clampett was the patriarch of the family. He discovered the oil when he shot into the ground, and “up came a bubbling crude.” Prior to the discovery, he and his family had lived in a little shack, with just enough food to survive.

The irony was that Jed Clampett had always been rich. He had always owned the oil. He just didn’t know it. The riches were just under the surface, waiting to be discovered.

Through the years, I have seen many people who are rich, but don’t know it. They suffer because they can’t see the gifts they already own. They mistakenly perceive themselves to be poor, so they life like they are poor.

These people aren’t living on an oil field. Their riches aren’t material or financial. Their gifts are actually much more valuable. Recognition of their gifts would certainly change their lives, even more than the Clampett’s.

Their unrecognized gifts may be personal abilities, character strengths or relationships. They fail to see these riches because of earlier self-esteem wounds. At some time in their childhood, they were led to believe that they were inadequate, defective or unimportant. Because they were just children, they believed these messages and failed to see the truth.

There was the very intelligent high school senior who never considered college because his father called him an idiot and told him that he would never amount to anything, or the talented musician and singer who never shared her music because a critical piano teacher told her that she lacked talent.

Then there was the sensitive, compassionate woman, who saw her caring nature and empathy as a weakness, because some mean girls in school made fun of her for being too emotional, or the boy who was ostracized because he his values prevented him from joining in on bullying a classmate.

There was the depressed, suicidal man who believed his family and the world would be better off without him, despite the fact that he had a loving family and many caring friends, who worried about him. Fortunately, his suicide attempt was unsuccessful, and he was able to discover the truth.

Finally, there was the woman who had been repeatedly abused and rejected in childhood and adulthood. She believed the abuse to be her fault, assuming that she had some defect that made her unlovable. She told me that she prayed every day that God would love her. I pointed out that this prayer was part of her problem. I told her that she was praying the wrong thing, because God already loved her. I suggested that she pray that God would help her see how much He loved her. She started praying this way, and initiated her healing.

Are you missing out on gifts you already possess? Are you living a life of emotional poverty, when your gifts are just below the surface? You can discover these riches, and your life can change. Just ask Jed Clampett.


Question: What talents, characteristics or love have you missed, because of your self-esteem wounds? How would your life change if you opened those gifts?


Accepting the Gift of Forgiveness

Today we celebrate Easter. Christians around the world celebrate the fact that Jesus conquered death and the cross.man_praising_God We remember the gift, the sacrifice and a renewed relationship with our Creator. On this day, we are again reminded that we can be forgiven of our many mistakes, failings and faults. Because He paid our debt, we can be free of guilt and shame. It’s a gift; ours for the taking…  But, do we take it?

Over my thirty-two years of doing counseling, I have seen so many people who are weighed down by the burden of their past mistakes and failings. I have listened as they listed their bad choices, actions and outcomes. They didn’t have to recall them, because they were ever present in their minds. They never forgot them.

I have listened as they assumed the role of prosecutor, jury and judge, while laying out the evidence of their inadequacy and unworthiness. They presented their case, passed their verdict and handed down their sentence.

Unfortunately, the sentence was always life. It was a lifetime of shame, self-criticism, and sadness. There didn’t seem to be any parole or pardon. There was no hope of future freedom. The cell door was welded shut. There was no key.

Interestingly, most of these people were Christians, and fully believed in God’s forgiveness. They easily accepted the fact that any sin can be forgiven and forgotten, making the sinner clean, pure and free. They accepted this fact for everyone else, but not for themselves. Against all logic, they felt that they were somehow different. The couldn’t apply the truth to themselves.

In the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, there was a religious group called the flagellants. They believe they must continually offer penance for their sins, and thus walked around whipping themselves on the back. The whips were often laced with sharp objects to increase the damage. Their bleeding and their scars served as a testimony to their inadequacy and shame.

Do you recite your list of mistakes in your mind? Have you sentenced yourself to a life sentence of self-criticism, self-blame and shame? Do you keep your self-esteem wounds open by continually picking at them or examining them?

Wouldn’t today be a great day to stop? Of course, you can’t stop such a habit in one day, but you can begin the journey. If you believe that Easter means that forgiveness is available, then today would be a good day to accept it, and begin the process of forgiving yourself.

To do this, you will have to remind yourself daily that your self-blame is unnecessary. You will have to apply the same rules of forgiveness to yourself that you have previously applied to others. You will have to catch yourself each time that you whip yourself with self-criticism; each time you re-live your past failings. You will have to be persistent. It will be worth it. Today, accept the gift of Easter!


Question: What steps have you taken to let go of your past, and forgive yourself? Your ideas might help someone else.

Comparing Ourselves With Others

… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,    Romans 3:23


When we experience self-esteem wounds, we tend to feel alone. We assume that other people don’t have the samegirl_looking_in_mirror thoughts, feel the same feelings or experience the same failings. We feel “less than” when we compare ourselves to those around us.

And we do compare. We compare physical appearance; more wrinkles, more weight, less hair. We compare possessions; smaller house, older car, cheaper clothes. We compare our relative successes; less status, less salary, more failures. We compare, even when we try not to compare.

And we find ourselves lacking. Others look like they have it all together. They act happier and more confident. They seem more comfortable in social situations. They don’t look insecure, uncertain or full of self-doubt.

Its’ not surprising that we see others this way. It’s because almost everyone works so hard to act like they have it all together. It deludes us into thinking that they really do. We then are left with the misguided conclusion that our troubles, insecurities, doubts and fears are unique and a testament to our defects and weaknesses. Of course, we then feel forced to work harder to act like we have it all together. We hide our doubts and insecurities so we will look good.

So do they.

To be human is, by definition, to be imperfect. All humans have faults, imperfections, doubts, fears, insecurities and failures. As Paul said, “all have sinned and fail short…”

Comparison with others is a trap. Any comparison with others will mess you up. If you see yourself as superior, you will become vein and prideful. If you see yourself as inferior, you will become ashamed and depressed. Either way you lose.

The truth is we are neither, better or worse. We are the same. We are all in the same boat. We have “all sinned and fall short…” No one is any better than you, and no one is any worse. Recognizing that fact, knowing it in your heart, is strangely comforting.

It is a fact. You are not less than any other human being. The only choice now is whether or not you choose to accept and believe it.


Question: Tell us your thoughts on this tendency to compare ourselves with others. Also, please share any techniques you found successful to stop the comparisons.

Is There Life After Birth?

This is a facinating twist on an old argument that makes you think. I saw this on Facebook and just wanted to share. Is mom real?I hope you enjoy it.

In a mother’s womb were two babies. One asked the other: “Do you believe in life after delivery?” The other replied, “Why, of course. There has to be something after delivery. Maybe we are here to prepare ourselves for what we will be later.”

“Nonsense” said the first. There is no life after delivery. What kind of life would that be?””

The second said, “I don’t know, but there will be more light than here. Maybe we will walk with our legs and eat from our mouths. Maybe we will have other senses that we can’t understand now.”

The first replied, “That is absurd. Walking is impossible. And eating with our mouths? Ridiculous! The umbilical cord supplies nutrition and everything we need. But the umbilical cord is so short. Life after delivery is to be logically excluded.”

The second insisted, “Well I think there is something and maybe it’s different than it is here. Maybe we won’t need this physical cord anymore.”
The first replied, “Nonsense. And moreover if there is life, then why has no one ever come back from there? Delivery is the end of life, and in the after-delivery there is nothing but darkness and silence and oblivion. It takes us nowhere.”

“Well, I don’t know,” said the second, “but certainly we will meet Mother and she will take care of us.”

The first replied “Mother? You actually believe in Mother? That’s laughable. If Mother exists then where is She now?”

The second said, “She is all around us. We are surrounded by her. We are of Her. It is in Her that we live. Without Her this world would not and could not exist.”

Said the first: “Well I don’t see Her, so it is only logical that She doesn’t exist.”

To which the second replied, “Sometimes, when you’re in silence and you focus and you really listen, you can perceive Her presence, and you can hear Her loving voice, calling down from above.” – Útmutató a Léleknek

Was Your Marriage Made in Heaven or Hell? You Decide.

It’s been said that there’s nothing better than a good marriage, and nothing worse than a bad one. While a bit couple_not_talkingextreme, there is some truth in the statement. Most marriages, however are a mixture of good and bad moments. When we work through the bad moments correctly, we experience more of the joys that a good marriage can offer.

I do a fair amount of marriage counseling. Most couples come in focusing on the negative behaviors of their spouse and convey the belief that everything would be great if the spouse would change.  Each person is less aware of their own contribution to the conflict. Both are left with the feeling that their needs are not being met.

I often share a story that my pastor used years ago in a sermon. I don’t know the original source, but it’s a story worth sharing.

There was a man who died and went to heaven. Saint Peter met him at the pearly gates and told him that he was a strange. He told the man that he was exactly on the borderline of going to heaven or hell. He said that they had decided to show him both and let him decide where he wanted to spend eternity. The man said that sounded fair and they proceeded to each.

Saint Peter took him to a door and said that this was hell. He opened the door and the man immediately saw a huge banquet room as far as the eyes could see. In this room there were rows of banquet tables as far as the eyes could see, and on these tables was a wonderful banquet, all the great foods you could imagine. The tables had white tablecloths, silver and china. It was a true banquet, but the people sitting on both sides of the tables were skin and bone, and just looking longingly at the food.

The man said the Saint Peter, “They look miserable. Why aren’t they eating? The food is right in front of them.”

Saint Peter said, “Look at their arms.”

The man looked more closely at their arms and saw that one arm had been replaced at the elbow with a three-foot-long spoon, and the other arm had been replaced at the elbow with a three-foot-long fork. The man looked confused for a moment, but then exclaimed, “They can’t get it to their mouth. So, they have to sit here for eternity looking at the food, but unable to eat it.”

Saint Peter said, “That’s right, now I’ll show you heaven.”

He took the man to another door and said, “Now I’ll show you heaven.”

He opened the door and the man immediately saw a huge banquet room just like the first. In the room were long rows of banquet tables just like the first, and on these tables was a true banquet, just like the first. But, the people sitting at the tables were obviously well fed and happy. They were talking, singing and having a good time.

The man said to Saint Peter, “These people look a lot happier. I choose heaven.”

Saint Peter replied, “Okay, but look at their arms.”

The man looked more closely and saw that one arm had been replaced at the elbow with a three-foot-long spoon, and the other with a three-foot-long fork. The man looked confused and said, “I don’t understand.”

Saint Peter said, “Well, you see, in heaven, they feed each other.”

A marriage can feel like a marriage made in heaven or a marriage made in hell, depending on whether the people learn to feed each other, or worry about the fact that they are not getting fed.


Question: Have you seen the benefits of “feeding each other” in your marriage, and how did it feel?


The Power of Humility

It seems to be a bit confusing to say that you can improve your self-esteem by practicing humility, but I believe that itHumility is true. I began thinking about this topic after reading Dr. John Dickson’s book titled Humilitas. I heard Dr. Dickson speak at a conference I attended in South Korea last month and followed-up by reading his book. He presents a compelling argument for the benefits of practicing humility in our day-to-day interactions.

Dr. Dickson’s field of expertise is ancient history, and he explores the changes in the perception of humility in different eras and societies. He notes that society didn’t seem to value humility until Christ’s teachings began to spread. Prior to that time, ancient writings were filled with bragging and self-elevation that most of us today would find quite offensive.

True humility is a deliberate choice. The person voluntarily lowers himself or herself and behaves in a modest, gentle or serving manner toward the other person. Consider the act of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet.

This type of humility is very different from the times where one is put down or humiliated by others. The later act wounds the self-esteem. The former is a reflection of a healthy self-esteem. One needs to have a healthy self-esteem to be able to voluntarily humble him or herself.

This is also different from the person with a damaged or wounded self-esteem, who behaves in a self-critical and self-depreciating manner. This person’s behaviors are simply a reflection of their negative beliefs about self. This person sees him or herself as inferior to others or defective and so acts that way.

When you practice deliberate humility, you recognize that you have value, ability or knowledge, but you refrain from flaunting it. You listen earnestly to the other individual, recognizing that you can learn from everyone. You treat the other person with honor, respect and kindness.

I believe that you walk away from such interactions feeling better about yourself, and that your self-esteem grows. It’s not that you walk away proud of your actions. Rather, I believe you lose any sense of yourself, as you serve others.

True humility is learned through deliberate practice or conscious effort. But, the practice fosters an attitude that becomes an unconscious way of living. Try it. I believe your self-esteem or self-worth will benefit from the effort.

Question: Think about someone you know who seems to practice true humility. How do they make you feel when you are around them? Think about times when you have practiced humility by putting another person above yourself. How did it make you feel?

Viewing Events From An Eternal Perspective

Everyone experiences their share of painful, negative life events. We all experience loss. Sometimes the pain feels depressed_personlike more than we can bare. The pain of grief cannot be taken away, and really, it shouldn’t. We need to grieve when we experience loss. The process of grief is healthy and eventually healing.

However, there are some techniques we can use to ease our grief a bit. I learned one such tool in one of my trips to Thailand. I conducted brief annual clinics for missionaries in Thailand for seven years. The clinics were held at an annual conference of 1200 to 1500 missionaries, and I was asked to attend to offer counseling for those that needed it. The days were full and a very rewarding.

Each morning of the conference, a worship service was held for the attendees. The services were held in a large auditorium, with all of the 1200 to 1500 in attendance. One speaker shared a message that the difficulties in our lives take on a new meaning when we view them from an eternal perspective. He said that we tend to think of our losses in terms of the impact they will make on our remaining years on this earth. We imagine spending our days without the loved one. However, as Christians, we believe that our true existence is for eternity, not just for our earthly years.

As he spoke, I noticed a string tied to his podium and stretching upward all the way to the back ceiling of the conference center. The string had to be at least 150 yards in length. Later in the sermon, he pointed the string out to the crowd. He also noted that, near the podium, there was a small bead on the string. He said to think of our earthly lives as the string that was covered by the bead, and our eternal lives as the full length of the string, plus much more. He pointed out that any painful events that we experience on this earth are only here for a moment, but that we have an eternity ahead of us.

He noted that the years where we will miss that loved one are but a blink of an eye, in perspective to being with them again for an eternity. He then said that the difference between an earthly life of five years or ninety-five years seems enormous to us, but that when seen from an eternal perspective, it is only a moment in time. He asked us to remember that reality when we have to deal with earthly pain and loss.

Now, I fully realize that this perspective can be hard to maintain, when we are in the middle of grief, but I do find some comfort when I remember the string and the bead. I hope you will as well.


Question/Comment: Please share any perspectives or techniques that have helped you deal with grief and loss.