Kathy Looper Christian Counseling

Kathy Looper Christian Counseling

Thursday, December 3, 2015

What We Have In Common With Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer

Sunday morning as the pastor took the stage; he greeted the congregation and asked if everyone would join him in singing, “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer.”  Of course everyone laughed then promptly joined him in singing the well-known Christmas song.  After the song was over, my pastor began to go through the words of the song and remind all of us about a misfit reindeer who was an outcast because he had been born with a ruby red nose that lit up very bright.  We all know the story ends with Santa asking Rudolph to lead the reindeer as he guided Santa’s sleigh.   How many times have I heard that song and forgotten it’s very simple message.  As I listened to the sermon, I was reminded of my own life and how God has turned one of my weaknesses into a strength.

I have always had a love affair with the law.  I began working for attorneys when I was 18 years old and had moonlighted in firms off and on for many years since.  In 2001, I interviewed for a legal secretary position at a prestigious law firm in the Fresno Fig Garden Financial District.  At the time, I had been working at Costco for 10 years and was looking for a second job.  I desperately wanted this job and it took two weeks to hear back from the firm.  When I did hear back the managing partner told me that he only had a full-time position available and they wanted to hire me for the job.  I was honored to have been chosen but it would mean giving up the one job I had always kept.  After much thought and consideration, I decided to resign my position at Costco after over 10 years of employment.  It was very scary to let go of such a secure job but I was moving into the future I wanted for myself or so I thought.  After less than six months, I was fired from that job because I had made spelling errors in letters I had sent out to clients.   I used the wrong words for words that sounded the same but had different meanings.  For example, I would use there instead of their or principle instead of principal.   I was devastated, ashamed and very embarrassed that I had made such mistakes.  I had never graduated from high school so the simple English that I should have known was lost on me.

I have never forgot that incident and mostly because I am no longer the girl who doesn’t know how to spell.   I not only know the correct words to use in sentences, I have become a writer and my columns have been published in magazines, newspapers including a nationally published Sports & Fitness Magazine.  I do not say that to be brag, I say that to show how something that was once a weakness can later be made into a strength. 

I have met so many adults who have such low self-esteem because of some perceived flaw.  I have met even more kids who say “I just don’t fit in.”  The feeling of insignificance and inadequacy is so prevalent in kids today it really breaks my heart.   I know how that feels and I also know that over time,  if they keep seeking,  they will find the place they fit, I did.  Life can be hard and cruel and especially for children and teenagers.

If you are reading this, I would like you to do me a simple little favor.  Please take a moment and comment in the section below with a personal strength that use to be something you considered a weakness.  I think the comments might help someone else realize that there are no flaws, there are only strengths waiting to surface.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Dealing with Judgment

Growing up in church, I was often on the receiving end of being judged by others.   I’d like to think things are different now compared to what they where when I was a teenager. However, in my adult life, it has been no different.  I have grown accustomed to being judged by others. but it doesn’t have the same affect on me as an adult that it had on me as a teenager because I have changed the way I respond to judgment.  Lately though, I have noticed other’s who are the judger’s and those who are on the receiving end.  I found that judgment in the church is still very present but the church is not the only place judgment takes place.  It takes place on our jobs, in our relationships and even with our children.  I have come to believe it is a part of the every day life of most humans.  One has to be very diligent and mindful to abstain from the temptation of judging others. 

Judgment, is defined as “an opinion or a conclusion.”  For purposes of this column, I think judgment is best defined as one who comes to a conclusion about another.  So what does that mean exactly?  Conclusion means the end of a thing, so when we come to a conclusion about someone, based on how they look, what they wear, what they say or what mistakes they have made, we are summing up their whole existence by what we are judging them on.  It is sort of like stereo typing people but worse and that is unfortunate.  Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.  I grew up in a church that believed women should not wear make-up or cut their hair.  As a young girl, I wanted to be pretty and I didn’t feel pretty so I would cut my hair in an effort to make myself more attractive and I would dabble in make-up, just enough that maybe no one would notice I was wearing any.  As a result of these actions and others, I was judged as a “sinner” and worse, someone that “didn’t love God enough to obey the rules.”  If you are a sinner then that meant you where not going to heaven.  This had a profound effect on my life for many years because my heart did love the lord and my intention was not disobedience, my heart was looking for acceptance and that need led to my actions.    The thing is, judgment is saying, “I am right and you are wrong.  I am better then you because I don’t do what you do.”  It places superiority on the person making the judgment while placing fault on the person being judge.  In this way, it is different from stereotyping.  Stereotyping can be negative, and when it is, it stems from fear.  Stereotyping can also be positive in that sometimes we seek to understand a person’s culture, beliefs or actions by way of observing their overall look.  Does that make sense?

I chose to write about this topic because I believe there is something we can learn from this subject.  Judgment requires assumption.  When judgment is present, we assume the person knew better and chose to “do it anyway” or we assume “he/she thinks he/she is so smart” or “the Bible say’s that and  you are wrong!”  All those assumptions are predicated on the person having a bad motive.  But I have found that for the most part, people try to do the best they can.  Their motive is coming from a pure and honest place.  That doesn’t mean that mistakes don’t happen but it does mean they where not done in malice.  What if, people just don’t know any better in their heart?  What if people are broken and hurting and they try to do the right thing but their own insecurities and fear get in the way?  Should those people be judged or should those people be helped by those of us who have walked in their shoes?

There is a tenent in the recovery programs that says “Take what you want and leave the rest.” I had learned that saying when I went through Alanon many years ago, and it was an extremely valuable tool for my self-help tool belt.  It taught me that I may not agree with everything being said in the walls of an Alanon meeting, but I could take the things that applied to my life or circumstances and leave behind that which did not apply.  This approach prevented judgment in that it allowed for each person to find their own path with the understanding that we are all on different paths but seeking the same result.  When I went back to church after many years of not going, I found this same principle applied there as well.  Over the years, I have traveled a lot and been to many churches to hear many preachers.  I do not agree with everything preachers say, but I accept them for who they are and where they are on their journey and I do not take offense when a preacher says something that I disagree with.  I think to myself, either I have more to learn or he has more to learn, but I try really hard to accept them where they are without judgment.   How many times have we formed an opinion about someone else, only to find out that once we get to know them, they are nothing like what we thought they would be?

The point I am trying to make is, what if instead of assuming the worst about a person in any given situation, we can say to ourselves, maybe they just haven’t learned what I have learned yet, and God bless them as they continue their pursuit! Isn’t that approach more compassionate and empathetic? Doesn’t it leave room for change.  As Christians, we must first always remember that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves and for those who do not subscribe to a religious based belief, isn’t kindness toward one another a better way to live? Judgment is not based in love, but it is based in pride.  I think we all forget from time to time what it took for each of us to become the people we are today.  We all struggle, we all make mistakes, we all have regrets so lets try to remember where we came from and show kindness to those who are still struggling.  As we go about this holiday season and let us practice the golden rule “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Eternity~ The fate that awaits us all

It began in the spring of 2012.  As my husband and I crawled into bed, shared conversation about the day and grab our books that we where each reading, the quiet torment of death played through the thoughts of my mind.  Night after night and day after day these thoughts persisted.   Incredibly afraid to put voice to my thoughts and fears, I didn’t tell my husband and tried to pretend they didn’t exist. I prayed about it, I asked God to remove the fear from me and I rationalized through all the reasons why this prevailing thought was absurd.  After several months, I learned how to ignore the fear and fall sleep. In early 2014, I began to think about writing my obituary.  When this thought of writing my obituary came to me, I found it peculiar and wondered why I was suddenly thinking about such a morbid task.  I didn’t feel fear as I had in 2012, what I began to feel was a bit of acceptance.  I did not write my obituary, I let the moment pass and wondered again where this thought was coming from. 

Tonight, as I sit at home and write this column, I can say with a strange kind of peace and acceptance that I am in fact, dying.

When these intuitions on mine began to present themselves in 2012, I was completing my undergraduate degree in Psychology and getting ready to start graduate school.  Graduation has come and gone and I am now working in my field as a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, which means I can practice therapy under a licensed clinician while accumulating the hours needed to become a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist or LMFT for short.  After receiving my registration number with the Board of Behavioral Sciences, I was so anxious to begin working!  I applied for many jobs without much luck. One day, a LMFT acquaintance that I had met recommended that I look into the hospice field and do some of my licensure hours in grief counseling.   I had a visceral reaction to that idea.  I have been loosing friends and loved ones to death since I was in the 7th grade and dealing with death on a daily basis in my professional life was the last thing I wanted to do.  So I continued to apply and interview for jobs but having no luck.  Then in an abrupt and unexpected moment, my father-in-law was discharged from Stanford Medical Center after a routine visit that led to a hospital stay, and admitted to Gentiva Hospice.   I didn’t know the first thing about hospice or how it worked, all I knew was that those are the people that get called when a person is sick and the doctors can no longer help.    My father-in-law passed away just 6 hours after arriving home from the hospital.  A few weeks after we laid him to rest, I reconsidered the idea of grief counseling and applied for a position with Gentiva Hospice.  The fact that I was working in a field that deals with death on a daily basis was not lost on me and given my own intuition over the past few years I found myself asking God what it was he was trying to tell me.   What was even more worrisome to me was that I had been feeling a very strong pull to get involved with the Suicide Prevention Task Force.  I have had an interest in that organization for many years.  I have lost two friends and several acquaintances to suicide.  When I made the call to become a volunteer, I was told the organization needed the most help for the LOSS team.  LOSS is an acronym that stands for Local Outreach to Suicide Survivors and the LOSS team volunteers respond to the scene with the coroner’s office in the event that a suicide occurs.   Without hesitation I joined the team, coming to terms that there must be a reason I have been called into this particular area of work.  As they say in the recovery world, “acceptance is the key” and I was certainly finding that to be true for me.

I am several months into my work now and have worked with many patients and families as they receive the dreaded news of a terminal illness and experience the transition of life and loosing a loved one.  It is often a very sad and also a very rewarding experience.
I live with the belief that “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord and he delights in his way” (Psalms 37:23).  In the book of Job, the bible also says “For HIS eyes are on the ways of man and he sees all his steps” (Job 34:21) so I continued to pondered and wonder out loud to God why he has me working around death.  One thing that I am aware of on a conscious level daily is how certain death is and how in the face of death, the cares of daily life don’t seem to hold that much importance.  I am grateful for this awareness.

Tonight as I reflect, the puzzle pieces I have been collecting since 2012 are beginning to fit together in picture form I can see what it is meant to reveal.  I am dying and I have a keen awareness of the time I have left, or the lack there of.  I cannot shake this awareness and I am becoming more and more at peace with it every day.  It is a blessing actually.  Knowing I am dying allows me to live more intentional than ever before.  It has enlarged my capacity to love, to forgive and to show kindness (although I struggle with this when driving).  I am 100% the epitome of human failure.  My ability to expression those virtues have been left many scars on those I have loved throughout my life and I have made many mistakes that I cannot undo, but…my capacity for love, forgiveness and kindness is enlarging with this new-found knowledge and for that, I am grateful.  However, the thing that I have noticed the most since coming to terms with my inevitable demise is the unexplainable realization of how insignificant I am in the presence of the Almighty God.  Words cannot convey the power and majesty of God as I feel him in this space of my life.  I think perhaps only the people facing death have any kind of glimpse of this reverent and holy God for the certainty of eternity is more present than ever.   Perhaps the best illustration I could use to describe how I feel is about the enormity of God is the one found in Job beginning at Chapter 38 when God himself spoke to Job out of a whirlwind.  I have found myself reading and re-reading that passage and others in the bible over the past few months.

Doctors cannot give the terminally ill patients an exact date of their death, nor do I have a date for my own, one thing is sure, death is a certain outcome and I have come to see it as a blessing.  I have a limited amount of time on this earth and I don’t know how much time I have.  Knowing this inspires me to live on purpose with purpose.  I need to share my life with others and tell as many people as I can about the love of God, his goodness and his kindness.  I want to scream from the mountaintop that any other message about God is a lie! God is not cruel, he isn’t responsible for the atrocities of this world- there is an opposing power to God’s love for humanity and that opposing power is evil.   Whatever time I have left on this earth, I want to spend it helping people understand that eternity is real.  Our souls will live in eternity after our body dies.  I consider it a gift to know my time is limited and I pray I never forget that.  I heard someone say just the other day that we are all just one breath away from eternity I know it sounds cliché but what if you knew you where dying?  What would you do different?  Who would you forgive?  Who would you love more?  How would you spend your time?  Would you keep silent on issues you wished you had spoken up about?  Would you pursue the desires in your heart that you have repressed?  Truth is still truth whether we believe it or not!  The Bible is the inspired word of God and one day we will all stand before our maker and give an account of our life.  I know this is a hard subject to face, but my prayer is that after reading this article, you will take a few moments to slow down, consider how you spend your time and if you are inclined, ask God to help you understand his purpose for your life.  You where created for a reason, don’t you want to fulfill your purpose?  

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Faith That Happiness Will Come Again

It has been a few months since I have been able to sit down with any kind of clarity and pen an article. I have been writing for several years and generally, I can always come up with something to share. If I am not writing about God, personal growth or fitness, almost always I can write about nutrition.
However, over the past few months, I have been at a total loss of any kind of creative thought. Instead, I have been walking through loss, grief, sadness, anger, hurt, uncertainty and fear. As personal as that is, I share it with you because it is a part of life and more importantly, these times of despair are a necessary part of life.
In April of 2013, I wrote a note to myself in the note section of my phone that simply said “What do I want my life to look like?” Over the past two years, I have revisited that question several times and never one time sat down to answer it because I didn’t know the answer, until this morning. This morning, I knew the answer.
Since about the age of 28, maybe a little before that, I have been on a journey to “understand” the reasons why I have certain behaviors and why I made the choices I have made. I have searched out my childhood, my beliefs, my choices in men and my separateness in an effort to understand who I am and what purpose my life holds.
After 20 years of doing that I felt I had a pretty good handle on myself and I believed I knew myself very well. Yet, for two years I was unable to answer this very simple question of what I wanted my life to look like. I guess perhaps it was too big of a question.
Difficulties in life, if we can survive them, bring about positive change. The question is whether or not we can survive the difficulties. Over the last few months, I have suffered loss. Loss of love, the death of a loved one and loss of a job I thought would be the beginning of my second career. All the things I believed to be true became questions of uncertainty. The hope I had for my future is now suddenly ambiguous and the belief that I found the man I would grow old with is now also a fading dream. Sadness has been my perpetual state as I ponder my new reality.
Yet, beneath the sadness, beneath the grief, beneath the uncertainty, there remained a glimmer of faith. Faith that in time everything would be okay, and somehow I will be happy again.
I am choosing to write about this very personal experience because I have lost many friends to suicide. Grief, loss, and hopelessness is perhaps the most difficult thing anyone will ever have to go through in life. These emotions walk you right to the edge of the cliff. Before you even know you are at the edge of a 1000 foot drop that could kill you, you are making the decision to live or die, to hope or to believe all hope is lost.
This is the moment life hangs in the balance. I have been there. Not this time, but in 2006. I know what it is like to get to the edge of the cliff and want to jump. I know why people kill themselves – because in that moment everything comes down to a very simple question, “Do I believe God is real?”
In that moment you cannot feel God, the only thing you feel is despair. It becomes a choice. A choice you make not because of feelings but inspite of feelings. A choice to believe that God is real and if you can believe that God is real, then maybe God might be able to help you.
Grief is a very unpleasant and difficult thing to live through. All the faith in the world doesn’t make the process of healing any easier and faith doesn’t make the process of healing happen any faster. It is a process. It is something we all have to go through day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute. Faith is simply the hope that WHEN this season is over, I will be happy again and I will be stronger because I survived.
I have no idea how my story ends. I am still living it. But today, I was finally able to answer the question as to what I wanted my life to look like and knowing what I want my life to look like gives me a direction for the decisions I will make as I move through my circumstances.
I’d like to leave you with these verses from my very favorite book, the Bible. 1 Peter 5:6-10 “Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: Casting all your care upon him; for he cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil is as a roaring lion, walking about seeking whom he may devour: He who resist steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same afflictions are accomplished in your brethren that are in the world. But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that you have suffered a while, he will make you perfect, sstablish you, strengthen you and settle you.”
May you all know that God is bigger than any problem you face. Ecclesiastes 3:1 says “To everything there is a season. A time for every purpose under heaven.” Your problem is just a season that will eventually pass and when it does, He will give you joy again.

Friday, January 23, 2015

What Separates the Successful from the Unsuccessful?

By the time you read this column, we will be more than half way through January 2015.  I wonder how many of you are still pursuing your New Year’s Resolution goals?  I go to the gym about 5 out of 7 days a week and I can tell you that the gym does not seem nearly as busy as it has been in January’s past.  Maybe, people gave up on making fitness resolutions a long time ago, I don’t know.   Personally, I only set one goal for myself this year.  It is a rather lofty goal but I am going to achieve, I am determined.  My goal is write a book this year.  Since I was 28 years old, I knew that there is a book I am destine to write.  I have started at least 5 books and written a little in each of them but never set out to fully complete one in a systematic, organized manner.  Now, I am going to make sure I follow through and get it done.  However, I am not off to a very good start.  The circumstances of my life have taken center stage over the past few months and occupied my thoughts, time and energy.  Nevertheless, I will persevere.

I recently read a quote from William Buffet that read “What separates successful people from unsuccessful people is that successful people say NO to almost everything.”  I pondered that for a while and I do agree with Mr. Buffet.  However, I don’t believe that is he primary means of separation.  In my opinion, what separates successful people from unsuccessful people is that successful people fill their thoughts and spend their time on positive things in times of disappointment, discouragement and despair.  After the events of the past few weeks, I am convinced more than ever that our outcome is in direct proportion to what we think about on a regular basis.  This is a biblical principle and if you can really absorb what I am saying it will drastically improve your life.

Life is hard.  Being a Christian doesn’t change that fact.  More often than not, being a Christian actually makes life harder because we are always called to do the right thing.  The right thing is often the hardest thing.  As hard as it is sometimes to do the right thing, those of us who follow Jesus and try to please him out of our love for him, understand that there is always a reward in doing the right thing.  Sometimes that reward is peace of mind.  Sometimes it is a financial blessing, sometimes it is a new job or job promotion and sometimes is it being let go from a job.  Discouragement, loss and disappointment come to us all.  The Bible says, “It rains on the just and the unjust.”  That simply means that all of humanity are subject to the same struggles but what people do in the midst of their struggle is what determines the outcome, their character and their integrity or lack thereof.

There are many scriptures that point us to guarding our thoughts.  Here are just a few.  Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life.” (Prov. 4:23), “Guard what was committed to your trust, avoiding the profane and idle babblings and contradictions of what is falsely called knowledge” (1 Tim 6:20), Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. (Heb 10:23). This principle is the same as the famous quote that is often posted in offices “Life is 10% of what happens to me and 90% of how I react to it.”  “Trust in the Lord with all thy heart and lean not to thine own understanding, in ALL thy ways, acknowledge him and he shall direct your path” (Prov 3:5-6). 

            Over the last several months, I have watched as a few friends have lost their spouse to death, others whose relationships have end and still others who have lost jobs.  I have also watched as people have made a commitment to shed the excess 50-100 lbs. and accomplished what they set out to do.  The process is the same in every situation.  First your faced with loss, then your faced with fear, then your faced with acceptance of what you do not want to accept, then your faced with the long and painful process of transition, which is often the hardest part because it is ongoing and lasting.  The moments of limbo, sadness, defeat, fear, loneliness, anger, disappointment and all the other emotions that accompany such life events are difficult to endure.  The difference between successful people is successful people turn to positive outlets, faith and hope in these times.  They turn to things that bring encouragement.  Sometimes it’s a book, maybe it is a podcast that inspires, maybe its prayer or church.  It could be anything that keeps you moving forward in hope and faith for a brighter tomorrow.  If you are not turning to positive things in moments of despair, you will turn to negative.  Negative conversations, gossip, alcohol, shopping, sex, other people to fill the void.  Unsuccessful people seek to “escape the pain” instead of going through it open and honestly which ultimately brings personal growth.

            The absolute best example I can offer is Cody Hedlund.  Many of us followed her family in the media and on Facebook when her husband Joel, was diagnosed with cancer and passed away last year.  So many people knew Joel because he and his wife Cody co-pastored Crossroads Church and later went on to Pastor Orange Valley Church in Exeter.  When Joel was first diagnosed, I watched as their faith in God never waivered.  Throughout the entire process, they continued to say “God’s got this.”  In the last moments of Joel’s life and since his passing, Cody has shared her grief and sadness publicly on Facebook.  Time and time again, as she shares the loss she and her boys live with and yet she still says “God’s got this.”  Her faith and trust in God does not mean the pain of losing her husband way to early will be non-existent, but she doesn’t focus on the pain.  She focuses on the hope that she has in God and allows herself to be encouraged in things that offer hope.  I don’t know Cody personally, I knew Joel as many people did, but I follow her day after day on Facebook and I watch with quiet gratitude and thanksgiving at the grace in which she is enduring her loss.

            Life isn’t easy.  It is often messy.  We make mistakes that we regret, others have unjustly wronged us when we where helpless children, and some of us have never been exposed to a loving family or a stable home.  However difficult the obstacle may be, YOU are the only person in the world who can change the outcome of your future.  It starts with turning toward faith and hope for a better day ahead and turning away from fear that brings undesirable consequences.  It is a simple, but incredibly difficult, choice.  Doing the right thing in life is often the most difficult choice of all. 

            As you set out about this year, maybe you set some personal goals for yourself or maybe like me, you are in transition.  What will you do when you have a bad day?  What will you do when faced with disappointment?   Can you ride the wave of change until you reach solid ground, or will you drown in the current?  The choice is yours.  Choose well.

**Kathy Looper has a Master’s Degree in Psychology and is a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist Intern.  You can contact her at Kathy@kathylooper.com

Kathy Looper, MA MFTi

Kathy Looper, MA MFTi
Marriage & Family Therapist