Toxic Relationships

During my childhood, on Cherry Street, two types of families existed.  In most, like mine, fathers left home at 7:30 a.m. for city jobs. Children left by 8:00 a.m. to make the fifteen-minute walk to school equipped with a lunch or lunch money.  By 8:15, breakfast cleaned up, most mothers commenced their housework and grocery shopping with a few heading off to part- time jobs.

After school could be play time for kids depending on homework assignments.  Between 5 and 6:00, fathers returned for family dinner.  By 6:30, teens ran to each other’s houses to listen to their newest 45 records.  Elementary kids met up in the neighborhood playground until mothers called them in for bedtime.

The Kelsey’s represented the other kind of family.  Sometimes, walking to school, we passed Mr. Kelsey, blacked out in front of our neighborhood bar.  Mrs. Kelsey worked swing shift in a factory.  Many days the six Kelsey children got themselves out the door, often without breakfast or lunch.  Even though several of them were bullies, generous children still shared parts of lunches with them.

The volume of the Kelsey home reached much higher decibels than most houses on Cherry Street.  Alcohol-enhanced fights between Mr. and Mrs. sometimes exploded out onto their front yard.  The older two children, 16 and 14 years old, tried to parent their younger siblings mostly by screaming at them. This family lived in a jumble of chaotic relationships.

I’ve met many people who grew up in families like mine and just as many who grew up in a Kelsey-style home.  The funny thing is, even if your childhood was peaceful and highly functional, you will be confronted with chaotic relationships at some point.  It’s part of this earthly life.  Recognizing chaos as one of Satan’s strategies is key.  This insight causes you to focus on the unseen dynamics between you and others with whom your relationship is less than enjoyable or peaceful.

In college, I entered my first friendships that were sketchy and confusing.  My first roommate, a born-again believer, regularly tossed my out of our room so she and her boyfriend could enjoy some “communion.”  I’m not talking grape juice and bread.  That disturbed me.  Another new friend seemed to want to be with me all the time, everywhere, even structuring her class schedule to match mine.   I felt flattered but suffocated, especially when I finally figured out she wanted to be my true love, not just my girlfriend.  Yikes.  That scared me.

Since then I’ve encounter muddled relationships in jobs, churches and neighborhoods.  How I wish someone taught me long ago what I’ll share now.  Satan looks for places to create havoc in your life.  Relationships are easy to foul up even with two highly functional individuals.  Here’s some of what I’ve learned about managing my interactions with people in a way that pleases God and keeps me sane.

  • Understand that some people are incapable of maintaining  peaceful relationships. I wasted too much emotional energy and time trying to stabilize friendships that couldn’t be stabilized.  There are many people in this world, Christians and non-Christians alike who are NOT led by the Holy Spirit.  They are like the unstable, doubleminded man that James describes in chapter one of his book.  They are led by emotions, passions and worldly thinking. They are chronically upset or completely scattered in their thinking such that it’s challenging to converse with them without feeling yucky afterwards.  If these are people you must see every day at work, or home, there are strategies you can use.
  • Create sturdy boundaries around your life.  It’s simple.  People who point me to Jesus and produce the fruit of the Spirit consistently are allowed much closer than people who don’t, including family members and work mates.  You can live and work quite closely to someone without granting them full access to your inner life.  Gracious conversation, an interest in their concerns, producing decent work together and such, can all happen without being soul sisters or brothers.  God will give abilities to be a peace maker (NOT a peacekeeper) in situations in which He plants you. A quiet tone of voice, re-directing negative conversations, keeping people focused on jobs at hand are all good strategies.  It’s unfortunate when it must be this way with family members especially, but the option of allowing someone else’s chaos to invade your mind and heart is a poor choice.
  • Spend your free time with people who are sunshine on a cloudy day.  If you are strong in the gift of mercy, be especially careful how you spend your time.  Your desire to care for and help people can burn up time that should be used for refreshment and restoration.  Too many individuals become unbalanced this way.  Folks without that mercy gift can get snookered by people too. A few times, people cleverly hid their true selves from me until we were alreaady down friendship roads.  Back paddling out of a friendship is tough.  It’s much better to use caution and boundaries before committing your heart and free time to someone.

Take an honest look at your relationships.  Privately, with God, put them in one of two categories, refreshing or draining, or order versus chaos. Adjustments may be necessary.  A life filled with draining relationships will be a frustrating, unfulfilling one.  To help you with the task of creating healthy boundaries I highly recommend Dr. John Townsend’s book “Boundaries: When to Say Yes, When to Say No.” 

Remember, chaos and disorder in any part of your life did not originate with God.




The Weapon of Chaos

Crouched on my dining room floor, terrified, I crept towards our only phone, on the kitchen counter.  The year was 1960 something and I was home alone. The setting was our new house in the country, a sharp contrast to our city house in Philadelphia.  Country sounds are very different from city noise.

I felt certain someone was breaking into our house.  We now lived next door to my father’s childhood home, five miles from the largest prison in Michigan. When we lived out East, he shared tales of prison break outs that occurred during his childhood.

I managed to call my grandfather, next door, who appeared quickly, loaded shotgun in hand.  He stalked around the outside of the house to confront intruders.  We both enjoyed a hearty laugh when it turned out to be a tree branch tangled in a window screen.   My imaginings messed me up yet again.

My natural mind tends towards a daydreaming, sporadic rhythm.  The imagination that prompts me to create, design and write can also be a fertile field for what my grandmother used to call “vain imaginings.”  When someone irked me, I used to engage in entire conversations in my head with them; words that couldn’t and shouldn’t be said. Tiny grains of fear in my mind used to explode within minutes to full on potential disaster scenarios for me or my family. I forgot things frequently.

Only in recent years did I come to recognize another one of Satan’s strategies, that of creating chaos.  By my observation, it’s a strong tool he uses that everyone must contend with at some point, somewhere in their lives.   Chaos is the opposite of peace and it never comes from God.  1 Corinthians 14:33 says,

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace….” (NIV)   Before God created the heavens and earth, what did exist was, “formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep…”  (Genesis 1:2 NIV) In other words, no design, just a chaotic element mixture.  When God moved he spoke beauty and order into everything on and around earth.

I believe Satan, consistently wars against beauty and order wherever it may be.  He incites chaos in three key places, our minds, our homes, and our relationships.

I’ve met dozens of people like me.  We fight our largest battles against chaos in our minds.  Creative personalities seem more prone but I know people of all temperament types that engaged in this fight.   Worry, fearfulness and forgetfulness can be signs that your mind is not at peace.  Chronic depression and irritability are further symptoms.  How can we allow God to transform a jumbled mind into a peaceful one?  Here’s some ideas:

  • Consult a trusted doctor.  Please don’t poo poo this.  For most of my life I lived with some chemical imbalances that created a great deal of mental confusion.  Simply taking some vitamin supplements, under my doctor’s guidance, completely changed that.  Numerous physical problems can create problems.  Your diet, particularly if you eat a lot of processed, sugary foods, can mess up your body chemistry.  It takes medical expertise to unsquirrel what you may have done.  (I used to eat Oreo cookies a bag at a time. Yikes.)
  • Recognize any weakness in this area.  Satan will get his foot into the tiniest crack in a door or window of your mind.  It takes a quiet, steady mind to pray and listen to God.  A scattered mind struggles to sit peacefully reading and meditating on the word then carrying that with you through the day.  This works out great for our enemy.
  • Take charge over imaginations that go against God’s Word and His ways.  If you struggle with brain chaos, 2 Corinthians 10:5 is a crucial verse, but you can’t just read it, you must do it!  “Casting down imaginations and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”  I know, “every thought,”  sounds impossible but I will testify that it becomes easier.  Nowadays, I recognize the seeds of mental chaos and  usually eradicate them before they bloom.
  • Ask God for wisdom and healing. God knows every cell in your brain intimately.  Ask Him what to do and do it.  He might guide you to a doctor, like me, or, He will point out lifestyle choices that are not working for you.  Media can be fun and useful, it can also overload and overstimulate your nervous system and brain.   Nervous system and sleep disorders are at an all-time high due to our over-engagement with media.  The question to ask yourself after any media experience is simple, do you feel better and more positive about life, or worse?
  • Exercise regularly. In a large study reported in the Harvard Health Blog, scientists concluded that your hippocampus actually grows with consistent aerobic exercise, something that makes your heart pump and your sweat glands work.  Your hippocampus is the part of the brain involved with memory and learning.

It is also widely known that good exercise (not OVER- exercising) releases our endorphins, one of the natural peace chemicals God placed in our bodies.

If Satan can keep your mind in a chaotic state, you will not achieve your God ordained destiny.  Don’t accept a chaotic state as normal.  It is NOT God’s design for you.  Start today to clean your brain house.





Your Children, Satan’s Target

Children of leaders are often smack in the center of Satan’s bullseye, next to their parents.  Their innocence and vulnerability are quite appealing to the enemy of their souls.  I believe when Satan can’t achieve his desired inroads into a leader’s life, he turns to their family.   Sadly, we leaders are so distracted by busyness and fatigue sometimes, we don’t see what Satan is doing to our children, right under our noses.

My grandfather, a Baptist preacher, raised four children, together with my grandmother.  Two, including my mother, served the Lord all their lives.  The other two, my aunt and uncle, turned their backs on their faith and spent most of their time on earth living as people of the world.   What happened?

When Ken and I were in full time ministry during our daughter’s childhood, demons tormented her regularly.  Ken and I never knew this until we moved away.  We temporarily lived in a mobile home, after leaving ministry, where her bedroom faced the street.  We felt concern for her, moving from a quiet country life into a noisy trailer park with lots of comings and goings at all hours.

Instead, to our amazement, her first night there she said she went to sleep, unafraid, for the first time in many years.  She then proceeded to tell us about the frightening faces that regularly appeared at her bedroom windows at our former house.  Stories of hearing voices in our former backyard and seeing strange creatures in the fields around the house broke our hearts.  We realized that what we brushed off as normal childhood fears were demonic attacks on our child.  How could we not see this?

I could tell you more stories of colleagues in leadership whose children overdosed on drugs, ran away from home and, in general, rejected their parent’s faith entirely.  These sorts of scenarios don’t happen overnight.  Why couldn’t parents see what was happening in their own home?  I think the answer to all these “what happened” scenarios is that Satan is cunning and subtle.

Let’s look at my aunt and uncle again.  After numerous conversations with various family members, including them, a picture formed of two kids who didn’t fit into the rigid mold of what preacher’s children were supposed to look like back in the 1940’s and 50’s.  Both my aunt and uncle possessed creative, free spirits. Church members missed no opportunity to criticize their behavior, dress and activities.   In some churches today, ministry kids are still exposed to the same kind of scrutiny.

I don’t think my grandparents recognized the bitterness growing in two of their children’s hearts until it was too late. My grandparent’s days were packed with all the demands of an active church, just like Ken and I so many years later.   Our Jennifer is such a sweet little rule follower, Satan knew that he couldn’t demolish her the way he did my aunt and uncle, so he took a completely different tact.  We completely mis-read her fears and dropped that ball entirely.

In the same way, other leadership parents we’ve known, captains of industry, missionaries, pastors, and such, missed subtle yet effective attacks launched against their children.  Here’s my suggestions of ways you can recognize when your children are under direct attack and what you can do to protect them.

  • Cover your family, house and property, every day, with the blood of Jesus.  This is not heebie jeebie silliness.   Jack Hayford explains it well in his book “Pleading the Blood.”


      “Pleading the blood of Jesus is not the superstitious application of a magic formula of words. Rather, a spiritual dynamic is being applied. The power of the blood of Jesus Christ is greater than both the energy of our own humanity and that of our Adversary. The power that saves is also the power that releases, delivers, and neutralizes the enterprises of hell and the weaknesses of the flesh.”   Although Ken and I daily covered our home, it never once occurred to us to pray over our yard and surrounding property.

  • Take note of behavioral changes. Our sweet girl didn’t start out fearful, she became that way after some scary encounters.   Suddenly never wanting to play outside alone or go to bed at night indicated a major shift for her.  I’m told my aunt and uncle enjoyed happy childhoods until they started to notice all the criticism being lobbed at them.  Two sunny children became mouthy, disrespectful adolescents.  I think my grandparents attributed this to normal teenage stuff, which might have been part of it, but certainly wasn’t all of it.
  • Make time for quality conversations.  I wished we had asked our girl what she really thought of our ministry life, home etc.   We would have learned things sooner rather than later.  Ask your children key questions like, “Do you like living in this house?”  or “How do you feel about mommy/daddy’s job?”  A great question to ask is, “If you could change anything about our lives, what would it be?”  Be prepared for some surprising answers.
  • Use available resources.  In our church, at the end of every service, our elders and pastors are available for prayer.  If your church doesn’t do this, make an appointment.  If your child’s negative behavior has progressed beyond conversation and prayer, please, seek some Christian counseling.  Heartbroken, rebellious children of leaders can get involved in addictive, dangerous behavior.

If you are a leader, your children are targets.  Ask God to show you anything you’ve been missing.   He will give you wisdom, discernment and faith to know what to do.





Living in the Bullseye

Satan’s bullseye is filled with the faces of leaders.  Why?  It’s simple.  By destroying one leader, he can take out entire families, churches, businesses even nations.

In March, we’ll consider ways Satan attacks leaders.  Some are frontal assaults.  Others are so diabolical; we don’t recognize their hellish origins.   So much has been written about one of the subtle ones, I wondered about saying anything fresh on the topic.  Yet, everywhere, I observe leaders struggling with it, some wearing it as a badge of honor.  I’m talking about the deceptive snare of busyness.

During my younger days in ministry, I appointed myself as a junior Savior. I already served as minister of music, senior pastor’s wife and a mother.  On top of all those responsibilities I took on leading a women’s Bible study, directing Vacation Bible school and expanding various children’s ministries.  Additionally, I served on several national ministry committees.

This unsustainable lifestyle led to regular collapses into sickness and exhaustion.   I’d huddle in my bed or camp out on a couch and still try to make phone calls, prepare agendas, etc.   For years I didn’t understand that I was overloading my body and mind.  I wanted my church, our ministry, to be effective at reaching the lost and making disciples.  Pure motives sabotaged by over achiever tendencies.

John Maxwell says, “The greatest enemy of good thinking is busyness.”   When we overcommit ourselves we are robbed of time and energy for higher level thinking.   A life with thin margins doesn’t allow time for quiet contemplation with God.  How do we know His methods and plans if the only time we spend with Him is in quick, fly by devotions?  That might work for others, not for leaders.

Satan knows that some leaders aren’t likely to fall into overt sins of sexual immorality, theft, murder, etc.  He still needs to take them out.  What can he do?  What if he tricks them into overfilling their schedules?  Busyness makes leaders tired, irritable, confused, frustrated and engaged in activities that keep them from fulfilling their true hell-piercing destiny.

Use this list of tell-tale symptoms as a tool to help yourself analyze whether you may have fallen victim to this sneaky weapon of our enemy.

  • Loss of joy in tasks- When there are too many things to do in a day, individual items turn into obligations.  Things you used to love to do, you just get through so they can be checked off.
  • Missing key family moments consistently – the best way to gauge this is to ask your family, “Do you feel like I’ve been absent from your lives too much these last six months?  Be certain they understand you want complete honesty as you desire to make course corrections.
  • Struggles getting to sleep and staying asleep.  When minds are too full, they try to solve problems you couldn’t get to during the day, at night, when you should be sleeping.
  • Feeling irritable and grumpy-  Do you find yourself frequently apologizing for your tone of voice and overreaction to normal daily challenges?
  • Feeling like your failing, letting everyone down. Overcommitted people do wind up letting a lot of people down because they can’t possibly keep all the commitments they’ve made.  Even when you manage to keep them, your work lacks excellence.
  • Feeling a sense of private relief when you become ill. – I used to feel inwardly relieved when I had a cold or flu because then I didn’t feel guilty about allowing myself some rest and down time.

Don’t allow good to chase away best in your life.  God didn’t design you to excel at a thousand things.  He created you to achieve a few, key kingdom roles and accomplishments.   Only by taking the time to listen, really listen, will you know what your destiny roads are.