What Therapy Taught Me About Tithing

Therapy and tithing. What an odd combination of topics.

Counseling is not cheap. I learned this after I graduated college and was looking for a therapist. I was still riding the waves of the emotional hurricane of Cambodian hospital experiences as well as trying to fight off my own personal archenemy, depression.

Counseling is not cheap, but I am. (At the time I was as stingy as Scrooge, and the only difference was I’d had the excuse of being a college student for the previous four years so people didn’t judge me quite so hard.) But you see the equation—something had to give. Well, really, I had to give. If I wanted counseling, that is.

When I first started going to counseling, it was up for debate in my head how often I would go. I was hesitant about spending so much money on myself. It seemed…excessive. Exorbitant, even. However, after the first couple sessions, the decision was no longer a difficult one—because after counseling, I didn’t feel like I was drowning anymore. I felt a little hope rise up in my chest; the suicidal thoughts faded after counseling.

This, I decided, was worth any amount I could pay. If someone had told me I could pay to have the feelings of suicidality go away…it would have been a dream come true. For so many long days and miserable nights, I had wished I could buy freedom from depression—I would have emptied my bank account in a heartbeat!

And here, in a counselor’s office, I finally found that a little bit of freedom was indeed available. Suddenly, the price seemed so small a sum of money compared to the alternative torture of riding the fence of suicide day in and day out.

Photo via

Photo via

It wasn’t a decision, really, because not being suicidal was so valuable to me.

The cost wasn’t even a question anymore because mental health had become so important to me. Every single time I spent money, I weighed the benefit and the cost, but I had never witnessed the scales tip so drastically in favor of the benefits before.

One day, as I was driving home from counseling, I began thinking about money and my mind wandered to tithing. I often found it hard to tithe, just as I found it difficult to write a check to my therapist those first couple of sessions. I cringed a little inside as I thought of the expenses on my budgeting spreadsheet adding up, and I hesitated to add tithing to the list.

Yet as I recognized this feeling—this hesitance to let go of money and a sense of control and security—I thought of the scales weighing benefit and cost, and I had one of those moments where I realized how good God was to me all over again.

God is so good to me. His love is unconditional, and His presence is constant. He gives me breath in my lungs and plants hope in my heart every morning. He doesn’t withhold His goodness if I withhold my tithe or if I rebel or for any reason at all. He is the Wonderful Counselor, and He is everpresent, Emmanuel.

He doesn’t require me to pay for His relationship; in fact, He paid the highest price—His Son’s very life—for me already. For me to spend not a session but eternity with Him. He gives us life itself, and He gives us Him self

Suddenly, tithing seems like nothing. How incredible that He asks for (not demands or requires, but requests) money.

Material money.

Of course He can have it. It’s His, anyway. And when I think of His love, His goodness, His companionship…all the money in the world cannot buy these things. Tithing transforms from a sacrifice to an honor as I realize again how grateful I am for Him, for a relationship with Him, for His love, for His presence, for His promises.

He who paid the highest price for us invites us to walk with Him each day. What a privilege it is to offer back to Him a few dollars in gratitude.

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For Nurses in Developing Countries

You know you're a nurse living in a developing country when...

1. Every time you see a body of water you think about Schistosomiasis or some other water-borne parasite.

2. You're sitting on the commode with diarrhea and as you think about your lack of water intake and proper diet during the day, you literally say out loud to yourself, "I'm losing so many electrolytes right now..."


3. You dutifully use hand sanitizer every time soap and water isn't available, but secretly you're thinking of all the diseases only soap and water can kill.

4. You notice how dilated everyone's veins are in the hot, humid climate you're in and wish you could teleport your renal patients here for the fifteen minutes prior to starting an IV on them.

5. You're constantly telling people to change their diet to include more iron because you have a strong suspicion they're anemic after quick visual assessments, such as noting pallor in their nail beds.

6. You text your friends unashamedly about your abnormal bowel function overseas.

7. You adjust your diet according to your current bowel ailments. (More tamarind allowed today I'm constipated. More rice and less fiber when I have diarrhea.)

8. You're constantly reminding people to wear their motorbike helmets because safety always comes first, no matter the heat or discomfort. (You've seen one too many head traumas from motorbike accidents.)

9. It bothers you to the nth degree when you see people smoking on hospital grounds (considering all wards have open windows and doors and smoke can go everywhere).

10 Your heart breaks a little every time you see malnourishment. Which is pretty much every day.

11. You struggle because you have an overwhelming instinct to fix everything and make everyone feel better, but you're simply unable to. You find hope in helping one person at a time entrusting them to a Higher Power.

12. You are assessing community health needs continually, as you learn more and more about the culture, health care, and superstitions/beliefs affecting health practices.

13. Your friend in your passport country still sends you a picture of her infected eye to ask if it's pinkeye. (You reply yes, it looks like it is.)

14. Your days of running around a hospital floor getting cups of ice water so your patient will take their pills - all the while wearing a jacket because the a/c is turned up so high - seem like a distant dream.

15. Though your tolerance for super-entitled patients drops a few notches, you still respond to all with compassion and empathy because you realize in developed or developing countries, people's needs are the same: physical needs for food, water, medications, and hygiene, but also emotional and mental and spiritual needs. They just manifest in a different way. No matter if they're upset in a private American hospital room or in tears in a hot, crowded Cambodian ward, they are scared, stressed, and in need of healing and a Healer. So we respond with compassion to all. Because that's what we do. Because we are nurses.


To nurses in developing countries:

May your learning experiences, encounters with the sick, and poops be solid but not too hard.

May your heart, food, and water be purified and well prepared.

May the days you have the runs be blessed with plentiful access to flush toilets, toilet paper, and empathy for  patients with E. coli.

May your searches for soap and water, Lysol, deeper meaning in life, and a paradigm for suffering be fruitful and rewarding.

Most of all, may your compassion, immune system, and faith only be strengthened by your time overseas.

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The Half Truth Trap

I used to play "two truths and a lie" a lot. It was one of the most popular youth group icebreakers when I was a teenager. The goal was to tell the group two truths and one lie, but in such a way others couldn't guess which was the truth and which was the lie. It didn't take long to discover the fastest way to trick others was to slip a hint of truth into the lie (I know, this church youth group game taught me how to deceive people more effectively. Ironic.). Yet I think most of us know this principle about deception from other realms aside from the game: the most believable lies have a thread of truth in them. That's what makes them so believable. We learn this from experience, from weaving lies or from falling prey to them a few too many times. Slide some truth in with deception, and the lie just became much more convincing. And another game of "two truths" is won.

However, there's a much weightier issue with half truths than winning an icebreaker game.

A while back I came up against a mental block I just couldn't seem to get past. Logically, I knew this belief I held about myself was false, but for some reason I couldn't move past it. My heart wouldn't accept truth. In moments of quiet, accusations would start piling up in my head about why I wouldn't ever be able to embrace truth and move past this false belief. And unlike other instances where I could easily shoot down lies with logical facts, I had no defenses against these accusations.

When I was a child, I remember going to Target with my family. My mom would point to the big, red concrete balls outside the store and joke with us, "If you can pick up one of those balls, I'll give you $100!" (Or maybe it was $20, which is basically $100 when you're 9.) My siblings and I would always try, straining with every ounce of our tiny bodies to lift that concrete ball. I never could pick it up, no matter how hard I tried. And boy did I try!

That struggle to pick up a concrete ball is exactly what it felt like when I was trying to let go of my false belief and embrace truth. It felt like I was putting everything I had - all my mental energy and strength and effort - into the task, but it just wouldn't budge. No matter how hard I tried, it didn't lift or move or roll or shift. Not even a millimeter.

To get past this false belief - this felt like an impossible task.

I was worn out. Discouraged and frustrated, I alternated between feverishly scheming some new plan to convince my heart to believe the truth and feeling utterly defeated, sitting down with my back against the concrete ball and hanging my head low.

Shout out to my sister Christina & her friend Liz for the picture!

Shout out to my sister Christina & her friend Liz for the picture!

Eventually, someone had to help me break the belief down into two parts. Someone had to help me recognize the thread of truth mixed into the false belief I couldn't seem to let go of. The result was resounding freedom.

The little thread of truth - the half truth in a bag of lies - is the big, red concrete ball we cannot move. It's what makes the accusations in our heads impossible to deny. Yet when we dissect our false beliefs and identify the thread of truth in them, we gain freedom. We are able to treat the thread of truth as truth (as the big concrete sphere we can't possibly move) and the rest of the bag of lies as lies (which are much easier to stop believing when we can separate them from the half truths tripping our brains up). 

Half truths come in many forms, such as:

I am not lovable because I am...

  • imperfect
  • not an outgoing person
  • not a quiet person

Or, I am inadequate because I...

  • am not good at public speaking
  • have to ask for help frequently
  • learn/read/talk/etc at a slower pace than the person next to me

Or, my circumstances are difficult because...

  • everyone in my life hates me
  • I have no natural gifts/talents
  • God doesn't love me

The list goes on and on. But when we can separate truth from deception in these false beliefs, the lies lose their persuasive power. The truth may be that we are not outgoing people or are quiet, and it's certainly true we are imperfect. We may not be good at public speaking, and our circumstances may indeed be overwhelming. We cannot change those things, and that's okay. These truths do not mean the rest of the sentence is true; we are not unlovable or inadequate or defined by our circumstances.

When we recognize the slivers of truth as the big, red concrete balls we cannot move, we are free to stop trying to do the impossible and change the facts. We are free to step around the immovable, keeping the truth and letting go of the lies. We are free to move past the concrete balls of truth into the rest of life which, just like a great big retail store, has so many wonderful things to offer us.

Are there mental blocks you've faced that seemed impossible to move past?
How did you end up moving past them?
Are there half truths are you believing? About yourself, your circumstances?

Thanks for reading. I'd love to hear from you in the comments or an email!

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Keeping the Power Lines and Losing the Edits: What Telephone Wires Taught Me about Owning my Story

I was standing on the balcony of our apartment building recently, looking down the street at the colorful roof tops and dusty road. I was thinking how I wished I could share what Cambodia is really like with those back in the States. So I leaned against the railing, trying to figure out how I could take a picture without all the power lines and wires in the way of the picture.

All of a sudden I realized how ridiculous I was being. To show what Cambodia is really like, I ought just to take a picture as-is, without finagling angles to cut out unsightly objects. If my goal is to show what it is really like, it should be unedited and unfiltered and uncropped.

Unedited and uncropped. Those words reminded me why the blog is named Beyond the Smiles—because of the huge portion of life that’s lived in that space beyond the smiles and social media posts and the “I’m fine” lies that slip from our lips unnoticed. I don’t want to be captive to masks and false fronts; I want to practice honesty and authenticity and talk about all parts of life, even the difficult and ugly and messy parts—what life is really like.

So I wondered, what if the power lines aren’t making the picture less scenic? What if they are making the picture complete?

When we physically look around, we have an amazing ability to look past the “ugly” things and appreciate the beauty around us. We look past telephone poles and wires and trash on the ground to enjoy a breathtaking sunset or a budding flower. If we waited for a beautiful view without any kind of distraction, we would rarely—if ever—find a suitable one.

Perhaps the power lines are simply part of the view.

Sometimes I edit the picture I paint for people about life here—and often people want the edited version. It’s tempting just to tell about the highlights in ministry and the fun cultural experiences and the delicious new foods I’m trying. Certainly that is part of life overseas! But that’s not all there is. There is also the homesickness and traveler’s diarrhea and culture stress. There’s still the anxiety and depression that comes and goes.

Really, it’s always tempting to edit the stories of our lives, overseas or not. Sometimes we encounter parts of our stories we wish weren’t there, and we want to cut those chapters out.  There are certainly parts of my story I've wanted to white-out or highlight and hit command+x or just take a pair of scissors to. Yet these unwanted chapters are still part of our stories, whether we own them or not. When we leave out the power lines in our stories, we aren’t making them more beautiful. We’re leaving them incomplete.

Each day we face a choice: will we spend the whole day searching for a perfect Kodak moment, or will we embrace life with all the messy (and sometimes ugly) power lines and trash and poor lighting? Will we choose to enjoy the beauty in life even when it comes alongside hard things?

In part, this is similar to giving myself permission to say things I’m not supposed to say, things that are humble and honest. Choosing to accept the less-than-perfect parts of life is much like admitting fears and weaknesses and letting people see the warts and wrinkles behind our masks and makeup. Just as we try to disown chapters or themes in our stories, sometimes we try to orphan unwanted parts of ourselves. Yet when we orphan our imperfections, we aren't making ourselves more attractive, and we're certainly not getting any closer to perfection. We're simply missing out on who we were made to be.

I used to think life was about avoiding pain. I thought the purpose of life was to enjoy the moments that were happy, when everything was going great. But now I see things differently. Now I’m learning to accept that no matter what I do or where I go, power lines will most likely stay in the picture. 

And that’s okay. 

The point of life isn’t avoiding pain and finding happiness. It’s about knowing Jesus. Sitting with Him and walking with Him and getting to know Him. That’s what makes life full and meaningful and worth it. With Jesus here, the power lines can stay.


Are there unwanted “power lines” in your life right now?

How do you usually respond to these less-than-perfect parts of life or situations?

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