Change/Growth? Jagged, Messy & Worth the Effort!

New vision, new mindset, new lenses, new language, new neurons. What do these have in common? Well, obviously "newness." Most of us get excited about the idea of new, yet ironically we tend to resist change. I saw a billboard once that proclaimed, "We are all for progress, it's just change we don't like!" But still, new seems to offer a promise, something better, something hopeful. 

So how else are these terms similar?  What is the promise, the better? Well, psychology, neuroscience, and the Bible offer us the opportunity to see with new eyes, to develop new mindsets, to speak a better language—which can in turn create an improved life, so we can live with vision and purpose.  All three suggest we can be transformed by renewing our thoughts—we can react differently (more kindly, more thoughtfully, more intentionally) because we see proactively rather than reacting from our old, unexamined and dysfunctional patterns. We can develop new neuronal networks in a positive direction. We can see, think, and act from a more loving, wiser place within us. 

Psychology teaches us how to overcome the old, deeply entrenched negativity for more positive, loving, relational mindsets and behavior. Neuroscience teaches us that our brains can be renewed, retrained and reformed. We call that neuroplasticity. The Bible promises that we can die to the old and become new—alive to love, faith and hope. Who doesn't want all this positive possibility? Well, for the few who don't, this hope is not for them.  

But this hope is for me, and I hope it is for you as well. We don't need to stay stuck—entrenched in our old, and often miserable ways of being. So what is all this newfangled mind renewing, transformational stuff anyhow? Is it for real? Is it magic or wishful thinking? Or is there some truth and science in it? The answer is yes! It is real, it is scientific, and it is Biblical.  

It is simply profound, though not necessarily easy. Look at the first sentence again. What else do you notice? I want to call your attention to the fact that it requires dedication, an intentionality, and a learning curve. Learning a new language happens best when you practice daily, immersing yourself in it, in various forms: book study, conversation, listening to it in movies, songs, practicing exercises with sight and sound recognition, playing games... Get the idea? In neuroscience terms, "what is wired together, fires together." This means that the neural pathways you etch into your brain by repetition are what become habitual. Therefore, our old dysfunctional thoughts, attitudes, moods, and behaviors are bad habits that can be broken. They are like deeply dug irrigation ditches (I like to joke that they are irritation ditches) that can be filled in (obliterated) so new lines of thinking can be etched into the grey matter of our brains.  

So you want habitual joy, peace, patience, love? To mix metaphors, we can dig new mental ditches by choosing to practice those values, exercising them repeatedly in various situations. These are like mental gymnastics we need to repeat consistently until those muscles can do the heavy lifting—so those muscles don't fail us in the toughest of challenges. So we can fire up the happy neurons in a stressful situation.  

Easier said than done? By all means. My own experience with shifting my mindset—putting on new lenses—is that the learning curve can feel really steep at first. I catch myself slipping backward into the old, easily. It takes a persistence, a determination, a daily intentionality to finally live from the new vision. Charles R. Swindoll (Insight for Living Ministries) called it “three steps forward and two steps back,” a kind of see-saw pattern. Jagged. Messy. Like when I determine to see the positive in every situation, to thank God for every struggle because there is a lesson in it—some great revelation and beneficial character change—I find myself slipping into a grumpy, moody, frustratingly dark place before I miraculously evolve (thanks to the inner working of the Holy Spirit) into the victory of being established firmly in the new and improved perspective. Back to the metaphor of learning a new language—this requires steady, consistent practice. But if you stay with it, you'll wake up someday realizing you've been dreaming in your new language! Then you will know, it was worth the effort! 

Stop Being a Moving Target!

Did that title get your attention? I hope so. Stop being a moving targetof what? (You may be asking.) Well, clearly if you’re being stalked or the Paparazzi are chasing you, you're ducking and hiding your famous (or infamous) face. If people you want to avoid are pursuing, you shut down the phone, ignore the text, walk a different direction, etc.  In other words you become a moving target. We all know how to duck and hide, run for cover, throw up smoke and mirrors, or even hide inside a false self; to obfuscate, to protect and defend ourselves, right?

It is true that most of us have busy, overly-committed, overly-crowded lifestyles. We can't escape the phones, texts, emails, instant messages, social media, and overall onslaught of demands and overstimulation. So we have learned to maneuver and hide. But what if we are so good at hiding, that we lose our true selves? What if deep down in the depths of our hearts we are longing to be (genuinely) seen, understood, known, and appreciated? Can we stand still long enough to let that happen? Can we let that friendship, that relationship, that affirmation, that love find us? Can we chill, hang out, relax, slow down, long enough to be aware of the moment and what it may be offering?

Do an exercise with me. Let's just practice being aware. How do you feel, this second? What do you notice? Is your heart racing? Is your chest tight? Or is your body calm? What stimuli are you noticing? Are you bombarded with sounds? Is your phone beeping? Your computer chirping? Are you warm, cold, comfortable? Can you pay attention to the feeling of the floor beneath your feet, or the colors surrounding you, the scents in the air, the atmosphere around you? What are the thoughts in your mind? What are you paying attention to? Take a break from reading to notice these things. Take your time. I'll wait for you, till you come back. 

So, did you recognize your state of being? Could you silence the onslaught enough to check in with yourself? Do you need something? A drink of water? A bite to eat? Some rest? More time to reflect? Time with a friend? What is your body, mind, and spirit saying to you? 

What I notice is that I need more time, more space really, to let God be present with me. My busyness, my projects and task lists, keep me being that moving targetkeep me from me, and more importantly, keeps my sense of God at a distance. Yet when I slow down and take notice (like in the exercise above) what I really feel and need, is the peace of God's Presence.  I need the confidence that He is near, and that His love overcomes any concern, or fear, or loneliness I may feel.  I need to cease from being a moving target, cease striving, as the Bible says, so I can actually learn to be still and know God. 

And so I begin a dialogue with the invisible God, who I sense is nearby. I ponder what I am experiencing, or the circumstances I find myself in. I ask "What does this mean, God, from Your perspective? What is Your view of this? Your view from such a higher, calmer, more joyful, and hopeful place. What do these circumstances, these feelings and thoughts, mean from the place where love reigns?”


 I am sitting in my tiny living room, realizing that what I don't enjoy about my small home, isn't so much its smallness (though that adds to the claustrophobia) but that it has ceilings and walls! I am weary of ceilings and walls. I need space, I need sky, I need to soar. (Unfettered by my own inventions that create obstacles, and fear, and negativity in the place where God would call me into freedom.) I feel constricted by the narrowness of walls, blocked by the abruptness and shallowness of ceilings. I sense I could fledge like a young eagle and fly off into destiny as God defines it. 

"How do You interpret these feelings, these sensations, these circumstances, God? What of Your heart is here for me to hear? Show me from Your eye-angle; what truth, what revelation lurks here, hiding in plain view for me to discover? What Kingdom perspective is mysteriously smiling, waiting to be seen and known, so that it can light up the darkness, overcome angst with joy, transport my heart to boundless spaces full of freedom, goodness, kindness, peace,—all supported and infused by love as You define it." As I close my eyes to see God more clearly, the walls give way to expanse, and I am free to move about the heavens. The grief and stress of solitary confinement (one I created with busyness and being a moving target) melts away, and I am greeted by a host of heavenly thoughts and impressions.


I am calmer now. My space has expanded, as has my heart. I can let the peace fill me, the hope smiles volumes into my soul, and the joy gurgles up in a tingling sensation. I feel transported beyond my belief in limitations, and my faith is beginning to swell. God is near. He is always for me and not against me.  The moving target that was me has settled into His Presence for the moment. Hmm. To learn to stay here..

An Immersive and Transformative Experience

Immersed and transformed! That was the rich and wonderful experience I shared with the precious women who attended the Ambassador Church’s Women’s Retreat the first weekend in May. I was given the privilege of being the speaker for this event, and had come to really like and appreciate the women who were planning it; Breezy, Lisa, Eveline, Cindy and Nicole. (I’ve known Breezy for 5 years; enjoying lively discussions, and driving her nuts begging her to sing for me with her stunning voice.) Still, I was blessed beyond my expectations as I spent more time with these ladies.

The retreat was held at a lovely resort in gorgeous La Quinta, a city on the floor of the Coachella Valley, and almost completely surrounded by the Santa Rosa Mountain range. The atmosphere and beauty was reminiscent of Santa Fe, New Mexico, where photographers flock to take photos in the unique lighting that is famously, “magical." 

Speaking of magical! The retreat was that. The girls obviously put their hearts and imaginations into creating a fun, stimulating, safe-place-to-be-real, vibrant experience. The worship was beautiful, each song perfectly chosen, much like a soundtrack that undergirds and amplifies scenes in a brilliantly constructed film. Except it was better than that because it immersed us in the beauty and presence of God! His presence and love was palpable.  

Something else I greatly appreciated was their sincere desire to offer a transformative experience to anyone who wanted one. This was not just some form of entertainment, performance or weekend escape. The activities were arranged to foster genuine connections, conversations, and deep sharing of hearts. Wow. I witnessed that happening, and I participated in it. Many of the women were drawn out~sharing their needs, their fears, their hopes, and their dreams. The love, kindness, and support freely flowing among the women was amazing. In this kind of atmosphere, hearts can be transparent and transformed. Tears, smiles, laughter, and healing filled the weekend. Wounded hearts found comfort, burdens were lifted, hopes were revived.


The theme of the retreat was from Romans 12:2: “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (NET Bible), and from 2 Corinthians 3:17,18: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (ESV). We discussed how this transformation can take place, and how our minds can be renewed. We explored how we can be freed from old, negative, dysfunctional attitudes and behaviors we all become entrapped in, and how to develop new ways of perceiving (our minds being renewed) so we can live in wholeness, in God’s will.


I told on myself a bit in the first session; how God revealed to me my utter brokenness so I could acknowledge it, and lay it at His feet in exchange for His life-giving truth. I shared that the church in Laodicea (Revelation 3:14-18) believed they were “rich, prosperous, in need of nothing.” Educated, wealthy, and independent, they didn’t realize that they were “blind, naked, wretched, and miserable,” as Jesus described them. The point is that as we acknowledge our brokenness, we qualify to be healed and blessed! What an astounding spiritual exchange; I surrender my weakness, failings, dysfunctional attitudes, beliefs, and lies, in exchange for God’s healing and freeing truth. My “badness” gets transformed by His goodness as I focus my eyes and heart on Him, and immerse myself in His presence. Sounds like a really good deal, except it ultimately costs us everything. We have to surrender all of our darkness and dysfunction for His goodness. Hmm, still sounds like a great plan to me! 

We spoke honestly of the internal conflicts we all face between the parts of ourselves that want to be transformed, and the parts that resist change. We acknowledged that sometimes we even cling to fear, resentments, and unforgiveness. Why? Because in some ways we think they empower us, protect us, or are so much a part of our identity that we are afraid to let them go and be changed. We agreed this is a life-long journey, and well worth taking the next step towards becoming whole. Many of us did take a big step forward that weekend.   

So I thank the beautiful women from Ambassador Church in Brea, Ca. for inviting me to join their journey. They said my speaking was “perfect for what they needed," and they were perfect for me. I loved being with them in that transformative experience, immersed in God’s love, and the love of His precious women. 

An Experience of Extreme Worship

It is good that I didn't make a New Year’s resolution to blog frequently. I would have failed miserably! My resolution was to live in integrity, so I have to tell you the truth! No excuses. It has been a few months since I blogged, and I want to update you on what has been happening. It has been a season of transformations! I finished the endless rounds of editing my book, Broken! To Golden: Transform Your Troubles into Treasures! Your Struggles into Joy! Between proofing ad nauseam, and spending many nights up sorting through the technical difficulties inherent in publishing, I learned more than I ever cared to know about word processing, setting margins, fixing fonts, formatting, avoiding orphans, and a myriad of other minute details. Who knew? The technical, glitchy part was by far the harder part of the journey! 

Writing the book was a magnificent love-affair, an experience of extreme worship. It brought me closer to God as I felt His inspiration leading me on every page, in every example. I felt like I was in a rich and wonderful conversation with God through the entire writing! He breathed scriptures for me to use in the chapters, gave me word pictures, parables, and stories to amplify the messages. I loved the journey, because I felt the nearness of His presence every step of the way. It felt intimate and loving. I felt guided, and protected through the storms…yet all the while it was very challenging. I wanted to be sure I heard His voice, got it “right,” did a job worthy of Him. I had friends, and two editors, who primarily praised the book, making only a few suggestions! I was so amazed and blessed. I guess I heard Him!

Even now, I am listening to Broken for You, a haunting love song to God, on the Undone CD by Brian and Jenn Johnson (2012). It feels like the perfect soundtrack for me. I first embarked on this book journey 25 years ago. It was launched from a dream I remembered vividly upon awakening, and that set the stage for an epic journey out of psychological and spiritual death; through wildernesses, triumphs, failures, miseries, and joy. The theme of extreme brokenness into glorious wholeness pervades the message. The song, Broken For You, speaks from the Song of Songs (in the Old Testament), a passionate and poetic book which is also a foundational theme in my book. Broken! To Golden: Transform Your Troubles into Treasures! Your Struggles into Joy! speaks to the passion of our journey from utter fallenness, falseness, despair, and spiritual death~to God’s magnificent, loving, passionate and fiery redemption. He frees us from bondage, devastation, destruction and dysfunction. God’s love~His uncompromising, unadulterated, glorious passion to win us back into love, into relationship, and into eternal life~ is my theme, and my life.

So, the book is finally in print! My all-nighters were so I could take copies to a conference I am teaching May 1st and 2nd for Ambassador Church in Brea. I have the honor of being the guest speaker for their women’s retreat in La Quinta. They are a beautiful, multi-ethnic church, and have a passion to live and love in Christ’s Image. Their Senior Pastor, Ray Chang, has an inspiring life verse: 

Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us…(Ephesians 3:20, ESV).

I will let you know how the conference goes. And if you want a copy of Broken! To Golden: Transform Your Troubles into Treasures! Your Struggles into Joy! just contact me. It will soon also be available on Amazon.

New Year’s Intention and Integrity

The agonies and ecstasies of the holiday season! That was the theme of my December Message. We focused on developing a perspective of joy—even in the midst of stress and conflict. We attended to the positive, celebratory, and meaningful, rather than submerging into the negative. We exercised intentionality in spreading that joy. In this post, at January's end, I want to look at New Year intentions. How are they going for you?

For me, Integrity has captured my attention. That word has bubbled up to the forefront for 2015. It's a theme for this new year. I hope it can become a New Year's intention for everyone. Integrity is about being honest, authentic, real, undivided, whole and uncontaminated. It is about pursuing a moral compass, uprightness, rejecting falseness, and having an internal consistency.  It is vital whether we are talking about the quality of life, the quality of a football game, or the quality of food (keep reading and that will make sense). It is the way to health, wholeness and love.

Last week, leaving Peet's coffee, I met a man whose business name includes the word integrity. I hope that is sincere, I thought, and not just marketing strategy.  


If you watch the news, you have seen the controversy around the teams in this year's Super Bowl; the accusations that the New England Patriots "cheated." Did they lack integrity in playing the game? Many people are upset, outraged, even devasted by this. Understandably. We humans have a deeply innate need to have trustworthy, reliable relationships, heroes, parent figures, models—people we look up to and admire, or even emulate. We need people of integrity in our lives. Despite our misbegotten attempts to be independent, we are created a communal folk. Our ancestors were tribal, and if you look closely, we really still are. What we choose affect others, especially our families and communities. If we lie, cheat, or behave selfishly, it impacts the many, not just the one. And so, much of the world is watching this fiasco. 

Did they cheat? Now, I realize that a lot of money rides on this issue, but more importantly, many hearts and minds are affected. I am not judging or even offering an opinion about the New England Patriots. I am pointing out the incredible importance of living in integrity, living in authenticity and harmony with our inner core and with one another. 

"Pictures, words and descriptions are meaningless without integrity. To us integrity matters."

This motto is displayed on the web page, and on the side of a van advertising three wonderful restaurants owned by the Firok Shield family. They own our favorite restaurant, da Giovanni, in gorgeous Carmel-by-the-sea, in Central California. 

Theirs is a great statement. People can say anything, promise the moon, impress with lavish marketing strategies. But is it real? Do they deliver? Do they have integrity? This restaurant team means what they say, and they back up their pictures and promises by delivering better than expected. While the food is incredibly delicious (great quality, creative offerings—well worth our 8 hour drive to get to them!) their hospitality and graciousness is the most endearing.

I spoke to Jennifer, who was driving the van with the motto prominently painted on the side. Apparently she manages all three of their Carmel restaurants. She was so humble and pleasant, we didn't find out until later of her position. Her description of the family—their humility, graciousness, and therefore the pleasure of working for them—was inspiring! She told us that Mr. Shield, now in his 70's, works as hard as he expects of any employee. Yet still he finds time to greet his guests and serve a gift of dessert wine! We visit only once a year—yet Firok, his daughters and staff, have always managed to make us feel like family. 

Kindness, graciousness, friendliness and integrity—what valuable qualities. Those are the special ingredients that make our da Giovanni culinary experience so memorable. They are the ingredients that make life and relationships exceptional. When they are lacking, we all suffer. When they are present, life is good! 

Now back to the New England Patriots. I hope we discover that there was no malicious intent. But either way, their debacle serves as an example. How far-reaching is the impact of our choices, and our characters. Even those choices and decisions we think are in private, ultimately impact our families, our communities, our world. My hope for 2015 is that integrity is found in greater abundance in all our lives, and in this tribe of humanity to which we belong. I am making it an even greater priority this yearto live in integrity, and to support it—wherever, and in whomever I find it! I hope you will join me. 

Christmas Message

I love Christmas! Although I understand it is not in vogue in many places now. I love the celebrations of life, and of the Giver of life. I love the music, the decorations, and the special events. Yet I know that for some, it is a season of painful memories, disappointments, and amplified loneliness. As a psychologist, I recognize that Christmas can be a difficult time, and my patients need extra support as they face family pressures, "anniversary dates" of past hurts, or just feel left out and disconnected. For those hurting, there can be a great divide between the joyous sights, sounds, and cheer—and the tears provoked by the dark side of depression, anxiety, and conflicts intensified in this season. 

It is a challenge to live in the in-between—in-between the rejoicing and the sorrow—where there is a dynamic tension amidst the joy, family, parties, gatherings, sparkles, beautiful lights, parades and festivals on one side, and the anguish of loneliness, dread of family conflicts, re-invasion of past trauma, and financial stress on the other. 

It is a glorious season, and yet one that accentuates both sides of life; the agony and the ecstasy. It is like life everyday, only more so! So how do we manage this life of living in-between? In between the joys and the sorrows? In between the tears and the cheer? In between the darkness of evil and the light of goodness? The old life and the new? While we are being transformed into the image of God, surrendering to God's promise that He will turn all of our darkness into light and make all our crooked places do we live?

While I confess this is easier said than done, here are some proven tools, with which practice makes...progress!

  • What we think about, focus on, concentrate on, and meditate on—these shape our hearts, minds and souls. What we invest in is what we reproduce. What we feed grows. It is actually a creative process. If you feed the negativity, it will grow larger around you like a black cloud that ultimately envelopes you. If you focus on what is good, what you appreciate and are grateful for, that becomes your perspective and experience.  
  • Therefore, if you concentrate on the good in your life—even forcing yourself if you must—to appreciate the smallest blessings, you begin to see how truly rich you are. Your attitude changes, and you are inviting joy to invade your soul, diminishing the grief.   
  • In my book about a  secret code to changing your personality, "The Secret Code to Your Personality: How Cats and Dogs Teach Us to Live and Love," cats and dogs share their wisdom and experience. The attitude of gratitude that many of them display, their Joie de Vivre (joy of life), their readiness to forgive and move on…their lives teach valuable lessons that are life-changing. If you have ever rescued an animal, you know by experience how loving and grateful they can be! Thus the signs in car windows you may have seen displayed by grateful pet owners, "Who rescued who?" Most rescues find ways to thank their new families every day for the rest of their lives! Their delighted owners have regaled me with stories of how these loving pets have enriched their lives and perspectives. 
  • We too have been rescued, fellow believers. We have been saved from eternal judgment and, even now, we are being saved from squandering our lives in selfish and silly pursuits. We are given opportunities to live with great purpose and meaning, our lives transformed by faith, hope, and love. 
  • Despite the struggles and disappointments that are a part of everyone's journey, we have much to be grateful for. As we look at that reality, our temporary discomforts and frustrations pale in comparison. The apostle Paul said that he considered his “momentary, light afflictions" (which included being beaten almost to death, shipwrecked and imprisoned), not to be compared with the far surpassing glory of knowing Christ!.."For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us" (Romans 8:17, ESV).
  • Darkness does not overcome the light. Turn on a light, light a candle, and the darkness flees. Light a hundred candles, and then a thousand, and the glow is glorious. As a community, we have greater influence together, to stem the tide of darkness.
  • There is always something to rejoice in. Look for it, like a diamond among the sands of the sea, like that pearl of great price hidden from view, like buried treasure. Look for it and you will find it. Ask and it shall be given to you. Seek and you shall find.
  • As we apply this to the holiday season, we can focus on any and all things that we are grateful for. We can choose to sing songs, rather than grumble about disappointments. We can greet people with a smile, especially those who look like they really need one, and we can slow down amidst the hurried and harried crowd to be the one refusing to join the harassed, and offer a sense of peace. We can take in the special beauty, the music, the decorations, and the true Spirit of the holiday.  We can take it in, and give it away—we can be producers and reproducers of peace, joy, kindness, love, and all that makes the season bright.   

Let us re-dedicate this season to the miraculous, the beautiful, the spiritual.  We can let our tears be turned to cheer. 

© Laurel Basbas 2014