Since I was twelve years old people have been telling me their problems and deepest secrets. I’ve spent thousands of hours listening to others talk about their hurts. Sometimes the people who talk to me are strangers.
Once a filling station attendant (in Oregon we still have those) told me about his divorce while he was pumping gas into my car. A housekeeper at a motel where I was staying poured out her life story when she brought me an extra towel.
Another stranger addressed me not long ago when I was in the produce section of a grocery store. She looked at me from the other side of the sweet potato bin and announced, “I’m mad!”
“Why are you mad?” I asked.
“I’m furious with my husband,” she replied and proceeded to tell me the story of her disintegrating marriage.
Most of the time, though, the women who talk to me know me. They may be a friend, a relative, a neighbor, a coworker, a student at the college where I work as a lay counselor, or someone who has heard me speak.
That was the case with Helen. She came to see me on the recommendation of a friend of hers. She told me that it had been five years since her daughter’s murder, but she was still searching for peace. She said, “I’ve gone to ministers, psychiatrists, everybody. Nobody can tell me how to get healed. I asked the last minister I counseled with if he thought I had to forgive the murderer for killing my daughter. He told me, ‘You can’t. Only God can do the forgiving.’ But that didn’t help me!”
When I heard her story, I told Helen, “You can’t forgive your daughter’s murderer, but Christ in you can. You do not forgive the murderer because he deserves your forgiveness, but because Jesus asks you to forgive him. The last sentence of Matthew 18:35 says to forgive others ‘from your heart.’ The only way you can do that is if you remember the promise, ‘I can do all things through Him who strengthens me’ ” (Philippians 4:13). Then I took Helen through some simple steps to forgiveness (see chapter 4). Together we got on our knees and laid her burden at Jesus’ feet. Afterward she said to me, “I am free! For the first time in five years I have peace.”
I couldn’t have handled a situation as serious as Helen’s when women first started talking to me about their hurts and problems. There were times as a pastor’s wife and even as a missionary when I felt as though I was near breaking under the heaviness of the unspeakable things people told me in confidence. Physically, emotionally, and spiritually I was unable to carry these burdens and still fulfill my role as wife, mother, and Christian. But while our family was still living in Taiwan, I began to see that these women did not need my advice, nor was I capable of providing what they longed for. What they needed was God’s answers to their heart cries.
I knew that someday I would have to stand before God and answer for what I encouraged other women to do. So I began to seek His remedies for people’s burdens. I knew that if I was to help those who came to me, I needed to be able to apply God’s Word to their situations. The Bible has concrete answers and fundamental principles for how we are to live. God’s Word is living and active (see Hebrews 4:12). It gives us all we need for life and godliness, and through the Holy Spirit we have access to God’s divine power (see 2 Peter 1:3).
As I read and studied the Bible, I prayed and asked God to show me His principles for living. If I needed His counsel for a particular problem that a woman had brought to me, I would start right where I had been reading in my Bible and ask Him to speak to me. I underlined the verses whenever I came on a truth that applied to an issue that would help someone I was working with. Then in the margin I wrote the topic it addressed. This allowed me to find the verses easily because, even though I have always found it difficult to remember specific references, I can remember the vicinity of a verse.
In time, I came to call this God-given ministry to women “kitchen table counseling.” That phrase gives a picture of what I do. Although I am not a professional counselor, I reach out to hurting women sitting across my kitchen table, using scriptural truth and spiritual encouragement.
I began to teach other women how to become Kitchen Table Counselors (KTCs) when we moved back to the United States after sixteen years in Asia. Our family settled into a neighborhood church near our mission headquarters in California. The pastor was a wonderful, gentle man whom we grew to love. We were shocked to learn that he had become sexually involved with a woman he had been counseling. His fall into immorality devastated and bewildered the congregation.
The church called a new pastor, who realized the dangers of pastors counseling needy women. He knew about my ministry of Kitchen Table Counseling and asked me to help train a group of women to aid him. He wanted to be able to call on these women as a resource when other women in the church needed counseling or someone to come alongside them during a difficult period.
Some of the would-be KTCs had natural gifts for counseling and an ability to relate well to people. Others were wise, with many years of church experience. A few were young in the Lord. Each woman had a variety of gifts and abilities, a heart to know God, and a hunger to seek His solutions for her own challenges as well as those of others. I taught these women the principles God had shown me, and Kitchen Table Counseling seminars were born. That was thirty-six years ago.
My role as a KTC became official when my husband, Norm, and I started working at Multnomah Bible College in Portland, Oregon. The school asked me to counsel and encourage female students as well as wives of the seminary and graduate students. They gave me an office, and although I no longer have a kitchen table, I have created a comfortable, home-like environment where women can feel safe to share their hearts.
Over the years I have been asked to train groups of women in many churches. Almost everyone — from the director of women’s ministry to the small-group leader to the quiet woman in the pew — feels the need to be better equipped to help others. In the Fall 1994 Lectureship at Multnomah Bible College, counselor Dan Allender spoke to the students on the theme of “The Bible and Psychology.” He told them that spiritual counseling needs to be done by people in the church and that people shrink from dealing with spiritual issues on a spiritual level. I agree, and that’s one reason I’m writing this book.
What I’ve written comes out of my own experience as I’ve depended on God to help me deal with the problems women face on a spiritual level. I believe that God can help you do the same, regardless of your gifts and abilities. So keep reading!