I’ll never forget one of my counselors explaining to me that we can stop developing emotionally at or around the point of our first major trauma. I was 25 at the time of the session, but I had a 14 year-old little girl huddled up inside my heart, hiding. You see, her safe, familiar world was turned upside down when her family moved to Upstate New York when she was just finishing middle school. No longer did she feel free, loved, seen. She felt exposed, misjudged, hurt, suffocated, angry. She was spending her formative years in an environment that wasn’t accepting or forgiving. And so she froze in time and hid. She became everything everyone else wanted her to become. And as each birthday rolled around, she grew further and further away from that little girl.
I burst into tears during that counselling session because I knew exactly who that little girl was and I was ready to embrace her again. But in order to do so, I had to also embrace who I had become in the meantime, and that was hard. I didn’t like who I was. And I didn’t like why I had become that person: Because people didn’t understand the difference between acceptance and approval and made me believe that the only way I could feel loved is by doing everything right and never getting anything wrong. I was more familiar with the emotion of shame than I was of love. I hated what had been done to me disguised in the Name of Jesus. I felt so afraid of him, so suffocated by guilt and religion that more often than not, I wished I wasn’t even a Christian anymore. It was just too hard.
It took me several years to get past my anger at who I was and what had been done to me. The more healthy I got, the more I wanted to go back in time and stand up for myself. I wanted to right all the wrongs done to me and my friends. But I couldn’t. There isn’t a blasted thing I can do to fix what has been. And so I had a choice: Could I begin to see my past differently? Could I see that the Jesus I was taught is not the Jesus in the Scriptures? Could I see that all the rules I was told to follow hold no power over my self-worth? Could I see that being a Jesus Follower isn’t suffocating – its a beautiful life full of freedom, grace, love, and forgiveness? Could I see that I had done my best with what I knew and what I had to keep myself alive in an environment that was dangerous and harmful and cost more people their futures and their lives than we care to admit? Could I get into counseling and begin to unwire my brain of the legalism/fundamentalism I was taught so I could begin to think and believe and live for myself? Could I love who I was and what Jesus has called me to?
Don’t get me wrong, I still get angry over things in my past. But I don’t allow them to create regret anymore. I would have never chosen what happened – but I had to face it and I faced it the best way I could with what little tools and knowledge I had at the time. Now that I know differently, I can embrace that little girl and tell her I’m sorry, I did the best I could, and from this point forward, things will be done differently. Not because I owe anyone anything. Not because I’m out to prove anything. Not because I need to make up for lost time. But because I know better now – and I know better because that little girl hid until it was safe to say, “Enough! No more! Let’s get back to who we are and who Jesus has made us to be!” I love who I am today and I know that I couldn’t be this person without who I once was. She made me into the compassionate warrior (my counselor’s description of me) that I am. And I wouldn’t trade who I am for anything.
Please don’t allow your past to sabotage your future by keeping you locked in a prison of regret, shame, and anger. You did the best you could back then. Now, you need to move forward and honor who God has made you to be and what he’s called you to do – TODAY.
I’m in your corner! Let’s get after it together!
The world is experiencing a mental health crisis.
We all had trauma pre-2020, but we got really good at ignoring and coping with that trauma. Then the Pandemic, politics, racial tension, and global panic piled on top of that trauma and we attempted to carry all of it without breaking…cause we really didn’t have a choice.
Our minds and bodies can only take so much before they give out. And I believe 2021 is the year of “Giving Out”. I’ve had so many people reach out to ask about counselling and medication because the way they are feeling is scaring them and their loved ones. They’ve always known something wasn’t right, but now, things are VERY dark and they aren’t sure what to do.
So, if you find yourself there, you are in VERY good company.
And…you are going to be okay.
When should I get into counselling?
Yesterday. But seriously. Getting into therapy/counselling is not a question of if, but of when. EVERYONE SHOULD BE IN COUNSELLING, whether you’ve experienced trauma or not. We are all human. We are all broken. And too often, we are responding to triggers in ways we just don’t need to. We are being hurtful or distant or are unable to be vulnerable when we could be kind, close, and authentic. We can learn to be comfortable in our own skin, in the quiet, and have healthy, full relationships with others. We can do these things! But we have to learn them. “Oh, it’s just my anxiety,” can’t be the excuse anymore.
Anxiety has become the catch-all for our bad habits and responses. Because we are minimizing the stigma, it’s now an acceptable excuse for just about everything…and I’m kinda over it. Why do we insist on living and acting this way? We don’t need to!
Others are so sad because their closest friends aren’t aware that they are hurting so badly. We have to ask the question: Why aren’t we letting people in? We are we not living in community, which is essentially what counselling is? Are we afraid of appearing weak? Are we afraid of what we may discover? Are we afraid of the emotional task?
I really want to encourage you to do the hard thing and get into therapy/counselling. Here’s how:
- Ask a friend for a referral. You don’t need to find a counselor on your own. Ask someone you trust for a recommendation. Counselors are booking up like crazy right now, so you may need to ask a counselor for a referral as well. But just because you don’t know where to start doesn’t mean you shouldn’t.
- You can research good counselors. Hop on Google and research “Licensed Mental Health Counselors”. Then, read the reviews. Most counselors will offer a free 15-20 minute phone call for you to get a sense of who they are. I recommend you attend at least 2-3 sessions before you decide how you feel about the therapist. And if you don’t like him/her, find another one! Don’t quit because you haven’t found the right fit. Finding a counselor is like dating: It may take a few bad experiences to find “The One”. But you will be so happy you put in the time and effort once you do.
- Don’t be afraid of Tele-Health. A lot of therapists are offering services via Zoom, Facetime, and other apps. I actually am a HUGE fan! All of my appointments with my counselor are now done via my phone or computer. It keeps me from having to drive an hour and find a babysitter (in other words: I cancel less frequently because I have no excuses as to why I can’t make my appointment!). It is so convenient! I realize face-to-face is more ideal, but I also know that right now, we’ve got to appreciate and use the technology that we have. Tele-Health also opens the door for you to find a therapist that you trust from just about anywhere. So don’t let this intimidate you or limit you.
- Put in the work. Let the counselor know why you are there – even if you can’t explain your dark feelings, let him/her know you have them. Let the counselor know what your goals are: I don’t want to be angry, I don’t want to be addicted, I want a strong marriage, I want to learn to open up, I don’t want to be sad anymore, etc. And then lean into what the counselor says and asks. Counselors aren’t there to coddle you…they are there to break the chains of generational baggage and it can be painful. So, put on your big boy or girl panties and get to work. The next generation will thank you.
- You may need medication. I ALWAYS couple medication with counseling. I am also in communication with my general physician and my counselor when I am on medication. If you are juggling multiple medications, a psychiatrist is a great idea. They are familiar with all medications and side-effects and they can help you monitor your meds. You therapist can help you find one.
Btw…I use “counselor” and “therapist” interchangeably. They are basically the same thing.
I have been in counseling for over tens years and have been on medication for seven years. Yes, at first it was hard to admit that I needed BOTH therapy and meds. But now I realize this makes me courageous: I am strong enough to admit I need help and I am brave enough to seek it…not just for myself, but for my husband, kids, and friends.
Not only that, but I work to put into practice what my counselor says. It took me twenty-five plus years to get to where I was. It was going to take awhile to unlearn coping mechanisms and to apply healthy outlooks. But gosh, the hard work has been so worth it and paid off in dividends.
So please…do what you need to do to get healthy.
For more information on counseling, check out my Scar Stories Podcasts with Megan Richardson and Mike Brannen. You can also leave some questions in the comments and I will answer them!
I’ve had multiple conversations with parents recently who are really concerned for their kids’ mental health. If you are currently afraid your child may be battling a mental illness, you are NOT alone. I repeat: You are in really good company. This past year took a toll on our children and if they were already pre-disposed to trauma or some other kind of mental illness/disorder, then Covid and quarantine only amplified their pain.
Here’s what I am hoping you hear: You do NOT need to be afraid. Gosh, I know that seems so counter-intuitive and almost impossible to digest. But you have the tools to be able to get your child some help. You just have to be willing to do whatever it takes, no matter how much it costs, and regardless of what anyone else thinks.
Some of you have compounded your fear with your guilt. You also suffer from mental illness and now you are blaming yourself for your child’s affliction.
Please try to remember that our world is broken – and so we are broken emotionally, physically, mentally, and spiritually. Your child wasn’t going to be exempt from the brokenness, even if you didn’t have a mental illness. But, you do have the upper hand…here’s why…
So many of us didn’t get help until we were much older and had trainwrecked our lives. Our parents didn’t have the mental health information and resources that we have now. They didn’t know mental illness was a thing that could be diagnosed and treated. And so we had to white-knuckle our lives for years until we got into therapy and began to heal.
BUT NOW WE KNOW.
And that right there is powerful. We know the signs and symptoms and we can watch for them in our children and then get them the help that they need – The help we didn’t get at that age but were desperate for.
Our children are going to be okay…but only if…
- We can own our own brokenness. Maybe we need to apologize, quit (you insert what), implement some boundaries, or get into therapy…again.
- We take drastic measures. Maybe your child needs to be homeschooled, quit the extra-curricular activities, or go to a facility, go to therapy, or get on medication.
- We get into community. You and your child need to be surrounded by people who love you and who can be a positive, strong voice of encouragement as you all walk through this season. Let your child talk to other adults who have walked through similar situations. Make sure you have people in your corner who you can trust for prayer, guidance, and reason.
Watching our children suffer is so hard. Watching them suffer when we know we may have had a hand in their suffering is even worse. But we can own our part and then vulnerably and honestly talk with them and seek to get help with them. What if you did this together? What if your child saw you fighting for your own health? Sometimes our kids need to know we are going to be okay before they try to be okay.
I’d love for you to listen to my Scar Stories podcast that I did with Dena Yohe (click here). You can also purchase her book You are Not Alone from Amazon. It is specifically for parents who are trying to figure out how to care of a child with mental illness. Her daughter Renee is the backstory behind the organization To Write Love On Her Arms.
Then, I’d love for you to also listen to the podcast I did with licensed counselor Mike Brannen (click here). We talk about when and how to get our children into counseling.
Why is it so hard for me to accept that God does not need me?
I need to be needed. I need to feel like I matter. Like people’s well-being depends on me. Cause if people don’t need me, they will leave me. And then I will be alone with my thoughts and feelings and that scares me. I don’t want to have to face my past…I want to distract myself from my past with my busy present. And so I tend to run around like a chicken with my head cut off, trying to get things done so I don’t have to think. To feel. And I exhaust myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
There is nothing wrong with being busy. Busyness is a part of life. But sometimes my “busyness” is self-inflicted to either distract myself or to find my identity in something else.
And so we always say yes and never say no and now we have so many things on our plate, we aren’t balancing anything, we are juggling everything. God never meant for us to “juggle” our lives. What is that verse in Matthew 11:28? “My yoke is easy and my burden light.” Nothing in there about Jesus’s work requiring juggling, or causing anxiety or exhaustion or overwhelmed feelings. It just says what Jesus asks us to do is “easy” and “light”. Gosh, how do I find that work? Must be nice.
The First Step
In 2 Chronicles 20 in the Scriptures, King Jehoshaphat (crazy name) is in a war that he knows he will not win. He is facing an overwhelming circumstance that he cannot avoid. See, that’s the first step in going from anxious and overwhelmed to easy and light: It’s setting down those things that don’t matter – those things that are just distractions. We will face enough in life that we have no choice but to confront. Why are you exhausting all of your mental, emotional and physical margin on things you don’t have to do? If you are having trouble saying “no” to certain things for fear of being replaced, rejected, or abandoned, that’s a tall-tale sign that you need to find a good counselor and get to work on yourself.
Back to our story: Jehoshaphat turns to God and cries out for help: “You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations. In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand You…We are powerless against this great horde that is coming against us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on You.” Wow. To have the courage that Jehoshaphat had to admit that he was nothing and could handle nothing apart from God…
Whether it’s your fear of your past, the intimidation of counselling, or just the looming circumstance in front of you that you cannot circumvent, you have to have the courage to invite God into your situation. You are not strong enough…big enough…brave enough…healthy enough…But God is.
Here is God’s response: “Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s…You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf. Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”
God doesn’t need me
I tend to believe that God needs me…because I need to be needed. I have so many fears and insecurities that I try to temper by being needed, which in my mind is a sure way to evade rejection and abandonment. But if God did need me, then he isn’t God at all, is he? And that scares the sh%$ out of me.
A.W. Tozer says: “This truth [that God is self-sufficient and needs no-one], while a needed rebuke to human self-confidence [ouch], will when viewed in its Biblical perspective lift from our minds the exhausting load of mortality and encourage us to take the easy yoke of Christ and spend ourselves in Spirit-inspired toil for the honor of God and the good of mankind. For the blessed news is that the God who needs no one has in sovereign condescension stooped to work by and in and through His obedient children…In the meanwhile our inner fulfillment lies in loving obedience to the commandments of Christ and the inspired admonitions of His apostles. ‘It is God which worketh in you.’ He needs no one, but when faith is present He works through anyone.”
I have to have faith that God is going to come through for me. That he’s not going to drop the ball. Unbelief, Tozer says, is deadly because I am believing in myself, not God, and I am only human. I will fail. Do I really believe God has got this…whatever the “this” may be in my life at any given time? If so, I will allow Him to dictate my day (“Spirit-inspired toil for the honor of God”) and I will be freed up to love and to serve other people (“the good of mankind”). I won’t be distracted by finding ways to make myself feel wanted and needed and irreplaceable. I will be able to focus on loving God and loving others, which is exactly who God created me to be. I will be living my divine purpose, and there is nothing more fulfilling.
Where to start?
Here’s where I’m starting: I am trying to find 10-12 minutes each day where I can pray uninterrupted. I like to write my prayers – it keeps me focused. When I can’t write them, I like to run and pray or walk and pray. In those 10-12 minutes, I am pouring out all of my anxieties, insecurities, fears, feelings of being overwhelmed, and confused. Then, I get up from that time fully surrendered to do what I know needs done next. Not what will necessarily distract me or make me feel better, but what actually needs done. My yoke actually does feel lighter because I’ve left all of my negative emotions with Jesus, trusting that He will take care of those things. And then I live in the moment.
Want to join me? How and where will you spend you 10-12 minutes in prayer today?
Have you ever read the book Grace Walk by Steve McVey? It’s one of my faves. Just read this statement from the book: “A grace perspective lets us see the commands [in Scripture] not as obligations, but as opportunities for the life of Christ to be revealed through us…Set free by grace, we don’t face the commandments with self-condemnation, but with spiritual anticipation that Jesus Christ will reveal His life in us.” McVey goes on to say that when Jesus was asked by a religious leader (I never stopped to think about that…a religious leader, who wanted to make sure he did everything right, was the one who asked Jesus) what the greatest commandment was (or what his main focus should be in order to be “successful”), Jesus answered with Mark 12:30-31. Jesus didn’t say to “be holy as I am holy” or “to read and meditate on Scripture day and night”. No, He said to fall more in love with Him and love others well.
The Bible’s Role
McVey goes on to discuss the role of the Bible in our everyday lives. He said we are taught that the way to live right by God is to read and memorize Scripture. However, he said as a young man, Scripture alone was not enough to empower him to say no to harmful things. He would memorize, recite, and carry around verse cards to no avail. He explains, “The Bible is a weapon against the powers of darkness. However, it isn’t possible to recite verses to the devil and expect him to run in fear…As you abide in Christ moment by moment, your love for Him will enable you to resist temptation by the power of His life within you.”
I started thinking through Scripture…and I thought of James 4. James explains that the way to resist the enemy is to “draw near to God”. James doesn’t say anything about reading and memorizing Scripture. He writes about pursuing an intimate relationship with Jesus. Satan is intimidated by intimacy with Jesus because Jesus is the only person he can’t beat. Don’t forget…Satan can quote Scripture. He used Scripture in Matthew 4 to get Jesus to worship him. Interesting. It isn’t Scripture that will overpower the enemy – it’s Jesus’s actual power.
Secondly, I thought of 2 Corinthians 12:1-10 where Paul is writing about the “messenger of Satan” sent to torment him. He didn’t get rid of the affliction through Scripture memorization or recitation. Just like I didn’t get healthy from reading the Scriptures. Jesus didn’t even tell Paul to handle the situation that way. What is the answer? God’s grace. Intimacy with Jesus. Wow.
I Can’t Read Enough.
I am just marinating in that right now because it is blowing up everything I have held to for a while. The way I deal with my struggles and failures is not by “doing” anything. I can’t memorize enough, read enough, serve enough, or say no enough. If I could, that would fly in the face of the Gospel. Why? Because “doing” something means I am relying on myself, not on Jesus.
Scripture was used as such a weapon in my life for so many years. When I started getting healthy and deconstructing who Jesus actually was and what He actually says, I pulled away from the Scriptures for a season. Now – lets take a pause here because some of you may be freaking out a bit. Let me explain…
I had grown up in an environment where acceptance and approval was confused. I was accepted when people approved of my behavior. Because this was my experience with humans, I figured that’s how Jesus interacted with me. When I’d do my morning “quiet time” as a student and young adult, I would spend about 20 minutes agonizing in detailed confession. Then I would spend 5-10 minutes reading the Scriptures – looking for ways I had failed and how Jesus needed to “fix” me. My relationship with Jesus was built on condemnation and guilt. And this is not the Jesus of the Scriptures.
Is the Bible Safe?
So for the past ten years, I have had to rediscover safety in the Scriptures. The Bible shouldn’t be a weapon used to beat me up and tear me down. It’s a tool I can use to find out more about Jesus. But I’ve had to go slow and take my time in this process. First, I have learned how to have an intimate relationship with Jesus outside of the Scriptures. As a result, I’ve learned to pray more regularly – I have random convos with Jesus now all of the time. I connect with him when I’m outside, or listening to worship music, or reading a good book. My relationship and intimacy with him has expanded as I’ve taken a break from the Scriptures and I’m so grateful!
I am learning to come to Jesus in honest surrender, instead of doing more Bible studies and projects for healing, I am praying prayers like, “Jesus, I am getting defeated time and time again. I am struggling. I want You, but in all honesty, I want this “thing” too. You live inside of me. You deal with it. I am trusting You for victory.”
Hear me: I am not saying the Scriptures are evil and should be avoided. What I am saying is that some of you shouldn’t fear taking a break from something that may be putting a choke hold around your neck and seek to find Jesus in other ways as well. Here’s the safe guard: I took my break from the Scriptures in community, counselling, and while still attending a solid church. I did not do this in isolation. That would be dangerous (see Proverbs 18:1 in the ESV).
Jesus is Safe.
I just want you to know that if your relationship with Jesus was wounded or stalled due to some misguided practice of acceptance and approval, you can relearn Who Jesus is and how He operates, it will just take time. For a while, the only books in the Scriptures I’d read were the Gospels. The Gospels are basically biographies or memoirs of Jesus. Rediscovering who he is and how he operates helps me exhale and feel safe with him again.
One more thing – the Jesus some of you walked away from isn’t even Jesus. You walked away from a Jesus arrogant Christians made up. Why not try coming back for a minute and seeing Who he actually is?
Do you feel like the walls are caving in and God’s just watching your life fall apart? Like, He doesn’t really see you? Do you feel utterly and completely abandoned by God?
The fear of abandonment is what caused my mental/emotional breakdown in 2010. I had experienced the pain of rejection the previous five years and determined that it was the absolute worst, most helpless feeling ever. I decided that I was unlovable, that someone else would always be more interesting, likable, pretty, smart, fun than me. I didn’t value myself – I didn’t think I had worth and so I figured everyone else felt the same or would figure that out eventually.
Rejection makes us feel and do horrible things to ourselves and our relationships.
I believe in Jesus (don’t check out just yet – give me a minute) and so I use some examples for my writing from the Scriptures. I am not asking you to believe any of this, I’m just asking you to stick with me and listen to me read (well, write) this story about Sarah and Hagar.
Sarah was barren and had probably come to terms with the fact that she was. Then God promises children…lots and lots of children. I’m sure Sarah told everyone. And if she didn’t, she kept it to herself but couldn’t wait to get her dignity back. But it didn’t happen right away. In fact it didn’t happen for years. And years. She grew impatient and I believe even more ashamed than she already was. Child-bearing was a woman’s sole purpose – it was her whole identity in those days. And so in her shame and embarrassment, she used Hagar. Sarah told Abraham (her husband) to have sex with Hagar (her slave), because in those days, that child would be considered Sarah’s.
Abraham slept with Hagar and she conceived. As you can imagine, this didn’t go well for Hagar. Sarah, who was already marginalized, defeated, depressed, and discarded by her society, couldn’t handle it. And so she took out her hurt and anger on Hagar by abusing her.
Shame also makes us feel and do horrible things to ourselves and our relationships.
I believe that shame and rejection go hand-in-hand. We cannot allow people to get close to us due to our shame. And so we push people away and reject them. Rejection causes shame, and so on and on the deadly cycle continues.
But here’s where you and I may part ways: I don’t believe that God is ashamed of you and I don’t believe that He has rejected and abandoned you. Yes, he allows bad things to happen, but he does not cause them (as Jennie Lusko reminded me). We live in a broken world. You and I have both heard that “hurt people hurt people”.
Here’s the hope: God promises that he sees, he knows, and he will give us the peace, love, acceptance, forgiveness, and safety that we are looking for if we will just humble ourselves and stop fighting against him.
Hagar ran away from Sarah. She was in the dessert, all alone and hopeless, and that’s when God found her and spoke to her face to face. He promised to protect, love and accept her. And she was never the same.
She answered God by name, praying to the God who spoke to her,
“You’re the God who sees me!
“Yes! He saw me; and then I saw him!”
My heart is breaking because I know people need to hear this…God sees YOU. And He knows. He knows the pain you are feeling. He sees what’s been done. Stop blaming him for the brokenness he died for. He died on the cross and rose again so that we could have hope and a future knowing that someone will always love and accept us and see our worth. You just need to stop fighting him and let him rescue you.