It’s just a phase…

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“It’s just a phase.”

A paltry attempt at encouragement. That whatever we are facing will not last. A fading portion of the growth process. Phases become something we buckle down and endure rather than soak in and enjoy.

There are phases in childhood. 5 phases of grief. We might see depression as a phase. Maybe we go through an anxious phase. An awkward phase. A transition phase…

Phases – ways and periods of expression that we and others may not understand. 

Painful phases often leave me wanting to crawl into a hole, yet sprint as fast as I can, all at the the same time. But no matter how quickly I try and move, the phase will last as long as it is going to last. I can’t rush it by quickening my pace, exhausting myself, squashing myself in shame, or hyperventilating in panic. None of these things will deliver me from a portion of my life God intentionally designed me to walk through. Where He wants me to walk, I must walk. Even in the midst of incredible disappointment and frustration, the path remains.

And what if it wasn’t just a phase? 

What if I stopped excusing away difficult portions of life and started swallowing them for what they really are – moments that I can stop – open my eyes – immerse myself in the rawness of life – and soak it the heck in.

We run through and from these crude, rudimentary places as if they could harm us greatly. Like they will burn us alive if we dare let them cradle the unrefined secret places.

And what if the secret places could be healed by phases? What if depression and a deep sense of still could lend itself to new understanding-and eventually overcoming-dysfunction? What if a toddler throwing themselves on the floor is a chance to soothe the most tender needy places? What if the blistering sting of anxiety is necessary for growth?

The moments God places before you are precious. Perhaps painful, but freaking awesome. Do not dismiss them away as unstudied offhand occurrences. They are calculated. What if we embraced the rawness of their brutish glory? It pains me to think of how much life we miss because we are so dang afraid of a little discomfort and sadness.

It’s just a phase, and at the very same time, it’s so much more.

Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.  Isaiah 43:19 ESV

It’s a new thing and the passing of an old thing. It’s a way and a wilderness. It’s a river and a desert. It is both and all of these things – all at once. Sweet Jesus, help us to behold exactly what you have for us in this phase, even if it’s horribly distressing and inconvenient. In the midst of it all we don’t want to miss what you have for us. We want to see you.

 

 

 

It’s about the relationship…

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I’ve done a good bit of studying when it comes to counseling techniques to use for this or for that. I read scholarly journal articles on at least a weekly basis. I love learning new things. But sometimes I get obsessed with learning new information and forget what is most important.

Research shows 90% of success or failure in counseling is based on the relationship between the therapist and client. Only about 10% is what theory or method the therapist uses.

I don’t know why this surprises me. Because at the core of everything I value is relationship. A relationship so unconditional I could do or say anything and still be completely loved, valued, adored, and set free.

Relationship is the cornerstone of healing because God designed it that way.

Isn’t that amazing news? For you, for me, for everyone. When we don’t know what to say or how to help, the ministry of presence and relationship remains. Modeling the unconditional love and acceptance of Christ is a foolproof method. It helps every single time.

Some of us back away from others who are in pain because it quickens our heart and increases anxiety. Even after years of work in the helping profession, my heart still gets tied up in knots when there is a tremendous amount of hurt. And frankly, I hope it always stays that way. Because the moment I stop letting myself become undone in the presence of another’s wounds is the moment I render myself ineffective.

Relationship demands I let down internal walls and barriers. Relationship pushes past anxiety and says, “It’s tremendously uncomfortable, but I’ll stay with you here. You are not in this alone.” And in those moments there can be a tremendous amount of healing.

And that is what Jesus does for us. Like Hebrews 4 tells us, we do not have a stoic withdrawn High Priest who is unable to empathize. We have a loving Jesus who came to earth so He could feel what we feel and endure what we endure – ultimately to have a relationship with us. He could have remained above our offensive depravity, but instead He jumped into it with us and promised to never leave us alone.

He chose relationship with you so you could choose it with others. Yes it can be scary. You might say the wrong thing. You might shake with uncertainty through the entire process. But if you attach yourself to Christ and do what He has called you to do, you will not fail. You will show love. And someone will know Jesus because of what they see in you.


 

for when we panic and old messages come on strong…

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I couldn’t hear Jesus yesterday.

The voice of internal panic screamed loudly.

You can’t do this.

You are not enough.

You will never be enough.

My brain tore through file after file ripping out failures as evidence that this must be true. Showered with shame, I could hardly catch my breath.

What if I made the biggest mistake of my life by thinking I was capable of something I clearly was not?

No matter how hard I tried I couldn’t squash the harshness of my internal critic. And it’s in these moments we feel incredibly alone, unloveable, and abandoned.

“Be still, be calm, see, and understand I am the True God.” Psalm 46:10a 

God how can I be still? I must make up for what I lack. I must account for my mistakes. I must be perfect. Please God, I just can’t stand to know I made another mistake.

And at the core of it all…

Am I loveable? God please tell me that if I mess up, I will still be lovable…

I heard nothing. The reverberations of my heart pounding against the walls of my chest roared. It wasn’t until much later when I curled up into the safety of my covers that He spoke.

He never disrespects me in the same ways I disrespect myself.

He holds my pain with gentle hands. Never telling me it’s unjustified or that I shouldn’t feel this way. That I shouldn’t wonder if I am lovable or if I am enough. He respects the messages that have become very real to me over years and years of living in the world. But He knows these messages hurt, and for that reason, He whispers change.

It’s a sacred internal space where He mends the fences of protection around my heart. He roots me in security and draws me deep below the waves. Down where it’s calm and I can find rest. It’s safe. I don’t have to be more. Or less. Or even enough. Because here, in this space, He is all I need.

Sweet friend, I don’t know what it is that sends you into panic. Maybe you struggle with similar messages, and maybe they are very different. But we all fight internal battles. In times of stress, difficult circumstances, and transition…they come on strong.

And maybe we can choose to be as gentle with ourselves as Jesus is with us. His expectation is never perfection. He removes our shame, but also understands the throbbing pangs of our humanity. He knows we get anxious, uncomfortable, and all twisted up with agony and that’s okay. But we can choose a new thing. We don’t have to be ashamed of the old, but we feel much better when we accept the fresh reality of His new.

It’s never been about how much we can do, but what He chooses to do through us. And no matter how hard we try, we can’t mess up the hand of God working through us. We aren’t that powerful. He’s got this. He’s always been in control and He won’t give up. He is enough and you are loved. It’s going to be okay.


 

 

 

because anxiety, though it continues to exist, has NO POWER OVER YOU…

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I love the Eternal; for not only does He hear my voice, my pleas for mercy, But He leaned down when I was in trouble and brought His ear close to me. So as long as I have breath, I will call on Him. Once I was wound in the wrappings of death; the terror of dying and the grave had a grip on me; I could not get away, for I was entombed in distress and sorrow. Then I called on the name of the Eternal…Psalm 116:4

Anxiety wields power. It rarely has form, shape, or color; yet it’s structure seems taller and wider than the largest mountain. It’s shadow has covered me. It kept me from moving forward into the places and spaces God has called me to be. It silenced my voice and kept me in the grave…too many times.

You have circled this mountain long enough. Now turn north… Deuteronomy 2:3 NASB

There has always been a choice. Dwell in foothill encampments, dredge myself around the base of impossibility, fall down in defeat as the magnetic shards of insecurity suck me closer and closer to the core. Or turn north.

North is unknown. And scary. We have no idea what lies ahead. But we can go anyways.

And what if I told you no matter where you turn, another mountain will appear? When it comes to anxiety, it will. We may walk away from one moment of paralyzing angst and insecurity only to run smack into another. It happens over and over again. There are mountains everywhere.

God, You alone rescued my soul from the grips of death, my eyes from weeping, and my feet from slipping. I will come before the Eternal as long as I journey in the land of the living. Psalm 116:8-9  

But we walk anyways. Knowing if we wait for the anxiety inducing mountain range to move, it likely never will. Because God doesn’t do it that way. He walks us through the wilderness, and rarely obliterates it for our comfort.

The mountains do their things with me. Anxiety manifests in my mind and body in so many ways, and likely always will. But I will go north because there is nothing of value to be found hiding or even standing still.

Anxiety is powerful. But God is greater. I have yet to encounter a room full of people, a confrontation, a platform I am expected to speak on, or a life God has asked me to invest in that has killed me. It’s always made me stronger. God always wins. And I have always been left gasping on the wings of His greatness.

He will do the same for you. Over and over again. He wins.

Moving past the fight/flight/freeze of fear into the anxious for nothing…

 

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Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:6-7

I don’t know how many times I have researched the fight, flight, freeze response related to fear, but it’s a lot. And I’m not sure how many times I have combed the Bible reading scripture related to fear, but it’s at least weekly. And yet all this time, I have failed to make the connection between the two. Actually pairing what scripture has to say about anxiety with what my education as a therapist has taught me about the bodies response to fear. And it’s rocking my little world…

We know the Bible tells us to be anxious for nothing. And girl, I know you hear me when I say I wish I could be anxious for nothing, but anxiety comes knocking none the less. I pray and present just like His Word tells me to do, and at times peace guards my heart and mind, but other times I continue to whirl further and further into my own neurotic mess.

But what if we were to step back and apply what we know about anxiety and use it to wield what God tells us in His Word?

We know when stress/fear/anxiety comes, our body is going to respond with fight, flight, or freeze. If we pay attention in that moment, we can identify which of these processes is actually going on.

For example, this past week my daughter had an appointment for dental work. My fear response was to flee. I wanted to skip the appointment and pretend like we weren’t supposed to be there in the first place, thus avoiding my fear (her potential anxiety response) and her fear (pain). I prayed about it briefly, but was up all night mentally rehearsing my escape plan should I need it.

Another example. Later in the week I faced a potential confrontation, and I froze. I just couldn’t do it. And that’s okay, but in doing so, I gave into my anxious response. Thus any peace I might have experienced was eliminated, and I felt depressed and defeated.

If we let our bodies natural fear reaction drive the bus, the peace God wants to give us will most likely never arrive. In order to experience rest, we have to pray and present our request with thanksgiving – but not flippantly – we need to do it like it’s serious business (because it is).

And what do I mean by that? If we look at research about how to derail fear and relax, most therapeutic means will suggest mindfulness, meditation, deep breathing, and prayer. Some would suggest repeating a word such as “peace” or “rest” paired with deep breathing and a focus on the here and now. But if you are like me, you usually toss up a quick prayer and then go right back to panic.

And I’ll be honest, for me, it’s because my faith struggles. I don’t think He will help, so I don’t spend much time asking Him. However, if I would change this quick prayer into a mindful experience where I truly sought His peace and didn’t give up until I experienced it, I would likely come to a place of rest and understanding unlike anything I have encountered before. I might choose a more value based action and I could potentially avoid sleep deprivation. It’s a game changer.

And so maybe, just maybe, being a little more intentional and fervent in our prayer and petition could actually help us come to peace God longs to give us. It certainly can’t hurt and is definitely worth a try. This week, let’s try it. I have a feeling God is going to be abundantly faithful. He always is.

DIS-appointed…

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We all have dealt with disappointment on some level. Be it disappointment in others, situations, or disappointment in ourselves. The former can cause significant pain,  but the latter is the most grueling of all. It can lead to feelings of shame, self-hate, and a general spirit of cruelty towards our innermost experiences.

But what leads to disappointment? This feeling of being unhappy with who we are and how we go about life…

I think we could all agree we do the best we can with what we have at the time…and yet knowing this we still bury our admirable intentions in a cave and drag out the blindness induced mistakes as if they are all that exists. But why?

Maybe it has to do with how we have appointed ourselves in the first place. If we appoint ourselves to a level of perfection rather than progress we set ourselves up for failure. Expecting perfection is a very black and white way of thinking. Either we do everything right, or we have done everything wrong. No middle ground. No room for learning. And certainly no room for mercy. When we appoint ourselves to this standard of performance, there is no attainable personal satisfaction and therefore very little enjoying of day to day life.

But what if we were to DIS-appoint ourselves? What if we dropped off idealistic expectations and instead looked to Jesus?

Because we were never able to meet a standard of perfection in the first place. That was apparent from the day Eve ate the apple. Before God breathed the first breath of life into Adam, He knew He would send a Savior to rescue us from the trap of depraved humanity. Because of Jesus we have a standard of sanctification and growing in grace rather than perfection. When we adopt a growth mindset with Christ appointed to the highest place in our heart and mind, things change.

We can forgive ourselves. We can look at our mistakes honestly, without judgement, and choose to learn from them. We can take victory for what it is without feeling like we have to constantly live up to the next triumph or higher standard. We don’t have to be the best but we realize we aren’t our worst. Christ has already redeemed the place of our worst. It no longer exists.

And what does all this mean for someone who beats themselves up for past mistakes, imperfection in the present, and fears failure in the future?

It means we can stop.

The moment we DIS-appoint ourselves, step off of the throne, and put Jesus there – He does what He already came to do. He sets the captive free.

“Therefore, now no condemnation awaits those who are living in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, because when you live in the Anointed One, Jesus, a new law takes effect. The law of the Spirit of life breathes into you and liberates you from the law of sin and death.” Romans 8:1-2 The Voice Translation

One of my favorite authors, RT Kendall, says it this way…

We forgive in proportion to how we love; and we withhold forgiveness in proportion to how we hate.

We can choose to love ourselves, forgive ourselves, and see ourselves through the lens of mercy because Christ loved us first. He sits atop the throne of our lives, not our own accomplishments or standards. It’s Him up there. And just Him. And us down here. And just us. We can drop the heavy chains of perfectionistic bondage and rest in knowing the standard is grace. Nothing we can do can make Him love us more and nothing can make Him love us less, we are loved with the fullness of who God is from the moment we accept Him into our hearts and minds. So let’s DIS-appoint ourselves sweet friends, and in doing so, find rest.

for the survivors this Christmas…

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This season is tough on some of us. We all know it. Some are grieving. Some are struggling with depression. Others have recently been diagnosed with a chronic illness…and the list goes on. There are countless reasons Christmas, with all of it’s joy, can be a really difficult time. And one particular group on my heart this year are those who have survived sexual abuse. Why? Because this is a time of year when many are encouraged to stay silent – pretend everything is okay – and stand by swallowing the thick gag inducing reality of what really happened.

And maybe it’s you this year. And maybe it’s someone you know. Maybe the trauma is fresh, and maybe it happened 20 years ago – but still feels like it was yesterday. 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are victims of sexual abuse, so chances are, it has affected someone you know in some kind of way. But what can we do?

As a therapist, there are 2 things I have noticed that are more healing than any theoretical process or research driven therapy could ever be. And what are those 2 things?

Victims of sexual abuse need to know they have a voice, and they need others not to shrink back from their story. It’s that simple and that complicated.

I think of it in the same way my husband was once described as a firefighter. He was the one who chose to run into a burning building when everyone else was running out.

And that’s just it.

When someone has been hurt by sexual abuse, regardless of the extent of the abuse or how long ago it happened, there is a part of them that was on fire. It was in pain, it was hot, it felt like burning, afraid, alone, and trembling. A really scary space. Family may run away, friends may not understand, and many people just pretend it never happened because no one wants to swallow that it really did.

And I don’t think it’s intentional, this way we go about avoiding what happened. As humans, because of the way we are wired or the way we are raised, these kind of things make us uncomfortable. And so it seems easier just to sweep them under the rug than to get real and honest about them. But where does that leave the vicim?

Powerless, voiceless, undone…feeling alone and afraid. And it’s wrecking.

When something comes along and devastates your sense of humanity and innocence, everything in you wants to hide and scream all at the same time. And because we don’t know what to do with the jumbled up traumatic emotions and memories – we often do whatever we can to lock them away as if something is wrong with us, and disengage. And that my friend, is why offering a listening ear, being there for someone, regardless of what they need to talk about – is of utmost importance.

And a step beyond that, we need to help them find their voice

One of the most empowering things anyone has ever done for me was a sweet friend who told me it was okay not to engage with those who prompted my pain during the Holidays. That I didn’t have to give into pressure or demands. That my feelings mattered, and that my feelings were okay. And you can be that friend for someone else. You can empower them to have a voice during the Holidays. To let others know that some things are just too much for them to engage in – and that is okay.

And so as we celebrate the birth of God’s one and only Son tomorrow, it’s my prayer that we remember the true reality of why He came. That He was not afraid to get in the middle of our stark barren humanity and He never shrinks back from our pain. That He is the Wonderful Counselor and that He calls us to share His good news with others in any and every way that we can.

Sometimes the best thing we can do to celebrate Jesus is to sit next to the person who bears the burden of the undisclosed, let them know they are seen/heard, and that Jesus will never shy away from their pain because they are the very reason why He came.

 

overcoming the negativity bias…

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Negativity bias. What is it? What does it mean? It’s the way our brain reacts stronger to negative stimuli than positive. It’s the reason we can hear something painful and it lasts for years, and yet something positive may not stick for the fullness of a minute!

Take today for instance. My daughter had a major dental procedure. Stressful for any kid, right? But with her combined sensory and anxiety issues, she is often taken into another realm when it comes to unfamiliar and uncomfortable experiences. So how did she do? Freaking fantastic! I couldn’t have asked for her to be braver! She blew my highest expectations out of the water. And how long did I focus on it? For a few minutes, and then I went on with my day as usual.

Rewind to a few weekends ago…

Lauren had a really rough weekend. She cried about everything. From having to touch her feet to the carpet, to the way clothes felt on her body, going to run necessary errands, and even out to eat with the family. She whined and threw a fit over all of it. How long did I focus on it? It seemed like forever! I asked myself a million questions in regards to why she was struggling again, tried to do research to see if we were missing something with her, and let my mind wind itself completely out of rational control. I could not seem to go on with my day as usual, no matter how hard I tried.

And for the most part, we don’t focus on the negative intentionally. It’s just the way our brain is wired. We recall and process negative experiences with greater detail than positive ones. But if we want to create a life that we enjoy, a life worth living, we have to do some work to change this bias. So how do we do it? Philippians 4 gives us some great instruction…

“And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. Keep putting into practice all you learned and received from me—everything you heard from me and saw me doing. Then the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:8-9

We can intentionally hold positive experiences in our mind. At the end of the day, instead of recalling and replaying the moments we could have done differently, we can replay the things that went well. And what will be our reward if we do this?

Well, God says it will be peace. Not only peace, but that the God of peace will be with us. When we choose to focus on the good, we can feel God’s presence in an increased way. I’ve tried it, and when I practice it, it works.

Nothing drives away the peace of God like a good batch of worry, but nothing brings Him closer than an intentional time of thankfulness and resting in His goodness. When we choose center ourselves with excellence, it changes us. It breaks the chains of depression and anxiety in ways that nothing else can.

Our fallen sinful brains may be biased to see the negative, but life in the Spirit lends itself to greatness. With all that is in you, choose to see the good, and see it way big. Because it is BIG. The light always outshines the dark. And perfect love always casts out fear.

because suffering is hard to understand…

imageThe story of Lazarus frustrates me. I know Jesus eventually raises him from the dead, but the fact that he lets him die and stay in the grave while others weep and mourn – it’s difficult for me to understand. I’ve heard several explanations and interpretations. They make sense, kind of. But there is a piece of me that still feels disappointed. If Jesus could have spared them all the pain (and He could have) why didn’t He?

And I ask it not just for Lazarus and Mary, but for myself, and for others who are hurting. For those who feel dead inside…the hearts that feel trapped behind the doors of the tomb…and those who watch them writhe in pain and desperately wish they could make it stop…but they can’t.

I know the easy churchified answer, but that doesn’t always satisfy. When we see and hear about things that are just wrong and seem unnecessary, we need something deeper. Because if there is not a reason for Him choosing to allow suffering, than how can we say He is good?

Purpose from the pain. Beauty from the ashes. Good from the bad. All of those things. I get it. I really do. But the answer still falls short, at least for me, of explaining the allowableness of the pain experience itself.

And in my searching last night as I laid in my bed trying to come to some new level of understanding, this crossed my mind…

All of it means nothing – the purpose, the beauty, the good – if we refuse to accept the message of the cross.

Because the message of the cross is dirty. It’s scary, nasty and frankly – gives me nightmares. Every time I watch a reenactment on TV or a movie, I can’t hardly stand it. It makes me want to vomit. And even though I know how the story ends – and it ends well – the pain of the cross is tremendously real.

And so if Jesus suffered in such a way, if God allowed Him to suffer a fate that I can’t even stomach, then what makes me or you or anyone else immune to pain?

The answer is nothing.

Because the cross is painful. It is pain and hurt and abandonment and being shoved into the darkness by hateful humans spitting in our face. It is the Son of God, forsaken. It is blood spilled and flesh torn – it’s real life.

Jesus did not avoid pain. And He didn’t go around with big red bows trying to quickly tie up Lazarus’ or Mary’s pain either. He’s not a card carrying fairy princess godmother. He was flesh that suffered and died, not so we could avoid hurting, but so we wouldn’t be alone and abandoned in the process.

He was there when Lazarus died. He was there while Mary wept alone. He is there when children get raped. He is there when a sweet girl puts a blade to her wrist. He is there when the addict shoots up or swallows another handful of pills. He is there when life brings the unspeakable and makes absolutely no sense what-so-ever. And it pains Him, it desperately pains Him, but He isn’t our glorified gigantic handyman. The message of the cross is knowing there will be pain, but because of His suffering, we do not have to suffer alone. That pain is uncomfortable – but with His presence we will be okay. He brings freedom not always from hurting – but from being unsheltered, deserted, and left with insufficient power to heal.

And so yes, beauty from ashes, and purpose from pain, but maybe more importantly the deep deep connection of the one who fills our lungs when the air sucks out of the room and we can’t even breath. In it all, He remains.

 

 

 

 

He makes me brave, thoughts on insecurity…

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If you asked me a few months ago if I was insecure, I would have said yes. If you ask me today, I might be more secure than I was a few months ago, but my answer would still be yes. Honestly, I don’t think there will be a point in my life that I will say no. And for the good or the bad, that’s just the way it is. It’s the way God wired me and I’m ok with that. This little bit of insecurity that I keep tucked under my belt is one of the most valuable things I have ever owned.

Sounds weird right? Because who wants to own something like insecurity? It’s uncomfortable, and sticky, and at its worst-induces panic. It can be a real pain in the butt. And for the longest time I thought…I’ll get out there, live my life, and do the things I’ve always wanted to do when this insecurity problem goes away. But until then, I just need to shame myself back into my bubble because what value is someone who struggles with insecurity anyways?

I felt that way for a long time. It was a really paralyzing feeling. I wanted to move on from where I was at, but not until I was more secure. However, I couldn’t ever feel secure because I felt so afraid and stuck. It was a vicious cycle. And it’s reared its ugly head a lot this week.

As I come up on a new journey, it would be really easy to step to the edge of the cliff, but never actually jump off. And not that I’m jumping off a cliff, but I am taking a big leap of faith, and sometimes I wonder if I am going to fly or splatter on the pavement. And insecurity screams: just step back to where it’s safe Stephanie! Who told you you were capable of this anyways? Are you crazy?

And I recognize the voice. It’s not God, it’s not me, and it’s not anyone that cares about me.

It’s fear, and if I know anything about fear, it’s that God did not give us a spirit of fear.

And what I desperately want you to know, and need to remind myself of, is that our thoughts and feelings aren’t always going to line up perfectly with the actions we need to take.

Sometimes we are going to be terrified, but it’s time to act anyways. Other times we are so over the top sad, but we know the best thing is to get out of the house and engage. Sometimes we will make the choice to forgive, but our heart is torn to shreds. Sometimes we feel incredibly insecure, but we move forward, and trust God to fill in the gaps.

I think I will always carry some amount of insecurity. And for the first time in my life, I’m okay with that. Because it keeps me humble, motivates me to learn, and gives me the desire to help people with a passion that might otherwise fade. It teaches me how to love people better. And God may never take insecurity away. But it won’t stop me from serving, nor does it need to stop you. Because at the end of the day, He is our one secure place and that is enough to bring us through even the toughest tomorrow.