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The Bible is not a self-help book.

God is not a motivational speaker. 

Worshiping with a community of believers on Sunday is not supposed to be focused on giving you the right kind of energy to start your week. It’s not about you. Worship is about our Triune God alone.

If you are cherry picking verses to make yourself feel better, stop! Read the whole chapter, if not the whole book. Get the context.

If you pray with the mindset that God is here to make all your dreams come true as if you were blowing out the candles on a birthday cake, you are operating from a misguided spiritual space peddled to you by a snake oil preacher promising you that the gospel is about prosperity.

If you are doing and believing what I am saying is contrary to Christian formation, you are like a newborn baby drinking its mother’s milk. If you have called yourself a Christ follower for some time, it’s time to dig deeper.  Stop looking at scripture for a quick verse to add a spring to your step. Stop letting your spiritual growth be measured by how much your heart strings are pulled during worship. Pray with adoration, confession, thanksgiving…and then…make your requests known to God.

Our God is Triune. Holy above all. Creator. King. God is to be worshiped. God sent his son to  redeem us for the sake of God’s steadfast love.  God desires a broken and contrite heart. God wants us to live justly, love mercy, and walk humbly.  God’s Son taught us how. The Holy Spirit empowers us to act on this calling.

If you are praying to God for more wealth, think about giving what you have away. Tithe. If you have a home, a cottage, luxury vehicles and a healthy vacation and emergency fund, I can almost promise you that praying for your wealth to increase is not a prayer that will be answered until you have been given a clear vision for how you will serve the community around you with the money you are blessed with.

Scripture is meant to reflect God’s hand at work throughout the entirety of human history. It is meant from beginning to end to point us to Christ as savior of the world through sacrificing his life, via death and resurrection that is big enough to cover the sins of all and redeem all. Scripture is God’s plan to shape and mold us  into God’s likeness. Sometimes that shaping and molding is painful and certainly doesn’t feel very touchy feely and good vibes.

Let the enormity of scripture marinate in your soul.  Worship the Lord with awe and wonder. Relish the presence of the Holy Spirit. Live the way Jesus did. Care about the people Christ cared about.

And remember that the world is watching. If you are skipping over the gospels in favor of the writings of Paul so that you have more ammunition to judge others and more opportunities to ignore context and cherry pick verses, you are getting it wrong and the world sees it. They see you instead of the Christ whom you should be sharing.

Live like Jesus and people will see God.

20 Years

Twenty years ago I told my therapist that there was something wrong with me.  I told her that it was like I was in a long hallway and was watching as everyone around me easily opened one of the many doors.  I, on the other hand, was standing in that hallway trying to open every single door only to be seemingly locked out and trapped in this hallway.  During that same time period, I attached to relationships with friends in toxic ways, was chastised by an unsympathetic professor for showing up to class looking like I just rolled out of bed, and began engaging  in risky behaviors centered around money, alcohol, and sex.  I was trapped in a vicious cycle of unhealthiness and didn’t know how to break free.  I was eventually referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with Bipolar Disorder. That diagnosis meant that the only way things were going to get better would be by taking medication.  I didn’t want anything to do with it.

A few years later, as I was working in Bosnia, these behaviors intensified as did wild swings between the some of the darkest thoughts I had ever experienced and a sense of hyper-religiousity.  As a result, I continued to bring toxicity to the relationships I had with others.  I also used alcohol to try to numb away the feelings I was having.  In the end, my unhealthiness contributed to the downfall of the ministry I was involved in, and I left a trail of brokenness and pain for others who did not deserve it.

When I moved back to the States, it became more and more clear that something inside of me was truly not right.  My wild mood swings continued to intensify, and my world was dark.  I again was referred to a psychiatrist and again was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  This time around, I desperately wanted to be healthy so accepted the diagnosis the best I could and began taking psychotropic medications.

The next stop for me was seminary.  I had a dream of being a mental health provider for missionaries and other Americans working overseas.  However, I was so unhealthy, I knew that dream would likely never come to fruition.  I worked hard during seminary to begin the process of becoming healthy.  I worked with an amazing therapist to process the childhood sexual abuse of which I had been a victim and to gain coping skills to help manage my mood swings.  

It was a long road that I began to venture down, and that journey continued into my marriage.  While I had a great therapist when I got married, I still was not on the most effective cocktail of medications, so my mood swings were still intense, and I continued to bring toxicity into other relationships and use alcohol to numb myself.  I still had my dream of becoming a mental health provider, yet knew that in my current state, that dream too was out of reach.  This left me feeling lost.  It fractured my sense of self and sense of purpose.  My marriage was strong, but I didn’t know who I was or what I was supposed to be.  I had children and while that was fulfilling, my pregnancies and births of my children were accompanied by yet another round of terrible darkness – the kind of darkness that I couldn’t begin to see myself getting out of.

Now…20 years after this journey began, I am amazed to be more healthy and whole than I’ve ever been.  I have a great therapist and great psychiatrist.   I am on the best combination of medication that I’ve ever been on.  I’m getting the right amount of sleep, my moods are in check, and I no longer find myself trapped in the debilitating and out of control cycle of depression and mania.

The most amazing part of it all is that I am healthy enough to be a therapist myself.  It was a dream I had given up on, but here I am.  Part of me has been afraid that the people I hurt so much while unhealthy would be shocked to hear that I work as a therapist now and even think it was dangerous for me to be trying to help others in this capacity.  Yet there is another part of me that knows that my unhealthiest self has prepared me for this.  I feel good about what I do.  I see my clients doing amazingly difficult work, and it is an honor to be sort of a compass guiding them along the way.

Twenty years.  That is what it has taken.  I suppose the point of this reflection may be that dreams should not be given up on.  However, I’ve also developed the realization  that if I wanted to live into my dreams, I had to be willing to do the difficult work of digging deep and becoming healthy and whole.  I discovered that a dream that does not elicit a strong desire to become healthy and whole and does not inspire one to do the difficult internal work to arrive at a healthy and whole place, it is likely that the wrong dream is being pursued.  For me, that dream at one point involved being in ministry, but when I was chasing that dream, I was more motivated to hide my unhealthiness than I was to  heal it.  My work in the mental health field is what inspired me to more vulnerably seek health and wholeness in my own life so that I could help others pursue the same.  I continue to battle with the shame and embarrassment of the damage I have done while not well, but that shame and embarrassment no longer bind me.  The work to move past these emotions will take more time, and I am willing to do the work to get me to a place where I am no longer shackled by them.  

Twenty years.  Twenty hard years.  Yet here I am.  I am healthy.  I am whole.  I am living a dream that I once thought was out of reach.  

Here’s to twenty  more years and twenty more years after that.

Work Around Your Abyss

I recently read Brene Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.  It triggered a lot of soul-searching.  It led me to the realization that I define my self-worth based on how well I do things.  Thus, I feel very positive about myself while I am at work.  I am a productive employee who meets expectations in all areas. 

The problem is I am not a productive wife or mother.  Being a mother, especially to a preschooler and child with ASD, is so overwhelming.  Most of the time as a parent, I feel frustrated, anxious and hopeless.  This has produced a wife who is too emotionally and mentally exhausted to contribute much around the house.  My husband does all the cooking and laundry at our house. As a wife, I feel lazy, ashamed and like a burden.  So while I love being at work, I feel like I am crawling out of my skin at home.

And it’s all because I define my self-worth based on my level of productivity.  And I have no idea how to stop this.  For me, it’s like the facts are in.  My employer is highly satisfied with my performance.  If polled, my husband and children would likely say they are not.  I’m mean, bristly and short-fused.  I’m inattentive, unaffectionate and unhelpful.  I can rationalize that these statements are mere conjecture, and even if true, not true all of the time.  But even when I can mentally grasp that, I still can’t get those feelings out of my heart.

But today I read this:

 “There is a deep hole in your being, like an abyss.  You will never succeed in filling that hole, because your needs are inexhaustible.  You have to work around it so that gradually the abyss closes.

Since the hole is so enormous and your anguish so deep, you will always be tempted to flee from it.  There are two extremes to avoid: being completely absorbed in your pain and being distracted by so many things that you stay far away from the wound you want to heal.”

Work Around Your Abyss – Henri Nouwen

Now I feel like I have a road map of sorts.  I can see that I have let myself become completely absorbed by my pain at home and it has paralyzed me.  I can also see that I have pushed myself so hard at work that it’s allowed me to avoid the pain of ill-defined self-worth.  I need to understand this abyss of mine.  What led me to this place?  What purpose has this torturous self-worth served for me?  Why is it so hard to settle for good enough?  I don’t know the answers to any of those questions yet, but at least now I have a place to start.  Going to work around my abyss, trusting that someday it will close.

My Kid is Not a Brat

My kid is not a brat. He has Autism and ADHD. We have made a few parenting mistakes with him, but we have not raised him wrong. The biggest mistake we made was not advocating for a diagnosis and services early enough. Vaccines did not do this to him. Both his older and younger sisters are neurotypical. They were both vaccinated and have been raised in much the same way that Caleb has been. It is an insult to hear people blame my son’s behavior on poor parenting or vaccinations. I would rather have a child with ASD than a dead child.

My son wants what every other kid his age wants. Namely, friends to play with. Except he is hard to play with. He is focused exclusively on dinosaurs, the solar system, vehicles, Lego and coloring pictures of any of those things. He carries around stuffed animals with him. He still wears a pull up. He has major meltdowns if he is misunderstood due to his speech impediment or if he is asked to transition from one activity to another without enough warning. He physically lashes out if people are too close or the environment is too loud. Oddly enough, he has no sense of personal space and is constantly trying to hug, kiss, snuggle and otherwise touch everyone he encounters. He is also the loudest human I have ever met. He still puts just about everything in his mouth. He struggles to get dressed on his own. He only eats around 5 foods and will only eat with his fingers because he does not have the dexterity to successfully eat with silverware. Needless to say, he isn’t exactly the kind of kid other children his age are begging to play with.

There is a little boy in his grade that lives on the other side of our fence. There’s even a gate between the two yards. Lately, the kids at that house have been telling Caleb he can’t come over. They might be legitimately busy, but my protective mama bear can’t help but think they just don’t want to play with him anymore. Caleb stands at that gate every day, staring and begging to come over. Then they say no and he starts screaming and sobbing. Then they really don’t want him to come over and play. My heart breaks every time. Yesterday, it broke enough that I sat with him in my lap and we both cried together.

School starts on Tuesday. We are fighting tooth and nail to get him special education services. We are starting an intensive therapy called ABA that will hopefully address some of the struggles I mentioned above. We are also hoping that this year he will make some friends, that he will have someone to play with at recess and that he won’t get kicked off the bus. We are hoping this year, he will somehow miraculously turn a corner and that around that bend he will find happiness instead of tears.