Anyone who knows me, knows that I am a proud wife of an Army veteran. I love the time that we shared together in Abilene, Kansas, a short distance from Fort. Riley Kansas. Being in the military is a proud profession indeed, but that does not mean that being in the military doesn’t come with its own pitfalls and demons.
Joining the military means that you are destined to be reprogrammed into what it means to be an American soldier. To many soldiers, this is an honor that is taken on willingly while some are not even prepared for the “joys” of basic training and rigidity of military life. Some struggle with this reality and this causes difficulty throughout their military career, whether it be long or short. The sad truth, it is a necessary evil to go through this programming, to be able to follow directions and prepare yourself for what is to come. It can lead to stress on the military family and cause a lot of distance between a soldier and his family. Sadly, this is a massive demon when it comes to a soldier and PTSD. The ability to remove programming after military service is often very difficult to nearly impossible.
I firmly believe that the American military has done a terrible and reckless job at helping soldiers reacclimate to civilian life. They do little to nothing to help soldiers in their marriages and as parents. You may disagree, but there are plenty of statistics and experiences to suggest that what I have stated is true. You may be one of the fortunate ones; you might have transitioned into civilian world without any issues. You might be strong in your relationship with Christ and feel strongly that you have transitioned without any issues and you might be right. However, the sad truth is that many individuals have some or a lot of difficulty transitioning into civilian world. The American military has a lot of work ahead of them to aid in transitioning soldiers into civilian life and this should include way more than just job transitioning, but mental health and substance abuse transitioning too. I cannot say that the American military will be able to catch all of the issues present in soldiers as they transition into civilian life. There is no way to know what soldiers have what protective factors and measure each soldier’s risk factors, but not trying is certain to leave soldiers behind.
This post is about Christianity and the American soldier. How can one even justify being a soldier of America or of any country for that matter? Afterall, isn’t the kingdom of God the only alliance that should be given any clout? True, the kingdom of God is and should be the only reason one does anything at all. Below are some scriptures that support God’s plan for us as we live on this earth. As I have often said regarding one’s employment, “well, someone’s gotta do it.” That pertains to the trash person, the accountant, the therapist, the doctor, the pastor, the lawyer and all other professions on this earth. Being a solider is worthy endeavor and I would be proud yet scared to have one of my children be a soldier. God has plans for our lives, but I also believe that God sets certain people apart. There are some who are better at being doctors, lawyers and some better at being protectors like police officers. I think that this flows into the American military too. Civil service for your country is a proud profession, but even this can be clouted by sin and this is why we see civil servants behaving badly. This is why we see horrible doctors who molest patients and lawyers who could not maintain the law for the benefit of good if they tried.
1 Peter 2:13-17 states, “Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish people. 16 Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”
If indeed what we do is to honor God then listening to his instructions for us on the earth is vital. We might not like what our leaders do, but as followers of God and true believers in Jesus’ resurrection, we know that following rules, laws and regulations are what we should be doing. How do we know that we are the one's that should be on top, hold power over others. America is no greater a country than said France or Great Britain and we should not act against what God has set forth in how we should act as a Christian, but we need to remember to abide by God's calling for us. Part of the greatest demon in PTSD is the serious fear of loosing God’s love or being a sinner beyond saving. People loose their sense of safety and feel pain, fear and remorse for what they have done. We need to act to help and save others, to pray and allow God to lead us to righteousness. Trouble is, this line can and has been blurred by sin.
Psalm 82:1-4 states, “ 1 God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the “gods”: 2 “How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked? 3 Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed. 4 Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”
Proverbs 24:1-12 states, “Do not envy the wicked, do not desire their company; 2 for their hearts plot violence, and their lips talk about making trouble.3 By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; 4 through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures. 5 The wise prevail through great power, and those who have knowledge muster their strength.6 Surely you need guidance to wage war, and victory is won through many advisers.7 Wisdom is too high for fools; in the assembly at the gate they must not open their mouths.8 Whoever plots evil will be known as a schemer. 9 The schemes of folly are sin, and people detest a mocker. 10 If you falter in a time of trouble, how small is your strength! 11 Rescue those being led away to death; hold back those staggering toward slaughter.
12 If you say, “But we knew nothing about this,” does not he who weighs the heart perceive it?
Does not he who guards your life know it? Will he not repay everyone according to what they have done?”
Submission to Governing Authorities
Romans 13:1-7 states, “Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. 2 Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. 3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. 4 For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. 5 Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience.6 This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor.”
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By the time our family started to go to a church regularly and become members, encouraging us to delve deeper into our faith, 2 out of our 4 children were already in the teenager and preteen stage of life. This meant they had a much different outlook on church as their younger siblings did. After all, our 3 year old's familiarity with church was going to the nursery where she was able to play for about 45 minutes to an hour, our six-year-old who was familiar with school went to children's church where she was educated with movies, crafts, singing and different activities geared towards children.
A little back story, while my husband was deployed/ out of state at school when the older two children were little, they had the same interest in church as the younger children. They were happy with games, movies, stories, activities and treats they didn't mind going to church with me every once in awhile on Sunday. I was nowhere near ready to go to church full time without my husband. So, when it came time to start to go to church again after a long hiatus (2 additional children, a mother who needed my full time care and lived with us as well as my husband now home for good), I decided that it was time to go back to church. I knew I was a Christian and I was in the need for support from an outside source.
The problem, I felt bad about dragging my teenage son to church. I often let him sleep in or he would graciously accept my mother staying home with him, so I could enjoy church without having to drag around additional person with me. I was bummed, I wanted him to share in the experiences that I was having. Then came the time that my husband was finally able to attend church with us on a full-time basis. He normally worked 12 hours on Sunday, so going to church for him was completely out of the question. I still felt bad about dragging my older two children to church.
Our oldest daughter seemed to find her way around going to church, she became familiar with church leaders because she was part of the GEMS program on Wednesday night. She also, quite often, helped me with vacation Bible School and Sunday school, but our son was something different. I truly felt like I was forcing him to do something that he just did not want to do. He told me that he was not even sure he believed in God. I was okay with this (sorta), but I just wanted my son to share in the experience that I was having. I wanted him to be with me
So finally I asked another couple, who had teenage children. ”How do you get your kids to go to church,” I asked
Their answer was simple,”they go whether they like it or not.”
Now, I know this doesn't seem fair when you're trying to give your kids autonomy, but the fact of the matter is, while you were under my roof, you are going to go to church with me. This is not because I want to force you into believing what I believe, but because I want to be with you. I also do believe this, how are you to make an educated decision if you do not get the chance to go to church? If you choose that God is not something that you believe in then let that worldview come from educating yourself, not a whim.
Lastly, I laid it out on the line for them. I am your mother and I do a lot for you. I love doing a lot for you, I love driving you to and from your boy scouts, your band practices, your Choir concerts, your GEMS activities and any other activity that includes you finding joy. I have no issue doing these things, so the least your can do for me is give me part of your morning on Sunday to be together as a family, listen to the preacher’s sermon, if you have questions ask your mother and father. If we can't answer, we most certainly will allow you to ask a question of the pastor. We do not want our children to blindly follow in our faith, but seek God on their own, through their own choices.
How to extend Grace when you just don’t feel like it? Interesting concept for me today since I was just listening to Francis Chan talk about how Christians should be set apart. He quotes in his book, Crazy Love.
If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them and lend them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great and you will be sons of the most high because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked, be merciful just as your father is merciful.
The point here is that yes, grace is a difficult subject to broach because it makes you think that you have to just lie down and let somebody walk all over you. However, the true nature of grace is so much more than just being a rug for people to constantly walk back and forth on. Giving grace when you don't feel like it is a true testament of your character and I'm not saying that it's going to be easy nor should it be easy at least to start. The reason for the difficulty, personal reflection can be rewarding, but difficult. Being in the mental health field, I help people realize that every single person has a story, every single person has a reason for why they do what they do. That doesn't mean that it won’t irritate you, it doesn't mean that it won’t hurt your feelings and it doesn't mean that it won’t make us angry, but for some reason each and every individual has the genetic makeup, has a personality or has some sort of mental health makeup that drives the way that he or she lives their lives.
Isn’t it easier to hold a grudge and to not let somebody back into your life? You might want to be angry with that person who cut you off while driving to work. Of course, it seems the easy thing to do because the truth is, it is easier to hate, to be angry with people and to think that they should or should not have done something. However, think of how many people have thought the exact same thoughts about you. It's the age-old adage “do unto others as you would like done to you”. Francis Chan continues to say is that, “true faith is loving a person after he has hurt you. True love makes you stand out”. True love includes grace, extending grace knowing that people have their faults and their flaws and they're going to act like mean people sometimes. You are going to act like a terrible person sometimes. Would you not give your own self grace? Should you give your own self grace, if you're not even giving your own self grace, I can imagine that it be difficult to extend grace to somebody else.
My recommendation is first and foremost, look at your own life. Are you giving yourself grace, do you know how to give yourself grace?
I can give you a little peace about this subject, it does become a little bit more second nature to extend grace, I do promise that. However, it doesn't mean that I don't struggle with extending grace. Sometimes I'm just plum irritated, but then I have to remember to put myself in their shoes. If I want them to extend grace to me, I should extend Grace to them. After a while you will begin to evaluate your relationships through the lens of grace, after all, God’s loving relationship is based off of His love and grace giving to us through Jesus Christ. I think we can do ourselves and God a solid by giving grace a chance.
Here it is. So, I have already received my paper degree and have officially been awarded my Master of Arts in Professional Counseling. What makes this walk so special is not only the fact that I have yet to walk for a college degree, but because this degree was a journey that was filled with more roller coaster rides then I thought I had tickets to ride. With graduate season ramping up, I wanted to share a little wisdom that took only a few short years to gain.
Now, I know that I am not the only person in this world to handle a little heartache, a little strife throughout life while they attempt to achieve their dreams. See, that’s the beautiful thing. Look around you, there are so many different people who have had knocks and blows and still look at like it’s a gift.
This master’s degree is a true foot for me. Sure, when I got my other degrees, I was basically a single mother as my husband was away for work for months and months at an end. I was raising two amazingly beautiful children and working full time. I was massively impressed with myself for the things that I had gone through thus far, but I was unprepared for what was to come when I naively started my Master’s degree journey.
I had given birth to a beautiful baby girl five months before I chose to start my degree. I had had pre-eclampsia and gestational diabetes, so my body was no where near where it was before getting pregnant with our third child, but nonetheless, I was ready to go back to school. I was determined that a I was going to get the degree, which would allow me to practice counseling with a license in Michigan. All went well for quite a while until I went to get my practicum. At this time, my degree completion planned put the counseling practicum (mini internship) smack dab in the middle of the degree completion plan. I sent out resume after resume, cover letter after cover letter and contacted as many people as I could, but I got NOTHING, Nada, Zip, Zilch and well, you get the point. I was devastated!
Low and behold, God had other plans for me. This was the time that I began setting up paperwork and doctor’s appointments to get my mother checked over as we had a feeling something was not right. On October 11, 2015 myself and or four children were in a traumatic accident that left me not only without a vehicle, but in intense physical and emotional pain. I did not realize until after the fact that God had put off my practicum to provide what was best for me and my family. I was a wreck after the accident and then furthermore, I was a wreck after my mother was diagnosed with Frontal Temporal Degenerative Dementia and moved in with us and our already crowded house. A family of six became a family of seven and we used two vehicles everywhere we went. We smushed our family into rooms like little well-loved sardines. I was a wife, mother of four, student and caregiver to an ailing mother who needed me more than I realized was possible.
Through ups and downs, a mental breakdown and finding the best way to care for my mental and physical health (still a work in progress), I found a practicum the first time I contacted a counseling center. I completed said practicum and internship, making many connections along the way. I began to realize that God really did want me in the counseling field and would carry me along the way. I am not forcing my faith on anyone, but I have to be honest. I am not sure how I would have made it past the last three years without the protection of God and my faith in Him. My heart has felt like it has broken more times than I ever though possible, and I had some pretty heartbreaking experiences before the accident and my mom was diagnosed. I learned that with God, I am a warrior and champion.
I am now in my limited license professional counseling phase of my dream career. I have made connections that I never thought possible. All this doesn’t mean that I don’t turn to God because I do. I am in pain in some severity level every day, and I am trying daily to tame my depression. I need God and I know this. I have sat outside on my steps at night, turned my eyes towards the heavens and in tears asked God for help because I cannot do things alone.
Moral of this story, if it is God’s will, you will not have to move mountains to achieve your dreams. He will move them for you. With God anything’s possible is the title of this post because with God and through His plans, I have been able to make it through. I am a warrior woman because of Him, not because of ANY of my own virtues or strengths. Let me be clear on that one. What you believe is your choice (an awesome God given fact), but for me, I know where my strength has come from.
Turn towards God, please. You may not know right away all the plans He has for you. Sometimes you have to walk down the path you thought was God’s will before you find out that you were meant to turn left instead of right and that’s okay. That is the beauty of life.
Physical Abuse- Real and most certainly visible on the victim even though many people try to hide their wounds from others around them.
Mental and Emotional Abuse- Real even though a lot of the wounds cannot be seen on the outside. We can see the proof from patterns of action that abuse can be visible even if not physically visible on the body.
Spiritual Abuse- Real??
I have had this question posed to me a few times and I always have an affirmed “yes.” I do believe that spiritual abuse is real especially if you are using scripture and the fear of God, heaven or hell to manipulate someone. When I mention spiritual abuse, I am not saying that there are no rights or wrongs within the Christian Faith, there is. The ten commandments are a great example of the rules set forth by God and should be followed to the best of our ability. However, we are blessed by the grace of God and wrongdoings cannot be constantly thrown in someone's face.
Here, I talk about spiritual abuse within the church as well as between people outside of church, between Christians. Although a new field, the study of psychology in relation to spirituality has grown significantly over the past decade. As a counselor/ therapist, it is vital that there is proper education in the realm of spirituality, so that when problems arise, assistance can be given.
Spiritual abuse can be defined as such, “the mistreatment of a person who is in need of help, support or greater spiritual empowerment, with the result of weakening, undermining or decreasing that person’s spiritual empowerment” (Ward, 2011, p. 901). This can also include not taking the time to know who you are talking to, an example of this is in my other article about being mindful of other’s spiritual beliefs, titled, "Walking the Spiritual Line".
Telling someone that they should not take antidepressants because it is against God’s will is a form of abuse. We all have to repent, and God has fashioned us to learn and grow, which means including modern medicine. Just because someone is on antidepressants does not mean they are not relying on God on a daily basis. A daughter who has come to the difficult decision to put her mother in a nursing home is honoring her mother by giving her the best care possible. You cannot and should not put someone down, smacking them with the word of God to do so.
You have to walk a fine line between sharing the gospel and lording scripture over someone. We have to remember that we all are sinners and have fallen short of the glory of God. Even pastors have to be mindful of how they care for their parishioners. Ward (2011) stated, regarding spiritual abuse, “a misuse of power in a spiritual context whereby spiritual authority is distorted to the detriment of those under its leadership” (p. 901).
Using scripture to demean someone is not okay. When a pastor stands before his parishioners, he is using his education to teach other Christians on how they should behave and be more like Jesus. Most times folks know that they are sinning. Yes, they should be held accountable and yes, they should be educated further on the error of their ways. However, when someone is trying their very best in life, praying and attending church, be mindful. Don’t tell a wife that she has to give over her body to her husband whenever he wants because the Bible says so, it’s not okay.
What’s the big deal about all of this anyway? I suppose the truth would be that if you do not consider yourself the slightest bit a Christian or from some religious affiliation, nothing likely. However, if you are a new Christian or new to a faith, this form of abuse can cause maladaptive thinking and a skewed sense of self. If you begin to weigh yourself against the words of those who put you down and you think that you are not good enough in God’s eyes, then whose eyes will you ever find peace and love in?
Those who find themselves in cults can end up twisted in horrific crimes because they have been manipulated in believing that their worth is based off how well they listen to a religious leader. Women become enslaved and men can be manipulated to commit rape and murder. Words matter and the word of the Lord matters substantially more.
Arm yourself with the word of the Lord, but make sure you have the right adversary if you need to use it. Do not use the beautiful and powerful word of God against someone else, but instead use grace and kindness. It sounds cliché, but actually consider, “what would Jesus do” and weigh your thoughts, actions and words off of this standard.
Ward, D.J. (2011). The lived experience of spiritual abuse. Mental Health, Religion & Culture.
14(9), 899-915. doi: 10.1080/13674676.2010.536206
As I have said many times, I truly enjoy what it is I do. Each time I have done an interview or sent questions for my Point of View series, I feel like I am getting a sacred and blessed glimpse into someone’s treasured life. When I decided to speak to Pastor Steve Vanderwest, I was blown away by how honest he was about not only the importance of integrating psychology and spirituality, but he highlighted the mental health struggles of pastors.
Imagine this, a small-town boy who is a devoted dairy farmer gets called to be a pastor. Although still attached to being a farmer, he went back to school and has now been a resident pastor at his current location for ten years. When I asked him about the integration of psychology and spirituality, he first noted that he was raised in a very traditional and conservative Christian home. There was very little mention of “grace” in the sermons at the church he grew up in. Over time, he began to learn how grace has become the foundation of his Christian faith. He noted that they use to have a sign out front that read, “church is not a hotel for saints, but a hospital for sinners” and this is to indicate that Churches should welcome the broken and those in need of the truth of God’s grace.
Pastor Steve: We had a sign out front, which I love that sign, the church is not a hotel for Saints, but a hospital for sinners. I love that sign. You know our goal is to be healed and to move on and get better whatever that means, I'm using some terms that might not be exact terms, but - just improve in our lives and then realize that God has given us an opportunity to live a more abundant life. That's what Jesus says, and He doesn't want us to go through life like this, in depression but we just do. I look at the Bible and Jeremiah was depressed, Moses was depressed, Elijah was depressed, and you know Moses said, "if you find any favor in your sight lord just kill me now". Jeremiah was in the cistern. Elijah went off by himself by Kerith Brook and just wanted to die. So, it's not like we're failing God, I think that's important. We're not failing because we're depressed, we're addressing an issue that we have in our lives. God made us complex beings: we're physical, we’re spiritual, we're psychological and all those things together. You know that already, but all those things together play at different places in our lives. I think for me my diet makes a difference in how depressed I am. If I eat more sugar, I can tell I'm not doing as well as when I eat less carbs. I think it certainly is connected, so I don't if that answers your questions or not. I believe we need to address issues in the church and not put them under the rug. Some of those issues aren't favorable today in our culture, you know the biblical stance on abortion and homosexual marriages are not favorable in our culture today. That doesn't mean we don't live that way, it doesn't mean we don't love those people. It doesn't mean that those people aren’t forgiven, but it does mean that this is how God calls us to live.
Sara: I think it's interesting to me because there's some aspects where when the church does address things it’s in terms of, we need to repent-
Pastor Steve: Morality
Pastor Steve: Yeah and that’s part of the salvation story that we realize we need a center and we're living the wrong way. God wants us to change our lives, but that's all-in response to what He's done for us. In Paul, and I am so glad that Paul writes in chapter 7 in Romans, "the things I want to do I don't do, the things I don't want to do, those are the things I continue to do" and what a blessing that that's in there. Just like I talked about, I think it was this past Sunday, but I was talking about being so glad that Thomas asked that question "we don't know where you're going, so how can we know the way?" What a great question, if he wouldn't have said that we wouldn't have Jesus' response. Paul's a lot better Christian than I am, well a lot better follower of Jesus, a lot more dedicated and he still struggled with sin. Halleluiah, thank God for Paul!
Sara: Yeah it was funny, Mary Jo was asking what one of my favorite verses was and that was one of my favorite verses from Paul.
Pastor Steve: oh, was it?
Sara: Well, working with addiction population and the Christian program that I work with and when I do public speaking, I want them to understand that just because you're a Christian doesn't mean that we're perfect.
Pastor Steve: We're not, anything but, we realize we're not and we need a savior. I believe, you know it's a lifelong process to become what God wants us to be.
Sara: When did you first have any inkling, you know that you had depression?
Pastor Steve: Well, I think it was certainly after I had cancer, after I had cancer surgery. I think your metabolism all changes after prostate cancer surgery and your outlook on life changes. Then it was a few other things that came at the same time. I had prostate cancer and I had to get it taken care of right then, the doctor said we need to do this before the next six weeks. So, I got it “taken care of”. I had been scheduled to go on a mission project with a whole bunch of high school kids and I love those kids, that's what that was probably 50 to 60 percent of my position at my former church. I work with high school kids and I think we were going to the east coast to work in some of the poor communities. I didn't go because I was recovering from surgery. It was when my kids were in high school. It was the first time I had ever experienced it before (if you want to know what it is that Pastor Steve experienced then please check out his sermon below as he explains his story) but it didn't go away.
It goes up and down. I can feel It coming. I shared a couple things on Sunday (here I will respectfully not share what our pastor shared because it was shared between pastor and parishioner). Being a pastor you're more prone to depression, so that's part of it, I think. Not now, but I was in a group of about seven pastors, when one guy shared, he was kind of coming out of the closet about taking anti-depressants. We went around the room and all of us was on some form of anti-depressant and that was a uniting thing that all of us were in this together.
Sara: Did you hear about the pastor that committed suicide? Have you got a chance to read about that?
Steve: No, I didn’t. It happens though, I mean the guy that I spoke about before, Phil Tuttle. He used to be just a small-town guy, he talked about how he would go by the big oak trees and that felt the voices say "you should just slam your car into it and finish it now. You know and he said, I try not to hear those voices. It can overflow into your family life and into your marriage. You don't get to leave it at work very often. You know we still discuss it at home, I mean like last night we got a couple phone calls and my wife wants to know what's going on. You don't get to leave that at work, so I think that's part of that. There are so many things in my life that has changed, to pick out one that's causes the depression would be hard for me to do. I think there's a confluence of things, different points and different things that come upon me. Like getting older, that discourages me. It does, though, it discourages me, I can't work like I used to work.
Pastor Steve and I continue to talk about what affects him as a pastor and how his mental health is affected. As a proxy for God, pastors are often those who get the brunt of anger from parishioners. It may not be a healthy transference of emotions, but it happens, nonetheless. Pastor Steve also admits that there are times when he speaks off his notes from the pulpit that he can have moments of doubt, leaving him to question why he says the things he does. Sometimes he will over think things and get down on himself about speaking off the cuff. We have to remember that not only are our pastor’s human, but in a profession that often asks so much of their lives. We look to our pastors for permission, we look to our pastors for rules and regulations, we look to our pastors to help guide our lives, we hold our pastors up to a higher standard than we do our police officers and they return home, never leaving us behind. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Pastor Steve Vanderwest, an honest and funny man who feels more comfortable alone in the woods than in a crowd of people. He remains as open and honest with me as he does on the pulpit with his parishioners.
So, I have struggled with anxiety for a while, this feeling of needing to be perfect was something that permeated my life at a young age. My older brother was bullied very often at school, and I mean he was ridiculed and near tortured. So, it was natural for me to want to not stand out. I wanted to make sure that I was as perfect as one could be. Though we were not a rich family, couldn’t afford the fanciest of clothing or pretty little hair style, I still worked to dress nice and look “normal”. I still have a fear of not measuring up when it comes to making and maintaining friends. I have a fear of my story never being enough or of my pain not being painful enough to share with others. The woman, the other half of a marriage was also affected; she began to regulate herself to make her husband happy, but not herself too. Little did I know that I became stoic. I didn’t want to bother others with my pain, sadness, or needs. I didn’t really notice my anxiety until attending one of my first college intensives. It was a week long class, in another state away from my family, a new experience. This was a counseling class meant to teach us techniques in counseling theories. I thought I was completely prepared for this class, the new adventure on my own was a willing one, and I looked forward to it.
Oh, my goodness gracious!
I didn’t know what was happening to me by day three; I thought for sure I was done for. Though my instructors thought I was doing well, progressing with the class as a whole, I thought I was failing. One afternoon, I even found myself in tears in the bathroom about to have an anxiety attack. I prayed on my knees, begging God to help me though this feeling of pressure, of failing and of not being enough. Even with the wonderful friends I made on my trip, I began to negate my importance and wonder if their friendship with me was as important as it was with the other ladies. I, after all, had nothing special to give. To this day, I struggle with anxiety, compound this with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and there are days that I feel like I need to bury my head under my pillows. Imagine if you will, a mother of four and caregiver to a mother, leaned over the bed with her head buried under the pillows. I am like an Ostridge trying to get away from the anxiety, the fear and depression that compresses my heart. Imagine my children’s faces as they try to understand what is going on with their mother and why she thinks that no one else can see her.
I am a woman of faith. I believe that there is only one entity that can truly heal; I have come to learn this on my own accord. I have had the blessing of discovering my faith through a lot of self exploration and education, which has given me the gift of making up my own mind about what I believe in. I have seen the grace of God. I have seen how prayer makes a difference and that pure coincide does not. So, this whole thing with anxiety, depression, and struggling from PTSD should not even be a factor in my life, right? I even chuckle now as I write this, I am learning how to handle all of these demons little by little, and may have to continue fighting for the rest of my life. I have learned that it is okay to ask for help and I have sought out professional help so I can understand where I begin and my demons end.
Some may wonder that if one believes in God, how can he or she suffer? Shouldn’t prayer be enough to whip someone into shape? Well, so here it is. I am human and with my humanity is a back story, a fragile mind and heart. I may be a strong individual, I may care for a health failing mother, four children, a husband, and attend school, but I struggle. I repent to the Lord and submit to the truth that I need to pray to him, that I need to trust him, but I am still human. God places individuals on this earth to help others, so as I mentioned previously, I went and sought someone out. It is not easy to be faithful and fight the human brain. There are days when life is like a tug of war and I feel ashamed. There are days when I feel fine then something overwhelms me, and I seek to understand why I feel anxious. I feel sad and scared when I drive down the road even though I have witnessed a true miracle. Little by little I have begun to learn who I am in context to the world that exists around me, but there are daily battles in the war my brain had started years and years ago.
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For a year during my graduate degree internship, I worked with the addiction community at a non-profit recovery program. I unexpectedly developed a love for the addiction community long before I spent a lot of my 2018 year with a recovery program. My husband has long struggled with an addiction issue, one that appeared to have near demolished our marriage a few years ago, and it was this experience that propelled my work with the addiction community. I began to understand my own views on addiction and even evaluate my own flaws and sins especially in terms of God’s grace. One of the many issues that I have tackled with many individuals is the terrifying act of apologizing. Very similar to accepting a compliment, I believe that our society has an issue with simply saying “I am sorry” and truly meaning it. Furthermore, I believe that part of this has to do with little consideration of other’s feelings, but the other part has to do with feelings of guilt regarding one’s wrong doings and the uncertainty that a heartfelt apology will be accepted.
“What if they don’t accept my apology?”
My response, “then they don’t.”
What!? Okay, so here it is. Only you and God know whether your apologies are sincere. No matter how many times you say "sorry" or how many good actions you have, the truth will always lay between you and God. Now, this doesn’t mean that you should not make amends with those that you have wronged, but do not extend an apology simply because you want to feel sanctified by someone else’s forgiveness. There are lessons that are meant to be learned throughout our lives and learning to make amends with others and being humble enough to apologizes in the first place are a few of those things.
What I really want to say when I hear individuals tell me, “I can’t tell them, what if they don’t forgive me?” or “What if I apologizes and they shut the door in my face?” is, “So What?”
I mean, “so how is this going to really change your life?” Of course, this is something that I would explore with an individual in therapy, so that we can examine the exact root of what is really the big fear. However, since I cannot do that here, I feel the need to be extremely blunt. If someone does accept your apology, then they don’t, and you will keep breathing. Yes, it will hurt your pride and make you feel guilty. You will feel the sting on your face from rejection, but that means a few things:
Do not get hung up on the fact that someone does not believe or accept your apology for your wrong doings. A fact of life is that you cannot control the thoughts, behaviors and actions of others (minus the whole mind games and verbal abuse things). What you can control is how you react in your life, what you do with your time and the decisions you make. Are you going to wallow in self-pity or are you going to make your apology truly mean something? My hope is that you decide to move forward and begin to grow. Do not let an apology be in vain and do not let the truth of God's forgiveness leave you left alone in the dark.
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So, you may have heard, “so and so went through this struggle and they came out stronger than ever". You have “no excuse.” Okay, so let’s examine this a bit. What I believe is lacking these days in our society is the ability to empathize, think of others daily (not just in times of trauma), but on a daily basis. We also seem to have an inability to understand that every single person has a story that means something to them. Moreover, everyone’s story matters. What does this all mean? This means that there must be a balance between strife and the mantra “no excuse”. Weakness, struggles, pain, and sadness are all things that can help a person grow and gain wisdom.
In Christianity, we believe these things bring us closer to God. God wants us to turn to him in times of strife, when we are at our weakest. He wants us to turn to him in times of happiness, when we feel the joy of his blessings. Over all, He wants us to turn our eyes upon him. “No excuse” here would mean, repent. You must own your struggles, pain, weakness as well as sadness and turn towards the Lord. If you bear some responsibility for where you are in life, own it. If you are failing to turn to God in times of need, change it. True, things are often easier said then done, and we should not expect to grow alone. I am a big proponent on the truth that God made humans for relationships. We are not meant to be alone, to struggle alone or to be happy alone. Aside from being a Christian, the mere fact that humans have formed bonds since the beginning of time indeed speaks volumes towards this belief.
“No excuse” does not mean “get over it”, and I caution everyone to be careful when thinking this about others' struggles. What this should mean is reflect and take ownership in how you are interacting in your own life. Consider your relationships and where you are failing. Consider how you could make things better for your own life, and if you feel weak, seek out the counsel of someone else and especially God. It is okay to feel weak, to be weak, and to feel sad when faced with struggles and hardship. This makes sense, we are humans and we are meant to feel. Emotions were undoubtedly created to handle a multitude of situations. Furthermore, remember that each person has a story to tell and that each story has meaning no matter how significant or insignificant they seem (loss of a job, a lost love, loss of a child or living through deployments).
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Shew! Here I am, sitting down, preparing to write my statement of faith. Now, I know that a statement of faith can be short, it can be quick and to the point such as:
“I believe that Christianity is the personal relationship with Jesus Christ, and the belief that Jesus (born of God) died on the cross for our sins.”
This would be good, it would be straight to the point and it would be the truth as I know it to be. However, I am looking to create something that details a little more about what my journey has been like as I have grown in my faith. So, here is my advice on how to create a statement of faith that is a combination of a statement of faith and testimony.
Here is my Statement of Faith:
Growing up, I knew that there was something special about God, but I truly was not sure what that special “thing was”. Here and there, my family went to church. I have vague memories of attending church (the huge church off of the Beltline in GR) , Sunday school and even a summer Christian camp program, but I still had no clue what any of it meant. When I was scared, sitting in the dark of my room, I use to tell the monsters in the dark that I was not afraid of them because God would defeat them. After a bout of childhood trash talk to the dark, I usually felt better and often fell fast asleep. As a little girl, I thought of God as a fairy tale
I never thought of myself as a bad person. Growing up, I didn’t drink nor did I do drugs and not because they weren’t available. Looking back now, I know that I was a brat. I thought about myself and what I needed and wanted with little care and concern for others. When I became a mom at the age of twenty, some of that changed, but I still did not step out of realm of thinking about myself. Without a firm foundation to stand on, I began to live and try to survive on shaky ground.
You will hear me say that when my husband and I got together, it was not in the most of holy ways. Little did I know that I was setting myself up for the greatest down spiral of a life time, a necessary down spiral. Being an Army wife was difficult, but that was not what tore at me the most. I had an inadequate feeling that slowly began to conquer me. My emotions became the leader over logic and truth. I was afraid I was going to be punished for all my sins and like a hammer to a nail, I began to pound myself down little by little by little.
When we moved back home to Michigan, I was not used to what life was going to be like being married to my husband and having his family about five miles away. As I mentioned before, I did not have a firm foundation in my faith, in my talents, in what I wanted, in being a mother or in being a wife. Michael went to Arizona. One choice for me that changed my path was going to Liberty University. It seems cliché, but it is the truth. I never thought attending a Christian University would change my life. I was able to study the Bible and what it meant. I learned that Church sermons do NOT have to fit your need all the time because you need to nourishment in scripture and to learn the foundation of Christianity. I learned that Christianity is the relationship between me and Jesus Christ and the belief that He died for my sins. I final got the hint, but not the full answer. I decided to search for a church. In a tiny country church, God finally got to me. The pastor was speaking about forgiveness of sins. I will never forget his words.
“Who do you think you are that God cannot forgive your sins? Do you think that you are too great for God?”
Sucker Punched! Who did I think I was? I was carrying around a burden that had no reason to be there, a constant truth that I thought I was above God. Finally, I let God have my brokenness and I began to grow. Truth be told though, I still had a lot to work ahead of me. I was like an infant, trying to figure out what this world even meant. There were many times that I was on my knees in the dark, begging God to take away my pain, to take away any source that created pain inside me. I begged and pleaded for peace in times when things seemed to be falling apart. There were signs over and over again that God was with me, I wish I could just touch people so they could see into the miracles that God has performed for me.
I don’t know why so many bad things happen to all of us. I still do not have that answer nailed down. You think I would be better able to articulate the plans of God after attending Liberty University. All I know is when I was on the floor, wondering why a man who was supposed to protect my heart was tearing it to shreds (he was there). When a man ran the stops sign and rolled me and our 4 children in the air (He was there). When I got the news that I would be losing my mommy to a terrible and cruel disease (HE’s been here). When I cannot stand upright, when I cannot make sense of what is going on inside my head, my heart, my body or the outside world, I cling to him and He is there.
Christianity is a relationship with Jesus Christ, what yours looks like is up to you. Talk to Him, thank Him like you would a friend who lends a hand. Turn to Him because he wants to hear from you. Like Hillary Scott says in her song, “Thy Will Be Done”, “Remember that you’re God and I am not” is a truth that is often minimalized. God Doesn’t Give you more than you can handle. Ha! Separate that statement. It is not whether God “gives it to us”, it is the truth that even when we are drowning, HE is Always there with open arms, waiting.
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