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 at my internship, I worked with the addiction community. I developed a love for the addiction community long before deciding that I was going to spend a lot of my 2018 year with a recovery program. My husband has long struggled with an addiction issue, one that appeared to have 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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