From the Inside Out: A Year in Review

On this the anniversary of my job resignation, I feel the need for reflection. And perhaps God will use the sharing of my heart to stir something in yours. I’ve done a whole lot of lamenting this year, but I’ve also done a whole lot of learning. I’ve learned a lot about myself and about God and I believe that’s at least part of the reason he is taking me on this journey.

I have learned that I had my life’s purpose entirely wrong. Previously, if someone had asked me to identify myself, I would have led with Social Worker. To me, that defined who I was. I knew I was a child of God, but sadly, it did not define me in the 100% way that it should have. This year, God has helped me start to align my identity with his identity for me. My purpose is far greater than my narrow scope. I am still learning my purpose but this I know for sure: My purpose is Heavenly and eternal. I was not put on this earth to simply be a Social Worker, although I can definitely be that to the glory of God. And you were not put on this earth for your own plan. We were put on this earth for God to accomplish his plan for our lives, whatever they may be, for his glory. And what an honor!

I have learned that God wants me to start noticing beauty again. Somehow in the business of life, I lost the awe. I used to watch the sunset every night in college and sitting on the back porch of my first apartment. But after awhile, I stopped noticing it so much. Now, I find beauty in my day in the gifts of nature, God’s people, his provision, his love, his grace. God puts so much beauty into our lives and I was missing it! Are you missing it? God also wanted me to find beauty in his Word again and become more acquainted with his Spirit. Reading the Bible before seemed like such a chore, but now I love my time with God. He has helped me deepen my prayer life by leaps and bounds and I am so grateful. I pray the same for each of you reading this.

Onto the not-so-pleasant lessons. I have learned that years of unfelt and unexpressed pain wreaks havoc on body, mind,and soul. I knew my stubborn need for control was not good, but I never would have guessed the extent and length of time I’ve refused to let go. I didn’t realize it could completely wreck a body and now I will live with the consequences for the rest of my life. God is slowly teaching me how to feel things as they come and also how to lament pain from many years ago. Ironically, I am also learning that I am an extremely emotional person. That’s almost laughable because of how long I’ve convinced myself and others of the opposite. Everything seems to move me, good or bad. God has given me a very sensitive and deeply-loving heart so I guess I should just own it! For better or for worse, I’m learning that is the real me. It’s hard, but I’m trying not to be embarrassed by it. That may take awhile! Have you discovered the real you? Are you being the real you or are you hiding? If you are keeping the real you from the rest of the world, we are missing out on you. Have you ever thought of it that way? We are missing out on the person God created you to be and the way in which he intended you to impact the world. I pray that we all learn to let go and allow God to use us for his purpose.

I’m learning that I have very deep-seated trust issues. I’ve been trying to control everything to protect my own heart for so long that I have never known the freedom, relief, and healing that comes from fully trusting my whole heart to God. I thought I trusted him, but the fact that I continue grasping at control has shown me that I do not. When my plan doesn’t work out, I lose hope very quickly. When the treatment I thought would make me better doesn’t work, I despair. But you’ll notice I said “MY plan”. Once I learn to embrace God’s plan for me, the joy that gets me through the hard times is indescribable. Slowly but surely, God is teaching me that he is the most trustworthy companion in my life. He is chipping away at my protective walls and I see the light of freedom up ahead. How beautiful it is! I pray that this freedom is made known to you!!

The other day, the song “From the Inside Out”, by Hillsong came on the radio and I realized that is what God is doing for me. He wants to heal me from the inside out. He wants me to let go of the protection of my heart and allow him to be the protector instead. God wants to give me a healing memory for each painful memory. He wants to show me that he was with me even in the past hurts and he can still heal those hurts today. Many of you know that I love sunrises, sunsets, and sun rays. Something about the sky reminds me that God is so amazing that he has all of us held in his hands and still has the power and love to paint us a beautiful picture every day. Something about the sun rays reminds me that he is with me. You may also remember my description of my first panic attack. I remember exactly where I was and how it felt to ride in an ambulance to a hospital where everyone who cared about me was hours away in any direction. I was in the car near the Weston, West Virginia exit and I truly thought I was dying. It’s why the majority of my panic attacks happen in the car and my chest still tightens when I near that exit. Thanks be to God, I was finally able to visit my hometown again recently for the first time in a long time. On the way back, sun rays beamed from the sky for the entire nine-hour trip. And where they shone most beautifully was… Weston, West Virginia. I realized right then that God was giving me a new memory to heal the pain of a heartbreaking one. That doesn’t mean I will forget. It’s hard to forget something like that. But it does mean that my chest won’t tighten so much when I’m in the car and I’ll smile the next time I pass that exit because I will remember that God was with me then just as he is with me now. He was mending that piece of my broken heart back together with his loving, strong, healing, unbreakable bond.

Mostly what I have learned this year is that God IS working and has always been working in my life. God knew even twenty years ago during my first real grief experience that I would be completely stubborn about not expressing my pain. He knew that if he did not eventually allow my world to crumble, I would never heal. Everything I thought I could control had to fall apart so that I could see who was always constant. I needed to see God waiting for me to run to him when I was finally forced to stop fighting. The clearest picture God has given me of myself this past year deeply moves me. I see a stubborn, angry child on the floor of her bedroom, kicking and screaming, fighting for what she believed she wanted and furious at the world for taking it away. I see that awful day when I screamed hateful things at God for my perception of a ruined life. But I also see a picture of a parent kneeling on the floor trying to comfort a deeply-hurting child, getting kicked and hurt in the process, heart breaking for being blamed for something he knows is best. I see God, trying to comfort me and hold me as I try to fight my way out of his arms and spew hurtful things at him in my heartbreak. I see him soothing me, rocking me, and singing over me with the love of a Father. He loves me even when I hurt him. How can I withhold my love from him when I am hurting?

God wants to heal my memories and my heart. He wants all of me, from the inside out. He wants all of us from the inside out. Our Father goes with us into 2017, rejoicing with us in the happiness and comforting us in the sadness. Through the good and bad, he holds his children. I pray that we feel his presence in ways we never thought possible this year and that we remain in awe of the beauty. Blessings on your New Year!



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Ending the Pretending

Have you ever received a gift that you know came straight from God? It could have been an actual physical gift, financial assistance right when you needed it, or even a word of encouragement at the perfect time. I’ve been incredibly blessed to receive many of these gifts lately. It’s amazing, humbling, and sometimes downright staggering to see how clearly God is speaking to me. From leading me to the best possible counselor for me, to words of encouragement from friends, to sermons that speak almost word for word what I’ve been wrestling with in my heart, to songs with messages I need to hear, I am overwhelmed by God’s clear and audible presence in my life right now. All of these gifts have been encouraging me to be more honest and real with my emotions and who I really am. Like I said in my previous posts, that makes me extremely uncomfortable and I have honestly been very tempted to give up and run the other way. But when God speaks, as scary as it may be, I don’t want to miss the opportunity to hear.

Right in the middle of all of these neon “share your feelings” and “be real” signs, God decided to make it even clearer to me by dropping the book, “No More Faking Fine“, by Esther Fleece, into my life. Really, God? I hear ya! I was chosen to be on the launch team for this book, which comes out January 10. I knew just from the title that I would be in for the ride of my life. You know a book is going to impact you when you start underlining even in the forward. This book has given voice to my very heart and opened my eyes to new ways of thinking and healing.

“No More Faking Fine” is a true story portraying Esther’s journey through learning how to lament. She had a very difficult childhood and received a “suck it up” message at a young age. She learned to keep all of her feelings inside and thought that moving past her pain without feeling it and keeping busy meant that everything was “fine”. But she realized that pain doesn’t just disappear. It turns into far more dangerous things like anxiety, depression, etc. That is when Esther discovered the necessity of lament.

Lamenting is being honest with God about our feelings when we go through difficult times. Esther talks about our temptation to cover up our feelings, even in churches, because we think that being unhappy gets in the way of our joyful gospel message. However, there are many laments in the Bible so it doesn’t make sense that we would leave lament out of our own lives. Esther says in the very beginning that she wrote this book to give us permission to feel, to weep over our circumstances even while knowing that God is still with us through them.

She says, “For so much of my life, I thought sucking it up and faking away the pain showed true strength. But real strength is identifying a wound and asking God to enter it”. This is exactly where I am in my healing process right now. I have realized that my perceived strength of not allowing myself to feel has caused panic attacks, depression, constant anxiety, and yes, even health problems. But here is the great news. “[God’s] omnipresence means He is present even in our past, and even now, He can speak healing over the wounds we are trying so hard to leave behind. We can lament something in the past in order to receive health in the present.” This is what I was explaining to you in my last post and what I am attempting to do right now. I am trying to invite God into my past wounds, to help me feel the pain and to allow him to heal me from the wounds. It is messy and painful, but it is honest and healing at the very same time. As Esther describes in her book, it is impossible to heal without feeling the pain.

Another important concept in her book is that we need to allow ourselves to lament if we are going to be able to help others in their lament. If we are to “mourn with those who mourn”, we won’t be very good at it unless we learn to weep ourselves. She talks about our tendency to compare our pain to others’ and convince ourselves that our pain is not that bad. She says, “‘It’s not really a big deal’ are words we will never hear out of the mouth of God. That phrase only tells me we hold ourselves to higher expectations of ourselves in grief that God Himself does.” Just because our pain is different does not mean it is not just as important to God. He will never tell us to suck it up because we think someone else has it worse than us!

“We are so quick to get to the beauty that we skip over the brokenness or have a hard time seeing beauty arise amidst brokenness.”  I feel like this could be the theme for my blog. This whole thing is about me wrestling with my brokenness to find beauty. Without the brokenness, the beauty would not be quite so beautiful. As we draw nearer to God in our brokenness, we allow him to hold us through it all. Without our pain, we would miss the intimacy of God. Suffering makes us feel like we have lost control and often our automatic tendency is to push the pain away and act like all is well in order to feel like we have some control. But losing control is the perfect opportunity to allow God to finally have us. It is a holy process, this letting go. And without it, we can never truly heal. “Lamenting is a painful process. But it is even more painful to live a life of pretended strength, of keeping God an arm’s length away because you’re shutting down the conversation with a ‘fine’.” I want God to be as close to me as possible, even if the process of him getting there is painful.

The passage that impacted me the most was this. “God is lovingly and powerfully present with us in our laments, but sometimes that knowledge needs to be enough. Sometimes we need to learn to love God more than the happy ending we hope for.” WOW. This was like an arrow to my heart. I’ve been searching for happiness for so long that I’ve been disappointed in God because of all the pain. My heart needs to draw nearer to him in the pain rather than running around searching for happy. It is only then that I can find true healing.

Esther weaves the hope of healing throughout this entire book, but she ends by telling us how we will recognize the end of a lament. When the lament is over, we will begin to hear and sing a new song of praise that we would not have been able to hear prior to the pain. She says, “After spending the majority of my life sucking it up and stuffing my true emotions as far down as I could, I can say this genuinely: lament has given me my voice back. I can groan and cry, dance and shout, praise and sing. I’m singing now, because I know He was with me in the storm, and He celebrates seeing my faith make it out to the other side.” As someone who feels God speaking most through song-writing, this excites me to no end! I cannot wait for my new song!!!

As a member of the launch team for this book, I felt like it was part of my ‘job’ to write about it, but it turned out to be my absolute privilege to share this gift with you. This book has impacted me more than any I have ever read and I will be referring to it many times throughout my continued journey. Don’t forget to pick up your copy of No More Faking Fine January 10. Pre-ordering is also available now. Thank you all for joining me in my lament. I can’t wait to share the new song God gives me when the healing is complete!

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Wonderful Counselor

"Because sometimes that's what has to be done. You have to lay down with it. The hurt. Or the heartache or even the hate. Whatever is inside. Sometimes you have to get close to it. Taste it and understand it so you can define it, before it defines you." - JmStorm

I used to be a therapist. It was my first job in my Social Work career. It’s a common statement that all therapists should have therapists, but I had no idea how to be on the other side. It completely stumped me. I realized that, even though I tried with all my might to get my teenagers to open up about their feelings, I had no idea how to express my own. So, I didn’t. And I thought that would be OK. I thought that not expressing emotions even made me a better therapist because I could listen to someone’s intense pain without breaking down. I created a rock-solid wall around myself because I was so afraid of getting my heart broken. And I thought that made me strong. But instead, I was so very weak. You cannot simply avoid pain. It has to go somewhere. And, even though I told myself I wasn’t affected (ha!), the pain piled up inside my fortress started to leak over the walls. It had to go somewhere, and because I had long-since been unable to let myself release the pain in a healthy way, it turned into panic attacks. As a therapist, I knew that meant it was past time to ask for help.

I’m not sure how I thought I would get any better by simply going to therapy without actually engaging in therapy, but I sure tried! I went to a few sessions but I was completely unwilling to explore the pain pile-up. In fact, attending therapy actually increased my panic attacks. I now know that was because I had a deep-seated fear of my fortress being attacked and leaving me vulnerable to the pain. I wanted to just ignore it, and hoped that by doing so, it would magically disappear. It doesn’t work that way…

I made the excuse to myself that the therapist was looking down on me (I still really think she may have been), I told myself I was fine and didn’t need her anyway. Change of scenery. I thought when I stopped being a therapist and got a job that I loved, all would be well. Instead, my panic attacks followed me. So, I gave it a good four years before I tried again. You know, just to make sure! This time I found a therapist about my age who was still in the licensure process and inexperienced. I thought maybe I could open up to someone who was less likely to look down on me. Yes, my brain has an interesting logic sometimes. I am not knocking this therapist at all. In fact, I really liked her. I could sort of think of her as a friend instead of a therapist. The problem was, I wasn’t opening up to any of my friends either. This therapist tried, but she was just so inexperienced. I was able, with very little effort, to evade her attempts at cracking my walls. I told myself she helped me heal but really, I just WANTED to believe that I was healed. I wanted it to be over. I’m not saying she didn’t help, but the way she helped was to encourage me to write in a journal about my experiences on my own. So, I did. I wrote about each and every kid and my experiences working with them. I wrote about each painful experience in my recent life. One after the other, I wrote and I prayed. I prayed for each teenager and I prayed for my own heart, thinking that by writing I was releasing the pain. I told myself and my therapist that I was healed. I believed I was healed because that’s what I wanted to believe. But, that’s not how it works either…

In all fairness, I would have kept seeing her but, by that time, my health had taken a disastrous turn. I kept having to cancel on her at the last minute, which wasn’t fair to her and technically against policy. So, I told her I needed to get my physical health under control before I could continue working on my mental health. But, that’s not now it works either…

So, I gave it just a year this time. If you’ve been keeping up with my blog, you already know that during that year, my life had pretty much fallen apart. I lost my health, my career, our financial stability, friends, my sanity (well, almost). The thought had been nagging me that I really needed help getting through this but I dismissed it due to finances and, if I’m honest, being completely terrified. See, I knew deep down that my walls were crumbling under the weight of the pain I told myself I was getting rid of, when I was really just shoving it down to make room for more. You can only do that for so long before you start to break and I knew it. And it terrified me. The thought of someone finally seeing all the garbage inside of me, and forcing me to rifle through it, was completely revolting and horrifying. I knew that this time I wasn’t going to be strong enough to fake a healing. I knew I was actually going to have to let myself feel all the pain if I was going to heal. Oh, I craved healing! I longed to finally be me to the world even though it simultaneously filled me with fear, and still does.

So, I started praying. My husband and I started asking God that if this was in his plan for me that he would provide the funds for it. Right about that time, insurance sent me an unexpected check from some treatment I didn’t think they would cover, and my husband got a great second job. That’s when we knew that since God was being faithful on his end, I had to follow through on mine. I was still too afraid to pick up the phone. The final straw was a stress that God was using to bring up all kinds of unhealed memories and I knew I couldn’t go through those memories again without help. I considered going back to my last therapist because it was the safest way to go. But, healing is not safe.

I felt myself being led to Christian Counseling instead. My two previous therapists were Christians and they were counselors, but they weren’t Christian Counselors. By code of ethics, they were not allowed to discuss God or lead prayers unless I brought it up. I really felt I needed to be led to and through God’s truths instead. I began to truly believe in my heart that my healing could not fully happen unless God was the Healer, standing at the very center of it all. I needed the real Wonderful Counselor (Isaiah 9:6). I needed my counseling to be absolutely saturated with him. So, I scheduled an appointment with a Christian Counselor and I prayed. I simultaneously feared that this would be like all of the other attempts at healing and that it would not. I told exactly three people that I was going to this appointment and needed them to pray that I would have the strength to walk through the door. I shook the whole way, but I walked in.

And what I found were the arms of God, wide open and waiting for me to explore the truth. My counselor prays with me and for me before and after the session. She reads Scripture to me and proclaims God’s truths over my life. She constantly invites the Holy Spirit to guide us in the healing process. And that’s certainly what it is, a process. It is not all hearts and flowers. In fact, it’s incredibly painful. Now that I am finally exploring and trying to allow myself to feel the hurt, at least 20 years of pain is hitting me all at once. I hate it. I want to quit. I’m not kidding. It is a struggle every week for me to go. But, here’s how God works. The very next Sunday after my first session, my counselor started attending our church, and sitting in the same vicinity as us. I know that if I quit going to counseling, I still cannot hide from her. Hilarious, God. Hilarious!

I want to, and sometimes still desperately try to, collect and patch up the bricks that are tumbling out of my crumbling fortress. But they’re falling too fast and I am broken. So broken. And God is showing me that perhaps I need to stay broken for awhile. After all, moving past all of the pain is what caused my problems in the first place. Oh, how it hurts! But, every week God gently picks me up off the floor and carries me through the door again. He is revealing things to me that I didn’t even know were there and he sits with me in the pain. He holds me when I cry and takes the punches when I get angry. He listens when I talk and he hears my heart when I can’t find the words. He is trying desperately to teach me who I am. He is introducing me to myself! I am not made for fear. I am not on this earth to constantly beat myself up. I am God’s child, created in his image. He did not make me flawed. And if I finally let it, his perfect love will cast out my fear. I am learning that I have to feel pain before I can heal. It is possible to ignore pain for 20 years. But it will eventually eat me alive. It’s already taken a big bite.

So, here I sit with my God, his Word, and his love, watching as piles of pain flow out and through my walls and through me. Sometimes I think it’s too much and I want to push it back in but it’s too late. The avalanche has already begun and there’s nothing I can do but feel it. And the whole time I know God’s heart feels it with me. His heart holds mine. Even when I throw tantrums, even when I grow numb, especially when I cry, he holds his child. It is my opportunity to feel well-loved by God. And what better love could be possible? THAT’S how it works.

"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but he that listens to counsel is wise." - Proverbs 12:15
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