mental health & the church

Is Listening to What God Says About You Wrong?

Spending time in God’s Word has become very important to me. I find myself drawn to Scripture that tells me who I am in Him and how God feels about me.

I wrote about a verse Jude a few weeks ago that tells us we are beloved, called, and kept.

Twice I’ve written about how knowing we are clothed in His righteousness makes me believe blanketing myself in shame is something God would hate. (link 1 & link 2)

I spend a lot of time thinking about how God feels about me. I even changed my Instagram name to knownseenliked because I needed to focus my head and my heart on the true identity that God knows me, sees me, and likes me.

All of this focus on me feels wrong. I get a little sting inside that says, Shouldn’t you be focusing on who God is?

Is it wrong? Is my sting right? Should I be focusing more on God and less on me?

My youngest Hezekiah does this really cute thing, but it hit me yesterday that it was very telling to how our brains work as human beings.

Every time I say something complimentary to Hezekiah, which I try to do because I want his 3-year-old heart to know he is amazing and loved, he rejects what I’ve said and tells me his name — which he adorably says as Kia.

Here’s how the conversations go:

Me: “You are such a good boy.”

Hezekiah. “No, I Kia.”


Me: “You are so cute!”

Hezekiah: "No, I Kia!”


Me: “You are a good brother.”

Hezekiah: “No, I Kia.”


Spider man fade, listening to God, identity.JPG

I laugh every time. His insistence that his identity is just his nickname hasn’t stopped me from telling him all the things he is in my eyes. As a parent, I want more than anything to nurture love and kindness in him towards others and himself.

As humans, it is not easy for us to accept positive comments. We are protective and defensive. We easily accept criticism without question, but we are skeptical of praise and complements.

I know this because I had a Christian counselor tell me that I was doing this. He made me start writing down things people said to me that were complementary. It felt silly, but I did it because I wanted to get better. I was so mentally unhealthy, berating myself with negative self-talk.

Earlier this year I saw Curt Thompson speak at the IF:Gathering, and he presented the brain science behind the principle of accepting compliments differently. He shared that research shows that it takes our bodies about 3 seconds to absorb and believe a negative comment and about 30 seconds for us to absorb and believe a compliment. He encouraged us to not push away and deflect a compliment out of humility or false humility because when you do that, you have no chance of ever accepting it. He asked us to take a deep breath and let those kind words that were just spoken about us sink in. He asked us to go back to those words later in the day when we had time to really let our mind believe those words.

If this neurobiologist, psychiatrist knows it is important for good things said about you to be absorbed and I as a parent long for good things said about my children to be absorbed, then can we agree that God wants the good things He has said to His children to be absorbed?

It is important that we listen to the good things God says about us, and I’ve come to believe that that small sting inside of me that says I should only be focused on what is said about God is evil shame that does not want good for me.

Shame is the enemy that keeps us blind and in a corner. It keeps us from connecting to others and sharing our faith.

Obviously, we need to commit time to learn God’s character, and what we believe about God must line up with what Scripture says about God.

This knowing God does not mean knowing how God feels about us is then unimportant. Don’t skip absorbing what God says about you because of humility, false humility, or shame.

God says you are Beloved. God says you are known. God says you are seen. God says you are liked, friended, and included. God says you are chosen. God says you are called. God says you are commissioned. God says you are kept.


New Head & the Heart song this week. Ekkk!

If you’re interested in reading Curt Thompson’s work, he has published these two books:

Revisiting My Shame Blanket

It has been a year and a half since I first wrote about my shame blanket. In some ways, my shame blanket is far behind me because of my growth. If I’m honest, I often carrying that blankie around like Charlie Brown’s little friend Linus.

What I’ve learned about my shame blanket goes beyond just saying I need to drop it, surrender from this bad view of myself.

Here is what I’ve learned about my shame blanket.

shame blanket.JPG

My blanket shields my eyes and heart from distinguishing my feelings.

When I am in the darkness of shame, I cannot distinguish what I am feeling or why I am feeling it. Under the blanket, every bad feeling is because of the badness of me.

The truth about feelings is that naming what you’re feeling and why you’re feeling it is extremely important in emotional health. What I did in the past was felt shame for the bad feeling and powered through whatever was in front of me until I hit a wall I could not see because my eyes were in the darkness of shame.

I closed my eyes and worked.

I closed my heart and served.

I closed my spiritual eyes and missed the Father trying to lift my head.

When I would hit a wall, there would be such a jumble of emotions that there was no sorting through the mess. Like those plastic slinkies sold by that Asian company Sunday school teachers frequent, it is a tangled mess. Those things should come with a sticker that says, “Save your sanity by inserting into a trashcan promptly after ten minutes use.”

When I can recognize I’m feeling feelings, set my shame aside, give myself permission to open my eyes and heart to interpret just what those feelings are, then straightening the jumble is possible.

When you’ve realized what the feeling is you are feeling — actually named it, you can gently ask yourself, Why am I feeling this? Here’s where having clear eyes, unencumbered with the despised shame blanket, is so advantageous. Feelings are tricky. Sometimes you are feeling a feeling that is perfectly reasonable. The situation you find yourself in is the exact situation that would cause this exact feeling in any human that had a non-stone heart. In that case, you can tell yourself, This feeling is legitimate. My circumstances are not good therefore I am feeling not good.

Sometimes feelings are liars. Sometimes we feel something and it isn’t true. This is the reason that feelings get such a bad rap. Feelings aren’t facts. In this case, you remind yourself of the facts. You fill your mind with truth and pray your heart will catch on.

No matter what, shame is never the answer.

looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross,
despising
the
shame,
and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.
— Hebrews 12:2 ESV

The problem perpetuates itself when we attach shame to certain feelings.

I should never feel unappreciated because then I’m not being humble.

I should never feel hurt because then I’m not forgiving.

I should never feel helpless because then I don’t have faith.

I should never feel fearful because then I’m a bad Christian.

I should never feel lonely because then I’m forgetting God is always with me.

I should never feel disappointed because God has a plan.

We are not bad for feeling unappreciated, hurt, helpless, fearful, lonely, disappointed or any other feeling. It is not a sin to feel a feeling. Denying you have those feelings to seem holy to yourself or others is harmful. Our righteousness does not stem from our ability to deny feelings, put on a happy face, or become numb to negative feelings. Our righteousness comes from Jesus.

Jesus had feelings.

Emotionally healthy Christians have feelings.

We are skipping a step in our emotional health when we deny our feelings and jump to, “God’s good and I’m good.” Let’s go through the steps of feeling unappreciated. 1. I recognize I feel unappreciated. 2. I realize why I feel unappreciated when I see circumstances in my life that would cause anyone to feel that way. 3. I’ve named my feeling. I remind myself that this is a valid feeling in this situation. 4. I pray that God would change those circumstances because everyone deserves to feel appreciated. 5. I remind myself how God feels about me — I am radically loved by Him, He loves a cheerful giver, and Jesus can relate to feeling unappreciated. 6. I am full in Him, and although it would have been nice, I can live without appreciation from others.

We have worked through that feeling without shame and covered in His grace, mercy, and righteousness. A shame blanket would have clouded that process and put a stop to the process at step one.

As children of God, we have to remind ourselves we are clothed in the splendid robe of righteousness instead of in the dark covering of shame.

So the Angel of the Lord spoke to those standing before Him, ‘Take off his filthy clothes!’ Then He said to him, ‘See, I have removed your guilt from you, and I will clothe you with splendid robes.’
— Zechariah 3:4 HCSB

Our robe of righteousness aids our emotional heath by giving us real security.

Our robe of righteousness does not mask our ability to distinguish our feelings because we are wearing that robe solely because of Jesus. It is holy and good, and our Father sees us as holy and good because we are covered in His righteousness and kept in His care.

When we are wearing our robe, we have no shame before God as we work through our feelings honestly. We can acknowledge the truth of our circumstances that exist in our life in the fallen world. We can put a name to what we are feeling. Naming things is good. (It is the actual oldest profession, and Adam was the OG Namer.)

We can ask ourselves why we have the feelings we do without shame. We can determine if our feelings fit the circumstance. We can ask God to change our circumstances if they do. If our feelings are lying to us, contradicting His love for us, we can ask God to help us open our hearts to the truth.

I love the Nick Drake-ness of this song. Excited for this new album.

5 Books That Helped Me Heal

As spring warms my skin, I am transported in my mind to last summer. I feel myself gently swing back and forth in my hammock while I think, aren’t hammocks supposed to be relaxing?

I was in my head a lot last summer. I was seeking anything that would heal my anxiety after finally admitting that it was more than a temporary problem.

Many things were helpful in getting to a healthier place: therapy, journaling, new boundaries, confronting my codependent tendencies, medication, and much needed changes. The thing that made all of these things more effective was reading books that helped me process these changes.

You may have different mental health concerns for yourself or a family member than I did, but all of these books will have good lessons for you on your journey.

Christian mental health books.jpg

1. All is Grace by Brennan Manning

 

Why?

This book isn’t a “self-help” type of book like the rest of the books on my list. It’s an autobiography of a deeply broken man. I cried tears more than once because of the incredible redemptive, redeeming, reckless love of our God. His trauma from disfunction was familiar even as it was far from my life experience. His tendency towards self-destruction and self-deception was familiar even though it was also very far from my life experience.

Quote:

My message, unchanged for more than fifty years, is this: God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be. It is the message of grace…A grace that pays the eager beaver who works all day long the same wages as the grinning drunk who shows up at ten till five…A grace that hikes up the robe and runs breakneck toward the prodigal reeking of sin and wraps him up and decides to throw a party no ifs, ands, or buts…This grace is indiscriminate compassion. It works without asking anything of us…Grace is sufficient even though we huff and puff with all our might to try to find something or someone it cannot cover. Grace is enough…Jesus is enough.
— Brennan Manning, All is Grace

Other healing books by Manning:

Abba’s Child

Ruthless Trust

2. How People Heal by Henry Cloud and John Townsend

 

Why?

This book broke down how the ideas of Bible intersect mental health care in the simplest to understand way possible in chapter one. Even if you can only read chapter one, you’ll be better for it.

Quote:

I believed in the power of the Bible and knew that God’s truth could change any life. And I knew that if I could just teach others the same things and encourage them to know the truth as I was learning it, they would find the same kind of growth I discovered. Yet, at the medical center I saw people who had walked with God for years and many who knew more about God’s truth than I did. These people, laypeople and pastors alike, had been very diligent about prayer, Bible study, and other spiritual disciplines. Nevertheless, they were hurting, and for one reason or another, they had been unable to walk through their valley. The woman in the pink bathrobe was a missionary who had been called off the field because she was out of touch with reality — out of touch with who she really was and where she was in time. Although the realization I had had with this particular woman came in response to an extreme situation, I had the same realization over and over with hundreds of other more normal clients. To deal with marital, parenting, emotional, and work struggles, people had tried the things they had been taught, and they felt as though these spiritual answers had let them down. And I began to feel the same way. Again the realization hit me: This is going to be harder than I thought.
— Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend, How People Grow

Other healing books by Cloud & Townsend:

Boundaries

Necessary Endings (Cloud)

3. Emotionally Healthy Spirituality by Peter Scazzero

 

Why?

Peter, a veteran pastor in New York City, is so vulnerable with his own journey to becoming emotionally healthy, and he points out how damaging emotionally unhealthy people are in the local church. If every local church was proactive in making sure that discipleship that included emotional health was a priority, the body would be so much healthier and more whole.

Quote:

The problem, however, is that you inevitably find, as I did, something still missing. In fact, the spirituality of most current discipleship models often only adds an additional protective layer against people growing up emotionally. When people have authentic spiritual experiences — such as worship, prayer, Bible studies, and fellowship — they mistakenly believe they are doing fine, even if their relational life is fractured and their interior world is disordered. Their apparent ‘progress’ then provides a spiritual reason for not doing the hard work of maturing. They are deceived. I know. I lived that way for almost seventeen years. Because of the spiritual growth in certain areas of my life and in those around me, I ignored the glaring signs of emotional immaturity that were everywhere in and around me.
— Peter Scazzero, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

4. The Wisdom of You Heart by Marc Schelske

 

Why?

I met Marc at a writer’s conference in Portland when this book was just a seed. He was honest about his struggles with perfectionism and insecurities. Several years later, I read his book and it freed me from a lot of shame about my emotions. I’m an enneagram 3. If you’re an enneagram 3, 7, or 8, you are in the active triad that suppresses feelings by focusing your energy on other things. Becoming in touch with my feelings has been a process, and this book was integral in that process.

With emotions, God gave us a gift, not a curse, a small reflection of God’s own experience.
— Marc Schelske, The Wisdom of Your Heart

5. The Gift Of Being Yourself by David Benner

 

Why?

Knowing God is not something you can integrate into your life and actions fully until you know yourself. This book was full of “ah ha” moments about how the self relates to God. I flagged a third of the pages because it held an important truth.

Quote:

Self-deception occurs automatically. This is part of what psychologists mean when they say that the defense mechanisms operate in the unconscious. It is also part of what theologians mean when they speak of original sin. We don’t really have to choose self-deception. It is — to use contemporary computer jargon — the default option.
— David Benner, The Gift of Being Yourself

I listened to this a bunch last summer in the hammock. Still is a fav.

The Detriment of Shame Because of Anxiety

I believe God likes me. It is good.

To get to this place of excepting God’s acceptance of me, I had to let go of my shame about fear.

Do not be anxious about anything. These words come straight from Jesus’s mouth. I feel shame because I find myself anxious every day.

Emotions are not sin. 

feelings, fear, emotions, sin.jpg

We have five core emotions: joy, sadness, fear, anger, and disgust. (Anyone seen Inside Out?) Every emotion we have is either a variation of intensity or a mixture of these emotions.

As we accept that Jesus was human, we have to accept that he had these same core emotions too. It isn’t hard to believe because we can see him display all of these emotions at different points in our gospel story. Jesus never let those emotions lead to sin, but in my life that has happened.

We see Jesus joyful often. I imagine Him full of joy on that borrowed donkey entering Jerusalem. We see Him sad often, especially at the news of the death of His friend Lazarus. We see him angry as He turned over tables at the temple. We see Him disgusted when the Pharisees demand a sign. (He had just fed 4,000 people for goodness sake.)

We are slow to admit that Jesus displayed the emotion of fear. Why is that?

Maybe it is because we have watered down God’s Holy Word into platitudes that we can hand each other and convince ourselves that we were helpful with our Christian clichés.

Maybe it is because we’ve heard things from the pulpit that make us believe fear is a sin.

This Scripture is good, but the enemy can manipulate it like he tried to do with Jesus in the desert to make us think our fear is sin.

  • Do not worry about tomorrow.

  • God did not give you a spirit of fear.

  • Perfect love cast out fear.

  • Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid.

  • Do not fear. God is with you.

There is an extremely emotional piece of the gospel that I believe shows Jesus experiencing extreme fear.

And he came out and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place, he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, saying, ’Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’ And there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him. And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose from prayer, he came to the disciples and found them sleeping for sorrow, and he said to them, ’Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation.’
— Luke 22:39-46 ESV

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about sweating drops of blood:

Hematidrosis is a condition in which capillary blood vessels that feed the sweat glands rupture, causing them to exude blood, occurring under conditions of extreme physical or emotional stress. Severe mental anxiety activates the sympathetic nervous system to invoke the stress- Fight-or-flight response to such a degree as to cause hemorrhage of the vessels supplying the sweat glands. It has been suggested that acute fear and extreme stress can cause hematidrosis.

If we believe Jesus sweat drops of blood, He must have been under extreme fear, stress, anxiety, and experiencing fight-or-flight.

Reread this passage in the NIV translation with the emotion of fear in mind. How do you experience fear? What physically happens in your body when the emotion of fear takes control of your mind?

He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed, ‘Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.’ An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he rose from prayer and went back to the disciples, he found them asleep, exhausted from sorrow. ‘Why are you sleeping?’ he asked them. ‘Get up and pray so that you will not fall into temptation.’
— Luke 22:41-46 NIV

Knowing Jesus experienced this emotion takes away the enemy’s ability to shame me over my own emotion of fear.

I experience fear. That fear keeps me alive. That fear is a core emotion that I cannot dispose of.

Our goal cannot be to rid our lives of fear.

Here’s a better goal: know that God accepts you in your fear.

Our fear does not surprise Him or alarm Him. He created us with emotions, and He experiences emotions.

It is easy to think we can just turn to God whenever we have fear, but if we are so ashamed of our fear that we want to hide away from God, how can we seek His help?

I rid myself of the shame of my fear, and I am eager to allow God to help me work through my fear and anxiety.

We don’t cut fear out of our life. We experience that fear and work through those emotions with a God that knows what fear feels like.

Anxiety is such a big part of my life right now, I don’t think I could accept that God likes me if I didn’t realize that God understood my anxiety or that I didn’t need to feel shame about my anxiety.

To ignore, repress, or dismiss our feelings is to fail to listen to the stirrings of the Spirit within our emotional life. Jesus listened. In John’s Gospel we are told that Jesus was moved with the deepest emotions (11:33)... The gospel portrait of the beloved Child of Abba is that of a man exquisitely attuned to His emotions and uninhibited in expressing them. The Son of Man did not scorn of reject feelings as fickle and unreliable. They were sensitive antennae to which He listened carefully and through which He perceived the will of His Father for congruent speech and action.
— Brennan Manning, Abba's Child

If you experience shame over your fear, I encourage you to go back over those verses that can either be a cliché or a balm to your soul. Look at the verse with new eyes. See the words coming from a God who knows fear and never wants to shame you.

His Word actually gives us an antidote to shame. That antidote is an emotion. God actually commands us to have an emotion to counteract the negative effects of shame. We are told to have confidence in John’s first letter to God’s children.

And now, little children, abide in him, so that when he appears we may have confidence and not shrink from him in shame at his coming.
— 1 John 2:28 ESV

He goes on to say:

By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God;
— 1 John 3:19-21 ESV

Have confidence before God. Allow your heart, mind, soul, and body to feel that you can trust and rely on God. Have confidence that God likes you.

God likes you, even when you are fearful because you’re never going to be without fear.

Here’s a song because music is good and wearing the struggle is honest.

Change is the Place Where Joy and Grief Mingle

Here are some things I’ve learned about change.

Sometimes you don’t choose the change.

When my father-in-law had a high count of white blood cells, it was a change that we didn’t choose. It would take a few weeks before the doctors confirmed his leukemia diagnosis. It would be only a few weeks before we said goodbye to him. This wasn’t a change anyone would have chosen.

When my dad woke me up with a phone call to tell me my brother was gone. Tragically, my brother chose this change, but I didn’t. I would never have.

When someone’s bad choices throw our life into a tailspin, we have no choice but to adjust. Sometimes people make a choice that isn’t necessarily bad but it causes ripples of change to your life too.

Change brings grief.

It is obvious when the change we are considering is a death of a loved one that grief would be involved. What about when it is a different change that isn’t death? Sorrow comes in every change.

Change can also include trauma.

My adopted son’s life had traumatic changes that were out of his hands. His little brain and heart hold those experiences deeply. Last week we had a good change in our life. An extremely kind friend gave us a van. It’s a hand-me-down, but it feels like we won the lotto because it’s so comfy and nice.

new van.JPG

Having nice seats for you and your people to ride in around town is really delightful. I am thankful for this new car, people who enjoy blessing others, and these silly boys who think it’s cool that the back seats can swivel and face backwards, “limo-style.”

limo seating minivan.JPG

We were all having fun taking the car for our first spin. We drove my husband back to work to drop him off. After we got back home, I was getting my youngest out of his car seat, and he busted out crying — not whining — heartwrenching tears. “I want daddy,” he said. I knew instantly the source of his anxiety and grief wasn’t dropping off daddy eight minutes earlier. The grief was the change. Change is scary when a change has undercurrents of past trauma. I reassured him the best I could that he was safe in his family even with the new car. We talked about the new car and hugged for a long time.

I know this feeling. After my brother’s death, I panicked every time I heard a phone ring. If that phone ring was late at night or early in the morning, I was on edge for hours. It took me years to get past that reaction. It has been almost 9 years, and I still catch my body tensing at a ringing phone.

Sometimes you choose the change.

Not all change is bad, like the new van. Sometimes we choose the change. We decide to change homes, schools, churches, friendships, food intake, habits, clothes, hobbies, or hairstyles. The change might be new, exciting, and fun. That doesn’t mean there isn’t something lost.

Even when you choose the change, grief still exists in the change.

Every change big or small, good or bad, brings a measure of grief. We lose things. Even when the change is your choice, you still are allowed to let yourself grieve explicit and implicit losses. Comparison has no function in this grieving because grief does not follow reasoning. It is not kind or healthy to shame yourself for your feelings. God is good. The gifts of the change are good. Our feelings cannot change that.

We are complex, and grief does not steal my gratitude. Ingratitude can definitely steal my joy, but I can hold my joy, sadness, and thankfulness up to God in shameless honesty without worry that He will not get it. God is much more complex than me. My complexity isn’t confusing to Him. I’m thankful He joins me in the place where mourning and celebration mingle without hesitation. I have this stupid habit of letting my brain blurt out silver linings like they will outshine the grey. Only The Light can push the darkness away. Silver linings are just circumstances that get put in the pro column. I am not loved and liked by the pro column. I am loved and liked by the Son. You are too.

We all have some measure of change in this life or we are not alive. This is what I’ve learned about change: changes are sometimes chosen and sometimes not, but all change brings grief.

What are you learning about change?



I like to include a song for you every now & again. Here’s a new one. I might like the acoustic version better.

Marking Changes By Changing my Instagram Name

Changes are coming.

How do I feel?

Do I feel excited? Yes, because of the possibilities.

Do I feel scared? Yes. I don’t want to feel hurt again.

How can I know it will be different?

I’m different.


This year is going to be full of change for me. We are walking fast towards changing cities, changing ministry jobs, changing homes. We are going from dry to humid, from comfortable to new, from local ministry to global ministry at Wycliffe Bible Translators, from Texas to North Carolina, from Amarillo to the JAARS headquarters near Waxhaw.


It seems fitting to make a simple change to mark these changes. I am changing my Instagram name because AmarilloJennifer doesn’t fit what God is telling me about who I am or what God is calling us to.

How did I get here, to such massive changes?

It started with pain as all new things do.

Childbirth.

Pruning.

Turning over a leaf without pain isn’t realistic. Is the leaf removed from the tree, in the process of dying, crackling even with your gentle touch?

It’s a common refrain in this Christ-following life: church hurt.

I was in a season feeling out of control (as if we are ever in control.) In Annie Down’s book Remembering God, she said the place she wanted to be when she felt church hurt was an old, sturdy, reliable cathedral.

When I read this, I laughed out loud because I realized this is exactly what I did to respond to my church hurt. I asked my family, cleared it with my pastor, and we started attending a very traditional, early church service. We went and listed to their pipe organ, choir donning robes, hymns with obsolete words, high ceilings. I felt safe in those pews.

We did those early services for about three months, and God met me there.

God met me in other ways in those hard months when everything about my life felt as if it had forgotten about gravity and was hovering and threatening to crash down.

I was asking God, “Are we suppose to leave?”

I realize now I was asking God the wrong question. In Jen Wilkin’s book In His Image, she talks a lot about being in God’s will. She says this:

For the believer wanting to know God’s will for her life, the first question to pose is not ‘What should I do?’ but “Who should I be?”
— Jen Wilkin, In His Image


I was asking “DO” questions, but God in His loving way was answering my unasked “WHO” question. In every good thing He was putting in my path meant for my healing, He was telling me who I was.

I started therapy around the same time I was finding solace in that unchanging church sanctuary. Over months of talking through feelings shoved in corners, patterns emerged. God showed me that I could ignore my past hurts not allowing them to come into my thoughts, but they were going to drive my brains reaction to every current hurt whether I acknowledge them or not.

I saw that hiding in the bathroom during times of stress or feeling ignored was directly related to experiences I had as a child. I saw that my urge to run away when I felt like I wasn’t measuring up to other’s standards was directly related to my flight responses. I saw that my anxiety to enter situations had everything to do with fears of rejection.

I began to turn those fears, anxiety, and hurts on their head. I looked to Christ. How does He feel about me?

  • I know I am seen. I am never ignored by God, and He hates being ignored by us.

  • I know that I am known. God takes pleasure in knowing me.

  • I know that I am chosen. I could never be rejected by God because we are forever family.

  • I know that I am loved. God first loved me, and His pure love for me cannot be matched.

  • I know that I am liked. God sees and knows me, and His opinion of me is that He likes me.

  • I know that I am friended. God calls me friend, and He lets me know what He is doing.

  • I know that I am included. God never pushes me away; He always draws near.

  • I know that I am commissioned. God has given me all authority of Heaven and earth to make disciples in His name.

When I look at my current Instagram name, AmarilloJennifer, I think of me three years ago before I was graciously showed who I was. I was looking for identity in my role in ministry here in Amarillo. I saw what I was doing for God in my outreach, church, service, and good works as who I was. If you asked me to tell about myself, I couldn’t get through three sentences without mentioning my ministry in Amarillo.

I am not AmarilloJennifer.

As we pursue this calling to join Wycliffe, I have learned some lessons. I know I am not WycliffeJennifer. I cannot define myself by the temporary or what I do.

I can only define myself by the permanent and what Christ did.

Which brings us to the new Instagram name:

KnownSeenLiked

I am KnownSeenLiked.

ACS_0210.JPG

You might wonder why I picked out these three truths. You might be especially wondering why I would choose liked over loved.

My pain centered around being misunderstood. I wanted desperately to explain myself to all parties involved and the world at large in a way that would end in everyone’s approval. I wanted to be known.

We all have this longing deep inside us, and I believe this longing is good. What is not good is selfish ambition and bitter jealousy. It is hard to separate those good motives of sharing myself with others from the motive of wanting approval from this world.

God meets this need to be known and understood on the deepest level. He knows me better than I know myself. When I get brave and be honest with God, when I let down my false selves that I can easily hide behind, when I allow sharing of my true, real thoughts and feelings with God, I feel that need to be known by others slip away. I understand now it was an unattainable goal that would never give me any satisfaction.

In my pain, I wanted to be seen. Feeling ignored sends me to a very dark place very fast. I do not mean failing to be recognized or not applauded for doing good. What I mean is feeling like I have been hurt and no one notices or cares. This feeling that I am on my own, left to bandage my wounds myself causes overwhelming feelings of distress and anxiety in me.

Others sometimes do God’s work in showing me love, they show me that they care about my life — the good and the bad. More often, others are too busy with their own life to notice valleys or mountains in my life. God sees every step. He is never too busy to see me.

Why liked instead of loved?

One of those healing, good things that God put in my path was Sonscape Retreat. Sitting in front of printed out results of online tests I had taken before we arrived and a couple who was there to counsel, mentor, and guide us toward healing from ministry burnout, I was faced with some truth. I was confronted with the fact that I was not objective in my thinking. I had the tendency to illogical and self-absorbed instead of fair-minded when it came to thoughts about myself and how I was perceived by others. My surveys had also revealed the fact that I had a big problem with negative self-talk. These things together pointed to a deep-seated hurt in my past that had not been dealt with. I was advised by these wise guides to listen to a sermon. The sermon was delivered by Brennan Manning.

I had never heard of Brennan, and like the overachiever I am, I took notes. I wrote these quotes in my notebook.

  • God loves you intimately. His love reaches into my dark places.

  • God loves you uniquely and reliably.

  • God loves you tenderly. God likes you. Do you believe it?

  • I dare you to trust that God loves you as you are because you’re never going to be as you should be.

  • Self-love is a profound act of faith.

This sermon challenged me in a way I had never been challenged before. I began the work of accepting that God liked me just the way I am.

These words were not new. They had been drilled into my head as a child from the television set. I had let shame and untruths cover over this beautiful, childlike truth that my friend Mister Rogers had told me over and over every time we met in my living room.

You’ve made this day a special day by just your being you. There’s no person in the whole world like you. And I like you just the way you are.”
— Mister Rogers

What I didn’t know as a little girl is that Fred Rogers had trained at seminary and had been ordained by the Presbyterian church to minister to children through the medium of television. He was telling me how God felt about me by modeling our loving God in his words and actions.

There is something about knowing we are liked that feels so much more intimate than the overused word love. I feel a deeper connection to this God who wants to commune with me. God would have never sent His precious son to earth to die for my sins if He didn’t not only love me but like me also. And Jesus died not for some idealized version of me. Jesus died for me, the sinner - just as I am - me. I am His handiwork. He called His creation good. He made me, and He likes me just as I am.

I am KnownSeenLiked.

The best part of this new Instagram name is that it is you too.

You are KnownSeenLiked.

These truths about me are true for you too.

How amazing to try to avoid this trap of selfish ambition on this social media platform and instead speak truth to all of our hearts from a place of pure gratitude to our God?

I want you to know this joy of being known, this relief of being seen, this deep appreciation of being liked.


Lie #8 Certainty Is Possible

One of the ways I know I’m not doing well mentally is that I am waiting for certainty to move forward or I am wanting certainty from a situation where it isn’t possible.

When I am wanting to be certain of an outcome, what is going to happen in the future, or wanting certainty in what someone else is thinking, their thoughts behind their actions, I am wanting something I can never have.

I can’t know these things.

I can get stuck wanting these things.

I have been stuck wanting to know the future. I have bee stuck wanting to understand other’s thoughts and actions.

If we want to move forward with our lives, we have to accept that we just won’t have all the answers.

Not knowing can put you in two very different places. It can put in a place of paralysis, full of fear. Or it can put you in a place of bravely facing the unknown, otherwise known as having faith.

We aren’t suppose to have all the knowledge. We aren’t supposed to see all the steps and pieces in this life. It doesn’t work that way. It never has and never will.

There are things we can be certain about as Christians.

Knowing those things about God’s relationship with us is what we hold onto as we deal with these uncertain, difficult times in our life. Searching out these truths brings freedom, not fear. It will never bring you to a place of feeling stuck, but it will bring to a place of open hands and surrender.

Surrender isn’t a comfortable place, but it is the best place.

If you find yourself stuck, ruminating uncertain situations or confounding people in your mind, step away from wanting certainty. If you find yourself stuck facing a decision, and you think you can’t make up your mind without every ever-loving fact, step away from wanting certainty.

Let go of the absolute words about your life right now or your thoughts about yourself. Stop using: should, shouldn’t, never, always, everyone, no one, everything, nothing, must, and ought.

Embrace: maybe, trust, possibility, surrender, imagine, adventure, brave, and hope.

So don’t be embarrassed to speak up for our Master or for me, his prisoner. Take your share of suffering for the Message along with the rest of us. We can only keep on going, after all, by the power of God, who first saved us and then called us to this holy work. We had nothing to do with it. It was all his idea, a gift prepared for us in Jesus long before we knew anything about it. But we know it now. Since the appearance of our Savior, nothing could be plainer: death defeated, life vindicated in a steady blaze of light, all through the work of Jesus.
— 2 Timothy 1:8-10 The Message

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Here’s a song for you today.

Seven Things I Learned This Summer

  1. New Pencils Make Me Happy

I get sad about summer ending. I love the sunshine, and fall allergies send me inside sneezing. The thing that cheers me up more than a pumpkin-spiced whatever-is-now-spiced is a brand new pack of sharpened Ticonderoga pencils.

Anyone else? They are prettier than a bouquet of flowers, and they smell good too.

2. Jane Had Cute Clothes in the Jungle

I obsessed about Mr. Rogers all summer, and I blogged about seeing the documentary here. I also watched a documentary about Jane Goodall. It was a beautiful documentary, and I learned some interesting things about her life in the jungle. But most of all, I wanted to run out and buy kaki shorts and button-down dress shirts.

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Someone remind me of this next summer. For now, it’s fall, and I’ll be wearing my Mister-Rogers-type cardigans and hoping some of his goodwill, kindness, and self-discipline rubs off on me as I wear it.

3. Codependency Happens

This is a little heavier topic, but it is the biggest lesson of the summer. (I’m an INFJ, so these lists are never going to be all superficial.) I thought codependency was something limited to situations involving addiction or domestic violence so when my therapist gently told me my thoughts toward someone in my life was my codependency, I felt like I’d fell off a truck. I lost all my bearings. Everything I knew about how I interact with people in my life had to be reexamined through this new lens I was handed. I googled codependency. This is what I saw.

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When I looked at this list at the beginning of summer and got honest with myself, I said “yes” to ten of these questions, and I was in the extremely codependent category. I was sad for days. How could I be so flawed and unaware?

Number 14 is my life struggle. Number five was also a big one for me, because it is just so unhealthy. I would tell myself that if I just did the right thing, I was leading by example, and others would see and follow. I can choose to do what I think is right, but thinking that my actions would change others or having that motivation is codependency.

I may be codependent, but I’m also an overachiever. I got busy reading and listening to podcasts. The best thing I learned is the simplest little phrase you ever did hear, “I am me and you are you.”

Saying, “I am me and you are you” out loud does something in my brain. I can feel myself separating out from the entanglement with others in my mind.

Say it with me, “I am me and you are you.”

It’s so simple yet so good and true.

4. Church is a Codependency Hotbed and Real Relationships Need Equality

Most of my codependent thoughts were wrapped up in our church situation. Maybe it is because my husband and I have been heavily involved and employed by a church ministry for over twenty years, but I suspect other church members have these struggles even if that isn’t the case. I suspect that many of these codependent thoughts are embraced or even rewarded in church settings. After all, if you take better care of others than yourself you might be compared with Mother Teressa. And trying to change other people’s choices is how some people gauge how good your teaching is, and saying “no” is always hardest when it is the church asking.

I believe healthy people are needed to make up a healthy churches, and healthy churches strengthen believers. Spiritual growth thrives in healthy people and healthy churches. (This is what I’m learning in my Community Bible Study lessons about 1 Timothy.)

The lesson of “I am me and you are you” is really needed in church, and it can help church members thrive.

When I learned this phrase I also learned an important lesson about relationships. Real, true, healthy relationships need equality and mutuality, meaning one person cannot be dominate or more needed or a relationship doesn’t really exist. When church members are constantly on the giving end, the person receiving isn’t entering the relationship. A relationship must have giving and receiving or it never gets off the ground.

This is a picture of a real, healthy relationship, two equal circles that don’t overlap.

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We are separate. We both have things to offer the relationship. We both are giving and receiving. Church outreach might start out on uneven ground, but the goal should be to eventually have a real, mutual, equal relationship with the person receiving help from a church outreach. That is easier said than done! If we don’t have that goal in mind, we’ll never even come close.

It was messy learning this lesson for myself. I’ve been put into the situation of giving in so many mission trips and church outreaches, and I’ve found true friendship with a few people that I’ve taken time to allow that uneven balance to shift to mutuality. It takes humbling yourself and receiving from others. The times I’ve accepted the hospitality of others have been a real blessing, and I have real regrets over times when I didn’t seek the shift because of pride or times I didn’t generously give my time with others to make room for the shift.

5. Formula For Giving Feedback on Someone’s Writing

Is there anything more sticky than trying to give good feedback? I learned this formula from writing coach Ann Kroeker — Ask and BAP.

Before giving feedback, ask the writer what they need to be addressed in their writing. What should you be reading and watching for? Then BAP.

B - Bless - Give encouragement for what was good in the writing.

A - Address - Answer specific questions about the writing. Did it have good flow? Was it a good concept? Did it make sense? Are they repeating themselves too much?

P - Press - Only when the writer asks for it do you press. If they want critical feedback to make the writing publishable, then you should give them every p & q for making the new draft as perfect as possible.

I feel empowered to offer this type of help to my writing friends after learning this.

6. If It Doesn’t Have Fruit, It’s Not best

I heard a sermon by a guest speaker named Marlin Vis. He pointed out something that I had never thought about, but I think I agree with him. He said, “God is not overly concerned with outcomes. I’m not saying He’s not concerned. He’s concerned with output. Here it is — the fruit of the spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity [goodness], faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things, and those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with their passions… and desires…. If you want to know if God’s will is being done in your life or in anybody you are watching, you look for these fruits. If you don’t see them, God’s will — no matter what the outcome is — that is not the result of God’s will. And where you see this, that’s God’s will being worked out in the world. Amen? Or not? It’s ok if you don’t agree, but think on these things.”

This is a lot to think about. It is hard to stay walking in the spirit, but God is concerned if I do and it is His will that I do walk in the spirit. This made me think about the life of Samson. He wasn’t concerned with output during his life and his outcome was pushing over those pillars. I have to believe God wanted better for Samson.

Am I more worried about outcome or how I walk through the situation? This idea makes me lock eyes with my sin nature. It is lurking there, and it is not pretty.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
— Galatians 5:16-26 ESV

7. Some Encouragement From Ruth Bell Graham

After facing my sin nature, I need some encouragement not to give up because walking in the spirit does not come naturally. I love this reminder of sanctification from Ruth Bell Graham’s grave marker.


End of construction — Thank you for your patience.
— Ruth Bell Graham
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We are all a work in progress. We will not be completed until that day when we are face to face with Jesus!

I’m thankful for this godly woman’s vulnerability and honesty, even in death.

What about you? What have you learned this summer?

Emily P. Freeman is good to remind us to keep track.

Here’s a song for you just because.

When Anxiety Makes Celebrating a Chore, Six Tips to Survive the Party

Parents were picking up kids, and I was handing out little baggies of goodies to each bouncing boy headed out the door. We had filled their systems with all forms of sugar from liquid-grown-in-fields to powdered-and-whipped. We had celebrated our bright-eyed boy’s turning of eight, complete with a hand-drawn ten-foot Godzilla adorning the wall, a back porch covered in yellow, blue, orange, and green silly string, and a cake that featured gummy army men plotting the takedown of a plastic Godzilla. I felt two feelings battling inside me, dark and light. On one hand, I felt proud we had celebrated well, even with while keeping the newly adopted two-year-old happy and feeling safe with all the buzzing, busy boys in our house. It felt good to feel like celebrating and celebrate well. On the other hand, I felt the presence of my anxiety.

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May and June are full of big days for our family: four birthdays, Mother’s Day, wedding anniversary, and Father’s Day. Last year during this time, we were in the middle of a very uncertain international adoption, and I didn’t feel like celebrating a darn thing. I was treading water emotionally. We even had a bonus special day thrown in last year because our oldest graduated high school. One more party to plan in between crying and mental nail-biting. My grief and anxiety would not be put away; It demanded to be seen and acknowledged. What I’ve realized this year is that even without the stress of our adoption and graduation, my anxiety still makes it hard for me to celebrate. 

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Celebrating is worth fighting for. It is worth it because I love my family. We must celebrate because celebrating brings joy, and joy is our strength. 

 

Here’s how to survive when the calendar demands celebration:

1. Don’t shame yourself at any point in this process.

Thoughts like, what’s wrong with me that I can’t be happy about a birthday party? are not helpful or kind to yourself. If you are wrestling temporary stress in your life or you are dealing with the realities of living with anxiety, you must allow yourself the room to feel what you really feel, and you cannot have shame because you have those feelings.

2. Set up good boundaries in your celebrating.

You don’t have to be hype for a week over the big day. You don’t even have to be partying for more than a few hours. The point is to take a chunk of time and celebrate something for the sake of celebration. Set aside your grief, anxiety, or stress-inducing problem for just a few hours and give this important person, place, or thing in your life its due festivity. When it is over, you will still have your issues you are struggling through there waiting for you.

3. Invite people who have proven themselves as safe people.

Someone who will bring you flowers on a bad day is the perfect person to invite to your good day. Someone who refuses to acknowledge you are struggling during hard times isn’t going to truly celebrate your good days either. They may pretend to celebrate with you, but if they don’t engage in your whole life as a person, good and bad, they aren't genuinely rooting for you or the success of your life. You have permission to only invite who you need and want to invite. It is perfectly ok to only allow people who are genuine and kind into those big celebratory moments of your life.

4. Do not overdo it on your party planning.

Don’t demand perfection from your party. Keep things as chill as possible. The icing might run, the wrapping paper might rip, or you might forget the cups. Something will go wrong. If you have unreasonable expectations for the big day, you are setting yourself up for a meltdown.

5. Schedule time to recover after the party.

Your energy level is going to be depleted. Plan for that. Don’t plan to hop from a time of celebration to something else that would demand your energy. You will probably have feelings about the day or interactions with people at the celebration. Plan a quiet morning the next day to reflect and recover. It may even take two or three days to recover from a party. Don’t beat yourself up if that happens. Remember, no shaming yourself!

6. Give yourself credit.

When the celebration comes to a close, don’t allow your anxiety to rob you of that moment of congratulating yourself for celebrating well. You honored the moment and didn’t allow your anxiety to steal your joy. You celebrated (not perfect) well.

Your life deserves wonder, fun, the satisfaction of accomplishment, and delight, even as you contend with your anxiety. May these tips help you celebrate and bring more joy to your life as you deal that anxiety.

The wonderful thing about joy is that it is deep enough to hold all the light and dark that your soul can hold, and as you allow joy to enter into that space in your soul that was made to hold it, your body, mind, and heart will be strengthened for the good days and bad.

Does feeling alone trigger your anxiety?

There are feelings that can tigger my anxiety in an instant. 

It is probably the same for you too.

Feeling ignored throws my brain into survival mode, and I feel myself wanting to flee. I want to run away from the danger. But the truth is there isn’t any danger.

In every moment of my life, I am seen by my Lord. I am deeply known.

I found beautiful validation of this truth in an unlikely place in the Bible. Right in the middle of one of the minor prophets, a lesser read portion of Scripture there is an example of deep disappointment and God’s reassuring gesture that says, “I see you.”

The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month, ‘Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms. I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders. And the horses and their riders shall go down, every one by the sword of his brother. On that day, declares the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, the son of Shealtiel, declares the Lord, and make you like a signet ring, for I have chosen you, declares the Lord of hosts.’
— Haggai 2:20-23 ESV

Here is what you need to know about Zerubbabel. If the exile had not happened, Zerubbabel would have been king. Instead, he was governor over Israel. Not all of the Israelites had returned from exile. They had limited resources to rebuild what had been a magnificent temple, built under Solomon’s leadership and destroyed during the Babylonian capture. They had no armies, and they were rebuilding without the power Israel once had.

How disappointing to know that he could have been a king over Israel with a beautiful temple. Surely if the exile had not happened he would feel the favor of God. Being a governor isn't the same as being king.

I’m sure Zerubbabel probably imagined how things could have been different if the exile hadn’t happened. I’m sure he imagined the respect he would command, how it would feel to stand in front of the grandiose temple as king, and how it would feel to sit on a throne.

Did anyone notice or acknowledge the position he didn’t have, the position that would have rightly been his?

I think Zerubbabel felt unseen.

God noticed.

God saw Zerubbabel.

God looked straight at Zerubbabel and said, “O Zerubbabel my helper, I know your lineage. I will make you like a treasure. I will make you like a sign of royal favor. I choose you.” (my paraphrasing)

When Zerubbabel heard the words of Haggai, hearing that the Lord would make him like a signet ring (a highly valuable possession or treasure, a sign of royal favor) and that God had chosen him, he must feel so know, seen, and fully loved.

He was seen. He was not alone.

God promises to be with Zerubbabel and the small number of Israelites obediently rebuilding the temple. The prophet Haggai records these words of encouragement from the Lord:

Yet now be strong, O Zerubbabel, declares the Lord. Be strong, O Joshua, son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land, declares the Lord. Work, for I am with you, declares the Lord of hosts, according to the covenant that I made with you when you came out of Egypt. My Spirit remains in your midst. Fear not.
— Haggai 2:4-5 ESV

The prophet Zechariah also records these encouraging words to Zerubbabel.

Then he said to me, ‘This is the word of the Lord to Zerubbabel: Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord of hosts.’
— Zechariah 4:6 ESV

The other thing you need to know about Zerubbabel is that he is in genealogy of the Lord Jesus. God fulfilled his promise of a king who would reign eternally through David and Zerubbabel. What a servant indeed!

Being seen and chosen was true for Zerubbabel, but it is also true for you and me too.

Feeling unseen by others causes me anxiety, but knowing how intimately God sees each of us is changing the way I react when I feel that anxiety start to build.

I do something daily that helps with this. Each day, above my to-do list I write, “I am seen, known, loved, liked, chosen, friend, included.” This is how God sees me, and I remind myself every day.

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What are your anxiety triggers?

Think about times when you’ve felt anxious. What other feelings accompanied your anxiety? What circumstances brought it on? Make a list. Then for every feeling on that list, write the truth about how God thinks of you. After you’ve done this, incorporate those truths into your life. You can copy them into a journal daily, make a reminder on your phone, or print them and put them in your bathroom. See or write the truth of how God sees you every day.

It is too easy to forget how God views us. It is too easy to think we have to behave ourselves to be loved by God. It is too easy to think we have to perform to be seen by God. Anxiety manifest in perfectionism that lies to us. Perfectionism says that we have to measure up to an unattainable goal, being a perfect Christian.

Real life is far from perfection, and truth overcomes the lies every time.

God loves you unconditionally, as you are and not as you should be, because nobody is as they should be.
— Brennan Manning, All Is Grace

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What you should know about suicide in the wake of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain

Losing my youngest brother to suicide eight years ago changed my life forever. I know things now that I could never have known if I hadn’t experienced this terrible loss.

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Here's what I think you need to know.

1.  You’ll never know why, and nothing good comes from speculating.

One of the most frustrating things about losing a loved one to suicide is the unanswered questions. Even whenever a note has been left behind, that note will never answer completely answer the question of why. The note might give you some idea to what they were thinking, but you can’t assume they are they are sharing what they were truly thinking in their note. Their last thoughts were likely so untethered that they themselves might not know why they are making this bad decision.

When famous people end their life, there is a temptation to try to answer why. It isn’t helpful to the family grieving or to your own mental health to try to pin an answer to something like fame or true happiness.

2. You need to examine your motivations for wanting answers.

Everyone wants details. The story is sensationalized. Why do we want to know?

Would you have listened to a podcast interview with Kate Spade last week? Would you have watched another rerun of Anthony Bourdain before this?

The details of their life go from mildly interesting to must-know the instant the news breaks of their death.

My suspicion is that you want to know details because you think you can isolate yourself from this kind of loss. You want to make sure you or your loved ones aren’t headed down a path that could end in suicide. The truth is you cannot isolate yourself from suicide. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

This fear is why people love to blame famous people’s suicides on fame. When you aren’t famous, you don’t have fame as a danger in your life.

Do you want to know because you genuinely care about the family affected? Do you want to know out of morbid curiosity? Do you want to know to reassure yourself that you are safe from this type of threat? 

3. You have no idea what the family is going through.

After living through the loss of my brother, I now know that it was impossible to imagine or explain the depth of emotions to someone else that comes when you have lost a loved one to suicide. I had experienced a near-fatal suicide attempt of another loved one previously, and it in no way compared or prepared me for the blow of actually losing my brother. The sudden loss is so beyond heartbreaking. I can try to describe some of the feelings that are unique to suicide loss, but even knowing these facts will not help you to imagine the loss. 

Suicide comes with a rejection that isn’t present in other deaths. When a loved one dies from cancer or an accident, you can know that they did not decide they wanted to never see you again.

Suicide comes with anger. With other deaths you can be angry at a disease, circumstance, or murderer. In suicide, your loved one is their own murderer. I was incredibly angry with my brother for years. I had to navigate grief and forgiveness at the same time.

Suicide comes with uncertainty. Not only do you have to come to acceptance of your loved one's death, you also have to come to a place of acceptance of not having answers. 

Suicide comes with guilt. No matter how your relationship was with your lost loved one before their death, you will inevitably feel as though the loss is your fault. It is not your fault. It will take years to accept that the blame for the loss cannot be laid at your feet.

4. Loss because of suicide can take a long time to grieve.

Because of the added stress, feelings to process, and stigma, grieving suicide can take much longer than typical periods of grief (as if typical exists.) The closer that a person was to the lost loved one can make the amount of time to grieve longer as well. Do not expect someone to be done grieving a suicide loss in a year, two years, or even five years. It would be better to see the grieving as a process that never ends during their lifetime.

5. Losing a loved one to suicide makes you 65% more likely to commit suicide.

This fact may contribute to the feelings many people have that make them want to isolate from suicide loss or reassure themselves that they are not at risk. You need to be aware of the statistic so you can be proactive. If you’ve lost a loved one to suicide, you will need to take your mental health very seriously for the rest of your life. Keeping your mental health in a good place is extremely important. 

If you have a friend, family member, or church member who has lost a loved one to suicide, it is important that you remain proactive in showing love and care towards them. Remember that it takes years to grieve this loss, and you will need to show support throughout the whole grieving process. You don’t have to have the right words, just show up for them and remind them that you care about them and their grief. Check in often, and make sure they are caring for themselves.

6. Guns make suicide-attempts effective.

Wherever you land on political arguments about guns doesn’t matter when it comes to this issue. The fact is that firearms account for more than half of the suicides each year. 85% of suicide attempts with a firearm end in death. Every other method has a higher survival rate. For example, drug overdose attempts are only 3% fatal.

If you or a loved one is at higher risk of committing suicide, please remove guns from your home.  My brother killed himself with a gun that our family wasn’t even aware he had.

Be aware of these facts, and I would advise you to lean towards safety.

 

7. Celebrity suicides bring up feelings of loss for survivors of suicide.

I remember exactly where I was when I found out about Robin Williams’s suicide. I will remember where I was when I read about Kate and Anthony as well. It isn’t because I’m a huge fan of their work. It is because feelings resurface. It is impossible to not think of my brother. Those feelings linked to his death rise to the surface. Guilt, anger, uncertainty, and rejection have to be processed again. I’ve gotten good at calming these feelings over the years, but I still have to go through the thoughts: It is not my fault. I forgive him. I will never know why. He loved me.

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If you need more information, I recommend the book & the website The Gift of Second.

Please call if you need someone to talk to.

When You Need to Admit You Have Anxiety

I have anxiety. It is not easy to put this information in black and white for the world to see. I live in a hotbed of stigma. I am surrounded by it. Depression and suicide in my family of origin, transracial adoption, and choices by family members have made me very aware of how stigma is isolating. Willingly admit more stigma to my life might be wildly unwise. At this point, I’m knee deep anyway. Why not add a few more inches?

Truth is truth, whether you admit it publicly or not.

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I was hesitant to admit my anxiety because of the idea of labeling myself. If I said this was a problem for me, I would have this label attached to me. I believed that my anxiety was temporary. It isn’t. I can look back into my memories and see an anxiety-filled Jennifer at every age and stage of my development. I have lived with anxiety all my life, and the only hope of overcoming it is to own it and learn the best ways to live with it.

If you’ve read my blog, you might remember me posting about struggles with social anxiety. You might be wondering what the difference is. There is a difference. In the past, I’ve struggled with social anxiety. With social anxiety, I would put thoughts in other people’s heads. I would decide I knew what other people were thinking about me, and it wasn’t good. These false ideas would paralyze me and cause me to withdraw from social settings, especially church.

In the last year, my anxiety has become very evident and a hindrance to functioning in life. So many times I have become overwhelmed with the human response to fear. I don’t just feel paralyzed or want to withdraw, my fight or flight response has lost its ability to discern what is really dangerous. The slightest feelings related to fear (rejection, stress, inadequacy, helplessness, overlooked, left out) are treated as life-threatening by my brain. My body reacts, and I cannot control it. My nervous system makes my skin hurt, my brain becomes foggy, I have headaches, heart palpitations, and sweaty palms all because my brain releases hormones that cause all kinds of physical problems.

For me, admitting that I had social anxiety was like admitting to anxiety-light, not the full blown anxiety that tops the list of mental illnesses. I wasn’t ready to be truthful with myself about the extent of my internal struggles.

This summer I plan to blog about my anxiety, how it affects my day to day life, and how it relates to my faith. I hope sharing my struggles and victories will encourage you with your own hard-to-admit problems, whether that is also anxiety or something else that fills you with shame, anger, or fear.

If you are struggling with owning your anxiety, social anxiety, depression, panic disorder, bipolar disorder, eating disorder, or other mental illness, I would encourage you to think through these questions.

  1. What would it change to admit that I have this illness?
  2. Can I look back in my past and see that I had this issue in my childhood or teenage years?
  3. Who would be supportive if I admit that I have this illness?
  4. Who might pull away if I admit that I have this illness?
  5. Am I getting help (medicinal, therapy, or otherwise) for my illness?
  6. Would I be more likely to seek help if I admit that I have this illness?

Admitting the truth of where you are at is the only way you can know the options of your next steps.

For me, my next steps have been big. I have been seeking several outlets for healing and help. I have intentionally surrounded myself with supportive people. 

There’s a silver lining of stigma. You find true, safe friends when you have this baggage that many shy away from. There were people in my life that were unwilling to discuss my anxiety. They didn’t want to ask questions or seek to understand it. Supportive people will not only seek understanding, but they will approach you with empathy. Empathy is essential to really good friendship. 

On the other hand, there were a few friends who showed themselves to be caring, kind, empathetic, and encouraging. These are the friends who showed the love of Christ during a difficult time in my life. I am so grateful for their wisdom and friendship.

Don’t be afraid of stigma, losing unsupportive friends, or seeking help. As you take the first step of admitting you have a problem that needs help, pray God will lead you to your next step. Supportive friends will emerge, and you will thank God for them.

*I'm not a therapist or a doctor. Please seek medical help if you have anxiety or other medical issues.

Book Review - The Gift of Second

In the summer of 2010, I lost my youngest brother to suicide.  That moment changed my family's life forever.  I have felt compelled to share about my experience of losing my brother in order to encourage people who are struggling with a similar loss.  I also have hoped to bring some understanding to my brothers and sisters in Christ who haven't dealt with this type of loss.

For the past year, I have had the privilege of writing a few blog posts for the website The Gift of Second.  It has been a great outlet for me to share some of my story.

I am thankful that Brandy Lidbeck began The Gift of Second as a safe place on the internet for survivors of suicide to connect and be encouraged.

Now Brandy has taken her own experience after losing her mother to suicide, her knowledge as a licensed therapist, and her observations found through running the site, and she has put all of this wisdom into a book also called The Gift of Second:  Healing From the Impact of Suicide.

The Gift of Second released on Amazon in mid-October, and I was so glad to read Brandy's kind and refreshing words around the subject of suicide.

Remember, there is no timetable or limit to grief. Be kind to yourself. Do not compare your grief to others’, as each individual person grieves each individual relationship differently. It is unique, and to shame yourself for not being ‘farther along’ in the grief process discounts the genuine feelings you have. Suicide is tragic, and we need to give ourselves permission to feel the enormity of all the emotions as they present themselves.
— -Brandy Lidbeck, The Gift of Second

Brandy writes about grief, guilt, shame, trauma, finding the right therapy, how to talk about the loss, and forgiveness.  As I read, I was so impressed how comprehensive Brandy's book was.  I couldn't think of a subject pertaining to suicide that was not covered.

After losing my brother, I read a half-dozen books related to suicide loss.  I was dismayed to find that many of the books were just plain weird.  Some of the books were overtly gory in the details they shared.

Brandy is very cautious about not sharing details that could trigger anyone into feelings of post-traumatic stress.  Her book is a safe place to process your feelings, and it is written in the voice of a sympathetic friend with professional, sound advice for healing.

I think we sometimes hold on to the guilt as our last sort of connection to our loved one. We often have a false belief that if we stop feeling guilty for not preventing the suicide, then we, by default, consent to it. It is simply not true.
— Brandy Lidbeck, The Gift of Second

If you have suffered a loss in your life through suicide, I whole-heartedly recommend this book.  If you know someone who has experienced this type of loss, this is a suitable, comprehensive book to gift them.  If you are on staff at a church, I would highly recommend keeping this book on your shelf to give families who come for funerals or counseling after a suicide loss. 

I would love it if you would comment below if you decide to purchase Brandy's new book and any thoughts you have about it.

I know this book will impact many lives, and I thank God that He lead Brandy to create it.


Guest blogging: Breaking Light

My sweet friend Anna Smit, who lives in The Netherlands, has a blog series going called Breaking Light. She invited me to be a part of her series, and I'd love for you to read it.  What I love about Anna is that she isn't afraid to talk about deep issues, and you'll not only find it in our post, you'll find it in her writing too.

Click here to read my interview with Anna.  We talk about community, deep valleys, my brother's death, and God's truth becoming real in your lives.  I'd love it if you'd leave a comment and let Anna know how much you appreciate her series.

Community & Anxiety

I’ve blogged about this before, but in case you missed it:  I have social anxiety.  I have a hard time being around people.

One of the biggest parts of social anxiety is feeling like everyone else is in a group that I’m not in.  In my head, when I let it go to that place, I decide that everyone likes everyone else, and that everyone else doesn’t like me.

I know it is silly.  Social anxiety doesn’t follow logic or allow logic.

Here’s the problem.  Christians need community.

I’m beginning to realize something.  My social anxiety exists because deep down I am longing for community.  I want to belong.  If I didn’t care, I wouldn’t have the anxiety.

Here’s the reason we need community.  Most evangelism and social justice work happens in groups.

As a Christian we are called to do a couple of things.  The first and most important is the great commission.  We are called to make disciples.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.
— Matthew 28:19-20 ESV

Gathering people to bring them into knowledge of Christ can look a lot of different ways.  Almost all of the opportunities I have to be evangelistic or to disciple young Christians have been in groups: Bible club, Sunday school, mission trips, summer bike lunch delivery, and church outreaches.

The other thing we are called to do as Christians is to job of social justice.

He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?
— Micah 6:8 ESV

This season of my life, God has called me into orphan care ministries, and much of our work at my church, Citychurch, involves fatherless children.

All of this work has been done in community with my church and orphan care groups.  Even our adoption that is still in the waiting stages has involved many other Christians.  So many friends and family have prayed for us and participated in our fundraisers.

When I realize the importance community plays in the work of the Kingdom, no wonder Satan would love for me to be engulfed in anxiety.

The anxiety that I suffer when I interact with other people is a huge attack on The Church, His community.

I am convinced (because I get so much response when I talk about anxiety and because Brene Brown is a best selling author) that so many people suffer the same attacks that I do, causing them to draw away from community.

If you are one of those people, let me encourage you to see those thoughts for what they are, spiritual attacks, and inspire you to realize that doing the hard work of overcoming the anxiety is important to the Church.

It has been hard for me to recognize when thoughts during social anxiety are true or untrue, but learning how to separate those thoughts from truth and thoughts that are from the roaring lion who seeks to devour me is important to overcoming anxiety.

It is not easy, but find some wise council that can help you begin to disprove your anxiety driven thoughts.  Becoming a part of community will encourage your growth as a Christian, increase your dependence on God, and your effectiveness as an active part of the Church.

Remember these words in 1 John because it reminds us of the love God has for us each individually.

So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him. By this love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgement, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear.
— 1 John 4:16-18a ESV
I love music, so I like to include a song with every blog post.  Here's a beautiful song about a guy that doesn't quite fit in with others.  The thing I love about Andrew Bird is that he likes to make up his own words. Why not?

It’s not personal or business, it’s emotional

The tears might be coming easy today because I had strep throat last week, and I’ve read those scary studies that say that the virus can affect your brain chemistry.  Or it may be because my throat feels like tiny paper cuts as the bright red tissue of my throat tries to heal from it’s attack.  Or it may be because I haven’t eaten for a week or drank coffee.  I refuse to consider soup a real meal.  Coffee hasn’t tasted right this week.  My taste buds are jumbled.  I need to give them a break.  I’ve drowned them in cough drops, peppermints, and Gatorades.

Earlier today I cried at a touching FaceBook post, so, clearly the tear ducts have been compromised.  I don’t know if it was the strep, lack of food, my lack of pain threshold, lack of caffeine, or some combination.

There’s one other culprit I should mention that may have my emotions out of wack (and wack is the appropriate word.)  I watched the full Godfather series this week.  All nine hours of it.  Straight in a row.  For the first time.  (Don’t judge me.  Be jealous that my husband has that little control of our television.  That we’ve been married for almost 18 years now, and my husband, with a career in video editing, has not made me watch anything.  It’s all been on my terms, baby.  I call the shots.  Why am I talking like a gangster?  Oh yeah, The Godfather.)

On a whim, I recorded The Godfather about two years ago.  There it sat on my DVR.  At some point I put a little circle-K by it with the remote, telling my DVR not to record over it.  It could hold out hope that some day, this little lady might look it’s way.

On another whim, Tuesday night, I said, “Let’s just see how this goes.”  Click.  N-I-N-E   h o u r s   l a t e r.  Did I mention that it was 3 hours long, and there were three of them?  And kids, 3 x 3 is NINE!

Confession.  I didn’t record all three of them.  Just the one.  As soon as it ended.  I immediately shelled out $3 to rent Part II from Vudu.  I had to know what happened.  It was late at night.  I did it.  Three hours later, I did it again.  I paid $3 more dollars to remain in that world for a few more hours.

Funny thing number one, my husband didn’t even watch it with me.  He was sitting on the bed making dj mixtapes for the youth group.  And he did this thing called “going to sleep.”  I really should look into that.  I’ve heard it’s good for you.

I was completely drawn into the world those opening scenes of the movie created.  They are so vivid and engulfing.  I wanted to dance at that wedding, and eat that lasagna, and sway when the crooner sang into that big, beautiful 50’s microphone.  It was all so fascinating.  Like Vito Corleone had created this island.  It wasn’t Sicily.  It wasn’t America, because clearly he didn’t follow those laws.  It was the family.

Funny thing number two.  I was almost immediately angry.  Why haven’t I seen this movie?  Why didn’t somebody tell me that this much fun was sitting on my DVR?

I think I’ve heard too many guy’s talk about The Godfather.  It’s all about respect, right?  They puff out their cheeks, cuff their hand, and talk about kissing the ring.  Respect is such a guy thing.  Not just A guy thing, but THE guy thing.  Most girls don’t get respect, and know it’s pretty easy to live without.  It’s definitely not worth gunning down the 5 family heads over.

The other thing we hear is guys talk about is the guns.  There are guns involved, obviously.  But it is less violent than any crime-drama on network television right now.  The violence was surprisingly not part of what I thought were them major themes of the movie.

It’s about family.  Not just in mafia terms.  Actual relationships between sons and fathers, wives and husbands, mothers and children, brothers and sisters, and fathers and daughters.

It’s also about the hardening of a man’s heart and the consequences of sin.  The transformation of Michael Corleone from a hopeful, sweet young man into a lonely, heartbroken old man.

If you’re a girl, who’s thought, “The Godfather is not for me.”  Give it a shot.  Take that whim to Corleone land.

I hope you will let me off the hook when I tell you that it doesn’t have a happy ending.  Everyone has to know that, right?

After my 9 hour “whim” watch of The Godfather series, I was a little emotional.  I was overly sentimental and completely exhausted.

All of these Godfather sized feelings have invected me like the virus I was trying to find distraction from.

When my mom called me this morning to tell me about a sweet letter she got from the new pastor at her church, of coarse I was crying.  How sweet was that pastor!?!  Boy do I wish I could hug him.

She hasn’t even met the new pastor yet, and he wrote her a letter to let her know how much she meant to many members of the church.  He wanted her to know that the prayer meeting group had spent half their prayer time going around the room sharing how my mother was instrumental in their salvation testimony.  I know it is true, and I am proud of my mom.

The reason she hasn't met the new paster is because mother struggles with depression.  Going to church is hard for her.  Going anywhere is hard for her.  Depression is hard to understand, and it makes it hard for others to know how to deal.  That equals messy.  And in church, messy usually gets ignored.

I’ve struggled to avoid being bitter about church that doesn’t have a game plan for dealing with mental illness.  Just that sentence brings tears to my eyes.  I told you, it's a problem today.  Thanks, Godfather.

Can we all give this guy props for doing something?  A letter.  That simple act, was huge.  It is the biggest outreach of kindness from the church to my mother yet.  A pen, a piece of paper, and a few kind words.

Gosh.  It doesn’t have to be a “flow chart needed, break out the binders” plan.

Reach out to people.  Remind people that they matter.  Spend a few minutes on the phone.  Drop of a food product (it doesn’t need to be a meal.)  Send a card.

In your local church, there are multiple families dealing with mental illness.  I know it’s true.  There are statistics that make it impossible not to be true.

People don’t talk about it because they don’t feel safe talking about it.  I once complemented a friend’s church on their SOS ministry in a group setting.  When I told them that SOS stood for Survivors of Suicide, you would have thought I had dropped a grenade.

I don’t know how to change that uncomfortableness.  Taking away stigma isn’t done in a few steps.  I don’t know how to make people feel safe to talk about mental illness among Christians.

Just be aware that the stigma exists.  There are families struggling.

The more uncomfortable you are about the mental illness issues a family might be facing, the more they need you to reach out to them.  They are putting out that messy vibe that is scaring others away.

That little outreach of kindness, that letter, has inspired my mom.  It has reminded her that she matters.

Please reach out.  Not because it is church business.  Not because there is something personal to gain.  Do it because they need to know you are emotionally invested, that you care.  Do it because they are family.