Saturday, March 21, 2020

Keep Calm and Carry On???

Keep Calm and Carry On?
Considerations for Calm in a COVID-19 World

A virus is impacting our lives and schedules, taking us into uncharted waters as a culture. Jesus slept through the storm while the disciples were frantic, fearing for their lives.  We find them in Matthew 8 waking up our Savior, reminding Him what is going on, as if He did not know. It felt like He was doing nothing, yet He was, as my daughter Ella framed it, “teaching us as He slept.”  When Dallas Willard was asked to describe Jesus in one word, he responded, “Relaxed.” Isn’t that a perfect word for Him, and a way to anchor ourselves to Him as our world is reacting to COVID-19? Relaxed is a state of trusting, knowing who God is, knowing what to do in the storm, being grounded in the One that is the teacher, even while it looks, feels, and sounds like He is sleeping.  

Anxiety is the #1 mental health diagnosis in the USA so it should not surprise us that there are 365 scriptures on fear.  It’s nothing new. One truth for each day, reassuring us every day of the year that we are going to be ok. Being anxious for nothing (Phil. 4:6) takes prayer, petition, gratitude - a process to get to His peace.  The Lord is not surprised by our fear and He knows it’s a process, a daily process for some to be reassured that we can trust Him.  

Anxiety can create havoc in our minds if we are not intentionally noticing and coping in healthy ways so that we do not get stuck in the fears of the unknown.  We need to challenge our negative thoughts that increase our fears during this time. It is easier to challenge ourselves when we are coping well, and are less triggered.  Here are some considerations for coping, noticing triggers, and further mental health intervention while this storm is impacting our lives.


Community:  Relationships are being sequestered to small groups, not large gatherings.  This will impact people differently. Keep an eye on those whose fears could increase toward having a fear of leaving the house (agoraphobia).  Continuing to gather and encourage each other is important for our mental health, so whether online, phone, or one on one, it is important to stay connected (Heb. 10:25).

Breathe:  When anxious, people breathe shallowly.  It is important to practice breathing deeply, and devotionally.  In through your nose to the count of 5 (feel the cool air?), hold for 5, out through your mouth for a count of 5 (warm air out).  This helps your brain to receive fresh oxygen and you are better able to shift your thoughts and then feel God’s peace. Tool: Abide App.

Sleep:  8 hours.  Don’t miss 11pm-2am, which are often the trauma processing hours.  His mercies are new every morning, especially after a good night’s sleep (Lam. 3:23).

Exercise:  Being outside, walking in the clean air is good for the mind and soul.  Process through the difficulties on the way to where you are going and the solutions on the way back.  

Caffeine:  Sadly, this is not a helpful drug for an anxious brain.  Not only does it restrict blood flow, but it amps up the anxious brain.  You will not be good at regulating your mood when thrown up and down by caffeine & the sugar you may add to it.  

Triggers:  Notice what triggers your fears, stigmas, fatigue.  

Social Media:  It is set up to be addictive like a slot machine.  You wait for new information, hoping something will be good.  It is not the source of good news. If you are over-exposing yourself to social media, you are inundated with more information than is necessary.  Scale back to a trusted news source when they send out updated information.  

H.A.L.T.S. (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, Stressed, Sick):  Meet your basic needs.  
Hungry - If you are hungry, eat.  Sometimes people don’t feel hunger when anxious, so do make sure you are eating healthy foods throughout the day.  Junk food will only add to your mood dysregulation and fatigue.  
Angry - If angry, pause to consider the source.  Usually there is an underlying emotion of fear, out of control, or hurt that drives the anger.  Notice, talk about it to a safe person (not another angry person who will fuel your fire). What is not processed is often repeated.  Hurt people hurt people, but healthy people help people.
Lonely - Who do you want to be around right now?  Loneliness is different than solitude, which can cause you to pause and engage with God.  
Tired - Rest
Stressed - What do you like to do to de-stress?  Go for a run? Take a walk with your dog?  Go for a drive? Talk with your spouse, friends, or family?  Dinner with your favorite people? Boba with a neighbor? Journal your prayers at sunrise?  Watch Masterpiece Theatre? Do Holy Yoga? Yep, it’s a thing! Laugh at my suggestions? Haha.  Seriously, what makes you laugh? Healthy de-stressors are amazing, fun and refreshing. Unhealthy destressors leave you feeling guilty, tired, hopeless.  Big difference.
Sick - If you are sick, don’t act like you are not.  Rest your body, mind, and soul.  

It might be the sabbath you have been needing but have been too busy to take.  As Teihlhard de Chardin wrote, “Above all, trust in the slow work of God.” Above all, trust God.  He is trustworthy, even when our world is scared.  

More Help Needed

If you are worrying about a variety of things over the course of six months, have some of the following symptoms that are disrupting your life: restlessness, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritable, muscle tension, difficulties with sleep, you may be dealing with a Generalized Anxiety Disorder.  75% of those with anxiety also have a co-occurring depression diagnosis (Dan Amen, M.D.).

Panic Attacks can happen on their own or within an anxiety disorder.  They are scary and cause a great deal of fear of recurrence. Grounding yourself in the fact that they won’t last longer than 15-30 minutes, standing with your back against a wall so you can breathe well, focusing on your 5 senses, not on the fear emotion, an icepack, and sips of water are some tools that can be helpful.  Reassure yourself with statements like: This will pass soon, I will get through this, Not much longer, I am going to be ok. However, if your symptoms increase, allow someone to take you to the Dr. or ER in order to rule out other contributing factors.  

With either of the above, your brain is not regulating:  The Anterior Cingulate Gyrus (ACG) is the gearshift of your thoughts.  When it gets stuck on a thought, you feel stuck. The neurochemicals in your brain are imbalanced and you remain in fight/flight amygdala response mode, startled and fearful.  It is a scary place to be, but you do not have to remain there. Help is available. See a mental health professional (LMFT, LPCC, Psychiatrist ) who can help you with a treatment plan that will help you as the Capernaum friends helped the paralyzed man in Mark 2.  Good treatment helps people with paralyzed brains get to Jesus. Then you may be a friend to another paralyzed person one day. The Lord will use any circumstance for our good and for His glory if we let Him.  

Blessings of anchored peace to you today.


Rev. Marty D. Couch, LMFT, LPCC
Specialized Mental Health Chaplain AGUSM

Monday, December 30, 2019

Contemplating Seasons

"The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us.  We have seen His glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth."  John 1:14

As some of us have watched the leaves fall to the ground and the winter dig in, causing us to pull out every last blanket and robe to sleep and cuddle under, we can't help but be impacted by the seasons.  Maybe they aren't as visual in your neck of the woods, but no doubt you have some form of seasons in your life where you notice the rhythms of night and day, giving and receiving, or loving and learning.  We are made with the seasons.  It is a good time of year to reflect on them, especially if in your part of the world it is harder to get out and easier to stay home for such contemplation.

I have heard multiple times as Christmas drew nearer how quickly this holiday came due to the calendaring of Thanksgiving.  Boy did I ever experience this as mid December our kids were counting down and it shook me out of my pleasant denial, into the panicky reality of those 12 days of Christmas!

Now that I'm pulling myself out of the wrapping rubble,  I'm enjoying the extra time to listen to the Lord.  The mornings are quiet, no one is up, and I can pull out what now looks like a Santa sack filled with my books, Bible, glasses, all things that accompany me on my journey of considering the seasons and their impact on my life.  Did I mention coffee?

I've noticed there are celebrations and losses in Fall and Winter.  The Beauty of Fall in Northern California, USA is ripe with leaves as big as your hand, acorns everywhere and for us, wind and rain to blow it all around.  Our local market has named me "The Squash Lady" because of all of the Butternut and Kabocha squash I buy.  They thought I owned a restaurant!  The smells of roasting squash is a delight to my senses.

With the season of experiencing beauty, sometimes there is the experience of loss.  The loss of the leaves and the desolation of Winter on the way.  Maybe your plans for the year haven't gone as you had hoped and the open doors have been shut.  God has closed more doors in my life for my good and His glory than opened them.  I have learned to trust both doors, as confusing and painful as it can be in the moment.  I want to encourage you that just because a door has closed does not mean He is not working on your behalf.

With every season there is something to learn if we are willing to look.  We celebrate the unexpected blessings, God's favor upon us, and we notice what God has done through the Thanksgiving celebrations and gratitude's given.  With the falling leaves we also learn experiences of disappointments, pain, and loss.  We learn because we have a chance to experience Jesus in His fullness, the way that He came where he was different than anyone else, "full of grace and truth" (Jn. 1:14).  Has something fallen away in your life (i.e. health, relationship, trust, trauma)?  When it is time, what is Jesus calling you to learn as a result of this year?  Who can you process this with so that you won't repeat a negative pattern or stay stuck?  Remember that what we don't process we often bury like a bulb in winter and you know what happens come Spring.

When we lose sight of the Truth of Him in us, and what He has built in us, and the Grace He offers, our world can take many detours.  Old paths that had been purposely closed can re-open, new paths of fear can appear and then we are on a racetrack that goes round and round, but the path of the Kingdom, the path that beckons with Jesus just ahead on the path, turned and waiting with his left hand outstretched for me and you to reach out and grab it.  This is the kingdom path where we find that firm strong hand of grace that can help us walk in step with him no matter what.  Sturdy.  When we do He opens up wisdom from His word and Spirit that leads us in truth that gives discernment and clarity when we need it most.  Oh how we need that.  We don't have to be perfect on this path.  But we will be transformed.  Thank the Lord!  We are walking with perfection incarnate.

I'll see you on the path,

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

The Aftermath of a Mass Shooting

The unbelievable has happened in our community.  Maybe it has happened in yours too.  A terrible trend has gained a foothold in our world.  Mass shootings have impacted the lives of those who have lost loved ones well as those who witnessed or knew of someone who witnessed the horrendous, senseless crimes.

It can cause people to respond in a variety of ways depending upon many factors.  Some of those being: age, cultural values, spiritual belief's, psychological well-being,  and family history (ACA Fact Sheet).

The Reality
People might experience trouble with sleep, flashbacks, intense memories, feeling sad and depressed, angry and helpless.  Bessel Van der Kolk MD, a trauma expert and author of The Body Keeps Score writes about how trauma shows up physically.  It is no exception with these incidents where people can experience headaches, stomach aches, dizziness, anxiety, panic, and feeling numb.

People may feel that life is short and not want to put things off, like the baby boom after 9-11.  Some want to be close to people, others want to isolate.  It depends on the person and where they come from.  Some tend to over or under-eat.  Memory can be impacted where "A" students temporarily begin to fail.  Ones world view can be shaken as their life has suddenly been altered.  (

The aftermath of a mass shooting can cause unhealthy coping to occur if all you knew before was to cope in unhealthy ways.  Seeking help if you find yourself feeling suicidal, wanting to hurt others, or harming yourself by cutting or using substances to dull the pain, is critical.
1-800-273-TALK (8255) The National Suicide and Prevention Hotline (24 hours/7days)

The Rebuilding
A tragedy can cause a community to come together and share their pain, know each other, tear down fences, and build again.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMSA) compiled a list of 3 stages that people typically go through following a mass shooting:

1.   The Acute Phase:  often characterized by denial, shock and disbelief.  Survivors need their feelings normalized, assuring them that help is available even if they do not take advantage of it.  This helps them feel connected and informed.  It is important to validate their feelings without giving quick-fix answers.  This will only cause them to stop talking and isolate further.

2.  The Intermediate Phase:  often characterized by fear, anger, anxiety, difficulty paying attention, depression, disturbed sleep.  More long term care may be needed here.

3.  The Long Term Phase:  several months after the event.  They may continue to experience periods of adjustment and relapse, depending upon their predisposing factors (support system prior to event, prior untreated mental health issues, etc.).  For those who were not raised with the capacity for resiliency, given the right help, many can grow to learn how to attach to people and receive comfort from others and become resilient.

This takes many shepherds looking out for the lost sheep who are running off on their own, isolating in their pain.  Many don't know how to heal from this level of trauma.  But the body of Christ, the people who represent Jesus, can notice them.  One at a time, looking for those who are wandering off.  

What the enemy intended for evil, the Lord can use for good.  Just don't share that with survivors, but by all means pray it for them.  All in His productive, redemptive time.  In the aftermath of a mass shooting, be quick to listen, slow to speak and eager to search out the wanderer so they may find community to help them rebuild.

Thank God for the foundation we find in Him.  Take care of yourself if you are helping others to rebuild after a mass shooting.

"Long Term outcomes for survivors of mass shootings are improved with the help of community connections and continuing access to mental health support" by Amy Novotney, 9/18.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

"I can hear you!"

11 years ago tonight I woke up to an argument.  The argument wasn't between loud neighbors or kids fighting over the bathroom, it was with two nurses who couldn't agree.  Both were poking and prodding at my face as I was waking up from brain surgery to remove a giant tumor that was pressing on my brain stem.  The fight broke out in the recovery room of ICU in San Diego on May 21, 2008.  It went like this: "Her face is moving" to which the other responded "No it's not."  They went back and forth for a while until I chimed in with my first groggy words filled with annoyance and pain...I can heeeeaaar you!  I wanted to remind them I was in the room, and awake.  I decided to believe the first nurse who noticed my face was moving.  She was positive and kind.  I wasn't thrilled with Negative Nelly who couldn't see how my face was moving.  Well, turns out Nelly was right.

The doctors had prepared me for the disabilities I have, but not for facial paralysis.  As I looked in the mirror for the first time I let out the familiar "ugh" that I often did when I looked in the mirror.  Now, it was as if my face matched how I felt on the inside, stuck.  Stuck in distortions of what I believed about myself, comparisons, fears, limitations.  Somehow with half a functioning face I felt as vulnerable on the outside as I had on the inside.

The first night home my husband Shane prayed for me at bedtime.  As we were talking afterwards a  thought dropped into my mind.  A thought that was heaven sent - full of curiosity, anticipation and wonder, not fear or dread.  The thought was this:  God must want to use my paralysis for His glory.  He gave me a gift that night, a treasure trove that has spilled out and shifted the course of my life ever since.  He gave me the gift of perspective in the midst of my pain.  To have His perspective right at the beginning of a painful journey was a gift, a treasure that only God can give.

For the past 11 years I've also come to understand that my paralysis has been for my good too.  For my good, and for His glory.  The surgeons removed the tumor they could see, but the Lord is the Divine Physician.  What He did in the course of the years after the surgery was remove the tumor those doctors couldn't see, the tumor of depression.

I am deaf in one ear now, but I can hear the Lord better than ever.  It always amazes me what the Lord does when we listen, even to those who give us the painful truth.

Thank you Jesus for 11 years of renewed life where I get to live fully alive, not weighted down with tumors anymore.  Keep my ears attentive to your truth, for my good, and for you glory.

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Giving His Best

We have a sloped driveway.  When repaving it because of the cracks from our monster of a Magnolia tree, I was thinking of the streets of Heidelberg Germany we had walked on, not the boy that might enjoy bouncing a basketball on it someday.  The slope would have gotten in the way anyways, right?  So this past summer my basketball enthusiast of a son asked if we could go to the park as often as possible to practice because cobblestones and a slope don't allow for a hoop.  Dad will take him on his days off and I'll take him on mine.  Ok, plan made.  So one Friday off we go and he decides to take two balls, one that is his practice ball, one his new Spalding ball that he recently received for his birthday. Guess which one sat protected, still on the court?  Yep, like a new pair of white shoes, the orange globe sat still and protected from the one muddy puddle Max was sure it would fall into.

We proceeded to play with the old ball, shot hoops, I even made him run some drills.  Mind you, I don't really know what I'm doing.  I'm pretending.  But he's doing it anyways.  We're having fun.  He even thinks I'm pretty good!  He must want something.

Along comes two older gentlemen that are dressed to indicate they are probably Sikh in culture.  We live in an area where people's clothing can reveal their cultural origins, which I actually really love about our neighborhood.  Today these men brought their grandson to play while they talked on the picnic tables.  I've said hello to these men before many times but they have never responded back.  I still try.

After exchanging greetings with the grandson, he took one side of the court, so we scaled back and shot hoops on our side. He was playing with a small blue bouncy ball.  Not a basketball, a bouncy ball.  Max noticed the boy's ball in comparison to his two.  He asked me why he only had that kind of ball so we quietly discussed possible reasons.  We went back to playing.  After a while Max said he'd like to give him his ball.  But then it came...the ball that he wanted to give was the one that he was protecting, the one he hadn't even played with yet that day... the prized Spalding sitting on the court.  Pride welled up in me as he dropped his old ball, picked up the crisp new ball and walked over to the little boy, introduced himself, asked his name and offered his birthday gift to him.  The boy was thrilled.  Those gentlemen now say hello to us because Max gave his best.  Walls came down.

When God was mapping the world he had a manger in mind.  He had his prized Son ready to offer and who was willing to go, gently placed in a manger and available to be the gift that we can pick up and hold in our hearts.

As we walk through this Advent season, we might want to consider the innocence of a child, offering our best to Him because he has offered it all to us.  When we do, the walls that have been built in our lives for understandable reasons can begin to fade away.  The story of the season is real.  Love was found in the manger, and sometimes even on a basketball court.

Merry Christmas

Saturday, August 25, 2018

Headlines: Part II, The Process of Change

You might be wondering what it takes to recover from a betrayal trauma as a spouse, or what the process is for the betrayer.  I wanted to take some extra time to address the process of change.

The process is not short.  It takes time to grow a painful reality, and it will take time to heal.  Typically 3-5 years.  But, if a recovery plan is followed in the first 18 months, then the individuals have a chance for a transformed life by the end of that time span.  Patrick Carnes, Ph.D. predicts sexual addicts may not relapse again if they follow the treatment plan he (and we) employ within the first 18 months.  Now that's freedom!  No more fear of negative headlines...maybe redemptive headlines though!

For a spouse, this means working through grief after the discovery/disclosure of the truth, and then working on themselves.  It is important to do this as the betrayal is not about them but their identity work, boundaries, and self care certainly are.  Marriage counseling is secondary, meaning less often than individual counseling.  Typically people go to marriage counseling as the only treatment option, but you need two individuals to make a healthier marriage and that takes individual work.  

For the one who has betrayed, assessments are important (addiction, mental health, family history).  70% of Sex addicts have untreated ADHD.  So many people are self medicating and self destructing in relationships instead of treating the underlying issues.  Accurate assessment is helpful, which leads to resources like groups, medical professionals as needed, trauma work, polygraphs, and individual therapy.  

All of the above, to me, is spiritual formation.  To be so broken that you injure yourself and your family reveals a spiritual need.  The process of this recovery is just that... recovery, and also forming your spiritual bond.  It is as if the clouds clear and the sun breaks through.  You begin to hear the voice of the Lord and understand His Word like never before because your brain is healing.  For pastors, they are not just living their "optimal selves" in the pulpit but most of the time (we all have our days).  For their spouses, they are seeing congruency which helps trust to be rebuilt.  We can be so much more of who God intended us to be.  How do I know?  This is my life now, and Shane and I have walked so many others through this journey as well.  

In the early days of our ministry, Shane said to me before we were speaking at our denomination's yearly pastor's conference on this topic, "I hope when people think of pornography they think of us."  Umm.  I paused and laughed because I knew what he meant but it came out in a way I couldn't help but address: "I don't really want people to think of us when they think of pornography!"  I got his point though.  How about when people think of us they think about recovery from pornography addiction and the like? 

This is the topic that joined Shane and me in our ministry.  It is certainly not the only issue I treat, but because of the headlines, it will likely always be a portion of my practice.  Shane holds several weekly pastor's groups where he does an excellent job leading men through the process of growth, creating bonds of friendship and accountability that is useful accountability because it is based upon recovering individuals.  Change is possible if you are willing.  Richard Blankenship, LPC, CCSAS says that brokenness and humility are the hallmarks of recovery.  Neither are easy to start but once you do, half of the battle is won.  Blessings to you and those you may know who need a process of change to avoid the headlines.

For more information on our seminars on this subject and others, visit

God-sized Dreams

I grew up with horses.  My dad gave me his horse "Mike" (A.K.A. Gold Admiral) when I was about 10 years old after the horse I was riding decided to roll around in the dirt with me ON him.  Now, Mike was a gentle, 16- hand, chestnut-colored Morgan.  He and I wandered the canyons of my hometown, found a waterfall to picnic near, often walked to friends' houses, and raced up the steep road home until he was foaming hot.  I grew up with him.  He was my buddy.  We spent years in 4-H together doing horse shows, even making it to the California State Fair one year.  When I would meet people named Mike I would exclaim, "Hey, that's my horses name!"  My friends would shake their head in embarrassment.

Fast forward to my counseling internship 17 years ago.  I was excited at an opportunity to learn about Equine Assisted Therapy (Therapy with Horses).  What could be better than using my new skills as a Marriage and Family Therapist with my love for horses!  The day came for the training but, sadly, I had a miscarriage.

Proverbs 13:12
"Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life."

My heart was sick for quite a while, especially with the loss of the baby.  But God was gracious in eventually fulfilling our dream for children.  Our tree of life now consists of three growing teens!  The thought of equine therapy was shelved for another season as I was busy with my family and work, then going through medical issues.  Life didn't allow me to take on this type of therapy training... until now.

Last weekend I attended my first CE course in Equine Assisted Therapy (for Veterans).  I made friends with a horse named Chief, so it's not likely I will meet anyone named Chief and have another socially awkward first impression "Hey, I know a horse named Chief!"

Chief is the biggest horse at the stable, a beautiful Bay that is so friendly you just want to hug him.  At least I do.  He is part Clydesdale.  During the training we were observing the horses and I realized that I was drawn to him because big horses feel safe to me.  Having been given a big horse by my dad when I was 10 allowed me to feel this way.  So, proportionately, as an adult, Chief is about the same size as my horse Mike would have been to my 10 year old self.  Leading him in the arena felt normal.

During my initial meeting with the founder of the program, she mentioned that she began 17 years ago.  She began when I originally planned to start.  It was her program that I had signed up for all of those years ago. She was the trainer.  Full circle moment, eh?  Turns out she is a MK herself, so she understood my passion for missionaries to find places to process their trauma.  Horses have a way of helping you connect to your memories, your feelings, and that helps you heal.

Timing... God's timing.  Do you have a dream that began long ago that has been deferred?  The Lord is trustworthy to bring it about in His timing as He sees fit.  It takes patience though, doesn't it?  We, as humans are not always good at that.  This journey is going to take lots of time.  I live in the city, I do not have a horse, and have a full life.  So, the preparation now might be to practice for later.  But I can take all of the classes that are currently offered.  I even found some comfy cowboy boots!  Preparation can be hopeful and fun.  If you have a God-sized dream that has been deferred, I wonder what you might do to prepare for your longing to be fulfilled.

Psalm 34:14
"Seek peace and pursue it."

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Headlines: How it all Began

Headlines.  We see them all too often.  A pastor gets accused of acting out sexually with someone who isn't his wife.  Willow Creek Church is no exception over the past few months.  Sadly the way it was handled has left the church in a free fall of loss, all because of a leader who admits to "placing himself in situations that would have been far wiser to avoid" though more serious allegations are unfolding.  The phrase I have heard so often (you'd think it was taken from a handbook on what to say when you confess) is: "I thought I would take that to the grave."  Charm is deceptive indeed.  That is why I became trained in the field of sexual addiction treatment in 2006, 12 years ago this Fall - Headlines.

I was called by the Lord to help clergy.  Called to help them so that they would have healthy minds, relationships, spiritual walks, and as a result, healthy churches.  By 2006 I had been counseling for 6 years, then had the opportunity to be trained in the field of sexual addiction.  The reality of the frequent headlines like this is what drove me to accept the opportunity to transfer posts and learn what would change the trajectory of our lives and the lives of so many.

My husband Shane was an associate pastor while I was an interning therapist and we were often referred couples on a lay level that were struggling with betrayal and boundary issues.  We were not trained though, so it made sense to become trained formally so that I would have the skills to know how to help.  During one training, the description of an intimacy disorder felt all too familiar.  You see, I always felt like there was something missing between Shane and I.  It was easier to talk about other peoples issues than our own marriage.  I often felt rejected by him, and as a Pastor's wife I struggled with who to talk to about it.  I asked him after one of my trainings if he thought he was a sex addict.  Quite a question, eh?  He didn't even know what that meant, but in his defensive posture denied it.

Then one night after I came home seeing clients he handed me a letter that spelled it out.  We do not recommend that way of disclosing the truth, by the way.  Why?  Because that was the day I felt like I was hit by a Mac Truck.  He felt such a relief.  He finally came clean on his addiction to pornography and how he had kept it from me all of these years.  But that was the day I became a Relationship Trauma Survivor.

I was in shock at the reality I was in, now seeing clients and going through the same things they were enduring.  But, the Lord led us to a confidential ministry that could treat us with groups and therapists who were trained.  We began.  Just like he needed treatment for his addiction, I needed recovery for my wounds.  We did our own work, and the sex addiction that is better named an intimacy disorder has shaped our lives for the better.

What can help you avoid those headlines?  Don't assume the lie that you will be able to take a secret to the grave.  God's grace won't allow it.  His grace is sufficient for every wound, even your hidden one, maybe even especially your hidden one.  His power is made perfect in your weakness.  The beautiful thing about recovery is that you don't have to do it alone.  There is a treatment plan that works to bring freedom to your life.  All you need is the willingness to stop trusting yourself and trust a process, willingness to set boundaries you've been rationalizing and justifying for years, willingness to lay down your pride and charm, willingness to lean into your wife's pain.  It's not easy, but trust is SOOOO worth it.  Will she ever forgive you?  I don't know, but it's not for you to ask. Learning how to apologize will work better.

I was told in an interview one time that I don't act like a "normal wife of a sex addict."  Now, someone could get bent out of shape over a comment like that, but what I wish I'd said in response was that I am not angry or worried ANYMORE because I have done recovery too.  Spouses of addicts are not enablers (an old unhelpful label), they are traumatized.  But I am thankful I made the choice to join Shane on the healing journey and found what I needed all of my life too.  So we both grew.  I got the husband I'd always dreamed of, and I've grown in ways I'd always needed to.  Now we are both so much more of who the Lord needs us to be, and we keep growing.

If you are clergy and need help keeping out of the headlines, give us a call.  We are here for you, keeping people out of the headlines one person at a time.


Sunday, January 28, 2018

Better than Chocolate

I'm a gift giver.  If someone I knew was suffering, whether because of loss or illness, I would send chocolate - the best I could find from Trader Joe's. Once I was in a hurry and didn't notice that I had sent a grieving friend a chili peppered laced chocolate tin to help her in her time of mourning.  Um...I don't think it was all that helpful as her mouth was burning.  Maybe provided a good laugh though.  So what did I do when she told me?  I re-sent her some creamy chocolate goodness.  I always included a note about how the Holy Spirit brings comfort so the least I can do is send chocolate.  My heart was in the right place.

But then I grew in the chocolate arena.  You see, it was my drug of choice.  No wonder it was my gift of choice.  Did you know there are 7 uppers and downers in that little heavenly morsel?  When I came to terms with my food addiction the day before Halloween many years ago I knew that it was time and if I didn't surrender on THAT day, then the season would have me swallowed up until far past Easter of the next year.  So much for heavenly morsels.  It was more like a back-stabbing friend.  So, I grieved, I let go, and I surrendered.  I got help.

What is a gift giver to do when she no longer eats what she has grown accustomed to giving?  It came to me after a dear friend lost her daughter to cancer.  No one should have to bury their own child, but my friend did.  I wanted to give her something that would bring comfort.

Then I remembered a conversation around a table at our denomination's Pastor's Wives and Credentialed Womens Retreat years ago.  The question asked was about how we define the Holy Spirit in our lives.  Judi Braddy, an author and our District Superintendent's wife at the time shared how, to her, "the Holy Spirit is like a warm blanket."  Our Comforter  (Jn. 14:26) is like a warm blanket.  Perfect.

I found the softest throw I could find for my grieving friend, chose the color grey as she was in the agony of deep grief, wrapped it up with a card and merely placed it on her doorstep and prayed for her regularly.  She later told me how much that blanket has meant to her.

Now it's my thing, if I have the resources, and the relationship is close enough, then off to the store I go to get what one friend has named her "Holy Spirit Blanket."  I love that.  To God be the glory.

The Lord uses our giftings (love languages) and our growth (from chocolate to a blanket) to continue to bless others.  Let's continue to keep our ears attentive to the Holy Spirit's promptings because He is always wanting to guide us towards loving others better.  I'm convinced that the more WE grow the better we are able to help others.

Thank you Judi for your definition that has brought literal comfort to many!

If you have not read any of Judi Braddy's books, you are missing out.  When I traveled to Germany to counsel missionaries for a week I took one of her books and wished I had taken more.  It was great company in my travels.  It was like having a friend along for the journey.  I'm sure you'll love her too.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Fish That Almost Got Away

I'm a working mom.  Now, every mom is a working mom.  What I mean is I work outside the home and inside the home.  But this Christmas season I am taking some time off to rest and spend time with my family. Just one hat this season:  The Home Hat.  It looks like a hard hat somedays, the yellow, plastic, contruction worker hat that protects you from beams falling on your head kind.

My 11 year old son Max has a really pretty turquoise and blue Beta fish named Eli that needed some water conditioner, so I thought I would do one better and get him some plants for his square shaped plastic aquarium. Max was excited, and it seemed Eli was happy too when he saw the plants sitting outside his aquarium.  I was concerned about Eli's survival rate, so I decided I had better do the changing of the water part because we needed to take Eli out to clean it.  I had done this many times.  Only one time before had it gone bad, when I was in college.  That was a long time ago, right?  Well, this was the second time. It's still a blur but what my trauma-filled mind does remember is Eli jumping out of my teacup I was trying to catch him with (note to self I should have used a FISH NET and not my Mikassa Italian Countryside teacup), I screamed, Max yelled, and then I saw Eli under the grate of the sink.  All I could do was hold my hand in the drain to catch him and pray.

Thank the good and merciful Lord I did catch him as he was sliding down the drain and somehow he stayed in my slippery hand as I put him in the cup!  I declared praise to God and looked at Max's face who by now was in shock.  I told him how sorry I was...over and over...and how I was afraid HE would be the one to lead Eli to his death and it was ME!  All I could do was praise and confess.

Christmas miracles come in all shapes and sizes, don't they?  Standing at the sink, with my invisible hard hat on, traumatized child next to me, traumatized fish in the teacup, additional family members in the living room holding their breath, and me, the humble parent once again.

Pia Mellody writes about a concept called "Perfectly Imperfect" in The Intimacy Factor where we learn to accept our authentic selves and not live in too much shame when we are not our ideal self. Healthy shame is conviction, when we have done something bad it helps us to change course.  Unhealthy shame is when we believe the lie that we are bad, that we feel that our behavior is a life sentence for our identity and it keeps us stuck.  In God's eyes the latter could not be further from the truth.

But there is a twist. We are not meant to be perfect, but we are meant to yearn for it.  It's a God-given longing.  Jesus sets the example and the Holy Spirit lights the way so that we can walk in imperfection with a Savior who IS perfect and who helps us and meets our needs.

I see a lot of good parents in my practice.  Many of them struggle accepting the fact that they are good parents.  Not perfect parents, but good ones.  The good parent is the parent that keeps trying, learning new skills, seeking those who can help.  They continue to advocate, keep growing as individuals and as a couple if married, and even keep laughing at themselves when they almost kill their son's pet 7 days before Christmas.

As parents, as human beings for that matter, we are compelled to do things just right.  What I learned once again yesterday was that I have a longing to be a great mom, but I'm imperfect.  So the balance of both is to have one foot grounded in my authentic self that gives grace to myself and the other foot grounded in the reality that Jesus is my absolute strength in weakness (2Cor. 12:9).

The Lord reached in and helped to save the day.  He does that.  And then He reminded me of something else in  my modern day parable at the kitchen sink, that it's time to let go a bit more.  I am imperfect, and in His perfection He accepts me as is.  That is the kind of parent I want to be, too.  And Lord help me, Max is ready to take care of Eli.  So guess what else Max is getting for Christmas...a fish net.

Merry "Perfectly Imperfect" Christmas friends!  And in case you have your own Christmas Miracle may you laugh and learn along the way.

Saturday, December 9, 2017

When We Don't Know How To Pray...

I wonder if the pressure of the month is hitting you.  I started to feel it about the first week of December.  When the countdown of the month began.  Then I was struck with the reality of so many people hurting around me, whether emotionally for a multitude of reasons, or physically as this is the time of year when people have surgeries as deductibles are met.  Whatever your circumstances, you might be feeling pressure by now.  You are not alone.  Throughout Scripture we are given the picture of friends leading their friends to Jesus.  So friends... I'm going to introduce you to an old friend who is going to lead us in a prayer to Jesus today.  Jesus is already listening...

Born in 1491, the youngest of 13 children, Inigo Lopez de Loyola was a member of aristocracy in Spain.  He lost his mom at age 7 and was raised by the wife of a local blacksmith.  He became soldier with a reputation of emerging from battle unharmed.  Unfortunately one battle he was wounded by a cannon ball to the legs.  Ouch!  It was then that his physical suffering caused him to increasingly devote himself to his faith.

By 1522 he entered the monastery, leaving everything material behind, even giving his military clothes to a poor man.  What he did not expect was the depression and anxiety he would experience when life became quiet.  He learned that these thoughts were not from God.  This understanding helped him to be grounded in reality once again, not overcome with the barrage of lies from the depression and anxiety.  He began to write about his experience and create exercises that would encourage people that are used to this day.

I often tell people who are suffering with mood disorders that this is one of the areas where the brain tells you that you don’t have a problem.  In fact, it tells you it’s your fault.  Match that with the culture of the church (at times) that underlines that.  Not being understood when your brain is not working makes everything worse.  I hope this prayer from someone who did understand helps you feel known.  He understands your hearts cry to the Lord, even if other people do not.  When we are hurting we often don’t know how to pray, but this friend does.  

O Christ Jesus
When all is darkness
And we feel our weakness and helplessness,
Give us the sense of Your Presence,
Your Love and Your Strength.
Help us to have perfect trust
In Your protecting love
And strengthening power,
So that nothing may frighten or worry us,
For, living close to You,
We shall see Your Hand,
Your Purpose, Your Will through all things.

St. Ignatius of Loyola: Prayer Against Depression

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