Joyful Journaling

This is my story; this is my song, praising my Savior all the day long…

Everyone has a story and all of our stories are different!  The idea for Joyful Journaling began for me after a particularly difficult season.  I’m sure many of you can relate to that season that seems to be devoid of color and joy; it physically hurts to see others laughing and enjoying good times. 

Well, that’s where I was and not being one to dwell in the pity-pot too long, I decided I needed to find my joy and add some color and music in my life.  I have always journaled but found that writing out my deepest, darkest thoughts were not sparking joy. As we know, true joy comes from the Lord!  And so, Joyful Journaling was born.

No special journal is needed; I used a spare planner that I already had in my possession.  Invest in some colored pencils.  You can start out with some from the dollar store and as you get hooked on adding color into your life I will probably run into you in the aisles of Hobby Lobby.

I use four pages each week.  One page for Sermon Notes, a page for Thoughts and Devotions, and then two pages that journal each day, with sections for morning, afternoon, and evening.

A section is devoted to intentional prayer.  This is an opportunity to become a true Prayer Warrior.  Pray daily for those you are lifting up in prayer and follow up with at least three of those people during the week by email, text, or perhaps over a cup of coffee. 

List six things each week that you want to become daily habits and then give yourself a check for each day that you follow through.  Two things that are not negotiable for me are Praise and Prayer and being in His word.  My journal includes more mundane things such as de-cluttering my house, exercising, and being more conscious of what I am eating.

Now comes the fun part!  Take those colored pencils and instead of writing, writing, writing, I challenge you to color, color, color.  There is no right or wrong way to do this, just put color on those pages.  I am not an artist so my journal is full of stick people, hearts, and other basic symbols.  Use your colors to reflect your moods.  I tend to use gray when I am sad, shades of purple when I am feeling the Lord working in and through me and hearts of many colors as the Lord shows me blessings even as I go through tough times.

When I look back on early journal pages I do not find them colorful yet at the time I thought they were.  Now my pages are chock full of color, Bible verses, snippets of songs, scattered bits and pieces that He is showing me as I go through each day, randomly gracing the margins of my pages. 

My old journals will probably end up in the fireplace because I really don’t want to share them with anyone!  My new journal is a wonderful, colorful piece of folk art that I would be proud to have future generations look at.  There is just enough detail to make them very curious about what was going on in my life, and without a doubt my family will know that I was walking with the Lord, praying for them and others and praising our Lord every step of the way.  My journal, my story, may not always be upbeat but my God is faithful and He repeatedly shows me His blessings and even ways to bless others each and every day. 

For more information on Joyful Journaling watch the CCM calendar for future classes.

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds.

                                                                                                            Hebrews 10:24

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Written by Colleen Lavdar, Vice Chair of the CCM Board

 


Tips for Counseling Young Men Through Anger Issues

I used to get this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach when I would receive a referral from a parent or guardian to the tune of “talk to my boy, he’s got anger issues.” My internal response would often be “so you want to force them to open up to a stranger about it? They’ll love that!” I believe most of us clam up around angry outbursts in children. OR if the child is under our care, our own anger flares up as a defense mechanism (I have some experience in this regard). Some experience, research, and self reflection has helped grow empathy in me for these situations, and I hope to share some of the tools that help me most, personally and professionally, on the issue of anger in early adolescents.

1.   Get on Their Level

It is human nature to believe what works for me will work for you. The problem: it is too simple an explanation for our complex existence. For this reason, implementing some high-and-mighty counseling theory may undercut the counselors helping intention. As evidence, look no further than everyone’s favorite Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. While I will be the first to admit this theory holds water, it is not an easily understood premise. Discussing how feelings and thoughts relate to one another is difficult for most grown-ups. Abstract concepts work only insofar as they can be grasped.

The book Anger Management Games for Children by Deborah Plummer offers a fresh perspective on choosing activities to intentionally care for the early adolescent or child dealing with anger. There are both excellent theoretical concepts contained in this book in addition to a wealth of games that have potential to give children the space to express their anger and process it. This is wonderful because it finds a way around the complex “meta-cognitive” aspect of counseling. Just as asking creative questions can eclipse the need to connect the dots for a counselee, playing intentional games can lend fresh revelation.

2.   Focus on Relationships

        At every stage of life, relationships play a major role. Early adolescence is such a malleable juncture; the importance of relationships is arguably greater than in other stages. The counselor of such a demographic must make fostering relationships a priority. In his book Healthy Anger: How to Help Children and Teens Manage Their Anger, Bernard Golden highlights the importance of a sense of “connection” in early adolescent relationships both to themselves and others.” Golden goes on to explain “connection” as feeling the freedom for “sharing, discussing and exploring our internal landscape.” It is with this in mind that the counselor and guardian alike should be making an effort to foster interactions which may help.

        There are a variety of ways counselors can implement a plan to encourage relational growth. While groups are a great context for this, the counseling relationship can serve this need also. It should also be a goal to foster more permanent associations. The counselor must first ascertain who is in the child’s life who would also be interested in regular caring mentor-like relationships. High on the list likely candidates for involved adults would be parents, siblings, coaches, youth group leaders or teachers. These one-on-one interactions will give context to interact on many different levels, hopefully in ways that will help them to understand their anger in a new light.

3.   Set Boundaries

Consistency is closely related to adolescent anger. Any parenting class will stress the importance of having a framework to handle the “good and bad” issues observed in your child. As the counselor, this is a challenge because we do not live in their environment. Aside from fifty minutes a week, we have relatively little control over how a child lives. To effectively advance efforts in setting boundaries for an angry youngster, the parents or guardians must be brought into the loop. With the help and management of the parent, angry adolescent boys will hopefully come to understand the limits to what they can and cannot do under their parents’ roof.

Though everyone wants to be liked, caregivers must understand that loving may not resemble being a best friend. Part of tangibly educating a child on the way of the world is showing that there are consequences to all of our actions. We do a child a disservice when we avoid the touchy parts of growth in lieu of the comfortable ones.

4.   Confront Negative Self Talk

Although negative self talk is not solely a concern for early adolescents, as in any key developmental stage, it must be recognized and dealt with. Whether evil statements have been spoken over the child, or they are testing the waters with something they heard, the power of words must be recognized.

How can a counselor or parent combat their child barraging themselves with these thoughts? Golden outlines a helpful framework to begin to address negative self talk in early adolescents.

  1. Identify self-talk.

  2. Recognize self-talk that reflects automatic internal dialogue.

  3. Clarify self-talk that reflects unrealistic thinking.

  4. Challenge and replace unrealistic self-talk by realistic self-talk.

  5. Repeatedly practice this process

My personal experience is that this can be awkward. It is often embarrassing for the youth to acknowledge their own incorrect thoughts. Still, discomfort is a small price to pay for breaking through the lies an angry early adolescent tells themselves.

5.   Accept emotions      

As my final tip, I want to exhort the reader to accept the emotions of their angry early adolescent boy. Ultimately, this is a call to empathy. This is a challenge for any parent or counselor who bears with someone as they continually make mistakes or do not seem to “get it.” In Pudney and Whitehouse’s aptly named book Little Volcanoes: Helping Young Children and Their Parents to Deal with Anger, the importance for this believing in emotions will hopefully enhance the counselor’s curiosity and passion to rightly help their client. Actively listening to an adolescent boy is an essential aspect of caring. Joining and affirming skills should be used generously as we seek to help them best.

One final word on the purpose of anger. In Ephesians, Paul tells the church to “be angry and do not sin.” (4:26a). To me, this reads as a command. In other words, don’t pretend you don’t have this desire to attack an unjust thing, but rather embrace it and learn to express it in a constructive way. There are plenty of things to be rightly angry about, and Paul exhorts this emotion while also giving an important qualification for how we are to express it. This is the balanced view I seek as I enter into this work with someone. Hopefully, we can accept anger in ourselves and learn to express it in a healthy way, and pass this understanding along to our young ones.

References

Golden, B. (2003). Healthy Anger : How to Help Children and Teens Manage Their Anger. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Plummer, D. (2008). Anger Management Games for Children. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

Pudney, W., & Whitehouse, E. (2012). Little Volcanoes : Helping Young Children and Their Parents to Deal with Anger. London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers.

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Written by Zachary Adams, M.A.

Zachary Adams is employed at the Visiting Nurse Association of Philadelphia as Bereavement Coordinator & Counselor. His areas of focus include coping with grief and loss, crisis intervention, and community resourcing. Zac has specialized in Hospice and Palliative care over the past 3 years, is passionate about learning in all seasons of life, and for those disenfranchised and damaged to live more abundant lives.

 


Power and Presence in Relationships

As a counselor, I seek to help those who are wounded and suffering. I have learned over the years, that having the heart and desire to help those in pain is important, but is not as central as keeping in mind power and presence in the counseling relationship. Specifically, am I keeping in mind my position? Do I keep in mind that I yield influence, I yield power as a counselor even as I seek to be kind in my care? As a counselor, I come with knowledge and I come with words. Do I take the time to think about how I use my knowledge and my words as I care for those who have been wounded and are suffering?

There are times that it is easy to forget my position of influence and power. Before I know it, I can find myself responding with words and knowledge that does not consider the state of those before me. Perhaps, you too, have found yourself in this position wanting to encourage a friend who is going through a painful experience. You want to speak, you want to offer thoughts on what he or she can do to feel better. Most of us find that it is much harder to listen, to hold words, rather than to speak. Yet, whether we listen well, or need to learn more about how to do this well, each of us needs to keep in mind our position.

Caring for others happens in the context of relationship. Have we thought about how much emotional and verbal power we may hold in our relationships? Even as a trained counselor, I have found how difficult it is to be continually mindful of the power that I wield. Thankfully, Isaiah 42:3 gives me a picture to remember that helps me to remain aware.

Isaiah 42:3 states, “A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.”

The context of Isaiah 42 where this verse is found is the description of God’s Servant, Jesus. So, we know that this verse is giving us a picture of what Jesus is like. It also gives a picture of who we are as people.

As we look at the beginning of the verse, a commentary by Albert Barnes, an American theologian from the 19th century, defines the word reed as “the cane or calamus which grows up in marshy or wet places” so that it “literally denotes that which is fragile, weak, easily waved by the wind, or broken down.” He further states that the word “may be applied to people who are conscious of feebleness and sin; that are moved and broken by calamity; that feel that they have no strength to bear up against the ills of life.”

He further states that the word bruised “means that which is broken or crushed, but not entirely broken off…it may denote those who themselves are naturally feeble, and who have been crushed or broken down by a sense of sin, by calamity, or by affliction.”

To me, this describes the emotional state of many of those that I have encountered over the years in my practice.  

Listen also to Barnes’ definition of smoldering wick. He states smoldering “means that which is weak, small, thin, feeble…and the phrase refers literally to the expiring wick of a lamp...It may denote here the condition of one who is feeble and disheartened, and whose love to God seems almost ready to expire.

Again, these are pictures that describe those individuals that I have had the privilege to come alongside as they seek healing for their pain.

Barnes then reminds us of the character of Christ as He enters into the lives of those who are bruised and smoldering. He states, “He will not deepen their afflictions, or augment their trials, or multiply their sorrows. The sense is, that he will have an affectionate regard for the broken-hearted, the humble, the penitent, and the afflicted.”

Lastly, he speaks of the promise to not “snuff out”. This “means that he would cherish, feed, and cultivate (the wick); he would supply it with grace, as with oil to cherish the dying flame, and cause it…to rise with a high and steady brilliancy”.

As we reflect on this verse and the description of Christ’s character toward us, those who are suffering, we are reminded of His position and presence in His relationship with us. It is one that seeks to “not deepen our afflictions” and is filled with “an affectionate regard for the broken hearted”. I find this to be a beautiful picture of Christ’s care for us in our weaknesses and pain. It is also a high calling for us in our relationships as we offer care and support for those who are suffering.

What helps you, in your relationships, to keep in mind your position and presence as you seek to listen, love and help?


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Written by Carol M. King, M.Ed., LPC

Carol King is a licensed professional counselor working at Diane Langberg, PhD and Associates in Jenkintown, PA. Her counseling areas of focus include sexual abuse and trauma, eating disorders, depression, anxiety, and marital issues. Additionally, she has had the opportunity to travel in the U.S. and internationally assisting in the training of both lay and professional counselors. 


Proactive Parenting and Technology

I recently had the opportunity to lead a workshop titled, “Proactive Parenting & Technology” with a group of parents, ministry leaders, and others interested in how to proactively make decisions regarding technology use that facilitates the healthy growth and development of the children in their lives. However, before diving into the topic, we spent time reflecting on how having the opportunity to parent and invest in the lives of children and adolescents is both a great gift and responsibility. Scripture states the following: “Children are a blessing and a gift from the Lord” (Psalm 127:3, CEV). With this blessing comes the responsibility of following the guidance in Proverbs 22:6 to “Train up a child in the way he should go…” (ESV). This should not be done in a spirit of legalism, rather out of love, healthy boundaries, and modeling.

I’ve included a few suggestions for boundaries below (Pinola, 2018):

  • Model healthy technology use (pretty convicting for all of us!).

  • For children under two, no screen time. This is a key season in a child’s life in which much development happens that can be negatively impacted by too much screen time. It is much healthier for a child to play with a ball or even a spoon and bowl than to watch a TV show, even if it seems educational. The American Academy of Pediatrics (2016) provides specific recommended guidelines that are worth reviewing and implementing.

  • For younger children, make sure you’re monitoring content. If your child wants to watch a show like Mickey Mouse Clubhouse (a favorite of my three-year-old), watch with him/her and engage. If the characters are counting to ten, count with them and encourage your child to do the same.

  • Establish time restrictions for school age children.

  • Monitor content. Addictions can be traced back to a single exposure of pornography.

  • Be intentional about privacy and safety (i.e. child accounts, location of computers and screens, etc.).

  • Talk about what kids are viewing/engaged in and how it affects them. As your child develops, the goal is to encourage them to take ownership for their choices and the consequences of their choices in all areas, including screen time and technology use. Even technology use is an opportunity to glorify God! It is also an opportunity to get to know your child better!

Here are some helpful resources:

Technology is a gift when used wisely. It can facilitate learning and growth. However, it can also be addictive and dangerous. As a parent, caregiver, or person who loves and invests in children, it is important to be informed and proactive, even if you experience resistance.

If you’re interested in learning more, please feel free to contact us at info@ccmeaston.com. We would be happy to share the slides from the presentation.

Reference

Pinola, M. (2018, September 1). How (and When) to Limit Kids' Tech Use. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/guides/smarterliving/family-technology

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Written by Hannah Wildasin, M.A.

Navigating the Holidays After Significant Loss

As we approach the season where major holidays are typically anticipated and joyfully celebrated by families and loved ones, this time of year can hold deep sadness and even a sense of dread for those who have recently lost a loved one. Homes once bustling with the laughter of family gatherings and the enjoyment of special festivities may seem too painful to bare, especially if this is a year of “firsts,” for those experiencing significant loss. How do you enter into the holidays without being swallowed up in overwhelming grief? How can you join in family gatherings when the absence of your loved one seems deafening and when all you can think of is that “he or she” is no longer with you?

There is no doubt that the holiday season can trigger tremendous sadness, pain and loneliness over the loss of a spouse, child, sibling or significant loved one. Yet, our God of compassion has provided not only powerful words of truth to comfort you but He has also provided Himself so that you can not simply “survive” but even “thrive” in this challenging time in a way that is healing, strengthening and restorative and that will enable you to keep moving forward in the good purposes and plans He has for you.

Here are just a few suggestions in helping to navigate the holidays for those experiencing recent loss:

  •         Expect the pain and don’t deny or avoid the sadness. Instead, take advantage of God’s divine invitation to come to Him with your sorrow and grief. He understands and cares deeply when you hurt. He not only gives you permission but also encourages you to pour your heart out to Him, as often as you need. You can trust Him with your deepest pain and sadness.

“Trust in him at all times, O people, pour out your heart before him; for God is our refuge.” Psalm 62:8

“With my voice I cry out to the LORD; with my voice I plead for mercy to the LORD. I pour my complaint before him; I tell my trouble before him.” Psalm 142:1-2

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weakness, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace that we may receive mercy and find grace in time of need.” Hebrews 4:15-16

In their book on grieving, authors Wolfelt and Maloney even recommend setting aside a time each day, even if only a few minutes after waking, for purposeful mourning. This opportunity to release your emotions to the Lord at the start of your day and acknowledging your need of Him can be very healing and restorative.

  •          Make time to refresh yourself in God’s Word and to meet with Him. During times of loss, the holidays can provide a chance for specific focus:

o   Thanksgiving: Find meaningful and creative ways to express your gratitude for who God is in His unchanging attributes, for His various promises throughout Scripture, for all you posses in Christ, for the myriad blessings He has already and continues to pour out on you. Read and meditate through Psalms and other Scriptures that exalt God/Christ, His Word and His works (Ex.15:1-18, 1 Chron. 16:7-36, Job 37-41, Ps. 19, 103, 118, 134-136, 145, Is. 40:12-31, Dan. 2:19-23, Rom. 8:31-39, Col. 1:15-20,).

o   Christmas: What is the true meaning of Christmas? Find fresh ways to celebrate Christ’s birth and the reason for His coming. Rehearse the wonder of God incarnate, the promised Savior sent to the world as a gift to all mankind by reading through or listening to the various gospel narratives. Focus on different characters involved in Christ’s birth and put yourself in their shoes. What can you learn from each one? (the shepherds, angels, Mary, Joseph, inn keepers, etc.)

o   New Years: Revel in all that’s ahead as God’s child: His continued sanctifying work in your life, making you more and more like His Son  (Rom. 8:28-29, 1 Cor. 3:18); your future hope (seeing/being in God’s/Christ’s presence for eternity, reunited with loved ones, new heaven, new earth, new home, new body, an incorruptible inheritance, no more tears, suffering, sorrow or loss, etc.).

“My soul clings to the dust; give me life according to your word! My soul melts away with sorrow; strengthen me according to your word! Let your steadfast love comfort me according to your promise to your servant.” Psalm 119:25, 28, 76

  •        Pursue meaningful relationships and don’t isolate. It’s tempting to withdraw and pull back from friends and loved ones during times of intense grief and sorrow but that will only increase your sense of loneliness. Engage with those closest to you and allow them to walk with you in your grief. Our Savior modeled this when He invited Peter, James and John to share in His moment of deepest anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane before His arrest and crucifixion (Mt. 26:37-38). He was transparent with these intimate friends and let them know, “My soul is sorrowful, even unto death.”  God created us for relationship. Allow others to help carry your burden, to know how you are struggling and to extend God’s comfort to you as you choose to show up.  

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

  •          Plan ahead and be prepared.  If this holiday season is a “first” without your loved one, it can seem overwhelming. Seek God’s help in what you’d like a specific holiday to look like. What traditions are important to continue? What tasks can you forego to alleviate unnecessary stress? You don’t have to do everything and you don’t have to do what has always been done. You may choose to honor your loved one in some way or plan for a special time to share memories together. You may find it helpful to brainstorm in advance with family or loved ones to help create new and meaningful traditions at upcoming holiday gatherings.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” Isaiah 43:19

  •        Find someone to love and serve during the holiday season. Deep sorrow and loss can be all consuming. Your world has been turned upside-down and it’s easy to lose sight of everything and everyone around you, even extended family and friends impacted by the loss. One of the best ways to break out of this dark pit is to reach out to others. Plan lunch out with a son or daughter, have a cookie bake or a game/movie night with grandchildren, invite someone for coffee, visit a shut-in who needs encouragement and fellowship, serve at a soup kitchen, help prepare meals at your church’s holiday community event or join those Christmas caroling at the senior center. The opportunities are endless for reaching out to family and others who need comfort and tangible expressions of love this holiday season. Once again, our Lord sets the example as we see Jesus Christ serving His disciples by washing their feet at a time when it would have been easy for Him to focus on His own pain and imminent suffering the night before His crucifixion. What a great passage to meditate on as the Son of God “laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet.” (Jn.13:4-5)

These are just a few of the many ways in which you can “gracefully” navigate the holidays ahead if you have experienced significant loss. Allow the “God of all comfort” to comfort you during this difficult time. Let His presence and His Word strengthen and sustain you in the days ahead as you trust Him to be all you need this holiday season.

If you find yourself struggling through loss this holiday season please reach out to us at Cornerstone Counseling Ministries. We would be honored to walk through this journey with you individually or through one of our support groups. Be sure to check out our Surviving the Holidays events taking place this November.

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Written by Helen VanSumeren, M.A.

Dealing with Teen Anxiety

Psychologists and other mental health professionals have noticed a spike in the number of teenagers suffering with anxiety. They believe the rising number of adolescents dealing with anxiety is the result of several cultural, biological, and familial factors. In simple terms, anxiety can be defined as “the fear of the future, or the fear of the unknown”. It can manifest itself in worries, phobias, obsessions, compulsions, PTSD, social anxiety, and so on. Symptoms of anxiety can include but are not limited to fatigue, change in appetite, racing heart, excessive sweating, stomach pains, difficulty concentrating, muscle tension, etc. While anxiety is something that can present itself at all stages of life, the purpose of this article is to examine some of the root causes for teenagers dealing with anxiety.

Let’s take a look at just a few developmental tasks that teenager’s face on a daily basis in order to gain a better understanding:

Developing an Identity

Teenagers today are also coming of age in a time when they’ve never known life apart from smartphones, social media, terrorism, and global conflict. They also feel numerous amounts of pressure to create and manage a digital identity. Keep in mind that according to society, their digital and technological identity must also be portrayed and match identically in social situations. Some of our modern day reality TV shows certainly negatively validate that for them and continue to apply endless amounts of pressures and stress to “keep up”. But, on top of all that, this developmental stage is where the big question “Who am I?” is explored. This question covers sexual orientation, relationships, physical appearance, personality, belief systems, spirituality, and so on.

Autonomy from Parents

One of the more common phrases heard from teens during this developmental phase is “I don’t need you, I can do it by myself”. While it is age appropriate to test limits, teens often experience confusion and ambivalence while doing so. In reality, family hierarchies can oftentimes be skewed. Although teenagers give the impression that they want to self-govern their own lives and be in charge, deep down they know they aren’t capable of making healthy, wise decisions. They want their parents to be leaders even if there is dissension and tension. When the family hierarchy shifts or is even flipped upside down, a teen’s anxiety is most likely to skyrocket.

Building a Social Network

Oftentimes a teenager’s friends’ opinions and advice become paramount in their life – not their parents’.  Why is this? Well, usually because friends often give a sense of belonging and understanding. How often have you heard your teen say “You don’t understand what I’m going through!” or “You don’t understand ME!”. If they truly believe you don’t understand any part of their being, their sense of acceptance comes from their friends. Now, in order to keep gaining their friends’ acceptance and approval, teens find great pressures in constantly having to conform and change along with their friend group. Can you see how this also then adds stress to a teen also trying to find their identity?

These are just a few of the major stressors teens face on a daily basis. Imagine throwing some of the following also common stressors in the mix as well:

·         Happiness is all the rage!

·         Receiving unrealistic praise from teens, teachers, coaches, etc.

·         Not learning proper emotional skills or resilience

·         Parents viewing themselves as protectors rather than guides

·         Lack of free time/play

So, here comes the big question: how do you help your struggling teen?  First – open communication. This means leaving all shame, guilt, judgment, personal biases, constant correction, etc. at the door. Casting any of these onto your teen will most likely immediately shut the door and will be extremely difficult to reopen. Once this door of communication is open, you can then enter through with empathy. Empathy is the ability to identify and label the emotions your teen is experiencing and responding in such a way. This looks like entering into your teen’s life and literally coming alongside them through extending compassion, strength, comfort, and power. Practically, you could try saying, “I care so much that you’re struggling” and “I can’t promise you scary stuff won’t happen, but I can promise that you are strong enough to handle it, and I will walk with you through it”.  This approach reflects the truth that Christ did not come to prevent people from ever experiencing suffering but to be a constant presence through pain and worry.

In Romans 5, Paul begins with telling us that making sense of our pain produces endurance and hope. And as so we do so, we carry the promise that God will be with us. This is the very essence of the meaning of the word Emmanuel.

Please come join me, September 30, 2018 at 6pm at Mount Bethel Church in Mt. Bethel, PA as I lead a training on “Dealing with Teen Anxiety”. All of the points mentioned in this article (and more!) will be discussed in further detail throughout the duration of the training. The evening will conclude with a Q&A time featuring myself, Ben Updegrove, and Lauraine Masciantonio.  Register here.

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Written by Brianna Consiglio, M.A

The Thorn in My Flesh

Drew and I discovered Grey’s Anatomy a couple of years ago and have been slowly making our way through the seasons on Netflix (season 12 presently, phew). Last week, one of the episodes featured a patient who was about to receive the news of being cancer free, when Grey noticed that her port site was inflamed and infected. The patient had noticed the growing abnormality a few weeks beforehand but, hadn’t reported it to her team of clinicians. It ended up being too late to save this woman, and she died tragically (as they most always do in Shondaland) just hours before reconciling with her estranged son.

I had this metaphor moment! Port sites like this woman’s, ports that deliver medication for cancer patients, or that facilitate dialysis for patients with renal failure, brought to mind what the Apostle Paul describes as his battle with the Lord over the “thorn in his flesh” in 2 Corinthians 12. Port sites must be monitored very, very closely. It is not natural for us to have a foreign object just hanging out of our bodies, leaving us with a perpetually open wound. Port sites get infected notoriously and are often as much the cause of medical hardship for patients, as their original conditions. But, when they are monitored closely and proactively, they are the conduit by which life-saving measures may enter our bodies and do their work. So it works, both literally with a thorn or splinter, that must be removed immediately for risk of infection, and figuratively as the thorn in Paul’s flesh functions to remind him moment by moment of his weakness, of his need for the Lord’s salvation. When Paul is otherwise healthy, this thorn, this port, serves as his reminder to turn consistently back to the source of his life-saving grace. When ignored, the very thing that could bring us consistently to the well of living water, could be what destroys us.

First of all, I would just like to note (completely outside, well, mostly outside of the majority context of this post), that God can and literally does use A N Y and E V E R Y T H I N G to speak to us and speaks in a language that we can understand. There are few ways by which I have felt God’s specific love for me more than when something about the gospel and our life of faith clicks for me in the context of learning about the human body, or through some super tangential etymological adventure. Please just know that you are loved deeply by the God who created you, and that God quite literally moves mountains to meet you where you are, and in a context that makes sense to you. God created you, knows who you are more than you do, has planted within you the things that interest and excite you, and desires to speak through those things!

Annnd back from the rabbit trail.

About a year/year and a half after our girls were born I noticed that I was struggling a great deal with anxiety. I have always been, what I like to call, high strung, a bit obsessive, methodical, passionate. In many ways those tendencies had served me well, leading to many of the moments in my life that I might refer to as successes. But, this felt more extreme, more debilitating, more compulsive, and I was experiencing physiological symptoms for the first time that I could remember being directly associated with this particular state of mind. I had a panic attack. I felt my heart rise in my chest, my chest tightened…breathing became difficult, and tears began to pour. It was the first time ever in my life that I had felt utterly out of control. It lasted for what felt like forever, but it was probably 20-30 minutes before my breathing had settled down and the tears stopped flowing. But, the tightness in my chest remained through the night. I woke up the next morning to my deeply concerned husband, a migraine, and fatigue like I had never experienced (even after having made it through the first year with twins). I called out from work, citing a migraine (I had the paid time to cover it, and no particularly important meetings that day, so my supervisor thankfully asked for no more explanation). I spent that day trying to figure out what in the world was wrong with me, and what in the world I was going to do about it.

I finally decided that I needed to seek out a counselor (that process in and of itself felt overwhelming enough to make me want to just stay in bed forever…I hate that it’s this way). A friend offered a recommendation, and I figured that I would start there and hope for the best, and I am so thankful it worked out well.

There were so many things going on for me in that season… I was a new parent…to twins! There were so many ways in which I had felt like the Lord had freed me from my perfectionist ways in the years preceding parenthood, only to discover a whole new universe of ways to potentially screw up. I was paralyzed day after day with fear that every choice would have dire forever consequences, that every missed opportunity to discipline appropriately would lead to bratty children with no sense of accountability or personal responsibility, or that every too harsh word would lead to children who struggled with self-esteem and would develop an array of super unhealthy habits to meet those needs, or that every "good job" would lead to kids who were attention-seeking and eager to please in all the worst ways, and who would believe that my love was contingent upon their performance, and that every time I needed them to wait for my attention while I tended to something else would lead to kids who felt undervalued and unimportant, and the list goes on…and on. I think, though, that at least to some degree, this is normal.

I’ve shared in a previous post that I was simultaneously struggling to “find myself,” or to at least not lose myself in my relation to others, as someone’s wife, and someones' mother. I struggled with feeling like I was falling short of completely made up expectations.

We were in leadership in a ministry context that strained our marriage relationship a great deal, and as a result of our position in leadership, it was incredibly lonely, as I wasn't able to share much about those dynamics with the people I spent the most time with, including my immediate family who were members of the church. It was a context within which I felt unvalued as a woman, and felt crushed deep down to my soul as the only black woman in a white evangelical space. We arrived in this context not knowing that just a few short weeks afterwards Michael Brown would be gunned down on the streets of Ferguson, not knowing that the years that followed we would have to watch this scene (not new by the way) over and over and over again, and be in the position of explaining our humanity, and why death is not an appropriate consequence for jaywalking, or theft, or legally owning a gun and complying with officers’ orders, or asking for help when your car breaks down, or having a mental breakdown. Of having to endure endless, though at least mostly well-meaning questions about all things related to race and systems, of having to skirt white fragility and stand our ground and appeal to our common ground of Scripture as the only validation of our lived experiences. And then we got to live through the rise of Trump as the face of the Republican party and navigate relationships with friends who sincerely believed that they could divorce his platform from its pretty overt implications of his views of my inherent worth as an image bearer, and that of my husband and children, and family members and friends, and the people in our community, and who thought my strong feelings on the matter were overly dramatic, and too personal, and me just pushing a political agenda. And then there were the friends who were just indifferent, who basked in the privilege of being "apolitical" in such a moment as this one. And to do the work of loving folks, fighting to love genuinely, while feeling at best misunderstood, and at worst unloved, in return.

I had never thought of myself as an idealist. I've always actually had quite a good perception of what's not quite as it should be. But, you can't know what's wrong unless you have an idea of what's right. Ironically, the gospel, and this picture of new creation and all that is possible, contributed daily to my battle against depression, as I stared at so many things that were less than what they could be. My unhealth meant that that holy discontent, that fire that could be harnessed for Kingdom change, ate away at me instead, and drove me deeper into despair. I could understand why Jesus was referred to as a man of sorrows. I could not understand how he was described as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing.

And so, I don’t know what thing it was in particular. It was probably just all of the things. But, I was broken. And on top of being broken, I was hanging on to a faith that, in practice was disappointing me left and right, and that I also believed told me that depression and anxiety are sin, and that if I were a better Christian, I’d be doing ok. After all, Scripture does tell us to be anxious for nothing, right? On top of all of the miserable feelings of failure and sadness and frustration, I heaped on the shame and blame mercilessly.

A super dear friend from our time in Bethlehem who knew about my struggles recommended a specific podcast episode on depression and anxiety to me from the God Centered Mom podcast. The women spoke about anxiety, in particular, presenting often in one of two ways: situational anxiety or chronic anxiety. The one woman used this phrase about thoughts “nesting” rather than coming and going, but rather making their home, invited or otherwise, and birthing new thoughts, as this cyclical process that can consume us (hence the name of my blog 😉). It was the first time that I had ever thought back over my childhood with this lens and I began to see young me, consistently consumed by, obsessed with, one thing or another. I remember going on a cursing spree in 5th grade because my friends had started cursing, and I wanted to be cool like them. I remember the school year ending and summer coming, and being home by myself all day, making myself sick as I had to muster up the courage to “confess” my crimes to my parents because the guilt had wrecked me for weeks. I was convinced that I could not even look at them without this being resolved (parents who were certainly disappointed but, met me with a great deal of grace). It is amazing to me how these ways of thinking about the people in our lives, particularly our parents, and how they will respond to and receive us, and how we project these things onto God. As I listened to this podcast, I realized that I have always been anxious, and that anxiety has often fueled a depression of sorts, as the spiral has consumed me, that this is not new, it’s just different. And I realized that that means that I might always struggle with being anxious, that I might always be fighting to a degree against being consumed by depression and despair, that it may be hard-wired in me. One might think that realization would be in itself quite discouraging, but it was so F R E E I N G!

One of my consistent sources of disappointment over this season was waiting for this moment of “healing,” for this beautiful testimony I could tell people about how God had rescued me from this. And that moment kept not coming. In this moment I realized that this would be a journey, that it has been a journey. That this is likely (though the Lord could still miraculously heal me completely should the Lord choose) (one of) the thorn(s) in my flesh. That this is something that I carry with me, as a consistent opportunity to turn to the God who created and knows and loves me, and desires to be known by me in a particular way. If I am not diligent, it has the power to infect and destroy me, but by God’s grace, with proper care, it has the potential to be a conduit of living water.

For the most part, it has been the latter, though I still experience stretches of sickness. One of the ways that God has cared for me has been through people he has sent me to love me and be kinder to me than I tend to be to myself. My daughters who give me a hug and a kiss, and tell me “it’s ok mommy, I still love you,” after I’ve chewed them out and had to ask their forgiveness. My husband who, when I went home and shared with him the lightbulb I experienced after listening to the podcast episode, shared with me that in the midst of his frustration with not knowing how to help or be there for me that the Lord gave him this picture of the folks who lowered their sick friend through the roof to the feet of Jesus when they could not get in through the door (Luke 5, Mark 2). It says that Jesus saw their faith, the faith of this man’s friends on behalf of this man, and in response Jesus healed the man. Drew said that the Lord said to him very clearly, "you be those friends, you have faith when she cannot." So, Drew did what he knew how to do, and prayed for me consistently. And there are friends like the one who sent me the podcast, the one who referred me to her therapist, the ones who let me know that medication was not a shameful choice during the season in which it was really necessary, the ones who listened, the ones who were gracious when I could not see past my own nose, my parents who just loved me and did their best to help with the girls when I needed space.

I don’t have a tidy ending to this one. Fitting, I suppose. So, I’ll leave you with this:

So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 

Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

 Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 

For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. – 2 Corinthians 12: 7-10

Check on your strong friend <3

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Written by Genay Jackson
Genay has been stumbling after Jesus since about 8-years-old. She is married to her best friend and favorite person, Drew, a pastor, and together with their *soon-to-be* 4-year-old twin girls, Zora and Suhaila, and dog, Baxter, they are ministering in New York City. Genay graduated from Princeton University with a degree in English, and then earned a Master of Public Health from the University of Southern California. Genay has worked in the field of public health over the last several years and is deeply passionate about figuring out her place vocationally in the world of infant and maternal health, but this recent transition to New York City has also provided a lot of time for growth, reflection, regrouping, asking questions, wrestling...and writing again!

Correction or Connection?

One of the struggles that most biblical counselors encounter in the course of providing care for others is finding the balance and timing of correcting verses connecting with individuals. After all, isn’t it our job to lead broken people into the truth? Because as we all know, it’s the truth that brings freedom!

I must wonder, however, if that is where many of us lose the individuals that may take a bit longer to journey alongside.  Is bringing the truth to someone more about my “performance”  than the desire to walk with someone as they slowly and painfully at times take one step forward and two steps back towards truth?

I know for me, I am so grateful for the precious folks who walked with me during some very difficult and dark seasons in my life. They were willing to hold out a lantern for the next step and provide the courage and support I needed to take it. If someone would have told me how long that journey would take, I would have said, “no thanks!”. (By the way, I am still on a journey to wholeness and from time to time, need someone to help me navigate the path)

I admire the words of Maya Angelou: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Now I know as believers we are not meant to focus on how we or others are feeling. But you see, that is the very point of difficulty where I believe we do not have a complete view of how Christ walked on this side of eternity. He DID value people even when they were actively living in their sin. He did not let the expression of pain and search for value and belonging in this life often found in offensive vices and expressed in destructive ways affect his perspective of their divinely designed value as a child of God. As an image bearer of our Father, He instead met them right there in it.

We all know the stories: the woman at the well, the blind beggar, Nicodemus (who came in the middle of the night so no one would see him, by the way) Peter, Thomas, on and on and on. I invite you to search the Scriptures for yourself. Go back and read the Gospels (the Good News) and see how Jesus did this. You will find that He, without exception, always validated and valued the person, before he respectfully stated (sometimes with great passion) the Kingdom Principle to the person. He made them feel valued and not as an object of ministry or a great story on a newsletter. This is difficult. This is the Kingdom. This is the King we follow.

Will this cost us something? Yes. Time, energy, and perhaps our reputation. After all He was known to the religious leaders and crowds as “Jesus a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners” (Matthew 11:19).

Am I willing to be known in my circles of influence as that? Do others come to me to find water in their thirst, food in times of want, companionship in times of captivity or sickness? Are we willing to walk in the dusty roads of high human need and get our hands and feet dirty? He did. He still does. He will continue to do so.

Perhaps the greatest miracle of all is when we reach out to others in their felt place of need and value their God designed image - we can speak truth and life. As we seek to connect, to our shared DNA, our shared humanity, it is exactly there that you and I can, with great respect and care, hold out the truth and freedom of the Kingdom of God to others. As Romans 14:17 states, “ For the Kingdom of God is not a matter of food or drink, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit”.

Right standing in relationship with God, ourselves and others; peace, that we are never alone; and joy that serves as a byproduct of this relationship. The world around us is literally dying for this. It is out of connection that correction comes!

Philippians 2:14-17
1 Peter 3:15

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Written by Bethann Miller
Bethann has been involved in ministry and missions for 26 years and has traveled to 48 nations thus far. Along with her husband Tom she is a full time member care provider and co-founder for Safe Place , a ministry they founded in 2014 to provide care and support to those who serve others.  She is a Board Certified Biblical Counselor through the IBCC, Member of the American Association of Christian Counselors. Holding  certificates in Biblical Counseling , Grief Stress and Trauma Care, and Elder Care. She is an avid motorcycle rider, Pittsburg Steeler Fan and loves to spend quiet evenings with her cats and her husband sitting around their fire pit.

Working Through Shame

Shame. The word by itself feels tainted. Broken. Like damaged goods that no one will ever want. I spoke to a woman recently who had been divorced. She communicated that it is always hard to tell people that her husband left her. She said she instantly feels eyes of judgment, projecting the question, “Why weren’t you good enough to keep your marriage together?”

Another young man shared his desires for a reconciled relationship with his father. He stated that for years he attempted to believe that his father was not abusive, a drunk, a womanizer. Surprisingly, he summarized his self-evaluation with the word, shame, as if his father’s sins were his own, marring his name, his relationships, his life. 

Finally, a friend from college, conveyed anguishing stories of sexual abuse. She felt that her abuser’s shameful acts were upon her. She acknowledged that the sexual violence was completely the responsibility of her attacker but somehow, the shame was hers. 

Call it victim blaming. Call it distorted lenses of realities. Call it an outcome of a fallen world. Thank God, literally, that the stories do not end here. What’s in a story? A hero, villain, conflict, climax and resolution. The story of redemption shows our need for a hero to conquer sin and death AND shame! Allow me to remind you that we are living post-climax. Jesus Christ has already defeated death on the cross. Every Easter we celebrate a Risen Savior. My encouragement today is to live in this truth. 

I find comfort in Hebrews 4:15-16 “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Emphasis added). 

First, Jesus knows. He knows the intimate hurt that we feel. He was tempted. He was accused and abused. Jesus could have easily participated in the #metoo campaign, having endured sexual humiliation through the events leading up to the cross. It would be consider futile if the story ends there. But it does not. It certainly does not. As we know, Jesus has the victory. He wins. He is the hero. He is there at the throne of grace to provide the mercy and grace that we need. Faith in Jesus Christ brings the imputed righteous of Christ to your life. God does not see your heart; He sees the heart of Jesus. He does not see your faults, sins and shame; God sees the righteousness of Christ! 

Second, you are not alone. The importance of community can be seen in the Trinity itself. The importance of community is critical for those that struggle with shame. You can commune with God, who is able to sympathize, as well as with other believers. We are here for you. Think about how being with others instantly makes circumstances better. Whether it is a long drive or a support group, other people help share the burden. “One-anothering” is when we empathize and share in the pain of someone else. “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends," (John 15:13). 

Some of my fondest memories are in the trenches with good friends. The best moments in life are the fragile, vulnerable, “I need a Savior” times when depravity meets divinity. God whispers His presence and everything changes. 

Understanding this is simple...and so hard. God is Sovereign. I try to appreciate that every day. Some days are better than others. Some are awful. During the latter, I rely on God and community to remind me that Jesus died for my sins and shame. ... that my sin and shame do not define me. ...that He has the victory. ...that He has provided the imputed righteousness. ...that my value is in Him.

You are not your sin, shame, and faults. You are an image bearer of God, an adopted son in God’s family, a co-heir in the riches of Christ. Rest in this truth. If you need prayer or counsel through God’s story, there is no shame in asking for someone to “one-another” with you. Contact my good friends at Cornerstone Counseling Ministry. 

 

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Written by Michael Tukeva, M. Ed.

Michael Tukeva is a non-profit executive director with a passion for counseling and challenging the status quo. He views relationship building as critical for personal and community growth. Michael has served as a counselor in a variety of settings including a domestic/sexual violence shelter, a mental health clinic and at the church he attends. Two of his favorite questions to ask people upon meeting are, "What's your story?" and "How's your heart?". 

The Healing Balm of the Arts

“Art washes from the soul the dust of everyday life.” ~ Pablo Picasso

It’s finally Spring and time again for Cornerstone Counseling Ministries to prepare for the annual Art Benefit. In 2017 CCM hosted its first Art Benefit raising approximately $17,000 providing 650+ sessions for clients in need. The event brought together many artists that donated exceptional pieces of work using various forms of art. Not only does this Counseling Center benefit from the arts, but artists have expressed the therapeutic benefits of the creative process.

 You don’t have to be a trained artist to enjoy the benefits of expressing yourself creatively. The Arts are enjoyable activities that promote dialogue, reduce anxiety, increase self-awareness, help people identify and explore fears. It has the ability to promote healing on every level. There are many different forms of art, from painting to music, and they all contribute to our mental well-being.

Art, emotion, and healing are linked.  In recent years Art has become a useful tool in a therapeutic setting for many emotional issues and can promote psychological health. Art is experiential – it is a “doing process.” It is also very personal. Creating art is a journey of personal expression and self-awareness. Using art to express what is inside of ourselves is a powerful means of easing pain, and of better tapping into the power of self-awareness to heal.

Recent research has shown that art therapy has been used quite successfully to help children and adults learn to effectively communicate, have improved concentration, improved behaviors and develop closer relationships.  It has shown to improve moods, promote relaxation, and decrease disruptive behaviors and attitudes. Many times where words are few, our emotions and feelings can be expressed through the many mediums and forms of art.

We all have the ability to express ourselves creatively and use our creative gifts. Some additional ways the arts can improve your mental well-being include the following:

Stress reduction: Artistic activities are calming, whether you are playing an instrument or painting a landscape from memory. When you take time out of your day to be artistic, you stop thinking about the world around you. You cease to focus on worries and it provides a mental rest from your regular activities and stresses. Creating art requires a focus on details and a concentration that blocks everything else out.

Creative thinking: Art, music, and dance are all creative forms of expression that use a different part of your brain. The creative thinking process engages your brain in different ways and produces different brain chemicals than your everyday logical thinking. It is good to exercise your brain in this way. When you are adept at creative thinking, it can be applied to problems to suggest alternative solutions. There are no right and wrong answers in art — everything is subjective. This opens the mind to creating and considering alternate possibilities. Exercising creative thinking in the pursuit of artistic endeavors improves your mental health by preparing your brain to tackle everyday issues in positive new ways.

Brain connectivity and plasticity: Plasticity is your brain’s ability to change and grow new connections over time. In some ways, positive mental health depends on your ability to adapt to new situations as you get older. Recovering from bad experiences is also dependent on your ability to develop new thought patterns, working around the old pathways that no longer serve you. This is especially true in PTSD and addiction. Your brain is stuck on old thought patterns and needs to find a way around them. Building new thought patterns is part of the solution to these problems. Engaging in artistic activities creates new connections or pathways in your brain between cells. Art encourages verbal and nonverbal communication which strengthens connections between the left and right side of the brain – it essentially makes your brain stronger!

Self-esteem boost: Each area of art is a specific skill and talent, and practicing the one you enjoy the most can improve those skills. Over time, you will see a noticeable improvement in the quality of your finished works, and that can boost your self-esteem. Completing a piece of art can provide tremendous satisfaction in your ability to manage the medium and express your own vision. Self-esteem is built on recognizing your own accomplishments and understanding their implications for the rest of your life. If you can do this, you can do other things, as well. Art gives you a chance to chart your growth and contemplate the outward expression of your emotions at different stages.

While there are many other benefits to engaging in the arts, we can agree that it is a wonderful outlet to support emotional health and is quickly gaining ground as an alternative treatment in the Psychology world.

So whether you engage in the arts yourself, enjoy viewing art, or are a collector of art, please join CCM at our June 1st Art Benefit. By being at the event or purchasing a piece of art, you will be part of a bigger purpose in bringing the healing balm of hope to a client in need of emotional help.

“Art is to console those who are broken by life” - Vincent Van Gogh

Written by Patricia Millen, MA
Tetelesti Creations