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

Intimacy with God

Intimacy is defined as the state of being in a personal or private relationship with someone. (Merriam-Webster). Some synonyms include  “belonging”, “nearness”, and “inseparability”. The Welsh preacher, Christmas Evans said about the Song of Songs: ‘If the embers of love for Jesus are growing cold in your life, read the Song of Solomon; its breath will cause the dying embers to burst again into flame.’

God has created us to live a life of intimacy with Him. I invite you to think back to when you first became a Christian. Was your heart set on fire when you read His word? Was your quiet time with Jesus personal and intimate as you mediated on the precious Word of God?

Then life happened. Life got hard. Disappointments were around every corner you turned. You miss something. You cannot remember what set your heart on fire. “…then His word in my heart is like a fire that burns in my bones, and I can’t hold it in any longer” (Jer. 20:7). The burning ceased.

Sometimes as a counselor we sit across from someone who aches for intimacy with God. The ache can arrive in many forms: adultery, addictions, depression, anxiety, broken relationships, etc. 

Song of Songs 1:2, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth”  Counselors listen for the ‘kiss me’. It is hidden there under all kinds of demands and requests. The soul lacking passionate and intimate relationship with Jesus develops compulsions and obsessions.  The heart and soul desire the divine love only Jesus can offer.

In one of my devotions, I read a quote from George Mac Donald: “When a man knocks at the door of a brothel, what he is really looking for is God.”  I thought that to be a very outlandish statement however deep down inside all of our hearts we long for a relationship with God and if we do not find that love then we search for a substitute. Sex and infidelity might be passionate and momentarily satisfying, however, it is short lived (Eccl 1:8, 4:8, 5:10, 6:7, Pr. 27:20).

Sitting alongside someone who became lost in the moment or might have been chasing a shadow requires the love of Jesus.  There is no judgment or shame to be rendered. Our goal is to help them believe there is a place they belong. The place is with Jesus.

Those who open their souls to the love of God in Christ find the satisfaction in God’s divine love. Only those who find this satisfaction make all the other demands less glamorous.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners and I am the worst for them. But I received mercy for this reason, so that in me, the worst of them, Christ Jesus might demonstrate the extraordinary patience as an example to those who would believe in him for eternal life.” 1 Timothy 1:15-16.

Here are some steps to join someone who has “abandoned the love you had at first”(Rev. 2:4).

Help them to remember:

1.You were designed for a purpose, with intention, love and care.

You bear the image of God. Genesis 1:27” “So God created man in His own image;
He created him in the image of God;
He created them male and female.”
Our greatest calling is glorifying God by bearing His image.

2.You are broken. Not only by the sins committed but also because of the sin nature in you.

We have all sinned. The perfection of creation was corrupted when Adam and Eve disobeyed God (Gn. 2:17) each one of us is guilty because of our own sin (Romans 3:23).
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

3.You have hope. Forgiveness and freedom from this moment and for eternity.

Jesus, Immanuel, walked among his people to save us from eternal death. (Matthew 1:23, John 1:1-3,14).
Jesus suffered death on the cross (Romans 5:8). 
He took our sins and took our place (Hebrews 10:10).
“He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death-even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:8).

4.Jesus is alive and so is our hope.

The everlasting life of Jesus is ours when we turn from our sins and trust in the love and perfection of Christ. (John 3:16)
“Since by the one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive the overflow of grace and the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:17)

The cross is our only anchor. We can endure anything, as long as we keep our eyes on Jesus, our first love, Have courage. Stand firm.

 

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Written by Jane Consiglio, M.A.

Emotions: A Window into Our Hearts

The role of emotions in biblical counseling is important and not something to be minimized or ignored.  Because of the way we have been created in the image of God, emotions are part of what it means to be human. They play a dominant role in our lives. We can respond with positive emotions of joy, love and delight but we can also experience heartache, confusion and tragedy that results from a mishandling of our feelings. Although this, by no means, is a comprehensive handling of the topic of emotions, I’d like to share some foundational truths the Scriptures teach that I gleaned from Faith Biblical Counseling Conference which I recently attended in Lafayette, Indiana, that I trust can help us compassionately handle this area in ways that bring clarity, hope and life to counselees.

A biblical theology of emotions starts with an acknowledgment that God Himself expresses emotion.  All of God’s emotional responses are perfect and holy, pure and right such as delight (Is. 42:1, Zeph. 3:17, Mt. 3:17), anger (Ps. 7:11), compassion (Is. 49:15-16), grief (Ps. 78:40) jealousy (Deut. 4:24, Jms. 4:5) hate (Prov. 6:16-19) and more. Unlike fallen humanity, God’s emotional responses do not rule Him but rather He is always in complete control of them.

In the same way, Jesus also expressed emotions in a perfect and sinless manner. We are told in the Scriptures that the incarnate Son is the image of the invisible God and the perfect representation of God’s nature, which would include Christ’s emotional responses (Col. 1:15, Heb. 1:3).  But Jesus is also perfect in His humanity. Because of this, He expressed an entire range of human emotions but He did so without sin.

Since mankind was created in the image of God, our emotions are an inherent part of who we are. Like God, we respond to our environment, to people, to situations with a variety of emotions. However, like everything else about us, our emotions were corrupted by the fall. What was initially good and right and meant to enrich and enhance our lives is now tainted by sin and has the capacity to rule our hearts in ways that are ungodly and enslaving and that are contrary to God’s character.  

The Scriptures reveal that emotions arise out of what is most valued. This is true of God and, as we’ll see in a bit, is certainly true of us as well.  What God values most is His glory (Is. 42:8), His Son (Mt. 3:17), His people dwelling in fellowship with Him (Is. 62:5, Rev. 21:3), knowing Him (Jer. 9:23-24), righteousness and justice (Ps. 33:5), His will and redemptive plan (Eph. 1:7), grace and mercy (Mic. 6:8), meekness and humility (Mt. 5:3, Jms. 4:6, 10), love for Himself and others (Mt. 22:36-40, Rom. 13:8). Are these the things our counselees value? Are these what our own hearts treasure and pursue?

God responds in righteous and just ways when we, as His image bearers, pursue whatever is not in keeping with His values. He expressed grief over man’s overwhelming wickedness and rebellion before the flood (Gn. 6:6). He responded in wrath against the idolatry of the Israelites when they worshipped the golden calf at Mt. Sinai (Deut. 9:8).  Conversely, God also responds with pleasure when we treasure His values and follow His will here on earth “as it is in heaven” (Mt. 6:10, 25:34-36).

The Bible also reveals that what we as image bearers value most will determine how we respond and what emotions we express. Our emotions expose what we treasure and are a window into what is going on in our hearts. When we cultivate and pursue what the heart of God values most, our emotions will respond in a righteous manner in keeping with God’s character and values. When we pursue and treasure our own selfish desires, our emotions will be expressed in sinful and ungodly ways, revealing what our hearts most crave.  

This has implications for me personally as a counselor even in the counseling setting as I seek to value the image bearer in front of me, to love them well, to respond joyfully as I see godly fruit being produced or grieve over a lack of repentance. These emotions are windows into my own heart as well and reveal what I treasure and worship (1 Jn. 2:15-17). Am I displaying the heart of God and what He values as I respond to counselees?

As a counselor I also need to draw out and help counselees identify the kind of “emotional fruit” displayed in their life.  By God’s grace and through His Word, I can lead them to make the connection between what their heart values (the root) and their particular emotional response (Lk. 6:43-45). It is easy to distinguish between righteous and sinful emotions by the kind of emotional “fruit” produced in their lives.

Distorted or sinful emotive responses are the result of wrong thinking and desires. The degree to which a counselee can or cannot obtain what their heart treasures most will determine their emotional responses. One example of this would be Cain’s response of bitterness, anger and ultimately murder of his brother Abel, because he did not receive the approval from God he thought he deserved and wanted on his own terms. Even when challenged by God over his anger that “if you do what is right, will you not be accepted?” he still refused to repent of his anger and comply with offering an acceptable sacrifice by faith (Gn. 4:3-8).

We want to help counselees bring their emotions and hearts into alignment with the will and heart of God, not just to conform externally to certain behaviors. It is not enough to perform the right actions and have hearts that still remain resistant and rebellious. We need to teach them what God values and help them desire what matters most to Him. When counselees value and pursue what the heart of God treasures their emotional responses will be righteous ones and the fruit displayed in their lives will be godly fruit. Our God has always cared about the condition of our hearts more than simply desiring our outward conformity.

A great example of this can be seen in Acts 16:19-25, as Paul and Silas demonstrated a peace that passes understanding in the midst of great trial and affliction (Phil. 4:6-8). Although they had just been beaten, were thrown into prison, had their feet fastened in the stocks and were placed under guard by a Philippian jailer, they were joyful “praying and singing hymns to God (Acts 16:24-25)! This is not the emotional response one would expect after what they just endured.  How was this possible? The apostle knew that the Lord was with him. He knew he wasn’t alone there in the prison cell. In  Philippians 4:4-5 Paul is able to exhort others who suffer, “Rejoice in the Lord always, again I will say, Rejoice. The Lord is at hand.” Paul knew Christ was present with them in their suffering and trial. He was believing and relying on this presence of God and this truth was precious to him. He valued Christ’s presence more than he valued life itself … “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain (Phil. 1:21)!  Either way, he knew that God’s presence was sure and could not be taken away from him. His trust and activity of prayerful dependance on God resulted in peace.

Emotions are the result of something I’m believing and staking my life on. When my heart is longing after other things and I don’t get what I’m treasuring, my state of being results in anxiety, stress, worry, anger or fear. However, if what I value most is God’s presence and know that it is mine, I will experience peace.  

So how can we help our counselees?

We can help them identify values by asking good, relevant, heart-probing questions such as:

·      What are you afraid of losing?
·      What are you dreading?
·      What do you believe you need to be happy?
·      What hope has been crushed?
·      What do you want that you aren’t getting?  

     Are they treasuring security, respect, approval of man, wealth or position more than they are loving God and what He values?

     We can also lead counselees to renew their minds through the Scriptures if they are to grow and change in what their hearts most desire (Rom. 12:1-2, Eph. 4:22-24, Heb. 4:12).  We can point them to the example of Christ and godly characteristics he valued and lived out, such as humility, and the result of how God responded (Phil. 2:5-11).  We can point out the fleeting, destructive and deceptive nature of pursuing worldly pleasures and personal ambition rather than pursuing love of God and what He values and then lead counselees to repentance.

     There is so much more that can be said about this subject.  Hopefully this has provided some challenging food for thought as we partner with God in offereing compassionate, wise and godly counsel to help counselees break free from being ruled by sinful and distorted emotions, for their good and God’s glory.

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Written by Helen VanSumeren, M.A.

Struggling with Seasonal Affective Disorder?

If Punxsutawney Phil (the groundhog who saw his shadow) is right, we have six more weeks of winter ahead of us. For some, that may mean extra ski and snowboarding trips. But for others, it may trigger feelings of sadness, lack of motivation, and fatigue. Winter can be tough.

Still for others, their experience in the winter months is even more difficult. They suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder.

"SAD is classified as a type of depression, major depressive disorder with seasonal pattern… roughly 5 percent of adults in the U.S. experience SAD, and it is more common in women than in men. The disorder is linked to chemical imbalances in the brain caused by the shorter hours of daylight through the winter, which disrupt a person’s circadian rhythm." (Bray, 2017, p. 51)

If you notice consistency in your symptoms of depression during winter months every year, seek out professional counseling. Just like a physical condition, it is important to treat it.

If you don’t find yourself overwhelmed with symptoms of depression but still feel somewhat down or ‘not your normal self’ here are some practical ways of getting through these hard winter months:

Scripture, Prayer, & Worship Music. Take time every day to talk to God and read Scripture. You will be amazed at how He will minister to you. He delights in you. If you struggle with certain thoughts that are negative about yourself, memorize Scripture that speaks truth to that negative belief. You can listen to worship music that will elevate your thoughts and minister to your spirit. 

Physical Activity and Exercise. When you feel down and discouraged, you might not feel motivated to exercise; you might be more inclined to binge-watch your favorite Netflix series while eating a bowl of ice cream. However, consistent exercise is helpful in regulating emotion. Yoga, running, even a dance party in your kitchen can all help.

Sleep. Try to get seven to eight hours of sleep every night. Develop a bedtime ritual. You can diffuse lavender essential oils, read, or do deep-breathing or progressive muscle relaxation exercises.

Journal. Pour out your thoughts and feelings on the pages.

Spend time with friends. Who are the people with whom you feel loved and accepted? Spend time with them. Plan fun activities or meet up for a cup of coffee and conversation. If you have a date on the calendar, you will be more likely to follow through and will feel better after.

Vitamin D. Get outside for at least 15 minutes, even on cold days (as long as you’re bundled up). Go for a quick walk around your neighborhood, or if you’re ambitious a winter hike.

Most important, don’t feel ashamed of what you’re experiencing. Here at CCM, we’re a safe place for you to come, share, and experience care. Our counselors can help you come up with you own plan for self-care, identify healthy coping skills, and address some of the thoughts and beliefs that might be contributing to some of your feelings of depression.

Reference

Bray, B. (2017). A light in the darkness: For those who struggle with seasonal depression, winter can seem dark and endless but counselors can encourage coping strategies that provide hope for brighter days ahead. Counseling Today, 62(5), 50.

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Written by Hannah Wildasin, MA

 

Healing After #metoo

Over the past couple weeks one of the most trending highlights on social media has been the #MeToo campaign. Assuredly, it has captured the attention of many and served as a grievous reminder to how many individuals have been victims of sexual abuse. Author and psychologist, Dr. Diane Langberg, suggests that victims of sexual abuse are often robbed of 3 very important aspects that make up one’s personhood – voice, power, and relationship. While all three of these are highly significant, I would like to spend some time focusing solely on voice.

            When we think about the concept of voice and how it presents itself in Scripture, we read that God’s voice is the first to be heard. Right there starting in Genesis 1, He speaks everything into existence using only His voice.  The magnitude and power of the voice of God is so immense that whatever He speaks instantly exists.

In the same way, He spoke you and me and all of humanity into existence. After speaking us into existence, he then extended this concept of voice over to us. Just look at Genesis 2 - He left Adam and Eve the task of using their own voices to create names for animals, birds, and the like. Whatever beast and creature God created, Adam and Eve named, and that was its name (v19). Likewise, He leaves us with the power to use our voices to influence those and the world around us. With our voice, we are able to articulate and express ourselves in numerous different ways. However, in the case of sexual abuse, the voice of the abused is trampled. He or she, in a sense, is “shut up”. The victim lives in a world where voices she once trusted now lie, deceive, and distort the truth. The abuse is almost never mentioned and is kept a secret often leaving the victim sitting in a tumultuous amount of shame and utterly silent. Ultimately, according to Diane Langberg, to have been silenced or shut up is to feel powerless. At what point does a victim gain his or her voice back?

The #MeToo campaign has offered a platform for victims to use their voice and I greatly appreciate and commend those who have given such a voice to an event that held influence over them for far too long. While giving voice to such an event is significant, it is important to note that healing of such a trauma does not end once a victim gives voice to it. It’s actually just the beginning. These past few weeks may have been empowering for some but maybe also triggering and painful for others. For those who have experienced the latter, please know that my heart grieves for you and I want to encourage you that you do not have to silently sit in it alone anymore. Whether you have publically responded with #MeToo or not, the injustice that was done to you is not normal nor is it ever okay.

We know that we live in a very fallen, sinful and broken world. However, we are offered hope that it doesn’t just stop there. We also firmly believe that God is actively moving and redeeming this world and we are a part of that process. More specifically, CCM can serve as a platform for the beginning or continuation of the healing journey necessary for those who have suffered sexual abuse or a trauma of any nature. There are a couple ways in which we can help. First, CCM has a few trauma informed therapists on staff who offer individual counseling. Second, starting mid-January 2018, CCM will be hosting healing groups once a week for about 8 weeks using the Healing the Wounds of Trauma curriculum. With this curriculum, we hope to offer women a safe space to speak of their trauma, an empathetic response, and the fellowship of other women who may have walked similar journeys in their own lives.

If you or someone you know is interested in either of the aforementioned options, please do not hesitate to call our center. We were not created to be silenced and to feel powerless. Allow CCM, whether through individual counseling or a healing group, to walk with you through this healing journey. Your voice matters; it always has.

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Written by Brianna Consiglio, M.A

Responding to Suffering

Suffering is one of the most difficult aspects of life. Although suffering is not something we ask for, it is common to all our experience and is no respecter of persons. At one time or another, and more likely multiple times throughout the course of our lives, we will all drink of its dregs. Whether young or old, wealthy or poor, educated or illiterate, suffering, in a variety of forms will find its way into every human life and will often return for unwelcome visits. With some, namely those with chronic pain or disability, it settles in as a permanent guest. How do we understand this “intruder” that visits us all? How do we handle something that refuses to be controlled? What do we do with suffering? Maybe a better question would be, “What do we allow suffering to do to us?”

I have come to realize that Scripture supplies us with the most helpful and hopeful truths on this very difficult subject. But before we can even look at some of the “whys?” of our hardships and pain, let’s back up a little. Could a large part of our struggle with afflictions be due to the fact that we really don’t take God at His Word when it comes to our expectations for life in this world? Christ wanted His disciples, and consequently, all of us as His followers, to realize that trouble here on earth is inescapable. He declared in John’s Gospel that, “In this world, you WILL have tribulations” (Jn. 16:33). We should expect trials and suffering as a normal part of life in this sin-tainted and corrupted world. It’s not an option but a guarantee. Christ’s disciples could count on it and in fact, did experience this as their reality throughout the remainder of their lives. Can we do any less? Do we really believe that in this world we also will have tribulations? Do we respond as if we believe this truth about inescapable suffering?

The apostle Peter, who in his earlier days ran from trouble, reminded fellow believers of the inevitability of suffering when he compassionately warned, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering as if something strange were happening to you” (1 Peter 4:12). He was trying to encourage those suffering that this was not something out of the ordinary. Despite the clear and repeated admonitions from God’s Word, how often are we blindsided, surprised and even devastated when calamity and troubles descend on us?  How often am I taken aback in my own life when troubles or suffering come my way? If both pagan and God-fearing persons throughout Scripture did not escape suffering and even Christ Himself endured loneliness, betrayal, abuse, misunderstanding, persecution, abandonment, torture and more before finally giving up His life as a criminal on a cruel cross, why do we as Christ followers expect to avoid suffering and hardships? No servant is greater than his master! Most of us have heard or even posed the question ourselves in the midst of heartache and trials, “Why me?” Perhaps we should be more accurately wondering, “Why not me?”

In his book Friendship Counseling, Kevin Huggins contends that “while suffering is an inescapable part of the human experience, it’s not the source of our psychological problems. Choosing to respond inappropriately to suffering is” (p.16). That’s certainly a different perspective than the world’s approach to suffering! If I recognize and truly believe that God is interested in my response to affliction and heartache then my greatest concern would not be escape or relief but a desire to cooperate with him and discover his purpose for allowing it in my life. Huggins further points out that, “Meaningless suffering is the hardest to endure. If we see no purpose or value in our suffering, we think and act in destructive ways. Our focus becomes relief. But God uses our suffering to purposely and lovingly give us the opportunity to deepen our relationship with him, to develop our character, and to serve him in ways we couldn’t or wouldn’t on our own” (p.33). Trials and painful circumstances definitely have the potential for grabbing our attention, helping us to see God, ourselves, and others in a new light.

In their comprehensive book, When God Weeps, authors Estes and Tada offer a host of Biblical reasons for the value and purpose trials and suffering serve in our lives. Suffering teaches humility, refines, perfects, strengthens us, casts us upon the Lord, teaches us to be more concerned about character than comfort, conforms us to the image of Christ and more (p. 232-240). In spite of the rich lessons our tribulations have to offer, sometimes answers just aren’t sufficient. Some are in such deep pain and anguish that answers don’t necessarily help. As someone familiar with deep trials and suffering, Joni Tada encourages us that, “The problem of suffering is not about some thing but Someone. God, like a father, doesn’t just give advice. He gives Himself” (p. 124-125).

After all, isn’t that what we need most in these dark and difficult times? We need Him! It’s the presence of our Almighty and loving God that makes the difference in our deep sorrow and distress. Suffering causes our theoretical knowledge of God to become real as we experience for ourselves that He truly is our God of peace, our God of hope, the God who will never leave us and who strengthens and sustains us in our storms. Suffering can teach us first-hand and lead us from what was merely head knowledge to a rich, personal knowing that lodges in the deep recesses of our hearts. The sufferer may never find the answers that will satisfy the soul but the continual presence of the Father’s strength and compassion are enough.

This is such a profound truth to remember. In the initial moments of raw grief and sorrow, the sufferer is rarely looking for explanations that will magically soothe and relive their heartache. They are in far greater need of comfort and compassion, not creeds or discourses. In the Old Testament narrative, Job’s three friends did well when they sat quietly with their bereaved and broken brother for seven days, comforting him with their silence and presence while allowing him to grieve his unspeakable losses. This was not a time for answers and platitudes but for compassion and joining together in the sorrow of their friend.  

One of the contributors to the book Suffering: The Goodness of God speaks to this same kind of sensitivity in light of overwhelming suffering. In his article entitled “A Journey in Suffering; Personal Reflections On the Religious Problem of Evil,” John Feinberg admits his naiveté in firmly believing that a sufferer supplied with the appropriate intellectual reasonings for their situation would certainly be satisfied … that is until fifteen years later, when he himself faced overwhelming suffering after receiving news of his wife’s degenerative and progressive illness. He urges those involved in pastoral care to seriously consider offering comfort and compassion rather than philosophical platitudes at the outset of others’ pain and trials. He provides a helpful illustration of a young child, who after having skinned her knee, runs to her mother for comfort. Rather than dealing with her hurt by explaining the laws of physics, cause and effect, or offering warnings of being more careful, or even of expounding on lessons her daughter might learn from the experience, John exhorts his readers, “The child doesn’t need a discourse; she needs her mother’s hugs and kisses” (p. 220).

We belong to a compassionate Father. He is the God of all comfort. And like the loving mother in the scenario, He invites us to respond to our suffering by running to Him with our pain and sorrow so He can comfort and envelope us in His love. This is Who we have to offer those who are distraught, hopeless and suffering. What a humble privilege it is, not only to offer Christ’s compassion and comfort to those hurting but to lead them to Him so they can drink deeply of God’s comfort for themselves and find that He is more than enough to sustain them in their suffering.

 

 

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Written by Helen VanSumeren, M.A.

Less is More: Minimalism + Jesus

Jesus is a minimalist, and as Christians we are called to be one too.

Now if you’re anything like me you are already feeling a tad defensive and a little frustrated that I’m telling you what to do, but hear me out okay? I’m still working through this too, but I think this is an important subject to talk about, especially for Christians in America. And if you have no idea what I’m talking about when I say minimalist let me break down a little for you.

 About two months ago my wife and I watch a documentary called Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things and instantly felt motivated to respond in our own lives. Essentially the point of the documentary is showing how people are chasing after more stuff/money to find happiness when in reality if they had less stuff they would find themselves being more content and fulfilled. It’s the idea that less is more in life. So this documentary showed people quitting their high paying jobs for a simple lifestyle to pursue what they enjoyed. It showed them selling or giving away most of their possessions as to be smart with their money and feel less stress. It even showed one guy who can fit all of his possessions into a backpack and small duffle bag, so that he can travel the world. And for someone like me who is cheap, doesn’t like to spend money on anything, but loves to travel I was a huge fan right off the bat. But as I sat and watched several people, ranging from single men to families with six kids talk about this minimalism lifestyle, I couldn’t help to think that they were missing something. They all talked about getting rid of their stuff so their lives felt less cluttered. They want to be happy and find meaning outside of materialism. The way it was portrayed felt to me a bit like escapism, or at the very least putting meaning and identity into other non-material stuff – traveling, savings accounts, family – which obviously are not bad, but those things will not ultimately give us the joy or peace that we should have.

But I still can’t help think they are on the right track… just fall one step short. As Christians, we are told over and over in the Bible to not focus on the “earthly things, but the things above,"  not to “lay up treasures here on Earth, but in Heaven.” (Matthew 6:19; Colossians 3:2)  But we don’t do so in order to find happiness or follow the newest trend. We are commanded not to be attached to things here on earth so that our attachment is to nothing else but God.

Christians in America have been duped into thinking that we too are supposed to follow the “American Dream,” that we are supposed to pursue a house (and all the stuff to fill it), financial security, a great job, and good vacations etc. Consumerism has wiggled its way into our relationships, our worldview, our church and our faith. The world is constantly telling us through advertisements, celebrities, politics, and social media that we should be happy and that happiness will come through more technology, more money, more rooms in our house, more, more, more. We are constantly told to be building up more treasures that we can see, and Jesus says that “where our treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21) Our faith, our identity, our joy, our treasure is not in the American Dream but lies solely -that’s a pretty minimalist word if you ask me - in Christ.

Jesus Christ (the founder of the whole Christianity thing) was a minimalist. He literally didn’t own anything except the clothes he wore. He traveled from place to place staying with people he met or friends. He didn’t have a white picket fence, two car garage and several flat screen tv’s. He didn’t even own a bed. (Luke 9:58) His life was devoted to showing what a life dependent on God alone looked like, and spoiler alert, it had nothing to do with accumulating things or money.

So what I am saying… Sell all of your stuff and live as a vagabond preacher? Maybe. Well not really. But shouldn’t we all be ready to do so if called? Should we not honestly be ready to give away everything that we have so that we can be less hindered to spread the love and good news of Jesus? Or at the very least be using everything that we have for that purpose (which would mean if it doesn’t serve that purpose we get rid of it)?

My wife and I are SLOWLY exploring this world of simplicity and minimalism more and more, and not because we think that it is THE way to follow Jesus, but because we believe that as we detach from things, clutter, and consumerism we will be able to attach our minds, heart, strength, soul, and resources to God and His command to love Him and others. I say slowly because it is hard, it takes the sacrifice of our wants/desires, it is counter to everything we have been taught by culture, it goes against our pride and selfishness. But nevertheless, our identity should never be in things that we own, the money that we have, our houses, or even the people that we are around. Our identity, our lives, our everything should always stem from one person, and that is Jesus Christ, who I believe says it best in Matthew 16…

“For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall man give in return for his soul?”

The minimalist lifestyle is a tool that helps us keep things in perspective. Our things don’t define us. We don’t define the purpose of our things. For Christian’s, Jesus gives meaning and purpose to both, our things and us.  

If you want more information about Minimalism or Simplicity. Here are some websites/podcasts/books to check out.
Minimalism: A Documentary About the Important Things(was on Netflix as of 8/1/17)
www.theminimalists.com
www.becomingminimalist.com
Richard Foster’s – Celebration of the Disciplines (chapter on Simplicity)
Joshua Becker’s – The More of Less
Major Parts of the Bible  ;)

 

Written by Austin Greco

Shedding Shame

In the beginning it was God, Adam and Eve.  They walked and talked in the garden and felt neither guilt nor shame.  Unfortunately, another voice, the voice of Satan, entered the garden. Because Adam and Eve listened to the voice of Satan over God, their world changed forever.  Now, instead of feeling free, joyful and content, they felt guilt and shame and wanted to hide. Because of their choice to listen and believe another voice, we now live in a world that is riddled with feelings of guilt and shame, which drastically affects the way we think, live and interact with others.

Christine Caine, in her book “Unashamed,” states that guilt differs from shame. Guilt is feeling sorry for something you did and gives opportunity to apologize or correct it; shame is a harmful emotion that causes us to feel a deep sense that we are unacceptable because of something we did, something that was done to us or being associated with something or someone who brings shame upon us.  Shame screams that you are a mistake, not acceptable.  It makes you feel alone, naked, unclean, unlovable, disgusting and that you will never measure up.  It is a feeling that something is inherently wrong with you.  These negative intense feelings cause us to want to wear masks in order to keep people at a distance; we run and hide because we feel so badly about ourselves.  The question always is, “If people really knew me, would I be acceptable, would I be loved?”  Caine states that we need to differentiate the “who” from the “do.”  What has been done to bring us shame is not who we are.

Curt Thompson, in his book “The Soul of Shame,” talks about a “shame attendant” who constantly whispers in our ears how horrible and unacceptable we are.  He states that in order to combat shame we must understand the shame attendant and name it for what it is; otherwise it will tell us with a powerful force the wrong story.  Shame has been a powerful weapon since the beginning.  Because it has been a constant companion we are often unaware of it speaking.  These negative, lethal thoughts seem to be just who we are.  When we listen to and repeat these shame messages, we create pathways in our brain that become well-traveled roads that we continue to follow without giving them a second thought. We need to begin putting roadblocks in our brains to stop these shame messages in order to form new roads—as the Bible states we need to renew our minds. God wants us to be free of shame, where Satan uses shame to destroy our relationship with God and others.  He uses it to keep us in a prison so we will not become who God created us to be.  The beautiful truth is that our Father sent His only son to die on the cross to not only take away our sins, but also to scorn our shame so that we would no longer have to live under this horrible weight of lies and half-truths that the shame attendant relentlessly speaks in our ears. Sadly, believers hear the truths of the gospel, but still tend to listen to the shame attendant over God’s voice of grace. When we choose to listen to Satan’s voice instead of our gracious Father, we are robbed of the abundant, purpose-driven, passionate life He has planned for us. Instead of walking in truth and freedom we, like Adam and Eve, hide and cover ourselves so we won’t be vulnerable. We tend to engage in destructive coping mechanisms or seek other things to make us feel valuable.

 We need to stop listening to the wrong voice—the shame attendant—and begin listening to God’s voice and what He says about us.  His voice of grace is forever calling us, but when dealing with shame it almost seems like an impenetrable fortress. It seems impossible to tear down.  We need to allow our walls to fall and need to begin saying goodbye to shame’s message and replace these long held false beliefs with the truth of God’s word.  Sounds easy enough, but unfortunately, it is not. It is a very slow and difficult process and we can’t do it alone. Thompson states that we need a cloud of witnesses to walk with us.  In other words, we need community.  We need to have people we trust to talk to when shame is screaming in our ears trying to cause us to hate ourselves and to run and hide.  We need to invite our cloud of witnesses to speak truth to us and help us walk a new walk filled with truth and grace.  We need to find community, people and places that encourage growth.  In order to walk out of shame and no longer allow it to rule us, we need to begin to slowly trust the voice of grace which is calling us into a new story, a story where we will live out what God’s intent has always been. 

Can you imagine if you felt no vulnerability, no shame, what you might do?  What creative things would you pursue, what new adventures would you take, who might you serve in the community? As children of the Most High we need to no longer let the shame attendant dictate who we are. We are nobility, His beloved.  If you choose to admit and name your shame and begin to listen to the voice of grace, something beautiful awaits you.  God’s desire is for His people to be a light, a city on a hill, not prisoners living in dark cells and chains. As Dr. Seuss says in his famous book: “Oh, The Places You Will Go.” 

Written by Susan Briggs, MA, LPC
 

Created to be Creative 

“Where the spirit does not work with the hand, there is no art.” - Leonardo da Vinci

As we approach our first inaugural “Art Benefit” here at CCM, I thought it appropriate to take a closer look at the “benefit of Art.”  With the season of spring here, it’s easy to observe the evidence of God’s creative handiwork all around us. God is a creative God. He is the ultimate Artist!

The first attribute we are reminded of in Scripture is this: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” God is a creative God and as those created in His image, we are the ONLY part of His creation that also have the ability to create. Have you ever thought about that? We all have the ability to create and express creativity in so many ways!

God created you in His image. We are to reflect God’s attributes to those around us. He designed you to be creative just like He is. Could you imagine our world without creative people? There would be no inventors, actors, musicians, poets, chefs, scientists, teachers, coaches or authors, etc. Creative people have changed the course of history through divine inspiration.  

One of my favorite examples of God’s hand on His artist is the story of a young woman writer who, in the winter of 1851, sat in a church pew praying for inspiration. She had been asked to write a fictional story about the evils of slavery in America. As she prayed she had a vivid vision of an old slave being brutally beaten and how the slave was then able to forgive his abusers and prayed for the salvation of their souls. 

The writer, Harriet Beecher Stowe, used this vision to inspire her writing of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, which ignited the antislavery sentiment in the North. Her book was later credited for being pivotal in ending slavery in this country.

God has given us all an imagination. He has given each one of us talents and gifts. Paul, in the book to the Ephesians, reminds us that “we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God has prepared in advance for each of us to do”. Consequently, we are all artists and art can be done by everyone. We are endowed with both the ability and desire to create. In short, we are artists because He is an artist. Without the ability to create we would only exist. Have you found your creative outlet to express what words cannot say?

“Art is a wound turned into light.” - Georges Braque

On another level, God has used creativity in counseling and therapeutic settings. Sometimes when we cannot verbalize our thoughts and emotions, we can express them through our God-given creative outlets.

The use of Art Therapy, creative writing, poetry, music and dance can become a powerful connection between spirituality, our souls and God our Creator. When creative techniques are skillfully allowed to enter into the therapeutic space, it has been proven to enhance transformation and healing.

“Art making has the ability to move people along their journey of grief and loss into a more balanced place of healing and hope. In the face of tragedy, the creative process can help recalibrate a mourner’s life.” - The Chandler Gallery at Maud Morgan Arts

As believers in Christ, we first seek to share the message of ultimate healing through trusting Christ. However, for those whose trust is shattered by severe emotional or physical trauma, trust must first be rebuilt, and creative expression offers a means to begin that rebuilding process.

CCM is striving to be a place where clients can express that which has escaped expression. A place where hope and trust in Christ can grow and where ultimate emotional healing can be achieved.

Please come and join us June 2nd and 3rd and observe the amazing artwork contributed by local artists to benefit our scholarship program. Not only will you contribute to helping future clients by purchasing a piece of art, but hopefully you will also be inspired and find your own artist within.  

Written by Patricia Millen, MA
Tetelesti Creations

Do You Have Heart Disease?

You probably have heard the true statistic that heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.  This is true for both men and women.  And there are signs and symptoms that indicate a heart attack is happening, like chest or neck discomfort, pain in the jaws, or arms or even the stomach.  Others are shortness of breath and nausea or light-headedness.   These and more are warning signals that really act as gifts of mercy because if we respond right, we can often avert the killer heart attack. 

            So am I writing a blog for physical well-being?  So far it sounds like it.  But really, it reminds me of a far more serious condition that we can all have.  And too many of us are ignoring the warning signals (me included) and not getting heart check-ups.  That strange, but incredible book of Ezekiel provides the examination, the warning, and the prescription that we all need to hear and respond to.  Here is what the ‘Great Physician’, God, tells Ezekiel to say to us as we sit on his examining table: Son of man, these men have taken their idols into their hearts, and set the stumbling block of their iniquity before their faces” (Ezekiel 14:3). 

            No disrespect meant here, but set aside Israel for a moment and let’s apply the Doctor’s prognosis to our own hearts.  Have we taken idols into our hearts?  What does that even mean?!  It sounds so alien to our modern, sophisticated language.  If anyone unused to Christianeze is reading this, you are probably really confused.  The destructive potency of an idol isn’t actually seen in potato chips on eBay that look like the face of Jesus (who really knows what Jesus looks like?).  There are far more powerful idols that plague Christians and non-Christians alike.  An idol is something or someone that we center our lives around that becomes to any degree a replacement for God.  This can be a lover, an accomplishment, children, beauty, money, etc.  Idolatry is similar to adultery.  I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols” (Ezekiel 6:9).  We are drawn away from our relationship with God to pursue someone or something else.  This is how both of them occur. 

            Replacing God with god-substitutes happens as our hearts go after our eyes. 

Scripture makes it clear that our hearts follow our eyes (Job 31:7).  This is not hard to understand.  It’s the second look that hooks.  It’s the endless cycle of research, justifying, planning and finally purchasing that fills our garages with so much stuff that our cars no longer fit in it.  Consumer Reports often imports idols to our hearts.  Idols are on the shelves of all of our hearts!  Unfortunately, I speak from experience.  This is spiritual heart disease.  And it ruins living.  Jonah, speaking from experience admitted, “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs” (2:8). 

            Are we ready to get serious about our spiritual health?  If so, then maybe it’s time to take the Heart Disease Checklist and step into the examination room of the Great Physician.  How do you answer the following questions?

1-Are you exercising your faith regularly to serve others rather than yourselves?

2-Have you experienced symptoms of spiritual problems, like: guilt, anxiety, greed, busyness, hurriedness, depression, chronic joylessness?

3-How is your nutritional intake for your soul? 

-Are you daily watching what you take into your mind through TV, Internet, magazines, etc.
-Do you have a well-balanced diet of studying God’s Word, prayer, and fellowship?
 -Are you listening to the right advice?

4-When was the last time you had an examination from someone who knows the signs of spiritual heart disease?

5-How easily can you admit you have a problem (confession) and make the changes necessary (repentance)?

6- In the past month have you experienced any shortness of patience with those who have tried to confront you?

7-Are you easily able to recognize the signs of pride: irritation, anger, criticism, defensiveness, blame shifting, arguing, relational conflict?

8-Are you regularly taking one day a week for rest and recuperation and worship with your church?

            Get your heart checked today.   Make an appointment with a wise counselor who will lead you to the Savior Who loves you.  And whatever Jesus recommends, my encouragement is to act on it immediately.  Spiritual heart health will give you a better life!

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Written by Tim Ackley
cefctoday.com