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

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.