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A Christian Response to The Tragedies of Summer 2016

After a summer of senseless shootings, gorillas and gators killing kids in safe spaces, and discovering all around depressing and horrific news every time I open my Facebook app, I feel like I can’t post another blog until I tackle this question: how should we respond when awful stuff happens to someone else?

In the Christian community, we occassionally get things really right in the face of tragedy. We shine especially well in the face of natural disasters. But when things get a little more politically or emotionally charged, we have a tendency to get…a little weird, at best or damaging, at worst. Whether the tragedy or loss is large scale (like the Pulse Night Club shootings in Orlando) or small scale (like your neighbor’s mom being diagnoses with a disease), we can often respond in a way that does more harm than good, despite our intentions.

Well meaning people use platitudes like “everything happens for a reason” or even “I’ll pray for you,” as a defense mechanism, so they don’t have to wrestle with the wretchedness of a given circumstance. The goal here is to lessen the blow, and I understand the desire to want to do that, but I submit that feeling the weight of the tragedy is exactly what we all need to do. There is purpose to the weight, and healing comes through letting the weight rest on us and not discarding or minimizing it in any way, or through any shallow platitude.

If there is a reason to be had as to why awful things happen, it is this: the world in its current state is not as God originally intended. The reason that bad things happen is that the world is broken, and has been broken since Adam exercised his free will and out of his fear and mistrust, acted outside of God’s plan for the world.
Sin and death entered the world and brought with them things like hurricanes, cancer, hate crimes and apathy.
This is not what was intended, and as a Christian, I believe this is not what WILL be. But it’s where we’re at today.

Christians that respond to these tragedies with platitudes of “God has a plan” or “I’ll pray for you” miss the point entirely. Statements like that come across as aloof, disconnected, irrelevant and uncaring…the opposite of God’s response to pain and suffering. God has never been anything but with us and present in times of tragedy. He rejoices with those who rejoice and mourns with those who mourn, and what is more, knows when to engage in each option perfectly as each person and circumstance merits.

When Christ returns…whenever that may be, He will make things right once again and for good. He will restore beauty from ashes and undo the consequences of the wrong that we have done and what has been done to us. He will bring justice and healing and true and lasting peace. Both externally (nature) and internally (even emotions and strife, I believe). That is the ultimate hope of Christianity.

But let’s be real…who knows when that will be?

The hope of Christianity NOW is for all people, but especially Christians, to lead the charge of this redemptive work of “making the fullness of God be reflected on earth as it is in heaven.” Hate crimes are not God’s fullness. People feeling afraid to live their lives is not God’s fullness. Tornadoes are not God’s fullness. The part of us that rises up and says, “This is not how things should be, I want to help,” is a reflection of the image of God inside of ALL of us.

Treating everyone with the respect and compassion that is due each human being is a foreshadowing of what is to come. When we do this, we are engaged in the work of making things on earth as they are in heaven. Not judging moms for accidents is a foreshadowing. Fighting for everyone to feel safe is a foreshadowing. Making sure every child has a loving home is a foreshadowing. I could go on and on and on. Here’s an outside of the box example of Christians being compassionate and protective. Most of us have opportunity to do something much simpler than this, but just wanted to give it as an example of something kind!

The bottom line for me is this: most of the things that are a foreshadowing of Jesus returning and everything being made right involve action and using your voice, and not prayer alone. The point of truly joining in the loss as best we can and feeling all that is shaken within us when tragedy strikes is that once we can identify with the loss, the “wrongness” of it points us back to the need for Jesus, and Jesus points us on to joining him in restoration work.

Those who are directly involved in these tragedies may be thankful for your prayers, but would also appreciate your voice and action to fight injustice. This could look a thousand different ways, but it’s each person’s responsibility to figure out what that looks like for them and then to do it. Christian’s have done so much to damage our own reputation by how we deal with wrong doing in the world. Let’s refuse to meet tragedy and injustice with empty statements that reveal our own discomfort and diminish the weight of the grief of loss. Rather, let’s be brave and use our words and deeds to work towards the restorative process in making all things new, as it once was and it will be again one day.

If these tragedies, or any element of loss, grief, injustice or the like is something you’d like to process in therapy, please contact me. We are all in this together.

 

When God Gives You Crumbs

A belief that is inextricably part of who I am is how, with God, nothing is wasted. This doesn’t mean that everything is intentional or planned, but that nothing will be without purpose to one degree or another.

I think we can go a little overboard on the meanings we ascribe to things, but just hang with me here: God is not random. Nothing is wasted.Sometimes in my life, and I bet I’m not the only one, God will plant a seed of an idea…it will have the hallmarks of the Father…but it goes untouched for years, often forgotten, until the moment that God resurrects it.

I had one such experience when my husband proposed marriage to me. Something quietly spoken over my heart when I was 13 and had just started getting to know God on my own, that I never told to anyone, was lived out right before me in the certain way he asked me to marry him. To me, it was this message of, “it’s always been me and you, and it’ll always be me and you, but I’m bringing you two together to follow me side by side.”

Another instance that’s happened to me lately was when I was asked to teach a class at a women’s prison. As random as this is, the little seed for this idea was planted in me nearly 20 years ago. I was in high school and we spent a whole semester writing an in-depth research paper. The topic was of our choosing. I couldn’t really decide on a topic but kept coming back to the issue of the importance of providing educational opportunities to people in the penal system to reduce recidivism rates. No one…and I mean No. One. saw this idea as a natural fit for me. My friends questioned me about it. My teacher questioned me about it. Even I questioned myself about it. Was there Any other topic I wanted to write on? Was this something I was passionate about and just hadn’t mentioned to anyone yet? Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what possessed me to pick the topic other than to say that it was very clear to me that that’s what I was to write on. So I spent a whole semester researching the role education plays in keeping people from returning to crime and ending up back in prison. Random.

Flash forward all these years later and a friend asked me to teach a psychology and counseling college level class at a women’s prison. I honestly didn’t feel like I had the time to give to it. I went back and forth about what my answer should be. But ultimately I just felt the sense from the Lord that it was something to say “yes” to.

I agreed to do it and taught the class this summer. I poured out my best for the women and enjoyed my time doing so. I can’t say it changed my life or opened up this new calling of my life…nor was I expecting it to do so. It was obedience. I felt like God was glorified in my obedience, that I was used by God to facilitate growth and healing, and I happened to enjoy it, which is always a bonus.

It wasn’t until after I said “yes” to that opportunity did I remember that random paper from years ago.

I felt like the whole point of this little exercise in obedience was this sweet message of the Lord again to my soul:

“You’ve always heard me and followed me for a long time until now. This is another breadcrumb. Keep walking with me.”

What about you? Has God spoken something to you that you’re still waiting to see why or how it will come to fulfillment? Pray today for God to give you eyes to see His activity in your life. I challenge you to write down the things you feel like God has spoken so that you won’t miss the blessing of noticing God’s subtle leading over time.

As always…for further discussion on this or any counseling topic, I’m reachable here!

Questions to Ask When Choosing A Therapist

By the time people are sitting across from me, they’ve already chosen to open up their lives to a therapist and try something new in order to achieve their goals and make the changes they desire. The decision of whether or not to go to therapy is a hard one. Some people struggle with their decision for months or even years. I wrote on this topic last week, so feel free to hop on over to that post if you haven’t read it yet.

Once you decide that A) therapy is right for you and B) “now” is the time to pursue counseling, picking a therapist who will be a good fit for you is crucial to your therapeutic process. There is empirical data to back this up, but the common sense speaks just as well: if you don’t feel comfortable with your therapist, you’re not going to get much out of it. Your money, your time, not to mention you STORY…who you are, how you came to be who you are, and who you’d like to become…are arguably the most important things about you. So, who you share these things with deserves some forethought.

Sharing what is most sacred about you with a total stranger will always feel a little awkward at first. The more you get to know your therapist, the more you’ll feel comfortable with him/her…just like any new relationship. But right away (during the first visit) you should start to get a sense of 2 important things: 1) my therapist is actually listening to me and makes me feel understood and 2) I get the sense that she/he knows what he’s talking about and can handle my story.

While the therapy process is not always very comfortable, you should absolutely feel comfortable with your therapist. One client with a smile on her face put it to me this way, “I hate coming but I love seeing you!” What you talk about in therapy can often be pretty difficult, but having a good connection with your therapist goes a long way.

Other than finding a good personality fit, here are some questions you should ask/research when choosing a therapist:

  • What are some things I want to see change in my life (or “work through”) in therapy?  Would this require a therapist who is more specialized in a specific field of study?
  • Do I want to use my insurance to help cover the costs of therapy? (If so, start with your insurance first and look at their list of in-network providers. Also, inquire if your mental health/behavioral health deductible is separate from your medical deductible, and assess if it meets your needs to still utilize your insurance.)
  • What kind of training/degree should my therapist have?
    • Licensed professional counselors (which is what I am), marriage and family therapist (which is what my degree is in), licensed clinical social workers…these 3 licenses will will generally offer the same type of treatment for outpatient psychotherapy and have all received masters degrees (or more), passed their board exams, and had to complete several thousand hours of therapy after graduating before they are fully licensed.
    • Mental health nurse practitioners (which is a master’s level nurse, specializing in mental health), psychiatrists (which is a full MD who specializes in mental health) typically do more mental health medication management than direct therapy.
    • Psychologists have Ph.D.’s or Psy. D’s in psychology, have the ability to practice psychotherapy and in some states they have the ability to write prescriptions as well.
  • How much experience should my therapist have? Are you ok with a student intern or do you feel like your goals are better suited for someone with more experience? If you’re limited on budget, a masters-level student intern may be a great choice, as they have a lot of supervision (so you benefit from a “two heads are better than one” therapy experience) and they tend to offer lower fees.
  • Is the faith of your therapist important to you? It’s ok to ask about this type of thing when you make your initial contact!

You totally owe it to yourself to find the right therapist for you. Your time, money, and story are valuable to you and to me! I’d love to answer any questions you may have regarding this process, and if you need help finding a referral other than me in the greater Baton Rouge area, I’m always happy to help.

Spring Life Counseling, LLC has offices in Baton Rouge off of Government, right of I-12 in Walker and in Denham Springs near Florida and River Road.