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Are You Happy? Yes or No.

By:  Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

There is obviously humorous simplicity in this flow chart. Strict adherence would fail to take into account a multitude of factors that life presents. There is, however, truth in this simplistic presentation as it relates to choice, change, and power.

Socrates claimed, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” Failing to examine our lives, decisions, relationships, actions, past mistakes, and the states of our hearts can rob us of living fully. It can also lead to pitfalls and follies. Which misteps in your life could have been avoided by external observation and internal searching?

What do you see when you stop and look at your life? What do you wish were different? There is only one person you have the power to change. And, by the grace and power of God, there is only one person who has the power to change you. (Hint: both of these have the same answer)

Facing Plenty

By Jonathan Hart, LPC


Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)
I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.


The concept of “facing plenty” has bugged me for a long time.  We don’t often use the language of “facing…” when we are talking about a good thing.  “I was facing a time of wealth and comfort, but I made it through by the grace of God.”  But this is the language Paul uses: plenty and abundance are something to be faced, in a parallel way to facing lack and poverty.  There are unique challenges in having plenty and abundance, and they can be as difficult as having want and need.


Part of the challenge, I think, comes from our habit of thinking that plenty and abundance are “the norm” and that anything less is a burden to be borne and overcome as soon as possible.  I can’t imagine relating to abundance in this way.  “I have too much money.  I have to get rid of it somehow and get back to scraping by from check to check!”  How many people are dropping into horrific debt in order to “maintain the lifestyle to which they have become accustomed”?  


When we are in pain, grief, loss, hurt, or distress, we do one thing uncommonly well: we complain.  We articulate our pain, we feel every inch of it and talk about it in the hopes of finding someone who can identify with it and tell us it’s OK to feel that way about it.  What if we “complained” about our abundance the same way?  What if we treated our abundance and surplus the same way we treated our challenges and loss?  We don’t often do this because of our misconception that plenty and abundance are the norm: we are entitled to them and therefore they are not noteworthy.

I encourage many people to “wallow” in their good times, to store them up in memory and savor them richly.  I encourage people to concentrate on being fully present in the joy of the moment and holding on to it so that when it passes (as it inevitably will), we can more fully recall it and taste it again in our mind.  Articulate and “complain” about how good things are, much as we articulate and complain about our pain, because joy and pain alike are part of living in a broken world.

I am not talking about disassociating from joy and pain, as much of Christianity is taught to do: “Times are bad, but the joy of the Lord is my strength!!  I don’t feel the pain because Jesus is so good!”  I am actually encouraging us to feel the joy – and the pain – more fully.

This practice can give us much more resilience and strength to last through the difficult times.  We can soothe our hearts and minds on the fact that pain and shortfall are not all that has ever been, that resources come and go, that pain, like joy, is temporary in this life.  The seasons continue to turn, and life is more than this present moment;  the joy of last year still exists, even though this moment is hard, and the joy that I knew then will come again in time.

This practice helps us hold on more tenaciously to times of plenty as well.  We can practice the recognition that this joy is temporary and that it is a gift, rather than an entitlement. Nothing draws our attention to life more than a death in the family.  Nothing raises our awareness of the value of our spouse or children than to hear that a friend has lost those most precious to them.  If we can practice this mental discipline of savoring our joy and plenty because it is temporary, we will live and enjoy it much more fully.

Really?

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC

I have had the privilege to read and listen to Diane Langberg, Ph.D., on many occasions and have always enjoyed her words.  Diane has been a Psychologist for over 35 years working with trauma survivors and clergy.  Personally, I think she is amazing.

During one of the times I heard her speak she said, “we learn about relationships IN relationships.”  This struck me.  Not because of its simplicity, but because of its truth.  If this statement is true, then why are so many of us looking for a book, seminar, or conference to teach us how to have relationships?  Even more so, why do we tend to remove ourselves from relationships when they become hard or tiring?

What if, even in the midst of the unknowns, hardships, and tiring times, we chose to remain?  I suppose if Diane is correct in saying that, “we learn about relationships IN relationships” then as we remain we will learn, grow, and possibly even enjoy.

Gardening and Grief

By: Katy Martin, LPC
I was robbed.
When someone takes something from you, it is a horrible feeling, no? It’s a feeling of violation. Someone came too close to you and took something valuable, without taking your feelings or needs into consideration. Or without considering the time and energy you spent to take care of whatever was taken.
For me, it was tomatoes. I walked out to water my garden on Tuesday morning and my tomatoes were GONE. My garden has produced two pea pods and one jalapeno pepper, so my hopes and dreams were hinging on these green, but growing, six whole tomatoes. And now they are gone. A furry creature has taken the fruit of my labor.
So where does grief come in?
In my disappointment about the missing tomatoes, I began to think about a loss of greater impact: loss felt when a loved one dies. (Really, I did.) The loss of a loved one absolutely does not compare in magnitude to my six tomatoes but I think it compares in that we often feel robbed when we lose someone close to us. And this feeling of being robbed is something we don’t acknowledge or talk about. We acknowledge the sadness, anger, and so many other feelings of loss. But feeling robbed of this person’s presence isn’t often something we can anticipate.
We are robbed of our future with this person. We are robbed of that person’s role in our life: mother, grandfather, sibling, etc. We are robbed of someone knowing us. We are robbed of what should have been with that person. It’s remembered with birthdays, holidays, and life changes. Who was there is now gone, and who they were in our lives has changed to memories. Our own roles change, as well.
And it’s easy to feel violated. Angry. Frustrated. And this is often directed towards the person, the circumstances, or towards God. It can result in complicated grief. Grief becomes complicated grief when symptoms of sadness, depression, and hopelessness extend for over a six month period or become more intense or even debilitating over time.
Can you relate? God is not a stranger to these feelings of loss. As He gave His Son on the cross, He experienced the death of a loved one, His child. God experiences loss every day when we choose to not turn towards Him. We can turn to Him. We can share our feelings and memories with those around us. We can turn our sadness into honoring the one we lost. We can pursue counseling to sort out the hurt left behind.
You may feel left behind, robbed, but you are not alone.
My garden may have been robbed, and may appear barren, but a perfect, green, ripe cucumber emerged a few days later. In the midst of sadness and grief, life is still happening even though it may not be what we wanted or what we thought it would look like. Don’t give up hope. We can find comfort in Lamentations 3:22-24: “The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. The LORD is my portion, says my soul, therefore I will hope in him.”

Every Sorrow

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC

We work hard to evade pain and suffering. In many ways, we keep from being honest. We fool ourselves, our family, our friends, we even try to fool God. When sorrow, the uninvited visitor, knocks upon our door, we pretend not to hear it. We minimize, diminish, distance, rationalize. How often do you say or think, “It could be worse,” or “It’s not that bad?” But eventually, all the effort we put into pretending away our suffering begins to fail us; the knocking turns into pounding and the door of our denial comes crashing down.


As pain and healing were married at the cross, Jesus cried out in lament. When we refuse to lament in the midst of our pain, we ignore the cross. We ignore the pain inherent in it and the healing conferred by it. Dan Allender says that a life lived “in the mire of denial is not life at all. If the Lord Jesus came to give life, and life abundant, then a life of pretense involves a clear denial of the gospel, no matter how moral, virtuous, or appealing that life may seem.”


Despite our heart’s inclination to hide and deny, it is a gift that God not only already knows about our disappointment, fear, sadness, and thirst, but that he is big enough for us to approach him with it.  And he desires that we do so.  He calls us to offer everything to him.  Every joy and every sorrow.  We can attempt to avoid our suffering, but we will thereby forsake the intimacy with God, and with others, afforded in it.


We work so hard to isolate all of our painful and angry emotions in the dark corners of our hearts. In doing so, we isolate ourselves. No one invited in. No warmth. No light. Restorative living requires us to visit these places of darkness in honesty, to ask others to accompany us there, and to cry out over what we find there. Where do you need to look with honest eyes and cry out for your own suffering? Where in your life and story do you need to remember that your God is big enough for your pain?

Burn Notice and the 130 MPH Perspective

by Jonathan Hart, LPC
My wife and I were watching a recent episode of Burn Notice (#502: “Bloodlines”, if you’re interested), where the character of Fiona tries to keep a philandering scientist out of trouble.

**While I am trying not to give too much away, there may be spoilers in the next sentence.**
The two of them ended up in a fast car on the highway, with Fiona driving 130 mph with her eyes closed, while the panicking scientist shouted at her when she needed to turn.

I have, in my reckless youth, driven almost that fast, and I can tell you with all sincerity, DO NOT TRY THIS AT HOME. When you’re driving 25 or 30 miles an hour, you can look around and enjoy the surroundings a bit. At 130 miles an hour, you must keep your eyes glued intently on the road in front of you, or you will die.  You don’t really even have time to check the next lane before you have to move into it because what is coming at you is coming hard and fast. (Did I mention it yet? Do NOT try this at home!)

I am realizing that in a lot of ways, the difficulties and challenges that arise in life are a lot like traveling at excessive speed on the highway.  Trouble is not an enjoyable thing.  It can be draining and often fearful to look at the road that life has you taking, and it seems like trouble loves to stomp on the gas.  The feeling and fear of losing control, spinning, and flipping end-over-end is *not* exhilarating when it comes in the form of a crashing relationship or the brick wall of a crushing diagnosis.

When our lives are relatively trouble-free, we can look around and enjoy the scenery.  We can get distracted by things that are relatively insignificant in the grand scheme of things. How green (or brown) the lawn is, what critters are eating the veggies in the garden, that Tommy got a “C” in algebra, who said what and what did they mean by it, all become larger issues and demand more attention than they really deserve.

But trouble demands more of our resources in order to cope.  When the doctor says, “Cancer”, the lawn doesn’t seem to matter as much anymore.  The word “Divorce” tends to reduce the importance of how many tomatoes we are going to have this year.  We need more of our energy to pay attention to the things that matter.  Communication, study, emotional and mental effort are put toward dealing with the crisis, and the less important things fall by the wayside in a blur.  Trouble has a way of re-setting our priorities, and this can be a good thing.

Another effect of trouble is to force us to realize that, no matter what we have come to believe, we are not in control of our lives. Oh, we can choose our socks and our favorite potato chips and a few other things, but circumstances change regardless of our precautions.  Losing a job or a home or a loved one to disease is not something we generally have a say in.  Our scientist friend in the story above was not driving, he was along for the ride, and the ride was terrifying.  He could shout directions all he wanted, but he was utterly dependent on the skills of the driver.

The wonderful part is that for the believer in Jesus, losing control (or recognizing that control was not ours to begin with) can actually be *comforting*. We can find comfort when we learn that Trouble is not driving, God is.  Paul writes in Philippians that he has learned that the secret to contentment lies in dependence on Jesus:   “I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.  I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Philippians 4:12-13 (ESV)  


No matter what it feels like, God is not a reckless driver who closes his eyes and waits for us to shout directions. He is, and has been, in charge of our lives and direction from the beginning, and (to push the illustration to its breaking point) he is the best driver there is.

Nothing makes the grinding trouble of this life less terrifying for us, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise: most often, you are perfectly normal when you are afraid of the unknown future.  Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow precisely because he knew we would be worried about it.  Knowing that God is driving and that he knows what he is doing gives us a place to go in our fear, a place to be afraid and most importantly, a place to find comfort.

Lest this entire post come off sounding fluffy and trite, please know that dealing with crises in life is not simple, straightforward or easy.  There is no one “answer” or belief that will “fix” the problem or make the hurt and fear go away for good.  This is one piece of what can often be a complex puzzle.  When life accelerates and you feel it in the seat of your pants, find a friend or a counselor who can come along side you, who can help you make sense of your fear, and who can walk with you into the arms of Jesus.  The fear will come and go.  When it comes, keep on taking it to Jesus.  He knows what to do with it.

Moving From Fear To Freedom

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC
Recently I had the opportunity to speak at Riverside Church’s women’s retreat.  I entitled the retreat, Falling In Love With Our Savior:  Moving from Fear to Freedom.  Over the course of our time together we talked about many things.  In particular, we discussed how our fears rob us of our ability to Fall In Love With Our Savior. 
Do you know what you fear?  It seemed to me, while at the retreat hearing from many of the women, and quite frankly knowing these things to be true in my own life, that all too often we do not even realize we are living out of fear.  It’s like our fears become a part of our identity, and when we operate out of them we don’t even realize it anymore. 
What I am learning is as we live in our fears, and relate to others from our fears, these fears begin to rob us of our ability to hear truth, believe truth, and live from truth.  Therefore, robbing us of our ability to experience what it would be like to Fall In Love With Our Savior. 
What if you chose to begin naming the fears in your life?  What if you chose to no longer allow your fears to rule your heart and mind?  I am not saying that we no longer have fears.  To expect anything different in this lifetime would be folly.  However, I am saying that, as we fear we confidently take these fears to our Savior and place them up against what scripture says.  What if instead of allowing your fears to form your identity, you choose to strive to have truth define your identity?
Desiring to be set free from our fears begins with believing, and living as though you believe, who God has named you to be is indeed true!
You are a son or daughter of the King.  You are His beloved.  You are cherished.  You are safe.  You are accepted and loved as you are.  You are pursued.    He desires you just as you are. 

What Does Healthy Eating and Exercise Mean to You?

By: Katy Martin, LPC
It’s not a secret that I love walking with people through body image issues and food struggles. People who know me, know that this is a passion of mine and something I enjoy. However, I often notice that people are sensitive to bring up their own eating habits and exercise routine for fear that I may comment or make a judgment. Please let me clarify what I truly believe:

Healthy eating and exercising are not bad.

In fact, those are ways to take care of what God has given us. We cross the line when our thoughts, hearts, actions, and lives become centered on the next meal, exercise, and overall appearance. When you begin manipulating food and exercise to punish or reward, you may need to reflect on what’s going on inside of you. We read in Galatians 5:1, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” We do not have to be bound by the image in the mirror. We do not have to be bound by the comparisons we make with other people. We can begin to experience freedom in our everyday lives without distraction. Christ provides freedom from the bondage we face in this world, including food and body image issues.

Sure, dessert or a long walk or run is a gift for yourself, but if you are really honest, how much of this is affecting your heart and mind? Deep down, how much of your attitude towards food and exercise directly affects the thoughts about what you see in the mirror and, ultimately, who you are?

If you feel that you can identify with some of these struggles and want to explore them a bit more, feel free to contact me at katy@avenuescounselingcenter.org. If you would like to join in a group discussion concerning these topics, consider our next HEAL: Healthy Eating & Abundant Living group beginning in August. Go to http://avenuescounselingcenter.org/uploads/HEAL_flyer-1.pdf for more information or contact me.

The Characteristics of Abuse and Control

by Jonathan Hart, LPC
I recently spoke at the Women’s Safe House on the subject of identifying and avoiding potentially abusive relationships.  The presentation was called “How Not to Go Back:  Finding a Different Kind of Mate”.   What follows are a few of the ideas presented at that meeting.
Very often, as people move from relationship to relationship, they find themselves attracted to the same kind of person.  They leave one relationship for whatever reason, and find themselves in a relationship with another person who looks, acts, thinks, and speaks in similar ways. The problems of the previous relationship happen all over again in the current one.  This is especially troublesome when the other person is abusive or controlling. 
Often “number one” on the list of criteria used to judge the suitability of a mate is their appearance, but what needs to be considered most carefully is what is on the inside.  Charming behavior and kinds words all too often give way to harshness, belittling, demands, and even physical altercations. 
While there is no single characteristic that guarantees that a person is an abuser, I have assembled a list of characteristics that are common among abusive or controlling partners.  What follows is not exhaustive: I have tried to assemble a representative list of suggestions on how to see into a person’s character regarding how they will likely view and relate to a mate or partner.  
I use the male pronoun because unfortunately, the vast majority of abusers are male.  I do not in any way seek to suggest that “all men behave this way”. There are indeed men “out there” who are good, honorable, respectful, kind, and loving. 
Warning signs:
  • Easy frustration or quick temper
  • Jealousy or possessiveness (indicates a sense of ownership rather than partnership)
  • Getting “carried away”, even in little or positive things (lack of control over impulses)
  • Lies, excuses, cover-ups: “I didn’t mean it! I was drunk: it wasn’t me! It was the alcohol.”
  • What happens when you say “No.”?  If it is disregarded or discounted, take warning!
  • Parent/Child relationship (you have rules and consequences for breaking them)
  • History: Has he abused before?  Does he use force to solve his problems?
  • Pushing blame/lack of responsibility:  “I wouldn’t have had to do that if you hadn’t…” “You brought this on yourself. You made me mad.”
  • Giving orders/making demands versus making requests or seeking your opinion. 
  • “I’m sorry, but…”  The “but” undoes whatever came before it!
Areas to look at:
  • Church/Faith/Religion: how is the language of  “headship & submission” used? If being the “head” means “I get my way over yours” there is a potential problem!
  • Family Patterns: What is his parents’ relationship like?  How do his siblings relate to their significant others and children?  How does he treat his mother?
  • F.O.G.: Does he use Fear, Obligation, or Guilt to get his way? (‘You owe me! Look at all I do/provide for you!”)
  • H.A.L.T.: Who is he when he is Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?  These are not valid excuses for lashing out!

Two Laws of Relationship:

  1. You ALWAYS have the right to say what happens to your body. Nobody can tell you that “You have to take it”.
  2. You are ALWAYS responsible for how you use your body. “You made me do it” is a lie.
I hope some of these ideas are useful as you think about your relationships or as you consider new ones.  As I said before, no single characteristic or idea listed above guarantees that a person is abusive or controlling (or not so!).  These are ideas to help you see what is on the inside of the person you are attracted to, and to hopefully help you choose someone who will treat you with the dignity and honor that every human being deserves.
Some reading this post may come to understand for the first time that you have experienced a relationship like that which is described above.  Some already know it and feel it deeply.  Some may realize that these are ways in which you habitually relate.  Please understand that hope is real and change is possible.  If you would like to discuss this post with me in a confidential manner, please contact me at jonathan@avenuescounselingcenter.org so we can arrange a time to talk.

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All too often it seems that a counseling center will exist as its own entity.  Avenues Counseling desires to partner with churches and para-church organizations throughout the St. Louis area to help encourage and support them as they carry out their vision.

Check out our website for more information about this distinctive way Avenues is impacting the community.