Blog

Change and Loss

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
Every change involves a loss. While we tend to limit the extent to which we allow ourselves to grieve and process unwelcomed loss and change, even more often I think we deny ourselves the freedom to grieve the losses that accompany longed for or beneficial change. Even those welcomed and “good,” every change brings with it necessary and non-optional forfeitures. Preschool graduation lets go of toddlerhood. A new house forces goodbye to the home of many memories. A wedding signifies shifts in many relationships, not only one. Job transition causes competence to be compromised. Moving out of town sacrifices the security of the familiar.
 
There is comfort in consistency. There is safety in what is known. Feeling both “positive” and “negative” emotions simultaneously about one circumstance can be confusing and at times frustrating. It is much easier to stuff down or ignore away the less pleasant emotions than to allow the two to coexist. However, if we allow ourselves to embrace this tension and ambivalence, we will live more honestly, be more connected to our own hearts, and experience the full reality of what every change entails for us. How do we begin to we do this? By allowing ourselves to acknowledge the presence and the weight of the loss. What losses in your life story have brought ambivalent feelings? What good things have you had to let go of in the midst of attaining other good things?
“All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.” Anatole France

The Prayer from the Darkest Hour

by Jonathan Hart, LPC

God.
    I’m not really sure you’re even listening right now.  It certainly doesn’t seem like it.  I’m done.  I can’t do this any more.  If you want it done, you have to do it.  Whatever you are doing with me, get it over with because this hurts too much.
    I’m angry, and I’m pretty sure I’m angry with you.  I don’t understand.  I feel like you’ve turned your head and you don’t see me anymore, you’re not listening, and you don’t care.  Everything I’ve ever learned about you says you are kind and loving and you want the best for me, and I’d like to believe that, but I can’t seem to bring myself to risk it.  If I believe that, then it means that the hell I am living through right now is somehow for my good.  I want something else.  Not this.
    So if you are who and what you say you are, and if you really do care about me and you really do hear me, then … I don’t know … do something.  Show up.  Give me something to work with.  I’m tired of hurting, and I am utterly helpless.  You’re all I really have, and I’m scared you’re not there.  Amen.

I know a lot of people who would be scared to pray a prayer like this.  It doesn’t feel respectful.  It feels like asking for a lightning strike.  “I can’t be angry with God!  I can’t tell him I’m hopeless… Faith is always trusting him, and this isn’t trusting at all!”  Yet I think there is more faith in a prayer like this than in many that are said on Sunday morning.
    The thing that makes a prayer like this a prayer of faith is the fact that it is a prayer: it is addressed to God.  It may be said through clenched teeth, but it is a prayer, and prayer is an act of faith, especially when it expresses doubt, fear, and pain.
    God is big enough and real enough to handle our doubts.  He can handle our anger and fearful lashing out.  He is the kind father who absorbs the tearful, angry pummeling of his small child, lovingly contains the flailing fists, and soaks up the tears with his shirt. He is still present, he is still mindful, and he still loves his child.
    So when you feel your darkest hours upon you, turn to him.  Shout at the heavens if need be.  He loves you  as you are, especially when you are angry and doubtful.  He desires relationship with you: he wants to hear your heart in whatever state it happens to be at the moment.  

Do not be afraid.

Our Kids’ Body Image

 By: Katy Martin, LPC

Food and body image can be intimidating topics to bring up with anyone, particularly with our children whom we want to protect.  I believe that it is important to be proactive with our kids in speaking praise to their uniqueness and gifts before the world can make them believe otherwise.  We have the opportunity to prepare them for what they may encounter at school, in the media, and elsewhere as they grow.

The book, “I Like Myself!” by Karen Beaumont is such a wonderful children’s book that I highly recommend.  It celebrates uniqueness and embraces who we are in a silly way.  It is a fun book to read but can also present great opportunities for further discussion about who we are and how we look.  And it’s a great resource to begin to plant positive “seeds” of encouragement and acceptance of self at a young age. 

This book is just one small tool in the midst of God’s Truth, wisdom from others, many more books, and so many other resources we can rely on.

How are you planting positive “seeds” of encouragement in your kids?  Are you intentional?  Is this something new to think about?


This is just one in the millions of battles we will have with and for our kids.  God, give us strength to raise our kids in love and Truth.

Who are You?

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
Who are you?
There are many ways to answer this question and by which to define yourself. What is it that you typically allow to inform your understanding of your identity? Career? Kids’ accomplishments? Past mistakes? Parents’ voices? Family name? Hurtful comments from those close to you? Church leadership position? Academic degrees?
Because we are created by a good and kind Creator God, who creates every person in his own image, we can know that we each have dignity. Having been created in God’s image, we possesses an inherent value and worth that cannot be explained away, denied, nor robbed by trauma, brokenness, or tragedy. You are a valuable image bearer with worth because the Creator of the universe created you as such. Just as true of each person’s dignity are the far-reaching effects of the Fall. Every person lives with falleness and depravity as a result of sin. Even Christians live in a fallen world as fallen beings. Though sin still wages war in our hearts, we are redeemed through the love of Jesus.

As Christians, we find our identity in Christ and who he says we are: fallen yet redeemed, sinful yet forgiven, broken yet being restored. Who I am is made up of who God created me uniquely to be, what my own personal story (which God has written) has been, how it has impacted me, and the unchangeable truths of being created in God’s own image and being redeemed through the power of Christ.

To put it plainly, all the things you think about yourself and all the things other people have thought about you that you’ve owned, need to be held up against God’s truth to determine their validity and whether they should be held onto or fought against. I think this is very difficult to do in the ever-changing world around us. But if I am to take God at his word, that he loves me, forgives me, and accepts me, then I am to accept myself. Rather than trusting my thoughts, feelings, and memories as the tide of life continually shifts around me, I am to trust who God is, faithful and steadfast, and trust who he says I am. 
What pieces of your identity that you have gathered up and pasted to yourself do you need to remove in the light of God’s gracious love for you? Who does God say that you are?

It’s OK to be Angry

by Jonathan Hart, LPC
Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Psalm 4:4

The first two words here may be startling to many, especially among those who have spent their lives in church or religious circles.  The message many of us have received is “do not be angry”, or “to be angry is to be selfish”. We take the good message of peace and forgiveness to mean that confrontation and boundaries are excluded.

But the command here is to “be angry”. Anger is not of itself an evil, nor is it universally inappropriate. If it were, God himself would never become angry. But there are things that make God angry: injustice, ruthlessness, arrogance, taking advantage of the weak and powerless.  These are things that rightly inspire our own anger.

Anger is a powerful emotion, and humans are prone to abusing power. The expression and communication of anger is regulated in this verse and in other places as well.  Talking about those limitations is another post altogether.  For many, it will be enough for now to consider that to feel and express anger is sometimes a perfectly appropriate response.

Are you a wife of someone serving in a ministry position? Are you a woman serving in a ministry position?

By:  Lianne Johnson, LPC
Avenues Counseling is committed to supporting our local churches in the St. Louis area, and one of the best ways we know how to do this is to offer support to those specifically on the front lines of ministry.  Life Care Groups are being developed specifically for pastor’s wives, women in full time ministry, and wives whose husbands are in full time ministry. 
Why is there a need for groups like this?
All too often people in ministry positions will say that living a life of ministry feels like living in a glass house.  This can quickly and easily become a burden to a person in ministry, as well as to their family.  Oftentimes the spouse of a pastor, or the wife of someone in full time ministry, can feel alone and uncared for.  Who cares for the pastor’s wife?  Who cares for the women whose husband is in full time ministry?  Who cares for the woman leading the women’s ministry at her church?  Who can she trust with her inner heart?  Many times these women feel alone. 
We desire to offer a safe place for women to learn about God, be nurtured by the scriptures as well as by others in similar life seasons and roles. 
This is why Avenues Counseling is in the process of developing Life Care Groups.  If you are the wife of a pastor, the wife of someone in full time ministry, or are a woman in a ministry position yourself, please help us develop these groups by taking a short survey.  This will take you about 5 minutes, but will help us tremendously. 
Please pass this along to anyone who is a pastor’s wife, the wife of someone in full time ministry, or a woman in ministry herself if they live in the St. Louis area.  

What Kind of Relationship Do You Have?

By: Katy Martin, LPC
With food, that is.
“On this journey it’s important for you to have a true understanding of what healthy eating really is. We’re not talking about eating only a sugar-free, fat-free, purely organic, or low-carb diet. In fact, healthy eating has less to do with the type of food you eat and more to do with the relationship you have with food and God. Healthy eating in the HEAL sense is having an emotionally healthy approach to food. It means bringing God into the center of your relationship with food and learning to trust and obey the way he made you.” Taken from HEAL: Healthy Eating Abundant Living, pg.35.
Have you ever thought about the relationship you have with food? Are you happy with it? Are you healthy? Is it an abusive relationship? How do you feel?
Let’s talk about it at our HEAL group, beginning soon at Avenues Counseling. This 8 week small group experience will provide insight into your personal body image story and relationship with food. The cost of the group is $125 for the 8 sessions and including materials. For more information, or to sign up, contact Katy Martin, LPC at [email protected] or at 314-910-1394.  There are just a few spots remaining.

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.