story

Cultivating a Life that is Real: Finding Hope through Your Darkness

by Jason Pogue, PLPC

I have yet to meet anyone whose middle school years were not fraught with social perils and awkwardness and mine were no different. I can remember days I was so sure I had committed a social disaster that I laid in bed at night dreadfully imagining the possible fallout that awaited me the next day at school.  And yet, I would often awake the next day and march into school doing everything I could to pretend the truth that my knotted stomach betrayed was a lie and that none of the previous day had unfolded as it did. This got me through the day many times, but it was a miserable way to live. And, it still is.

The reality is we all still do this self-deception as adults because it gets us through the day, but we often never slow down to think about what it costs us. In the course of experiencing deeply confusing, painful, frightening, shame-filled, and aggravating events somewhere along the way we make a decision – whether conscious or not – to disown pieces of this experience that feel like too much to bear.

Just like middle school, we act like the wounds and emotions our bodies communicate we carry don’t exist, and we talk ourselves away from what the pit of our stomach knows is actual reality. We become so good at this that we disown parts of an experience while keeping all the good things so that as we move forward it seems like a bright and cheerful time even though it carries shadows on all sides of betrayal, crushed hope, or shame.

My point here is not to “miserable-ize” everything in your life, but to illuminate what is lost when we do this. The reality is what we disown is not only an event but our experience of an event. When we disown that experience we actually disown a part of ourselves – a part of the deep experience of our soul – and we take one more step away from ever being truly known by those around us. No matter how vulnerable we are with however many people, we always have those pieces in the back of our mind holding us hostage with the thought, ‘Yeah, but if they knew that about me they would run in the other direction.” We become lonely, and less and less real – no matter how many people or “positive vibes” we surround ourselves with.

Cultivating a life that is real and fighting loneliness begins with examining the pieces of our soul we have disowned, working through whatever discomfort kept us from doing this before, and bringing those pieces of ourselves back into the present so that we can live a more whole and connected life.

This is certainly not an easy task, but often when we face the darkness rather than run from it, we find some light. As English theologian Thomas Fuller once said, “The night is darkest just before the dawn.”

So what are the pieces of yourself you’ve left in the darkness? What are the parts of your soul locked away inside? Are you ready to face them openly? Are you ready for true connection? For whole-hearted living? Are you ready to be real?

What is Your Story? A Self Exploration Activity

by: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC 

Oftentimes it seems that whatever may lie in the past, we prefer to keep there. It seems so much simpler or safer or smarter to just pack up our past in a box and put it on a shelf in the storage room of our heart. It’s in the past, so what does it matter? Many of us wrestle with this very question.

I like to think of each life as a story that is being lived out. Just as in the stories we enjoy in the pages of books, each of our lives is filled with highs, lows, joys, sorrows, disappointments, dashed dreams, dreams come true, pain, and love, just to name a few. In order to grasp the fullness of the main character’s story in a book, we have to begin at the beginning. Picking up a novel and starting at Chapter 32 is going to not only rob us of the story’s depth, but would likely make for a confusing storyline. There is much to be gleaned from the parts of our lives we have already lived, as every step has gotten us to where we are today.

Below is an activity that can be helpful in beginning to search back into our life’s story to recapture the valuable pieces available to us there. Consider spending some time revisiting the previously aired episodes of your life. Ask someone, whether a trusted friend, mentor, or counselor, to begin this journey with you.

Activity:

Pick a milestone to write about using the chart below or divide your life up appropriately. Start with sentence: “This was a time in my life when….” and let the writing flow.

Use this outline:
1. Get a clean sheet of paper and date it.
2. Select the milestone that you wish to write about, and write it at the top of the paper.
3. Write down the five questions:
   a. Where was I living at this time in my life?
   b. Whom was I living with at this time in my life?
   c. What was important to me at this time in my life?
   d. What was I afraid of at this time in my life?
   e. Who were my friends at this time in my life?
4. Reflect for a moment on the milestone and the questions.
5. Begin to write, starting with the phrase “This was a time in my life when…”

Major Milestones:
0-10
11-20
20-30
30-40
40-50
50-60
70-80

Thankfulness with a Twist

By: Courtney Hollingsworth, PLPC
“I mistake my happiness for blessing.” – Caedmon’s Call
I don’t want to write this blog today. Seeing as it was timely given the recent holiday, I had decided awhile ago that I would write about thankfulness. Reflecting upon this topic, I pondered how we tend to only give thankful attention to our joys and happiness. Of course, just like you, I very am thankful for those aspects of my life in which I delight and enjoy. However, when I expand my view of my life’s story and path, I can see from this perspective that I am also thankful for the pain, the sadness, the grief, the hardship, and the trials by which I came to be where I am and who I am. There is more to blessing, and more to thankfulness, than the absence of a negative, than merely happiness. I find Jars of Clay lyrics echoing within me as I contemplate the stumbling, the wounding, the mistakes, and the tears I would have never chosen:
“We knew it as a wrong turn
We couldn’t know the things we’d gain
When we reach the other border
We look out way down past the road we came from

We’re looking for redemption
It was hidden in the landscape
Of loss and love and fire and rain
Never would have come this way
Looking for redemption”
                                    -Redemption, Jars of Clay

While in the midst of the fire and rain, I only view my happiness, my joy, my pleasure, my plenty as blessing. I tend to miss the blessing in the landscape of loss and pain. The weight of sorrow rarely, if ever, moves me to thanksgiving as it threatens to crush me. When standing at two paths diverging, the road of suffering does not enchant me.
Expand. Hindsight. Perspective. Process. Reflection. These are necessary for a shift from pain to thankfulness. I am not feeling very thankful for my pain and sorrow today. I do not want to write this blog today, because I am currently feeling the pinching of brokenness. I am filled with the urge to flee, not reflect and give thanks. And I think that is normal. What I can do in the midst of this sorrow, is to remember how many of my blessings have been made up of happiness and pain. I can reflect on the evidence of God’s unending faithfulness in both the Bible and in my own life story. Though I may not be in a thankful place with this present pain, I can recall that once I am no longer in the midst of it, I will likely be grateful for the ways it has changed and grown me, the grace I experienced, and the truth that given the choice I would leave God’s plan for my life unchanged.