What God delivered in my Daniel Fast

It’s funny re-reading this post from 2012 today as I would probably entitle it “When Things Don’t Go So Well During Your Fast”. There are plenty of reasons to feel agitated – some of which are physical, particularly at the beginning when your body is going through caffeine and sugar withdrawal. If you read my previous post about What You Can Eat on the Daniel Fast, you know I had to make some adjustments in order to hear from God and get out of my own deprivation mindset … that and the whopping headache that left me without focus or a clear thought in my head, except for COFFEE! But there are other things that come up even when you’ve handled the food part of the fast well. As God shows you things He perhaps wants to change in you or develop in your character, the view isn’t always pretty. And even though God’s intentions and desires are wholly for you, don’t forget there is an enemy that absolutely hates you fasting and trying to get closer to God. So be aware, be gentle with yourself, ask God what he is telling you through this, and cast out the enemy from your thoughts, your home, and tell him in bold terms to stop messing with you because you are His!

I began the Daniel Fast on January 8th for two reasons: to know what God wanted to accomplish through me, and to ask Him to spread His wide hand of healing through a family that has been on my heart.

At the end of last week, I was feeling antsy, disappointed, and unsettled.  I was not feeling the same deep personal connection with God during this fast as I did last year, I wasn’t really hearing anything from Him about what He wanted to accomplish through me, and I confess I had growing doubts that healing was happening or would happen for the family I was praying for during my fast.  I have to acknowledge that God had certainly done alot with personal relationships in my life the past few weeks, but that’s not what I was going for.  Did you ever just feel like saying to God “Nice, but that wasn’t the question!”?

Saturday morning I got so worked up about a voice mail message from Pat at Verizon Wireless.  I had submitted an online contact form 2 days earlier explaining that I had not received an electronic copy of my Verizon statement for the last two months, and asked that someone look into it and reinstate it.  Well Pat left a message saying that she was following up on the email contact form I submitted, however she could not assist me because I did not provide the account password in my email.  Seriously? If they wanted the password, they should have asked for it – even required it, on the submit form, right?

I was already annoyed, but Pat had left the 800 customer service telephone number as well as her direct line for me, so I decided to call her right back and get the issue taken care of.  I dialed her number and it immediately went to voice mail, and it didn’t even give the courtesy “I’m assisting another customer …” message – it sounded like she wasn’t even planning on answering at that number.  Well, I just flipped out.  Seriously, that triggered something in me, that just set me off in an uncontrollable rant.  And in my mind I heard a voice saying Don’t do it, but I couldn’t stop myself from leaving an angry voice mail message.  I tried to soften the blow of my wrath by starting, “I’m sure it’s not your fault” … but even that was lost in what followed, “if a password is needed to assist me, the contact submit form should have stated that, and by the way, I didn’t get the response within the 24 hrs.  promised, so I’m a little frustrated that I’ve waited two days, and I wasn’t expecting to get your voice mail when I called right back, I didn’t change anything on my account to stop the electronic bill from coming, so now I’m at the same place as I was before I contacted you online.”

I ended the call, steam coming out of my ears by then I’m sure, and an email notification popped up on my phone – guess who?  That’s right – Pat from Verizon sent me a confirming email that she had attempted to reach me but could not assist me with my account because I did not provide the password, so she suggested I resubmit the contact form.  I was livid, so angry at being dismissed without the issue being resolved – I had to calm down.  There is nothing worse than being all jacked up about something and knowing at the same time that you are being totally irrational.

How do I spell relief? FOOD! I went to the kitchen to stuff down the rage and self-comfort with something to eat, but big problem – I’m on the Daniel Fast so there is absolutely no chocolate in the house!  Like a prowling cat, I opened cabinets, the frig, scanned the countertops – nothing sweet, nothing naughty, only fruits, vegetables, boring whole grains & nuts, …. I was beside myself!  I mean you have to get the irony of this moment – I am fasting to hear from God about what He wants to accomplish through me.  I have pledged obedience, I have said “I will make disciples of all the nations, I will go to the ends of the earth for You” … and then “but please don’t make me deal with the incompetence of Verizon Wireless!”

I plopped in my green chair and wrote in my journal LORD, SHOW ME, WHY AM I SO UPSET?  With everything (food) stripped away, sitting alone with my anger before God, I BECAME that wounded 10 year old girl, the middle of 5 kids when my mom died, who lost any consistent connection with an adult in my life, and I felt small, overlooked, unseen, insignificant.  And then I BECAME the wounded 40-year old woman and wife who felt like my opinion didn’t count, like I didn’t matter, when my husband took a job in Boston against my will, and I isolated and became disconnected from friends because I was ashamed that I didn’t want to follow my husband to Boston.  God brought me then to just a month ago when I BECAME that 58-year old Community Group leader feeling unimportant, not valued, and abandoned by members who attended small group regularly last year but hadn’t made it a priority this year.

So with Pat from Verizon Wireless, I responded and did what I did with every other relationship over the years when people weren’t available to me as I wanted them to be – I got mad, and I decided “If you don’t need me, I will not need you either.  I will find someone else who will value me.” And I shut them out, made them wrong for letting me down, for making their attention inaccessible to me.

I don’t know what God wants to accomplish through me on a grand scale or in the days ahead, but I do know this for today:  God often wants to do something IN us before He will do something THROUGH us or even FOR us.

Maybe you’ve been fasting and feeling discouraged, too, if you haven’t heard from God.  Or maybe you feel like your prayers are not being answered, or even heard.  I can assure you, dear one, that with His tender heart and craving for you to draw close, He is listening, He is longing to heal you, to grow you into all He designed you to be.

Is there something God wants to do IN you before He can do something THROUGH you or FOR you?

We must remember that the enemy hates our prayers and fasting, and wants nothing more than to distract us from our growing relationship with God by planting doubt and lies where we are most vulnerable.  The chorus from Demi Lovato’s hit “Skyscraper” runs through my mind in response, and reminds me that our victory is in Christ – that is the truth for which there is no doubt.

You can take everything I have, you can break everything I am, like I’m made of glass, like I”m made of paper.  Go on and try to tear me down, I will be rising from the ground, like a skyscraper, like a skyscraper!

What can you eat on the Daniel Fast?

This is a repost from 2012, but the most asked question I get every year … I know what I can’t eat on the Daniel Fast, but what CAN I eat? So here you go ….

What is it about the human mind that always goes to that negative place,  to what we can’t have?  Whenever I tell someone about the Daniel Fast,  I always lead with the restriction “no meat, no dairy, no sweeteners, no processed foods, no solid fats, no beverages except water”.  Sure, I am quick to follow with what foods are included: all fruits and vegetables, all whole grains, all nuts & seeds, all legumes, all quality oils.  But the best most can conjure up from merging these two pieces – what’s in, what’s out –  is a picture of consuming large quantities of raw vegetables, bananas, apples & the staple of all restrictive eating plans – the salad.

The question I’m asked more than any other is:  So what CAN you eat on the fast?  Let me give you a few ideas,  and share some recipes that go a long way to get you through a fast week.

Staples that I keep in the house: olive oil, vegetable broth, variety of nuts, apples

Favorite snacks: Sage Valley Lite Organic Popcorn, peanuts, almonds, SPIKES Salsa & Scoops, celery with peanut butter or almond butter, peanut butter on warm (microwaved) whole wheat tortilla.  REMEMBER TO READ LABELS – you will be amazed that there is sugar in almost everything!

Favorite Meals

Breakfast – Quaker Oats Old Fashioned Oatmeal made with cinnamon, ground flax, dash of sea salt, & walnuts.  Sometimes I add chopped apple to the mix.

Lunch – I take a lunch to work where there is a microwave available, so one of my favs is Black Bean Chili (recipe below) with Scoops.  I love to make a pot of the chili over the weekend, so it’s available to pack for lunch or have for a quick dinner throughout the week.

Dinner – any kind of vegetable oven roasted with olive oil & sea salt is probably my #1 choice: eggplant, brussels sprouts, potatoes, asparagus, or a mix of potatoes, yams, mushrooms, carrots.

Other dinner ideas –

  • Barley & Mushroom Pilaf – recipe below
  • Stir fry of broccoli, cherry tomatoes, garlic & olive oil over whole grain shell pasta
  • Baked potato – white or sweet with mix of vegetables oven roasted with vegetable broth added over the top

Favorite Treat – baked apples with cinnamon and chopped pecans

Black Bean Chili Recipe

Using 1 Tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet, saute the following ingredients together until softened:

  • Red onion, chopped
  • Garlic, minced
  • Red & green bell pepper
  • Whole kernel corn (bag of frozen corn)
  • Portabella mushrooms diced
  • Can of petite diced tomatoes
  • Chili powder
  • 1 tsp. chopped chipotle pepper in adobo sauce

After sauteing the vegetables, move them to a large saucepan and add 1 can (150z size) of Goya black beans – blue label.

Add 1 or 1 1/2 cups of vegetable broth or water, and salt & pepper to taste.  Simmer on low to medium heat for a minimum of 15-20 minutes – the longer you allow the chili to simmer over low heat, the more flavorful it will be.

Serve with tortilla chips, or over brown rice.

Barley & Mushroom Pilaf Recipe

Ingredients: 1/2 cup fresh sliced mushrooms, 2 tsp. olive oil, 1 cup pearl barley, 3 cups vegetable broth, 2 tbsp. chopped green onions (scallions), 1/4 tsp crushed dried rosemary, 1/4 cup pine nuts

Heat olive oil in a saucepan; add mushrooms and saute until limp. Add barley, vegetable broth, green onion, and rosemary.  Bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to low, cover and cook 45 minutes or until barley is tender and liquid is absorbed.

Bon appetit!  Be blessed in your fast!

TOP 10 Ways to Prepare for the Daniel Fast

It’s that time of the year again when many churches embark on a corporate fast together – often the Daniel Fast. Whether you are doing it as a faith community or as a personal retreat, I thought it might encourage you for me to repost some posts on the Daniel Fast from 2012. Praying that you will be blessed and hear from God in big ways.

Whether you have committed to the Daniel Fast as part of a corporate fast with literally tens of thousands of men and women joining in the January movement, or you have decided to “give it a go” on your own, there are countless online resources available to help you understand the basis for this 21-day spiritual fast, and provide everything from study tools to recipes to equip you for a successful fast.  Preparation is essential!  Think about it … we’ve just come out of the season of Advent, having prepared for 4 weeks to receive again the birth of our Lord & Savior.  Doesn’t it make sense that we should prepare fully to receive the birth of something magnificent God wants to do in our lives through the fast?  May I share with you my TOP 10 list of important ways to prepare for the Daniel Fast?

  1. Decide on a purpose for your fast – actually,  I’d like to suggest that you come up with a dual purpose – a reason for fasting for yourself, and a purpose in fasting  for someone else.  Do you have a specific need, situation, or decision that you want to hear about from the Lord?  Are you seeking wisdom, discernment, revelation of God’s will in a particular area of your life? Are you, or someone close to you, struggling with a physical or emotional health issue that you desperately want God to heal?  What keeps you up at night?  What do you go to bed thinking about and wake up with still on your mind?  Take some time to boldly consider what you would most like God to to do in your life and in the life of someone else – that is your purpose for the fast.
  2. Examine your heart to see if there is anything standing in the way of God responding – do you believe that God can and will perform miraculous healing, that He speaks to us today, that He does answer prayer, blesses obedience … ?  If you have any doubts, meditate on Mark 9:24 and ask God to help you overcome your unbelief.  Is there a broken relationship you have not tended to, a grudge you are holding on to, are you living outside of God’s will in your daily life?  Matthew 5:34 says “leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”  Share your purpose in fasting for someone else with that person. Let the person know when you will begin, how long the fast will last, specifically how you will be asking God to intervene in their life.  Depending on your relationship with the person, you may want to check their level of belief that God will answer your fasting prayer for them.  This may be an opportunity to share your reasons for believing that our God can do what seems impossible and ask the person to trust you in this fast even if they are not up to trusting God yet in their life.
  3. Become familiar with Daniel Fast food guidelines, and “customize”- determine what foods you will include and exclude in your fasting eating plan.  There are many sources of information for The Daniel Fast Food List, but here are the basics: Foods to include in your diet during the Daniel Fast – all fruits, all vegetables, all whole grains, all nuts & seeds, all legumes, all quality oils.  Foods to avoid on the Daniel Fast – all meat & animal products, all dairy products, all sweeteners, all leavened bread, all refined and processed food products, all deep fried foods, all solid fats, all beverages except water.  Ask yourself which Daniel Fast food guidelines you can commit to and follow without legitimately compromising your health or your ability to work, serve, or relate to others in a God-honoring way. For example, I attempted to do my first Daniel Fast by adopting all of the standard food guidelines associated with the 21-day fast, including no caffeine.  I am a regular morning coffee drinker, having 2 full mugs of coffee during my “freestyle prayer” in my quiet time with God, and the absence of the caffeine burst washing over me brought on a whopping, debilitating headache by Day 2 of the fast.  I felt seriously handicapped, I could not focus on my purpose for the fast during my prayer time, I was muddle headed at work, indecisive about what to do when I got home, and was ready to “go off” on anybody at the smallest infraction or hint of incompetence.  It was clearly not working for me to eliminate caffeine no matter how badly I wanted to do the fast perfectly.  When I made the decision to reduce instead of eliminate, allowing myself one mug of coffee in the morning the first week, then cut that further to 3/4 of a mug week 2, and 1/2 a mug the final week, I experienced the restrictive discipline of fasting along with the freedom to notice and claim what God had for me in the fast.  Remember that the goal of fasting is not just to do without food – it is to draw closer to God, and while there should be some level of discomfort in the abstinence you choose, different fasting combinations work better for different people.

    4. Assemble a prayer team – 3 people to pray for one week each about your purpose, and 3 people to pray for one week each about your purpose for fasting for someone else. You’ll want to share your purpose for fasting and be very specific about what you are asking God to do, so be sure to select prayer warriors that will keep your fasting purpose for someone else in the strictest confidence. Ask those you’ve chosen to pray specifically for your fasting purpose on set dates for weeks 1, 2, & 3 so you are covered in prayer for the entire fast.
    5. Make a grocery list of Daniel Fast foods you will include in your eating plan. Research recipes from websites and blogs about the Daniel Fast, or do a google search of vegan recipes and eliminate any ingredients to be avoided in the fast. Add ingredients for any recipes to your grocery list. If you work during the day, be sure to plan for meals and snacks you can take to work, and put those items on your grocery list. Wait to shop until 1 or 2 days before your fast begins so fruits & vegetables are fresh.
    6. Cut down your food intake and start weaning yourself off of sweeteners, dairy products, meats, and other non-fast foods you usually consume a large quantity of in the 3 to 5 days before your fast start date. Use the foods in your refrigerator and cabinet that will be on lock-down once the fast begins. You may find that you don’t have a desire for these foods any longer after the fast ends.
    7. Decide on and gather your quiet time prayer and study tools. Plan what time and where you will meet with God daily. Purchase a journal or download a fasting prayer journal from one of the Daniel Fast blogs or websites. You will want to chronicle all that God reveals to you in this journey so find a way to capture it in print. You may have an amazing testimony to share when it comes time to break your fast.
    8. 1 Day before your fast begins, make a pot of vegetarian chili, vegetable soup, mushroom barley pilaf or other dish so something is available for a quick meal to get you started eating the right foods, or to have on hand when you can’t think of anything to eat and you’re hungry. I was surprised how often I craved roasted vegetables upon awakening (remember you can have olive oil so roast away!) and often had them for breakfast the last time I did the fast.
    9. Take inventory – a “BEFORE” picture of your physical and spiritual health. Spend some time in your journal crafting your “before” picture … physically – how much do you weigh? how much energy do you have? how do you feel? what physical limitations do you have? what health concerns do you have? what medications do you take regularly? does your physical health support all you want to do in life, what God is asking you to do? what about stress? do you feel convicted to get more sleep, drink less alcohol, stop smoking, eat healthier foods, get some exercise, or change other habits to honor the body God gave you? … spiritually – do you have a daily discipline of prayer and time in the Word? do you involve God in the decisions you make? do you call upon God throughout the day in even the smallest of matters? are you growing in your spiritual journey or stalled out at the same place as you were last year? how do you live out your faith in your family, at work, with friends? do you seek revelation of God’s will or move forward with your own agenda? are you connected with other believers? can you see evidence of God working in your life? are you pursuing a deeper relationship with God continually? are you serving God by serving others? do you take seriously and act on the charge to make disciples of all the nations?
    10. Pray for this period of preparation. Father, I want to draw closer to You. I want to know You and experience You. In a few days I will start on the Daniel Fast. I ask now that You open my heart. Prepare me. Show me the things You want me to see about myself. Teach me more about You and Your Word. Help me to see Your wisdom, Your grace, and Your purpose for my life. Amen. (From Susan Gregory’s “The Daniel Fast for the Body, Soul and Spirit”). Pray a Prayer of Dedication on your fast start date. Father, I am starting the Daniel Fast today and dedicate this time to You. Your word says that if I will draw near to You, that You will in turn draw near to me. Father, I want to experience You. I want to increase in my relationship with You. I want to learn more about how I can delight in You and submit to You more than ever. I want You to be Lord over all my life. I thank You for bringing me to this very moment, and I look forward to being with You each and every day during this consecrated fasting time. Amen. (Also from Susan Gregory’s “The Daniel Fast for the Body, Soul and Spirit”).

    I pray that each of you will hear from God in mighty and miraculous ways during your fast, and that this will be a time of unparallelled intimacy with Him. Be blessed and nourished by El Shaddai, All Sufficient! He is Emmanuel, God with us.

What are you on fire for?

It is not uncommon in conversation with other believers, for me to say I am “on fire for the Lord”. Now I don’t mean that in a Christian-ese sort of way or certainly not in the same way some white modern-day Evangelicals would see advancing their political platform as evidence of being on fire for the Lord. Conversely, being on fire for the Lord to me means standing for the same things – and the same people: the marginalized, vulnerable, and disengaged – that Jesus did when he walked this earth. In the words of my favorite Psalm, being on fire for the Lord means defending truth, humility, and justice.

In your majesty, ride out to victory,
defending truth, humility, and justice.
Go forth to perform awe-inspiring deeds! — Psalm 45:4 (NLT)

When it comes to counseling – which is really about defending truth, humility, and justice in self, I am on fire – like super passionate, all-in, believe in it so deeply – for Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). For those of us who struggle with emotional regulation, DBT offers the skills training and tools for individuals to learn mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotion regulation, and interactive skills to promote decision making out of a wise mind that takes into account both emotions and logical thinking, improves the ability to sit with stress awhile and both manage and communicate feelings that rise out of mindful self-awareness (truth), reaching into the tool box (humility), and having a healthy voice for your needs (justice).

As I wait for my NJ State LAC (Licensed Associate Counselor) license to be approved – likely in September, I am living with a tension now about how to proceed as I lie in waiting to do what I most desire doing and consider the dialectic at the other end of the spectrum – the financial pressure of needing a job soon. My approach is one of prayer – reminding myself of God’s faithfulness in leading me thus far, and mindfulness to intentionally find a balance that honors the value in both ends of the dialectic for now, keeping me in wise mind and using tools to regulate the emotions, doubts, fears that creep in.

My niece texted me this morning to say she had just watched this incredible 9-year old blow away the judges and audience at America’s Got Talent with a rendition of “This Girl is on Fire”, a random and unusual text from her so of course I had to look. It was a gift from God that inspired all I need to be reminded me of today to stick with my values and my gut … THIS GIRL is on fire for the Lord and for emotion regulation therapies, and that’s just who I am. Loved the end note from one of the judges who pushed the gold buzzer – it was like affirmation reigning down from the Lord when he said, “You are the chosen one!” Yes indeed, we are God’s chosen ones and He has a purpose and plan for each of us.

What are you on fire for?

Spiritual Autobiography – God’s Revelation

My son came for a few months over the summer and it was a visit unlike any other we had had. There was an ease about our conversation and I recognized how comfortable I felt asking him questions, knowing that God had used Group Therapy to shape a new relationship between us. We were different because I was different. He began asking me questions about mental health and ties between substance use and depression. It appeared to me as though my internship at Samaritan Daytop Village gave me credibility in his eyes, that my presumed knowledge or experience in the field opened doors to his questions and his vulnerability with me. I noticed heavy alcohol use while he was with me – a few times when he called me to pick him up, he was drunk and apologetic. And he enjoyed playing softball on Sundays with his old high school friends, and loved to have me go to his games. But I noticed he would drink 8, maybe 10 beers during a game, sometimes taking a beer can out in the field with him.

I recognized that he was likely in the throes of addiction – probably always has been and has only progressed his substance use since high school when I used to do battle with him. He hadn’t changed, only I changed – I stopped asking “parental questions” and looking for signs, out of sight, out of mind – I told myself he’s an adult and has a right to lead his own life. When I backed out of the parent-child relationship, the cost was backing out of relationship altogether with him … instead of building a healthy adult to adult relationship. As I prayed about the situation and how I might intervene in a helpful way now that the door seemed open, I could almost feel God telling me, “Now you know why I led you to your internship site”.

I had an initial conversation with my son that was refreshingly open and honest on both sides. It was the first time I had talked directly – and non-judgmentally – with him about his substance use, and shared what I now knew about significant risk factors for him because of my own family history of substance abuse, gambling addictions, and mental health issues. I was able to ask him specific questions learned at the outpatient substance abuse treatment center where God placed me to assess the stage of change he was at and level of treatment that would be helpful if he was open to it. Perhaps most poignant, I was able to voice that I wanted more for him, that I wanted him to feel well physically and mentally, that I wanted him to know it wasn’t a moral failure on his part, but there was a heavy genetic predisposition to addiction because of multi-generational family patterns and tracks laid down in the brain as a result of past use – both compelling forces he had to fight against to gain freedom.

I asked my missional community to pray that God would get ahold of my son’s heart and break any strongholds of addiction, that He would lead us as a family into acceptance rather than judgment or shame. The following Sunday, two unknowing people approached me at church to talk with me about their sons’ struggles with alcohol and drugs. I don’t know if God brought these women across my path to support me or if He is calling me to something greater, but we started a prayer circle and are praying for each other’s sons until we find out what God is up to. It is amazing when we bring our own needs and heartstrings out into the Light what God will do, even as we doubt our ability to make a difference in the situation.

Spiritual Autobiography – Unprocessed Grief

I started at AGSC (Alliance Graduate School of Counseling) the Fall Semester of 2015 and decided to do my required 15 sessions of Individual Counseling that first semester of the program since I was planning on doing the required 12 Group Therapy sessions during the Spring semester. It was difficult as I began uncovering years of unprocessed grief. My therapist noted that I spoke about very painful events in my life with a sense of detachment, almost as though I was narrating someone else’s story. She continued to challenge me to get at my feelings, not just thoughts about events and circumstances. I remember doing an exercise with my therapist that my Theories professor had suggested in class – going back to my childhood home to sit on the edge of my childhood bed and talk to my 10-year old self. I sobbed for about ten minutes straight as I talked to that little girl who had lost her mother, remembering that no one asked her about her feelings ever, no one asked her how she was doing, what she needed, what she missed about her mom.

I thought I had cleared the emotional decks and was ready to jump into group therapy the next semester, but I had no idea how intense that would be, particularly in the midst of an incredibly stressful semester of classes. I was so confused. I didn’t understand what the value was of people confronting each other. It was so unfamiliar to me to be able to speak your truth without risking the love and acceptance and support of the other person. I was getting in touch with my feelings but it was so hard to go on with the rest of life – it seemed like there was never enough time to process all the emotion I was experiencing before the next round. I felt attacked instead of encouraged when I confessed my realization that I loved the relationships I had with some of my younger classmates because they invited my influence whereas my son had always pushed me away in his younger years, and even then rarely accepted my influence. Group members challenged me and it felt harsh.

In The Rest of God Mark Buchanan writes about how we can go on in our lives without healing, becoming quite content with our pain. He says “Restoration meddles with what we’ve learned to handle, removes what we’ve learned to live with, bestows what we’ve learned to live without”. In short, we become adept at living with a gaping wound. It’s our comfortable place and what we embrace as our lot in life, our cross to bear. That painful truth – that I had become skilled at living with a gaping wound, was exposed for me in the course of Group Therapy.

When it became time to look for a Practicum site, I was really bothered that I didn’t get an interview at a Christian health care center and psychiatric hospital when I should have. I had been leading a monthly Parents of Suicide Loss Support Group there and had a relationship with the gentleman accepting internship applications. Other students had interviews set up, and even after the clinical supervisor emailed me to say apologetically that there were no openings for intern slots in the summer, he continued to schedule interviews of classmates I knew and offered them intern positions.

Again, I had to wrestle with the question of having a voice, feeling dismissed … should I call the gentleman to question it or believe God had something different or better for me?  I decided to apply to The Renfrew Center in Ridgewood, but when I disclosed that I had been in treatment for an eating disorder there in 2008, the Clinical Supervisor told me it was against policy to hire a former client as staff or intern.

As I prayed over the list of internship sites, I felt drawn to Daytop Village – an Outpatient Substance Abuse Center for some reason, but I didn’t really want to do substance abuse. I left my corporate job because I thought God was calling me to help adolescents deal with anxiety and depression, not venture into substance abuse counseling.  The nagging draw to Daytop did not go away so I consulted with a former clinical supervisor at the facility who was also an AGSC graduate to ask her about it.

She pretty  much told me I had to decide if I wanted to do substance abuse OR mental health counseling … because they were very different. And I wouldn’t be asking a client at Daytop how they were feeling about something, but more than likely I’d be calling them out about their lies and cover-up of substance use. She suggested that I go for an interview to check it out and see how I felt about it, obviously sage advice before ruling anything out.  Surprisingly, from the moment I walked into Samaritan Daytop Village to interview for an intern position, I felt comfortable, and at ease about the fit for me. But I was still confused about why I landed at this site, working with this population. I started doubting God’s leading just a little bit, and doubting myself too, wondering if I had not heard God clearly about my call to work with anxious, depressed, and suicidal adolescents, if I misunderstood, if my discernment had been way off.

Spiritual Autobiography – Hiding Out

I have been hiding out most of my life – hiding lack of self-worth behind credentials and accomplishments, what I do instead of who I am, hiding loneliness behind an outgoing exterior and sense of humor, a busy schedule, hiding the questions that haunted me  … who will take care of me? And … do I matter?

I was hiding out from my home church where I served as Youth Minister when I heard about The Plant, the church community that has transformed my life. I wanted to worship without some parent asking me about an issue they were having with their teenager or a committee chairperson asking me if the youth could help out with some church event … I pretty much wanted to control the time and way I served in ministry. So I visited a non-denominational Christian church and it happened to be their Missions Sunday when they talked about planting a daughter church, and I became a part of that plant core team in 2008.

I was convinced that God called me to this plant church, but had no idea of the provision He was blessing me with. He gave me both a family and a community that answered those big questions (who will take care of, do I matter?) when I gave them access to my life – they would take care of me and yes, I mattered to them. Sometimes it seems easier to welcome Christ into our heart than to open our life to others, but God in His tender mercies gave me what I fought hard against, but truly needed, for such a long time.

I was growing more and more frustrated in my job. Actually I loved the work I was doing, but struggled with my boss. Oddly there was no problem between us. I felt valued and needed and affirmed in my role in the department. But I was constantly upset about her showing favoritism to some others, the way she talked about some of the managers and admins to me, and her micro-managing of people that were fully capable to run with responsibility.

I started giving more attention to growing my Christian Life Coaching practice, and began attending Writers and Speakers Conferences, convinced I was being called to have a voice for the Lord …  back to that having a voice thing – you’ll know what I mean if you read Spiritual Autobiography Part I.  I went to the Proverbs 31 Ministries’ She Speaks Conference three years in a row for both the speaker and writer tracks, but I became really uncomfortable with some of the accolades I received, particularly from an editor who was interested in a book prospectus I pitched in a meeting with him.

My son created a blog for me to be able to share my words in a more private and less visible forum, and I blogged for quite a while, but again those anxious feelings about the influence God had given me in the lives of my readers crept in. It scared me and I didn’t feel worthy. Did He want me to speak, to write, to blog, to coach for Him? What was He calling me to?

My work situation was growing more unbearable each day and my daughters encouraged me to look for another job and helped me to update my resume. Funny, but in the moment when my heart became willing to make a change, I realized that I didn’t want to go to another company to do the same kind of work. If I was going to make a change, I wanted to go after my dream.  I wanted to go big or go home, as they say.

I began praying about quitting my job and going to AGSC (Alliance Graduate School of Counseling) at Nyack College, having obvious concerns about finances and what I would live on, and I invited many friends and family to pray with me for discernment and leading in the decision. In March of 2015, when my daughter’s good friend and co-worker was killed in a head-on car collision on the way to work, she called me and said “Mom, you gotta do this, you’ve talked about doing counseling for a long time. Don’t wait, we’ll figure out the finances. We gotta trust God on this.”

Spiritual Autobiography – Brokenness

I was the woman at the well, living in isolation, separated from people by the shame of two failed marriages, credit cards maxed out, a closet smoker and yo-yo dieter. I was a single parent of three, struggling financially, in almost constant conflict with my teenage son about his drinking. My entire family was in Wisconsin, and I had distanced myself from friends, thinking they were judging me for not following my husband to Boston for a job he accepted on his own and painfully against my wishes. I felt alone, insecure, like I didn’t matter and everything in my life seemed out of control.

So like the woman at the well who drew water in the heat of the day to avoid facing other women in the early morning, I snuck away to a 5-day Christian weight loss program called Lose it For Life to figure out how to control the one thing I thought I could. The heat that drove me into isolation was shame about the choices I had made in my life and a public image I was desperately trying to keep intact. I somehow believed that if I just lost weight and felt good about the way I looked, no one would discover the real me, broken and falling apart on the inside. I was a businesswoman, a single mom with three smart kids – all good athletes, the Youth Minister that led teens on mission trips, took kids to serve in soup kitchens, small group facilitator, a soccer coach and referee, outgoing, funny, confident, had it all together – that’s the me I let people see.

God got a hold of me at LIFL (Lose It For Life) when a complete stranger I was seated next to invited me to go to the Women of Faith Conference in Philly the following month and stay at her house for the weekend. I was so puzzled at her offer, but came home from WOF on fire for the Lord. It was the first time I ever heard speakers apply God’s promises to their lives and I was encouraged in my own life. I had returned home from Lose It For Life with a plan to fill the holes in my physical, emotional, spiritual and mental life and joined a Community Bible Study, which was the first time I studied the Bible and I thrived on the discussion with other women. I didn’t know until years later that I was filling myself with head knowledge about God, but dying of spiritual heart failure in this season of my life.

In January 2004 at the end of winter break, I wrote a letter to my son telling him I loved him, I stood for him, but I would not have his toxicity in the house any more, or listen to him screaming that he hated me, and I told him he could not come home on college breaks until he was ready to work on our relationship. He reminded me so much of my older brother, who died from a fall off the roof of a 3-story building after free-basing cocaine, and resulted in me parenting out of fear much of the time, afraid I would lose my son the same way. On the 4th of July, I got a call from DC police that my son had been drinking and crashed his car into a pole. He came home and we began to put our relationship back together in typical Midwest fashion – never speaking of the past, moving forward. He was respectful and didn’t push boundaries. The relationship was strained – I was still trying to fix it myself even after turning it over to God. There was no real relationship and a lot of uncomfortable silence.

One summer night in 2007, I woke up to spasms shooting out of my sciatic nerve into my lower back and down my leg. I was in extreme pain, couldn’t do anything comfortably except sit or lay down, and spent 10 weeks home from work only going out to the chiropractor and physical therapy. My self-reliance was shattered and I was dependent on other people for everything – oh I hated that! But in this place of physical brokenness God got my attention and I started spending the hours of my day in prayer and in the Word. I had just started a 12-week Christian Life Coaching certification program that required me to completely examine who I was before God, and I began to give each day to God, trusting Him to lead and knowing that my past didn’t matter anymore.

Spiritual Autobiography – A Small Voice

If you really knew me, you would know that as a child I had no voice … you would know that at 40 years old when I first attempted to speak my truth, things turned out so badly that I went back to stuffing my feelings inside. And if you really knew me, you would know that God gave me a voice for Him first, before He ever gave me my own voice out in the world and in my relationships. Music has always moved me like nothing else. It often gives voice to the emotions that well up in me … so I am choosing to use music to tell my story, to share pieces of my spiritual journey with you.

I was raised in the Midwest with lots of rules, a strong work ethic, a sense of responsibility, and high expectations for achievement and behavior. My dad was very strict and he wasn’t at all affectionate. I don’t remember him ever expressing pride or love – it was all about meeting his standards or expectations. Mama was the exact opposite – she was all mush and hugs and kisses, who offered her lap freely to cuddle up, and she was the one who told us not to worry when we were afraid of not measuring up in dad’s eyes.

I was the middle of five kids, and grew up in a churched home – we went to Mass weekly, said prayers before meals, I attended Catholic grade school – all the rituals of religion, but there was never any conversation about how faith informed our lives. I don’t ever remember a suggestion to pray through a difficult time or call on God – we fixed things ourselves. The focus was on self-reliance, and as a 10 year old when my mom died, I learned from my dad that life isn’t fair, but you just buck up and handle it. I never experienced the emotions or loss of mama as a child … I just did what needed to be done at each turn in life. I felt unseen, overlooked, insignificant, like I didn’t matter or wasn’t good enough to be noticed. My dad remarried two years later and we all quickly learned that my stepmom was essentially my dad’s double, and the rigidity they governed with, drew us together into a united front and formed unshakably close sibling bonds.

I got a full-time job after high school, moved into my own apartment, and started looking for love in all the wrong places. I went through a period of sexual promiscuity, mistaking sex for the love and worthiness I longed for but just couldn’t seem to find.  I met the man who was to become my second husband on a business trip, and 4 months later I left Milwaukee to move in with him in New Jersey. He talked about buying me a big rock, getting married and going to the islands for our honeymoon. I still remember the sick feeling I had when I got out there and for months he didn’t want to set a wedding date. I had left everything – my job, my family, my friends to be with him. We did marry 8 months later, but there was no engagement ring except for the diamond ring from my first husband that I took to the jeweler myself to reset in a new band, and our honeymoon was on Martha’s Vineyard, not the islands he promised. My husband always laughed about that, but he had no idea how important those things were to my sense of feeling loved and valued and worth it.

We both worked for AT&T and when Ma Bell divested in 1982 we opted to go back to his home company New England Telephone in Boston.  He was from Boston so he returned to a city, friends, and co-workers all familiar to him and I felt jealous, abandoned, alone, pushed aside when he wanted to commute separately or spend time with his friends or co-workers. Our three children were born in Concord where we lived and I received my Bachelor’s Degree from Northeastern after 9 years of going to school at night … those are among just a handful of happy times I count from our 6 years in Boston before we moved back to New Jersey.

Our life in NJ as a family felt perfect. I loved those 7 years in Ramsey and I was happy with our family and home and social life. When my husband’s position was being cut in a corporate downsizing, he wanted to return to his old job in Boston to provide for the family and ensure that the kids could go to good colleges, but I objected vehemently – I did not want to return to Boston. When I overheard him on the phone tell a friend he was returning to New England Telephone, I was livid that he made a decision on his own against my wishes, and so hurt that my opinion didn’t matter, that I didn’t matter. I told him I wanted to see someone to process my feelings before I decided if I would follow him to Boston with the kids in June. That was the first time I remember having a voice, really believing that he wouldn’t go to Boston, that my happiness would be enough for him to apologize and for him to prove my worth by not taking the job.

 

What would your Christian Experience Statement Look Like?

If you were asked to write a Christian Experience Statement, what would it look like? What would it say? What pieces of your life would it reflect? Would it include a future, a vision, or just the past?

When I applied to Alliance Graduate School of Counseling for their Mental Health Counseling program earlier this year, I was asked to provide a written Christian Experience Statement, using these two questions as a guideline:

Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior? If yes, please state your conversion experience, fundamentals of your personal faith and present pattern of personal growth as a Christian.

Present a personal biography including a discussion of significant events and influences which have helped develop your present values and approach to life. What is God’s call upon your life? How do you see Alliance Graduate School of Counseling fitting into God’s call on your life? What do you visualize your ministry/profession looking like five years after graduation?

Here’s what I found … when you’re truly living your story, writing a Christian Experience Statement is surprisingly easy to do. 

The middle of five children, I was 10 years old when my mama died. My dad pretty much shaped who I thought I was after that – small, insignificant, a child; and who I thought I needed to be – brave, responsible, self-sufficient, independent, submissive to authority, perfect. I got my value and identity from obedience, performance, achievements, accomplishments, recognition, and attention.

I didn’t grow up in a church or family where Christ was part of everyday life, where we sought out God’s help to get through hard times, or prayed through problems or struggles. We went to Mass Sundays, I attended a parochial school, and we prayed before dinner – that was pretty much it. If there was a problem, we fixed it ourselves or accepted that life wasn’t fair, we didn’t ask God to intervene. I was raised with lots of rules, a strong work ethic, sense of responsibility, self-reliance, high expectations for achievement & behavior.

I’ve been hiding out most of my life … hiding low self-worth behind credentials and accomplishments, hiding loneliness and fears behind an outgoing personality, sense of humor, busy schedule. At 50 years old, I was the woman at the well, isolated, hiding out from the shame of two failed marriages. I felt alone, insecure, like I didn’t matter, and everything in my life seemed out of control. But I wore a completely different mask: I was a businesswoman, single mom with 3 smart kids – all good athletes, Youth Leader that led youth mission trips, took kids to soup kitchens, counseled parents of teens. I was a soccer coach & referee – that’s the me I let other people see, and the image I desperately tried to keep intact, hoping no one would discover the real me:  lost, broken & falling apart on the inside. My entire family was in WI, and I had distanced myself from friends, thinking they were judging me for not following my husband to Boston for a job he accepted on his own, and painfully, against my wishes.

My journey to redemption started in 2003 when a stranger sitting next to me at a Christian weight loss conference invited me to join her at a Women of Faith Conference. My randomly assigned roommate at that same conference happened to be a Community Bible Study core group leader in VA, and at confessing I had never done a bible study of any sort, she encouraged me to sign up for a local CBS class, which I did. Both Women of Faith and CBS were important steps in launching my spiritual journey, but more importantly they set me on a path of connection and emotional healing as others reached out to me. Being a part of The Plant core team, missional community leader, & later serving on the leadership team, all deeply affected me as I developed a relationship with Christ in everyday life, to look to Him in all things, devote myself to Him, and to grow in community. The heart of it was not in a salvation moment, but in being drawn into authentic relationships with others that led to a deeper relationship with Christ.

I have worked in a corporate setting by day, and done some type of ministry by night, for most of my adult life. My heart for teenagers and the desire for them to feel safe, seen, and valued has never wavered. Whereas I used to see teenage girls struggling with cutting & eating disorders, today I see a generation of overstressed, overcommitted, highly anxious teens with epidemic levels of depression, substance abuse & suicide. And I feel like the church should be leading the charge on mental health of our teens! We focus on spiritual development, cultivating a heart of mission & service, equipping them to know Christ & make Him known, and yet so many are hurting and wondering where God really is in their life.

I have wanted to be an adolescent therapist for as long as I can remember, and this year as I prayed through the word THRIVE, I decided I would not take graduate school off the table because I thought I couldn’t quit my job – God would have to! He had awakened such a desire in me, not only to counsel teens, but also to advocate for mental health of our teens in the church. God has put people and circumstances in my life to affirm the call to Alliance Graduate School of Counseling and the vision for the church He has stitched in my soul, challenging me to trust Him for financial provision.

Five years after graduation, I see myself as an Adolescent Therapist at a biblically based Christian Counseling Center, helping teenagers to settle their worth, coaching youth leaders through current mental health issues in their ministries, writing and speaking to church leaders on awareness, education, and role of the church in mental health for teens.

For we are God’s masterpiece.  He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long. –Ephesians 2:10 NLT