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.