Fear

I started attending Biblical Counseling a few weeks ago. I’ve never been in counseling before… it’s kind of a cool thing, but it’s also daunting as I’m sure you can imagine.

The best way I can describe Biblical Counseling is this: it’s like relationship counseling with God. They diagnose relationship issues: Do you really know Him? Do you trust Him? Do you REALLY trust Him? Do you spend time with Him? Do you know your identity in Him? Etc, etc, etc. They also look at every area in your life (struggles, habits, anxieties, experiences, relationships etc.) and determine if your responses and attitudes are godly in nature and correspond with the Bible.

With so many questions, my head feels like it’s about to explode. I’m learning so much so quickly that it’s hard to take it all in. And I’m being thrown so many challenging questions that I’m not sure which to answer first, nor which is most important. But in all of this TALKING (which drives me crazy), I’ve learned one key thing about myself: I am scared to death of being alone.

It was something my mom said to me during one of our casual conversations. She said it flippantly, but I’d never heard myself described that way, so it stoof out. “You are so afraid of being alone…” In counseling we are working on my anxiety levels. In response to that, one of my assignments was to write down my concerns as I began to stress out. My list looked like this: Did I say too much? Too little? Did I make him/her mad? How are people perceiving me? Am I a good enough leader/friend/employee/daughter? After reading that list to my counselor, she looked at me and said, “Hannah, the major thing I see in that list is fear.”

I sat there like a deer in the headlights. I’ve never considered myself a fearful person. I can be extremely adventurous, especially when there’s opposition telling me I can’t do it. I’m stubborn, and I’m often the first person in a group to go out on a limb and do something. I don’t stress over finances or my future. I’m a pretty level-headed person. But the more I think about what my mom and my counselor said, the more I see they are right. Most every bad thing in my life, whether it was a bad experience or something I struggle with in my head currently, is a result of fear. It runs my life. In some areas it is paralyzing. There are weeks where I physically cannot lead Bible study because I feel so weak and ill-equipped, and there are some days where I’m so scared of what other people are going to think of me that I refuse to talk to them or make eye contact. In other areas it’s motivating, like when I over-exert myself to make a friend of mine happy or when my primary reason behind working is to please my boss.

In talking with my mom, I realized that this fear goes all the way back to when I was a toddler. She told me that I would even insist on accompanying her to the bathroom until my sister was born (I was 2.5 years old at that time). My mom couldn’t get a single minute alone away from me, because I was always at her side. She never had to worry about me wandering off, because I was always there. I remember when I got older, there were times where my parents would tuck me into bed and then go on a walk around the block as the sun set. If I found out they’d left, I’d go running down the street after them in my pajamas, crying because they’d left me. I’m sure my years in middle school of being relatively alone didn’t help either.

It’s an obvious thing, but the reason I didn’t let anyone get close to me for so many years was because of fear, too. If they got close enough, they probably wouldn’t like me, and then I’d go from having a few good acquaintances to having no one.

So now I’m left with this new discovery, and I’m still trying to figure out what to do about it. The only thing I can think to do at the moment is learn what God has to say about fear, and pray against it. Knowing that this is something that’s a large part of me should help me overcome it.

Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked, for the Lord will be at your side and will keep your foot from being snared.
Proverbs 3:25-26

In God I trust and am not afraid.What can man do to me?
Psalm 56:11

For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.
Psalm 56:11

The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.”
Romans 8:15

[Article Response] “God Saw My Rape and He Didn’t Stop It”

I’ve been coming across many good articles lately that I’d like to share with those of you who are interested. I figured this is as good of a platform as any for me to share my thoughts/responses to these articles while encouraging you to spend a few minutes reading them.

My first article response is title “God Saw My Rape and He Didn’t Stop It.” The title was designed to kick readers in the gut, I’m sure. But it summarizes the article well, and probably summarizes how a lot of people feel about how God was a silent witness to the bad things in their lives. The author tells about the crisis of faith that she had after realizing that God, in his all-powerful and all-knowing majesty, stood by idly and watched as a friend of a friend brutally raped her. She chronicles her immediate response to the rape, how she came about this realization, how she felt after realizing it, and how, when she immersed herself into the Word, she began to understand why God didn’t stop it.

The author says:

God knows pain. He knows what it feels to be rejected and abused and despairing, because Jesus felt those things first. This truth is difficult. It’s not as pretty or tidy or straightforward, but it’s real.

I find comfort in the reality that God was there, because the only thing worse than realizing He was there is thinking that He wasn’t.

I am comforted that by being there when I was raped, God saw it for how bad it was. He heard my cries and He hears them now. He sees. He knows. He understands.

I may never understand why God allowed rape to happen to me. But of this I am sure: God came to my rescue in the dark aftermath of my rape and he continues to come to my rescue on my up-and-down path of healing.

I never struggled with this concept of “Why didn’t God do anything?!” after my abuse. I’m not sure why I didn’t, but maybe it’s because I embraced the idea of free will early on in my life and knew that God, though He had the power, probably wouldn’t intervene to save me. He had a purpose for everything, even the bad things, and I had to trust that and see it through.

It’s the last parts of the article that I really resonate with, though. The author says:

I can proclaim that rape does not determine my identity or limit my potential… I’m opening up about rape and pain and hurt in full confidence that it’s a gift to be able to talk about it, and in hope that some woman, somewhere will hear in my words that she is not alone, and that our God is very good.

I’ve seen first-hand what ignoring pain and abuse does to a person. It’s not pretty. They shut down emotionally and spiritually. They put up walls so high that they don’t know they are there, and they don’t realize they are blind to the joy and fulfillment that is just on the other side. I’m one of those people, but I think I’m beginning to see my walls. And that’s the first step to tearing them down. I’m tired of people not talking about sexual abuse. It’s a nasty, horrid monster, but like with many things, when you shine a little light on it, it’s not nearly as scary. And the more a person talks about it, the less painful and traumatic the memories become. So I’m going to keep talking. I love what the author wrote: “I’m opening up about rape and pain and hurt in full confidence that it’s a gift to be able to talk about it.” I feel that’s so true. It’s a God thing that I’m able to type these things out.

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Roman 8:38

A Piece of My Heart

I want to warn you by saying that this post may have more info about me than you want to know. I second-guessed writing it, but I feel the need to brag about God and what He’s doing in my life no matter how I personally feel about it. He’s worth more than that. He’s bigger than that.

Gen-Why, the young adult small group through my church that I help lead, has been studying a book by the name of SHAPE. It helps us examine our exact shape, or footprint, of who God made each of us to be. It walks us through the spiritual gifts, interests, passions, and experiences that God gave each of us, and it leads us closer to using those things to glorify God (our ultimate purpose in life). For those of you who have read Purpose Driven Life, this book was written almost as a sequel to go a bit more in-depth on how each person is designed uniquely. I highly recommend it.

Anyway, enough about the book. This week’s chapter, as we wrap up our study, was designed to start pulling some of the individual chapters/pieces together into a portrait of how God designed us and perhaps what He has in mind for our futures. I started pulling some of these pieces about myself together (below). Notice the lovely SHAPE acronym.

Spiritual Gifts: (I am gifted in…)
Counseling, administration, discernment, leadership, wisdom

Heart: (I feel passionately towards serving…)
Young girls. See “Experiences” section below.

Abilities: (I am good at…)
Coordinating, encouraging, designing, planning

Personality:  (I…)
Am better with one on one interaction, like to lead, am self-controlled

Experiences: (I’ve been through…)
I’ve never written out a “testimony” for the world to see… maybe one day. If you’re interested in hearing the full version, or at least the version I’ve been able to wrap my pea-brain around, I’d love to share it over a cup of coffee. But much of it can be summed up in a sentence that I’ve recited every Tuesday night at Celebrate Recovery: “God is granting me victory over issues related to childhood sexual abuse.” It sounds so clinical, doesn’t it? But it’s the truth, and that truth is setting me free (John 8:32) from a lot of years of pain, anger, confusion, and apathy. Long story short, it’s this experience that God is really calling me to use for His Kingdom. And it’s this experience that really gives me a heart for sexual abuse victims. I understand them in a way that other people can’t. And because it happened while I was in middle school, I really have a passion for middle schoolers, especially girls. And I want to stop it from happening to anyone else.
As I started pulling each of these pieces together, I got a very distinct impression of what I was supposed to do. Maybe not “do with my life”, but definitely “do now”. For the first time I was able to get a clear picture of who I was, what God had gifted me with, what experiences He’d given me, and how I was supposed to use those to really make a difference. In my head I immediately got this mental image of me working in/for an organization that helped educate parents and kids on the issue of sexual abuse, mainly focussing on preventing it. Either that, or me working in/for an organization that helps victims and their parents deal with it after it’s already happened.

But what was my next step? On Thursday I had no clue, but God let me know on Friday morning during my devotional time: “Hannah, go talk to Cori.” For those of you who don’t know Cori, she’s the pastor’s wife and Children’s Ministry coordinator at my church. I’ve been working with her for years, since I teach the middle schoolers in Sunday school, and we have a good relationship. My task tomorrow is to share this piece of my heart with her and see if there’s any place for my “ministry” within the church. I feel strongly that we should talk to parents in our church on how to prepare their children to stick up for themselves and educate them just enough to keep them out of harm’s way. I could be wrong… maybe the church isn’t the right setting. Maybe there’s an organization I should join outside the church to campaign for that. But either way, I’m showing up tomorrow to do what God asked. We’ll see how this goes.

Who Am I?

I’ve been doing a lot of seeking lately: seeking out Christ, learning about myself, and trying to figure out what God’s will or purpose for my life is.  And for those of you who know anything about the process involved behind those things, you understand why I’ve been having a rough time lately.

The more I dig into who I am and who God created me to be, the more I’m learning exactly who I’m NOT. I’ve learned lately, and it’s come as no surprise, exactly how many issues I struggle with. That list keeps getting longer. And many of these issues carry side effects that I’ve long categorized as being parts of my personality. For example, I am a very loyal friend. I’m learning that intense loyalty, beyond what is normal or healthy, is a result of codependency. As I struggle with codependency and battle to find healthy boundaries, I will learn that not all people deserve my loyalty, and I will learn when and how to distance myself from unhealthy people.  I had clung to many of these traits, assuming they were strengths in my personality.

The person who I thought I was relied so many things other than Christ, that as I learn how to depend on Him for my needs instead of other people, so much of who I thought I was is disappearing. And that leaves me sitting here thinking, so who am I really? If so much of what I thought I was is a byproduct of sin and doing things my own way, what’s left?

So then I’m at this simple question again of “Who am I?” While I’m not sure yet, God knows, because He made me, and He has a few things to say about it in the Bible. I found a cool article from which I’ve pulled a few of the below bullets. I suggest reading the whole thing.

  • I am God’s child (John 1:12)
  • I have been set free from condemnation (Rom 8:1-2)
  • I have been given a sound mind (2 Timothy 1) and wisdom (Ephesians 1:8)
  • I am a light in the darkness (Matthew 5:14)
  • I am sheltered under his wing–protected (Psalms 91:4)
  • I have a hope that is sure and steadfast (Heb 6:19)
  • I can come boldly to the throne of grace (Heb 4:1)
  • I can do all things through Christ (Philip 4:13)
  • I cannot  be separated from God’s love (Rom 8:35-3)

While this list does little for helping me figure out the spiritual gifts, passions, and heart that are unique to me, it gives me a launching point from which to go from. These things remind me that I am WORTH me going through the struggle of learning about myself. God has a plan for me, and whether the world considers it significant or impactful,  I recognize that it’s still MY plan, mine. And no one else gets the privilege of walking in the steps God’s outlined for me.

When Honesty Trumps

I’ve been going to the same church for 4 years. If you had asked me 3 months ago how to describe my church, it would have been as follows: It’s a great church, and the worship is phenomenal. We really have some talented musicians. The sermons are short, simple, and geared towards new believers, because they tend to be somewhat superficial. You really have to get into a small group to be challenged and to grow your faith.

I’d never been challenged by my church’s sermons. Every once in a while the pastor would make a good point that served as a reminder, but I never once felt convicted, and I never, ever, felt like the pastor was speaking directly to or about me.

But something happened in my life in November that changed that. God seriously and forcibly began working on my heart. As He broke down my walls I’d built to keep Him and everyone else out, I sat and looked at all of the pieces. He began pointing out my flaws, my struggles, and my sins. The more I embraced ALL of me, including the stuff I’d hidden from myself and other believers, the more I knew I needed God, His mercy, and His daily forgiveness.

I hadn’t realized how that would change my Sunday morning sermon experience, though. The more God worked on my heart, the more the pastor’s simple “new believer” sermons hit home for me. It was like I was a new believer, sitting in church for the first time. I went from getting very little out of his lessons to sitting there, petrified, because it felt like he knew my life story and what I was struggling with at that very moment. He talked about pain, pride and humility, addiction, honesty, and relationships. I could’ve sworn someone had told him. It’s been about three months since my first meltdown, and I still sit there and cry during sermons.

Yesterday’s sermon, titled “Temptation Island” (remind me to link to it when it’s up on the church website), convicted me more than any other sermon I’ve heard in my lifetime. It made me so uncomfortable that I had to resist the urge to get up and walk out of church. That’s saying a lot, especially for someone like myself who’s been a “Christian” and sitting in church for 18 years. I sat there, crying, and thinking to God “This isn’t fair. It’s not fair that you get to do this to me.” But then in the next breath I’m praying “Ok, this is ok. I know I need this. Thank you, I love you, please keep it up.” Talk about a war between the Spirit and the flesh…

With yesterday’s sermon came a small revelation. I never really connected with worship songs or sermons before I was honest to myself about myself. Now, it seems like I fit the bill for every screwed up sinner, duty-fulfilling servant, and grace-abiding child of God that’s mentioned in churches and worship songs. Suddenly I identify with EVERYTHING and EVERYONE. And as much as I hate this roller coaster I’m on, at least it feels real and honest. And I know that even though I can’t see the track, and it’s sometimes dark, I know there’s a light at the end of the the tunnel, and God is in the seat next to me, cradling my heart.

Now class, let’s take out your journals…

I’ve often thought of blogs as awfully self-indulgent. I’m going to sit here and write out my innermost thoughts for the world to see… and you’re going to read it and like it or utterly disagree with it. Sounds like a picnic, no? Sounds like Facebook, actually, but that’s another topic. Maybe another day.

I recently read “The Purpose Driven Life” by Rick Warren, which is an utterly fantastic book for Christians to read, process, and live out. It talks (among other things) about the important of journaling God’s work and your growth in your life. God has been busy in my life these past few months, so I’ve begun writing it all down. The way my mind works is both a blessing and a curse. I remember everything. EVERYTHING. And I’m obsessive, so I tend to obsess over details, especially when I know that they’re details that God has arranged for His purposes. It’s something I’m fascinated by… God plans. And I’ve been fixated on a lot of those details the past few weeks. I get stuck thinking about them, and there’s a mix of emotions ranging from frustration and anger to redemption and amazement. These details keep me enraptured, and they take up a lot of my time. So I’ve started writing, and apparently I have more words than I thought I did. I’m not sure who will read those words, but they’re there for when I’m ready to share them. But simply through the process of writing them dow, I’m organizing my thoughts and expressing the results of my “stew” sessions. And I’m saving these thoughts for a time when my faith may need some encouraging. Maybe no one other than me will ever read these notes, but that’s ok, because in truth, these words are just for me.

So I’ll put this out there: Christians (that means ME!) need to journal. I often thought that journaling was a response to what I was reading in my Bible. It can be, I think, but it’s so much more than that. Journaling should be my thoughts and reactions of my walk with Christ. He should be an intricate part of my daily life, and no human on the planet has the brainpower or memory storage banks to remember everything that He has done for me in my short 21 years. In another 21 years I want to be able to look back and tell exactly when Christ showed up. I want to be able to brag about Him, just like I would of a friend, sibling, or parent. Families tend to make memory books and take photos of special events. Think of a journal entry as a snapshot of a moment with Christ.

I want my testimony to be so long that it would take a lifetime to tell. And the only way I’m going to remember the way Christ was patient with me, loved me unconditionally, took care of my emotional, spiritual and mental needs, and showed affection toward me, is if I write it all down. And so I write.