The Morning Watch

For my first post on prayer, I want to make a simple entreaty: Let us drop the term “Quiet Time.

Doesn’t “quiet time” sound very … soft? A bit too dispensable?

Think this through with me: what images and connotations does “quiet time” conjure up in your mind? Slippers? Coffee? A plush cushy chair?

No wonder we drop it when other things feel more pressing. Morning “quiet time” sounds and feels like a luxury… when we have time. The language we use matters; our choice of words informs our attitudes and actions.

Can you imagine Jesus or the Apostle Paul having “quiet time”? It’s a bit ludicrous, right? Really to the point of being offensive.

My suggestion is that we replace “quiet time” with “The Morning Watch.”

The Morning Watch” brings in the idea of spiritual warfare. This is TRUE prayer. And this is a necessity. We DO have an Enemy. And he is prowling, watching and looking for whom he can devour. We ARE in a war… or we’ve been taken captive.

Are you living in defeat? Anxiety? Addiction? Escaping and numbing? How is your marriage? Are you experiencing “abundant life” and “freedom” that Jesus came to bring?

Perhaps you’ve gone AWOL.

“Prayer is a wartime walkie – talkie for spiritual and missional warfare; Not a domestic intercom to increase the comfort of the saints. And one of the reasons prayer malfunctions in the hands of so many Christian soldiers, is that they have gone AWOL.” ~ John Piper

Are you dressed for war?

Do you have a sword? How sharp? How skilled?

“If you can’t run with horsemen, how can you run with horses?” ( paraphrase Jeremiah 12:5)

“You CAN get better.” ~ Dan Allender

Let’s do it together. As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. ~ Proverbs 27:17

 

an enemy within: OCD

I will NEVER stop fighting for you”… these are the words that have started my journey against the enemy: OCD.

First of all, I believe that OCD is a very little understood mental illness. Most people think of someone who can’t stop washing their hands. That may be true in some cases, but for many people with OCD you might never see any symptoms.  Instead, the obsessions and compulsions occur within their minds. This is actually the most severe form of OCD, in my opinion.

The way I experienced my friend’s OCD was as an Enemy that took her completely away. She was present physically, but at the same time completely absent.  When the Monster was at its worst we couldn’t have a normal conversation for weeks.

She saw several professionals over a 3 year span, including a counselor, a psychologist, and a psychiatrist. There seemed to be a general consensus: It’s a genetic condition in which the wiring of the brain has a malfunction and thoughts get stuck in a highly anxious, obsessive pattern. The person has to perform various compulsions in an attempt to escape the unimaginably high levels of anxiety.  The two treatment options were a medication like Zoloft, or CBT therapy (cognitive behavioral therapy).

She tried both… long story short: neither was very helpful for her. At some level she gave up, and tried to find a comfortable way to live with this unwanted companion in her life. However, it made life hard for her and all who loved her. It was excruciating for her loved ones to watch her suffer. My new approach was to research natural supplements that could help her brain function. I read and researched and made endless phone calls. I told her again and again, “I will NEVER stop fighting for you.”

In 2014 I went to a “Trauma Care” Conference. This changed my entire perspective on OCD.

I was sitting at the conference listening to Gina White speak on “Dissociation”… and I felt like I was hit by a ton of bricks… ***OCD is a very sophisticated, rather ingenious way of dissociating*** is what I realized. Everything she was saying clicked. She said that people who are highly dissociative will say things like “I don’t feel human.” My eyes must have just about popped out of my head. My friend had said that countless times!!

Again, this was a conference about *Trauma.* I began to make connections between events in my friend’s childhood, that now with Dr. Dan Allender’s definition of trauma I could name as *Trauma* and see the connection with her OCD.

In all of her experiences seeking professional help, not one of them had suggested childhood trauma as the fertile ground for the seed of OCD to rise.  I don’t fault them because this is not what is taught.

It is a *FACT* that people with childhood trauma below the age of 4 years old have a hippocampus (the calming center that balances or overrides the amygdala- the danger center) that is 17-20% smaller than the general population. This is supporting evidence for my theory.

If infant and childhood trauma can change the brain in one way that researches have detected, and the intricacy of the brain is akin to the cosmos, doesn’t it make sense that other things about the brain’s networking are also affected?

Here is another premise about childhood trauma: Whether it occurs through childhood sexual abuse, parental divorce, addiction or violence in the home (verbal or physical) there is a common denominator of a severe deficit of attachment for the child.

The child, who has no ability to find resources outside of himself, will find internal mechanisms to bring down cortisol and increase dopamine and serotonin.

The book, How We Love our Kids, discusses 5 insecure attachment types in parents (Pleaser, Avoider, Vacillator, Controller and Victim Parents), the effect it has upon the children, and also how these attachment types will develop in growing children.

The chapter entitled, “Controller and Victim Children” opens with an example of a chaotic home in which there is alcohol addiction, verbal violence and fear. In this scenario there are two children, Clare and Caleb. Clare has a more timid disposition and becomes a “victim” in response to the trauma:

She grabbed her bear and wrapped herself in her bedspread, organizing all her other stuffed animals in a protective circle around her. The rest of the evening depended on Dad’s mood. Most likely her parents would fight, and her dad would yell at her mom. Clare’s stomach hurt. She wondered how bad it would be this time. She whispered to her bear, “If Daddy yells, we can put our heads under the pillow and sing. Nobody will find us.” She began to count her animals over and over to distract herself from the ticking time bomb beyond her bedroom door…”

The authors Milan and Kay Yerkovich explain:

This is a chaotic home. {Parents} Leon and Candi attend church, but their difficult upbringings have left scars. Behind their closed door, Mom and Dad switch back and forth between roles of victim and controller…

Since Clare’s personality is more timid, she deals by trying to comply, retreating, numbing her emotions, and creating an imaginary world. She’s learning to surrender, avoid conflict, and dissociate: the traits of a victim. 

Victims deal with high levels of anxiety by freezing and moving into an internal world to escape.

Kids reenact their trauma in play, trying to master and make sense of their experiences. Sometimes they assume the role of powerful perpetrator to feel some sense of relief over their helplessness.

My theory is that for many people, OCD was birthed through childhood trauma. A vast dissociative internal world was created, in which the child could feel safe and in control. Repetitive thoughts or actions became a way of alleviating anxiety. Later in adulthood, there is an aspect of recreating trauma within their mind, so that they can reenact the control and alleviation. OCD becomes an addiction that takes on a life of its own… the drug is the good feeling of mastering the obsession or fear and the alleviation of intense anxiety. It is an addiction to an interplay of control and victimization where roles are played out and conquered all in the individual’s mind.

The “intrusive” thoughts that are talked about in the professional and treatment realms are really not an “Outside Monster” as I once considered OCD to be. Instead, I believe the voice of OCD is an enemy within, akin to DID (dissociative identity disorder). A fragmented “self” that sabotages and becomes the “Controller”, allowing the person to have a target of self-contempt, a source of fear, for reenactment purposes, that can be escaped thus alleviating the fear and giving a sense of power to the previously powerless child within.

How can this addiction of OCD be treated? (Again, it is our theory that OCD is actually an addiction)

I believe that it can be treated through trauma resolution counseling… In which the underlying goal or purpose of the counselor is to create an attachment relationship for the person. In a sense, to re-parent the person through healthy attunement and containment (the two components of attachment).

It has been proven that the hippocampus will actually *grow* in the presence of a long term (3-4 years) relationship of healthy attunement.

I believe that CBT therapy doesn’t actually work. If it gives results for a time, I believe it’s because of the attunement of the therapist… if therapy only lasts a year or so, when it is over, I suspect the OCD will return.

Disclaimer: These are my thoughts that come from my experience with a loved one with OCD… I don’t claim to be a professional expert… These thoughts are my humble perspective, and I wanted to at least offer my ideas that are counter to main-stream approaches to OCD.

 

 

 

 

What about harming our own children?

After my last post, I realized that the material immediately begs this question- as we examine and come to understand the harm and brokenness in our families of origin that has shaped our own stories, what about our own children?  If you are brave enough to articulate the question- “How have I, or am I currently harming my own children? … Because just as my parents were not “pre-fall Adam and Eve”, neither are my husband and I!”

Ryan and I were fortunate to have a wise premarital counselor who told us: “You WILL harm your children. Your children WILL have issues specifically because YOU are their parents.”

I think that gave both of us a huge feeling of freedom as we set out in our young family. It was kind of like permission from the beginning to fail. We simply accepted brokenness as part of the picture, and realized that we weren’t going to build our lives around a facade…  We didn’t have to waste years of frustrated parenting efforts to be “perfect parents”… Instead we built a family culture of *reality, honesty, humility, repentance and forgiveness.”

So if you never had the benefit as we did of our wise counselor, I’m telling you now: “You WILL harm your children. Your children WILL have issues specifically because YOU are their parent.”

If you take this to heart, you may think- okay, then what next? start a savings account for my child’s future counseling?  (Actually, that IS a good idea- Dan Allender and his wife actually DID just that! *EVERYONE* needs counseling… only the brave and honest actually get it. As Ryan loves to say, “The people who say they don’t need it, are the really scary ones, and actually need it the most.)

I believe that given this premise, it is our responsibility to know our own stories, and to know our own woundedness. You will either parent out of your woundedness or out of wisdom… the only way to swing the balance (our woundedness will *never* be completely out of the picture) is to be growing in awareness… God designed us so radically for relationship, community and intimacy that we *CANNOT* grow on our own… we are dependent on others to grow in truth and faith. (supporting verses Ephesians 2:21, 4:16; Colossians 2:19; many in Proverbs)

The problem is… that *shame* and *pride* cause us to hide the broken and wounded parts of our hearts.  When we isolate our marriages and the reality of our family dynamics, insulating from any outside input or wisdom, Evil is bound to creep in, take root, and flourish.

Isaiah 30 speaks of our natural inclination to live in a false reality- either by distraction (*Social MEDIA*), dissociation (TV! Video games), addictions (PORN ), *Busyness* :

Isaiah says that these people, whom we are *just like* say: “speak to us smooth things,
    prophesy illusions.” (30:10) Like them, we don’t want to face the truth of sin and evil  working in our families- that we grew up in, or that we are raising.

But verse 15, gives us the source of *HOPE* and *JOY* in the midst of painful reality:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,
“In repentance and rest you shall be saved;
    in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”
But you were unwilling, 16 and you said,
“No! We will flee upon horses”;
    therefore you shall flee away;

In coming to the Lord and each other in honesty and repentance there is healing, hope and joy- as this passage says- **REST**. Otherwise, if you keep covering up, you will always be running, *fleeing*… anxious, and exhausted, and still feeling so weighed down with guilt.  Is that what you want??  Maybe the pain of truth is worth it because at the end there is rest, quietness, trust… and the Lord Himself.

In my next post, I’ll get into some categories or starting places to look into your stories and how they are lived out in your communities and families.

 

 

What a prostitution survivor taught me about joy ~ by Jay Stringer

What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me About Joy, Part One

By Jay Stringer · November 5, 2015 What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me about Joy

For the next two weeks, we’re featuring an article from Jay Stringer, an alumnus of The Seattle School (MDiv and MA in Counseling Psychology ‘09) who works as both a licensed mental health counselor and an ordained minister. Here, Jay writes about the devastating, paradigm-shifting stories he encountered working at a community mental health clinic, and about what the people there—including a prostitution survivortaught him about trauma, addiction, healing, and, somehow, joy. This post originally appeared in The Other Journal.

http://theallendercenter.org/2015/11/prostitution-and-joy-1/

 

I hope you take the time to read the full article, both parts. It’s *so* good!! But here are some salient excerpts: 

Without exception, each client had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and some type of chemical dependency diagnosis for cocaine, heroin, alcohol, or meth at some point in their life. For the first time that I can recall, addiction made sense. My paradigm for drug users shifted from a posture of condemnation to a hybrid of relief and lament that they found a substance capable of giving them a brief intermission from all the brutality they had undergone. Those who are traumatized do not choose drugs because they want to be rebellious teenagers or irresponsible adults; they are choosing a chemical that is powerful enough to address the powers of evil that have been unleashed against them and within them. How is it that we have become so judgmental of drug use and so blind to their trauma? **The tragedy, far more than the drug use, is the trauma. Woe to us who forget this.** ….

The angel of the Lord finds Hagar here in this unexpected place and asks her the best questions any friend, spouse, therapist, or pastor could ever ask someone about their life: Where do you come from? Where are you going? The voice of God is curious, and the ears of God incline to hear her trauma…

Hagar is so moved by this encounter and blessing that she is compelled to say, “El Roi,” meaning “the God who sees me.” This is remarkable. It is a stranger, a foreigner, who is the first person to name God in the Scriptures. Although her knowledge of Yahweh is exceedingly limited, Hagar recognizes that this God is concerned with her trauma and will move with compassion toward her.

What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me About Joy, Part Two

By Jay Stringer · November 12, 2015 What a Prostitution Survivor Taught Me about Joy

In part one of this article, Jay Stringer, an alumnus of The Seattle School (MDiv and MA in Counseling Psychology ‘09), began writing about the devastating, paradigm-shifting stories he encountered working at a community mental health clinic:

“The absurdity and oddness I observed in these men and women were, I realized, not only characteristics of their trauma. They were also estranged because they did not have the access, ability, or desire to bow to our modern idols of capitalism, denial, and power. These gods allow most of us to maneuver our lives away from pain as we settle for surrogate sources of comfort. In spending time with this population, I began to get a sense of something out of a Twilight Zone episode—I began to think that maybe we, the stable ones, are actually the most troubled.”

 

http://theallendercenter.org/2015/11/prostitution-and-joy-2/

Again, some salient excerpts:

One Friday afternoon, I was covering the front desk after our receptionist went home sick when the most unusual woman came through the doors. Her walk, her clothes, and her face—they were all ancient in a futuristic, Star Wars sort of way. She leaned her arms over the reception counter and carefully examined my face for a good ten or fifteen seconds as she chewed gum with the tenacity of an iconic 1980s aerobic instructor.

She stopped chewing and said, “You must be new here. I don’t believe our eyes have met.”

I nodded with a smile and said, “You are correct. This is my third week. What can I do for you?”

She glanced at the clock. “Well I know you are about to close for the weekend. I just need to know where my party is and I will be on my way.”

I told her I had no idea what she was talking about. She looked at me with a bit of irritation. “Oh, of course you don’t know yet—but the city of Seattle throws me a party every Friday night.”

At this point, I was thinking almost exclusively about the appropriate clinical diagnosis for the woman. My internal dialogue went something like this: “Schizophrenia? Possibly, but not enough disorganization. Narcissistic personality disorder? More than likely—who in the world says something like that?”

I chose instead to be playful with my incredulity and asked, “Now why would a whole city throw you a party?”

Delighted, she stood straight up with a strong and playful dignity and proclaimed, “Well, I used to be a heroin whore, but now I’m clean, I’m sober, and I’m beautiful. Every weekend the city throws me a party to celebrate my life. You should come; it’s the best dancing in the city.”

I googled clean and sober parties in Seattle, and sure enough they existed. I wrote the address of her party on a card and she thanked me, spun around, and danced out of the clinic…

After declining another dance party invitation, I retrieved Stacey’s chart to write a progress note from our session. When I opened her file, chills ran through my body. I had read her file before. This was the woman who was sold into prostitution by her mother on her ninth birthday and had remained in that life for over fifteen years.

Stacey’s life and presence remain completely astonishing to me because I’ve come to recognize that she understands more about the nature of trauma, addiction, and healing than I could ever hope to learn. She knows that her lifetime of trauma and decades of addiction were not grounds for condemnation or alienation; she knows that they were the very events that formed her beauty and invited her to dance in the delight of God…

The mission many churches faithfully commit to year after year is one of service to a broken and hurting world. The complexity of this mission is that it often sets us up to believe that brokenness and sin reside mostly out there in the world and not in us. The result is a patronizing engagement with the people we make the focus of our mission or outreach. We refuse to see ourselves as the sick ones, and we therefore live as if we need no physician. A litmus test for whether or not your ministry falls into this trap is to discern whether you understand yourself to be more troubled and in need of the gospel than those you serve…

Christianity is fundamentally a faith in the trauma and resurrection of Jesus. The powers of evil believed their weapons of torture could defeat God, but paradoxically it is the trauma and death of Jesus that liberates the world. If we want to reveal the story of Jesus, we will be asked to confront the traumas that surround us…

But there are other seasons in which the trauma we confront is of our own doingthe recognition that our control has fractured the relationships with our spouse and children; the reality that we have hated ourselves for decades and it now contaminates everything, from our eating to our buying and the very theologies we embrace; of a gender that is responsible for so much of the degradation and violation of women…

The wonder and wisdom of the gospel is that God’s trauma addresses both these story lines. The atonement Jesus procures for us is the announcement that we are sinners who struggle with lust and anger but also the good news that this sin is {no longer} grounds for separation {because Jesus was our substitute in bearing God’s wrath for us, in our place} ; it is the very soil in which the work of redemption will grow forth.