How Elijah Teaches About Mental Health

Mental Health Awareness MonthMay is Mental Health Awareness Month. In last week’s post, we looked at different kinds of mental illnesses, the myths about these illnesses and some of the causes.

Today we will look at some lessons from the Old Testament prophet Elijah. It’s not what he has to say as much as what we can learn by observing his life.

Let’s start with a brief overview of I Kings 17-19. God works some miracles. No rain falls until Elijah says so. Ravens bring Elijah some food. Oil and flour multiply for a starving widow and her son. Later, Elijah raises the widow’s son from death.

Next, Elijah alone challenges 450 priests of Baal. He watches them prepare and offer their sacrifices to Baal, with no results. Then Elijah prepares and offers his sacrifice to God. He uses 12 stones, builds an altar, puts the wood on it, cuts up the bull and sacrifices it.

God accepts Elijah’s sacrifice, sends fire and consumes the altar. The people repent, capture the prophets of Baal, and Elijah kills all the evil prophets. The result is a big revival.

After all this occurs, Elijah tells King Ahab to hurry home and have a nice supper because it’s going to rain. But Elijah then runs ahead of Ahab 16 miles and arrives at Jezreel before the king and his chariot.

Ahab tells his wife, wicked Queen Jezebel, “Elijah has killed the priests of Baal.” Jezebel is so angry, she declares she’s going to kill Elijah. So he runs scared—in fact he runs 20 miles; then walks another 20 miles until he reaches the wilderness.

Then Elijah begs God to kill him. What’s with that? Is this man crazy? Suicidal? Depressed? Did he forget about the miracles God had just performed?

Elijah was a mighty man of God. Had he suddenly lost his faith?

No, he was not crazy and he had not lost his faith. He might have been depressed, certainly discouraged. Let’s look at what might be going on in his life and see if we can learn some tips about mental health.

First, Elijah is exhausted. Let’s look again at all the physical things he did. He completed a major building project by making the altar. Then he ran and walked several miles. He was tired, sleepy and hungry.

After Elijah asked God to kill him, he slept. Twice an angel woke him up and gave him food to eat.  Then, after he was rested and full, he had the strength to go on.

Elijah simply needed to rest, sleep and eat good food. This was not a spiritual issue. It was physical.

In his Bible study, “To Walk and Not Grow Weary,” Fran Sciacca concurs, “Often what we consider a hopeless emotional or spiritual battle is actually due to our own neglect of basic physical needs, such as proper rest, food, and exercise.” 

Lesson #1 – We need to take care of ourselves physically. When we are tired, we need to get enough rest and sleep. And we need to eat the right foods to give us energy. 

Second, Elijah believed a lie. He said “I alone am left.” Yet the story mentions 100 other prophets and 7000 God-worshipers. Though Elijah was a man of God, he believed the lie that he was alone. He surely felt lonely and frightened to think he was the only God-follower in the entire nation.

Elijah needed to know and dwell on the truth.

Dr. Chris Thurman, in “The Lies We Tell Ourselves” states, “Most of our emotional struggles, relationship difficulties, and spiritual setbacks are caused by the lies we tell ourselves.” 

Lesson #2 – We need to separate the truth from the lies and focus our thinking on truth. 

Third, Elijah was isolated. Although other God-followers were in the story, for the most part, Elijah was isolated and so, he felt alone. Occasionally, his servant was with him, but he didn’t have fellowship with other God-followers. Though Elijah had experienced many victories, he was not only isolated, he was probably lonely.

Elijah needed companionship 

Larry Crab in “Connecting” expresses a similar belief, “The problem is disconnected souls. What we need is connection…community.” 

Lesson #3 – We need to be around other people. We are not created to live in isolation. 

From Elijah’s story, we can conclude that Elijah’s depression (his desire to die) was not primarily a spiritual issue. Rather, his physical exhaustion, his cognitive beliefs, and his social isolation influenced his emotions and his spirit. Because he was tired, misinformed and alone, he was mentally and spiritually unhealthy.

So what can we learn from Elijah about having good mental health?

The next time you’re feeling really stressed, anxious or discouraged, ask yourself if you’re exhausted, believing a lie, or isolated.

If so, find some extra time to rest, eat some healthy food, think about the truth, and connect with a friend. If those activities don’t help, then call your doctor, your pastor or a counselor.

And don’t forget GateWay of Hope is here to help. Call us at 913.393.GATE (4283).

©2016 Deborah Simon, Director of Counseling, GateWay of Hope

How to Be Aware of Mental Health

For those of you who are regular followers of the GateWay of Hope blog, you’ll remember that April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month. We want to keep you informed about important issues, so from time to time, we will address various “awareness months.”

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.

If you were sitting across from me, I would ask you what you think of when you hear the word “mental health” or “mental illness.” You might give an answer similar to one of the following:Counseling image

  • Mental illness just means you’re depressed.
  • Mental illness has to do with “crazy people.”
  • Mental illness would NEVER affect me, my family or the people in my church.
  • People who have a mental illness are simply weak. If they were stronger or had more faith they could get over it by themselves.
  • There’s no real help or hope for people who are mentally ill.

These are just a few of the myths about mental illness, so I wanted to share a few thoughts and information with you.

There are hundreds of types of mental illnesses. Today counselors and psychologists use the “Mental Health bible” known as the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual – 5 (www.dsm5.org) for diagnosing mental illness. The positive aspect of being diagnosed is when we say “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder” it has a real meaning and is not just a word to throw around.

A few of the categories of mental illnesses listed in the DSM-5 include:

  • Depression
  • Bi-polar, Schizophrenia and Anxiety Disorders
  • Trauma, Eating, Sleeping and Sexual Dysfunctions Disorders
  • Impulse-Control, Substance Addiction, Neurocognitive and Personality Disorders
  • And the list goes on

These are just the main categories. Under each of these are sub-categories. So mental illness isn’t just one thing such as cancer or orthopedic issues.

I’m 100% certain you know someone with a diagnosable mental illness. In fact, many of you reading this post will fall into a category based on the information described above. It does NOT mean you, your family member or your church friends are crazy.

Many mental illnesses actually have their basis in our biology, genetics and brains. Others come from how we were raised or trauma we may have endured as children or adults. Still others come from long-term choices we have made. But often, though not always, it is a combination of these three.

Having a mental illness does not mean you are weak. Neither does it mean you are unspiritual and don’t have enough faith.

Those kinds of beliefs only hurt people, akin to mocking the person who has been in a terrible car accident, saying she is stupid or weak because she can’t run the New York marathon.

Today there are many varieties of help for people with mental illnesses: individual counseling, support groups, psycho-education, medication, self-help books and of course – prayer.

Whether people choose a public mental health facility or a private counselor, they can get help. Whether they choose to confide in their pastor or church leader or go to their doctor, they can get help.  Whether they join a support group or take a psychiatric medication or attend a psycho-educational seminar, they can get help.

Many people think medication is not a good way to address a mental illness because medications have been abused or people think mental health drugs are unspiritual. Still others prefer going the natural realm of using vitamins and supplements. That’s also okay, if they work.

But please don’t condemn people who are on psychiatric medications or tell them not to take their drugs. No one would tell a diabetic to not take insulin and just pray.

The same thing is true about medications for depression, anxiety and a whole host of other conditions. Yes, medications can be over-used or used wrongly, but let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

Please remember the best help for anyone with a mental illness is usually all of the above. Talk-therapy and medication-therapy working hand-in-hand often are a winning duo. The church and the counselor partnering together can offer more than either of them can offer separately.  When you add the doctor, the collaboration is even stronger.

The person with a diagnosable mental illness of any kind needs prayer and encouragement. The last thing she needs is to be told to just “get over it” by having more faith.

That suggestion causes unbelievable harm and shame. Christ-followers would never want to do that to fellow believers or family members.

To learn more about mental health and mental illness, we recommend two websites: www.nimh.nih.gov and www.nami.org. Become informed and educate yourself.

Another organization in Olathe with a similar name as GateWay of Hope is Pathway to Hope. Pathway advocates for the mentally ill and offers support groups for clients and their families. You can learn more at www.pathwaytohope.org

GateWay of Hope can help the women in your life who struggle with a mental health issue. Please call us at 913.393.GATE(4283).

We are here to help and encourage you.

©2016 – Deborah Simon, LCPC – Director of Counseling, GateWay of Hope

Comparing Apples to Oranges

I have struggled with low self-confidence since childhood. When someone compliments me, I mentally list others who do it bigger, better, grander than I.

apple tree I rarely try anything new or (gasp) a little silly because I fear what others might say. I imagine their judgmental thoughts: she’s such a klutz, such a fool, a real loser. I constantly hear the inner voice of Mom’s stern warning: What will the neighbors think?

But all this comparison and worry of others’ opinions is unhealthy. In fact, it is unbiblical.

We are called to love others AS ourselves. This means I need to treat myself with compassion, grace and mercy. And I must learn to accept myself as I am: my gifts, talents, strengths, and weaknesses.

 We bring joy to God by becoming who He created us to be.

How I must disappoint Him when I devalue my accomplishments. How I must frustrate Him when I compare my shortcomings to someone else’s expertise.

Comparison robs me of the opportunity to become my best, and it denies God joy.

In reading through the Psalms earlier this year, I marveled at the number of the times nature is used to illustrate God’s truth. And this particular word image came to mind: God creates the apple tree to produce apples. That is its sole purpose and the apple tree willingly obeys.

The apple tree doesn’t look at the orange tree and wish it could produce oranges. It doesn’t resent it is an apple tree, or harbor envy that it is not an orange tree. The apple tree accepts its role in life and is content to fulfill that purpose.

The apple tree doesn’t look at other trees in the orchard and wish it could be like them. It doesn’t put itself down. It doesn’t judge its fruit to the other, wishing its apples could be bigger, redder, or more plentiful. It merely produces the best apples possible.

The Granny Smith doesn’t bemoan the fact that its fruit is tart. It doesn’t wish it could be a sweet Honey Crisp. It is satisfied with its lot in life, and so is the Lord. God knows there is a unique purpose for each variety of apple. Think of it, without Granny Smiths we wouldn’t have the perfect apple pie filled with warm firm fruit, rather, we would have mealy mush inside a pastry crust.

Sometimes the apple tree needs a little help. If it is allowed to grow wild with no direction or discipline, it can’t achieve its full potential. The farmer must water, fertilize, and sometimes prune to help the tree become its best. This pruning is out of love and respect for the tree; it is not a form of chastisement or punishment.

And so the apple tree accepts its calling to produce apples. It derives joy from doing exactly what it is supposed to do.

Nature is teaching me to stop comparing and to simply accept who God created me to be. This lesson brings me joy and peace, even as it honors God and brings Him delight.

“…He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you, but will rejoice over you with singing.”          ~ Zephaniah 3:17

©2016 Molly Totoro – for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

When Discouragement Settles In

depressed womanOne of the lines in the movie “It’s A Wonderful Life,” presents a great truth.  Clarence, the angel who’s trying to earn his wings, asks God what is wrong with George Bailey. “Is he sick?”

“Worse,” God says. “He’s discouraged.”

We might define discouragement as a black cloud that hovers over us, stealing our joy and distracting us from the abundant life. We feel melancholy and can easily slip into a gloomy pessimism that eliminates hope.

Or we might go as deeply into the discouragement that we eventually develop the darkness of depression.

Sometimes, as in George Bailey’s case, discouragement settles in because of the circumstances of life. He was in danger of losing his business and going to jail for a mistake he did not make.

For us, discouragement might be the result of a financial setback, a health issue, a child who denies her faith or a host of other struggles.

Discouragement may be the result of how others treat us. Constant verbal abuse that tears at our self-esteem or someone who ignores us when we so desperately need to be cherished.

Sometimes discouragement creates a rut of gloominess. We feel we’ve struggled for so long, we can’t move forward and we don’t know how to climb out of that dark pit.

So what do we do when discouragement settles in? Can we pray for an angel, a Clarence, to come alongside us?

Yes, we can. We can ask God to send us encouragement through the presence of angels or through the kindness of other Christians, through the changing of circumstances or through a special song we hear on the radio.

We can ask Jesus to pray for us and help lift us out of our melancholy. His role at the right hand of God is to intercede, to remind God of what we need and ask for divine intervention. It’s okay to ask Jesus to pray for us.

We can talk to counselors and coaches who will help us find the root of the problem and formulate a plan to move forward. GateWay of Hope offers counseling, coaching and support groups. Check out our website for more information.

We can also remind ourselves that discouragement doesn’t have to win.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day” (2 Corinthians 4:16).

  • One day at a time, present the discouragement to God.
  • Journal about your thoughts.
  • Check with us at GateWay for ways we can help you.
  • Stay in hope – don’t lose heart.
  • Share the truth about your feelings with a trusted friend.

Discouragement doesn’t have to win, and we CAN live the abundant life in joy. Let’s all band together and fight against discouragement.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

 

How to Care for Yourself After Sexual Assault

saam - women 3By now you probably know that GateWay of Hope is honoring April as Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). In our first blog post this month we looked at who is affected and how it affects them. (Click here to read the previous post.) We also examined how to help prevent sexual assault/abuse. In our second post, we explored how both individuals and churches can offer support to survivors.

Before we consider today’s topic – caring for yourself – I want to add three more suggestions for walking beside a survivor of sexual trauma:

  • Acknowledge your own inadequacies – to yourself AND your friend. You don’t have to have the answers or solutions. You are not called to make everything okay. You are simply called to be there and offer love. It’s okay to feel weak and not know what to do. Now you know how your friend often feels.
  • Be willing to witness intense pain, multi-layered anger, and unanswerable questions. The kind of evil your friend has faced will be hard for you to hear and look at. You may be uncomfortable at times. You may also be triggered if you have your own unresolved pain. If that happens don’t ignore it, but take care of yourself. Know this will be hard for you as well as her.
  • Pray. Pray. Pray. This woman is in a battle for her life. She needs your prayers. But always ask her permission before you pray in her presence. She may be angry at God and not want to have anything to do with Him at this time. Don’t force God on her, but keep praying for her anyway.

Today’s blog post is for the woman who has survived the tragedy of sexual abuse or assault. If you don’t happen to be one of those women, thank God…but please keep reading. You too can learn something.

In our first blog post we learned sexual abuse affects our entire lives: bodies, emotions, relationships, thinking and spirits. In today’s post, I want to encourage you to take care of yourself in all of those areas! I know this will be hard because some of you may not think you are even worth taking care of. But that just isn’t true. You are valuable. You have worth. It’s time to take care of you.

  • Physically – Be kind and sensitive to your body. It has been through a lot and needs your care. But first you will need to acknowledge your body. For many of you who have faced sexual abuse/assault, you have disconnected yourself from your body to such an extent you hardly know it’s yours. Or if you do know, you may hate it. Some of you may be rolling your eyes or shaking your heads, but please hear me out. You know the basics such as: get enough sleep, eat right, exercise, but I want to go beyond this to include your attitude toward your body. Reconnect to and appreciate your body. Embrace yourself.
  • Emotionally – Acknowledge how and what you feel: rage, grief, fear, numbness, helplessness, discouragement. These emotions are normal. You don’t need to act on them; just accept them. Many survivors are adept at pushing emotions down, trying to bury them, deny or ignore them. It doesn’t work…at least not long term. Until you acknowledge how you feel, you can’t do anything about it. Try journaling or talking with a trusted friend or counselor. Do some artwork that expresses your feelings. Here’s an exercise for you – identify what you are feeling and then assign a color that represents that emotion.
  • Relationally – So many survivors of sexual trauma find it difficult to trust – men, women, God, anyone. They also find it hard to say “No.” They want to be in relationship, but to do so feels unsafe. They must take a risk to be in relationships. So it is very important to learn how to know whom to trust. Take small, very small, steps. Not everyone is trustworthy and safe; but neither is everyone unsafe. Consider reading “Safe People” and “Boundaries” by Drs. Cloud and Townsend. Or sign up for a Boundaries class at GateWay.
  • Cognitively – Lies, lies, lies. So many lies develop when you face trauma. Healing comes when you replace the lies with truth.

        In her book “On the Threshold of Hope” Diane Langberg writes, “All of our thinking has been shaped by the experiences and people in our lives.”  

Sexual assault impacts the way you think. Find a friend, pastor or counselor who can help you sort out the lies and then replace them with truth. Here at GateWay, we are ready to help you. And don’t forget to ask God to speak truth into your heart so you can displace the lies that are controlling you.

  • Spiritually – When scripture is twisted to sanction abuse, it keeps us from trusting God. Or when your father (or father figure) sexually abused you it seems impossible to trust God as your “Father.” But know that your heavenly Father is so very patient and, unlike your earthly father, God NEVER forces Himself on you. He will wait until you are ready. Be honest with Him because He can take your anger. Write out your prayers and questions to Him. He’d much rather have you be angry and honest than pretending to love and worship Him when you really just want to shake your fist and scream. I promise you, He loves you, even if you don’t love yourself. Please allow Him to comfort you in your fear, grief and pain.

If you are a survivor of sexual abuse, take care of yourself. At GateWay of Hope we are available to help you in any way. Please call 913.393.GATE (4283) or email (deborahs@gwhope.org). We are here for you.

©2016 Deborah Simon, LCPC – Director of Counseling – GateWay of Hope Deborah Simon

 

How to Practice Endurance

In January I had an accident. Nothing life-threatening, but I did break my arm (now put together with a titanium rod and two pins) and fractured my hip (knitted together with three titanium screws). My friends now call me the bionic woman.

All this additional hardware required three weeks of convalescence, and then I began physical therapy. While it takes 21 days to build a habit, I discovered we regress even faster. exercise

Newton’s Law is true: a body in motion tends to stay in motion, but a body at rest tends to stay at rest.

Last summer I walked 10,000 steps a day with little effort. After the accident, twenty simple leg lifts left me winded. Typically I reserve one day a week for errands, running around town to stock up on food and various household items. But now I barely walk the aisles of the grocery store before I have to return home to rest.

The pain is manageable, but I have lost endurance.

And the longer I stay I at rest, the easier it is to wallow there. I find myself justifying the choice rather than trying to overcome it.

However, if I sit too often or too long, my joints grow stiff, my clothes feel snug, and projects go unfinished. I try to convince myself I need to take it easy, but the reality is… I’m not willing to do the work.

Rebuilding endurance takes effort. First, I must purpose to increase my stamina. This requires setting aside a certain amount of time each day to retrain. By giving time to this, however, I must give up something in return.

 What am I willing to sacrifice in order to succeed?

Second, endurance requires patience. I can’t start walking 10,000 steps a day; I must work up to that goal. This requires I begin slowly and accept temporary limitations.

I must look forward in the direction I want to go, rather than staring back at my past. I must pace myself, pushing as hard as I can tolerate, but not beyond. Trying to do too much too quickly will only result in setbacks.

Third, endurance requires determination. The effort was rewarding when I saw measurable results. It didn’t take long to increase the number of leg lifts without struggling for breath. And I was soon able to return to errand day without problem.

But it takes resolve and determination to keep on track when results are not forthcoming.

Synonyms for endurance include: fortitude, perseverance, persistence, tenacity, and courage. These words imply it is not a matter of “if” I will face challenges, it is a matter of when and how often.

And I know the greater the initial determination, the greater frequency of trials and roadblocks. I must prepare mentally as well as physically to succeed, no matter what.

After three months, I have regained about 90% of my arm/hip function. While it is tempting to accept this as “good enough” I refuse to settle. It will take another four months of sweat, inconvenience, persistence, tenacity and fortitude before I see any measurable results.

Is it worth it? Absolutely.

Don’t settle. You are too valuable in God’s sight to settle for anything less than His best for your life.

Just take one small step today and you will discover: a body in motion will stay in motion.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

“… And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” 

©2016 Molly Totoro – for GateWay of Hope

Molly Totoro is a writer who has a heart and passion for authentic living. She firmly believes “Everyone has a story to share.” Molly helps others write their stories to impact future generations. Follow Molly’s new blog series, “How to Journal” at Revising Life after 50.

How to Stop Pretending and Start Helping

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).saam-2

In the post for April 7, we looked at what sexual assault is, how it affects its victims and how to prevent it. We admitted that we don’t like to talk about such an uncomfortable topic.

Yet we agreed that we needed to get the topic on the table and stop pretending it doesn’t happen to women we know. If we don’t, we can’t help those who have been victims of sexual abuse or sexual assault, incest, rape, molestation, trafficking or pornography.

But understanding sexual assault isn’t enough. We can help survivors of abuse and offer them support and hope. Below are some practical ways to help:

  • Listen to her.  Support her. Let her tell you her story over and over. Every time she tells her story she processes it in some small way.
  • Never blame, judge, or condemn her. She is probably already doing that herself. So are other people. It is NEVER the fault of the victim. And remember she will be reading your body language. Even if you never say a word, but still judge her, your non-verbal ques will convey your judgment.
  • Don’t try to fix her or make her be okay with what happened. Though it is sometimes helpful for her to focus on fun activities, don’t try to make her get active in hopes she’ll “forget” what happened. It won’t work and will cause further harm to her.
  • At times she may be overwhelmed with memories and become overly depressed or anxious. During those really low times she could use your practical help: childcare, meals, errands, etc. These may not be long-term helps, but at times they may be just what she needs.
  • Refer her to a professional counselor who is experienced in trauma. She needs you to be her friend, mentor, or spouse. But she also needs a counselor. She is not likely to tell you the whole story. She may not want to “burden you” and to be honest, she may be too ashamed to tell you the details.

Though she may be afraid to seek professional help, you can encourage her to find a counselor who understands. GateWay of Hope can help. Give her our number – 913.393.GATE (4283).

Maybe you are a pastor, elder or women’s ministry leader. You don’t think this affects the women in your church. Please remember that 1 in 3-4 girls will suffer sexual abuse before the age of 18. And 1 in 6 women will face sexual assault or attempted assault as a teenager or as an adult.

Now picture the women in your church. Do the math. How many have been abused in your church alone?

As leaders, you have tremendous influence in your congregations. You may already understand sexual assault, but you can also offer hope to survivors. Here are some concrete ways to help:

  • Pastors and church leaders can address this delicate topic from the pulpit. Let your congregation know the statistics. Educate them. Let them know help is available. When preaching on topics such as forgiveness, be especially sensitive. Give her time to process the abuse and then begin the forgiveness process.
  • If you are a male pastor, know it will often be difficult for a woman to tell you details about her abuse or rape. She may need a woman to talk with, but not just any woman. Please refer her to a female professional counselor who understands sexual trauma.
  • Conduct background checks on all staff and volunteers, particularly those who work with children. Educate your church staff and key leaders – both paid and volunteers. Your church leadership may not know how to “diagnose” abuse, but it is imperative that they be aware of any abusive behaviors.
  • Finances can deter some women from seeking counseling. Consider establishing a scholarship fund for women who otherwise could not afford counseling. This is a big commitment, but it can go a long way toward a woman’s healing. Knowing that her church values her enough to help can be life-saving for an abused woman.This is especially true for women who experienced spiritual abuse along with their sexual abuse. Scriptures were twisted to make the abuse not only okay, but “God’s will.” That seems impossible, but we know it happens. When the church provides financial assistance for counseling to sexual abuse/assault survivors, it will help them on their spiritual journey.
  • Most importantly, be a safe church. If your church commits to all of the above, it will be well on its way to being a safe place. Most importantly, think of how Jesus would behave toward these women and follow His example.

Some of you already know the above suggestions and you’re already doing them. But for others, this information is new and your heads are spinning. We recommend two books by Christian counselors: “On the Threshold of Hope” by Diane Langberg and “Door of Hope” by Jan Frank.

If you would like to learn more about sexual assault or invite GateWay staff to come and educate your church or organization, please give us a call at 913.393.GATE (4283). We would love to talk with you.

Women who have experienced sexual assault need both their church and the professional counselors at GateWay of Hope. Together we can offer hope and encouragement to survivors of sexual abuse/assault.

©2016 Deborah Simon – Director of Counseling

GateWay of Hope

What We Don’t Like to Think About

April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM).saam_logo_1

Sexual assault is not a topic any of us like to think or talk about.

Some of us are uncomfortable because we don’t like unpleasant topics. Or maybe we feel embarrassed.

Some of us don’t really believe sexual assault happens that much. We try to pretend it only happens to a “certain kind of woman.” We don’t believe it would ever affect us, our daughters or our friends. And it certainly couldn’t find its way into the church!

But that is not true. Sexual violence affects ALL genders, ages, races, religions, incomes, abilities, professions, ethnicities and sexual orientations.

Still others of us know entirely too much about “sexual assault.” We’ve experienced it up close and personal. Those words bring up terrifying memories of rape, fondling, incest, sexual harassment, being trafficked or filmed for pornography.

We were threatened to never tell. As children we were told it was our fault and no one would believe us if we told. As adults we were afraid to report it because we didn’t want to be humiliated or blamed.

Statistics may be something that make you yawn. But think of this: One in three to four girls will be sexually abused before the age of 18.  One in five adult women will experience rape or attempted rape sometime in their lives. Now think of the women in your life. Those statistics apply to them…to you.

The effect of this sexual violence impacts the victims long-term and in many ways. Diane Langberg in her book, “On the Threshold of Hope” identifies many ways sexual abuse damages us.

 

  • Sexual abuse damages our bodies. It can cause personal injuries, pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases. It also affects the way the victim perceives and thinks about her body.
  • Sexual abuse damages our emotions. Fear, guilt, shame, self-blame and anger become all too familiar companions and affect every area of the survivor’s life.
  • Sexual abuse damages our relationships. Trust and boundaries become skewed. Survivors may withdraw from others including spouses, family members and friends.
  • Sexual abuse damages our thinking. Lies abound: “It must have been my fault. I’m damaged goods. Now I have no value or worth. No one is safe.”
  • Sexual abuse damages our spirits. We question God’s goodness and love. We demand to know “Why?” And if the abuser is a father-figure, as is so often the case in childhood sexual abuse, it makes it especially hard to call God “Father.”

From a mental health perspective, sexual assault can cause PTSD, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders.

Sexual violence, sad to say, is not a new phenomenon. We can even find stories in the Bible. King David’s daughter, Tamar, was raped by her half-brother, Amnon, and then thrown out of his house. Her full brother Absalom basically said, “Don’t worry,” and then her father ignored the offense. See 2 Samuel 13 for the full story.

One of the worst stories of gang rape is found in Judges 19. When the men of Gibeah wanted to have sex with the visiting (male) Levite, their host gave them the Levite’s concubine/wife instead. The men of the city raped her all night and in the morning she was dead.

So, what can we do to help stop sexual assault?

“PREVENTION IS POSSIBLE” is this year’s theme for SAAM. Here are their suggestions as to how you can make a difference.

  • Intervene to stop concerning behavior
  • Speak up when you hear rape jokes or harmful comments
  • Believe and support survivors
  • Create prevention policies at your workplace or school
  • Coordinate a community event to raise awareness
  • Talk with neighbors about ways everyone can get involved
  • Email legislators to gain support for prevention and services

Visit www.nsvrc.org/saam for more information.

And one more: Call GateWay of Hope at 913.393.GATE(4283). We understand sexual abuse. We can help educate your church or place of work. If you are a survivor of any kind of sexual violence, our counselors are here to walk beside you.

Call today. We can’t help you if you don’t reach out.

In next week’s blog post, we’ll take a look at how to support someone who has been sexually assaulted.

©2016 Deborah Simon, Director of Counseling

GateWay of Hope

What Restoration Looks Like

Have you ever found an amazing piece of furniture you knew would look spectacular in your home?

But you hesitated to buy it because it needed to be restored. It was covered with years of old varnish and dust and it had so many scars, the original wood couldn’t shine through.

Yet you knew it could be restored and made beautiful again. You knew it could be useful as well as adding a wonderful story to your home.Woman celebrating

So you worked on it day by day. You used chemicals to lift off the old varnish and the gunk of many years.

Then you sanded it, and gradually – even though some of the scars remained – you began to see the beauty of the original wood. The craftsmanship showed through and you were so glad you purchased it.

The piece fit perfectly in your home and you told everyone who visited how it once looked and all the work you did to restore it. You even shared “Before and After” pictures.

And you were so proud of the finished product. Once again, it was beautiful as well as useful.

When women come to GateWay of Hope, they often carry the scars of years of abuse and sorrow. Some of them have lived with the gunk of someone else’s sin and it has weighed them down.

Some of them carry the dust of years of neglect, because they’ve been so busy taking care of others – they’ve forgotten all about self-care.

But deep down inside, they know God has a better plan. So we meet them where they are with whatever problems they carry.

Sometimes they need counseling while other times they want coaching. And almost always, they will benefit from the support of a group.

Then gradually, as the scars are smoothed over and the junk of the past is removed – they begin to shine again. The beauty of their souls reflect God’s love. They rediscover their gifts and begin to revel in new life.

They become useful and beautiful once again. Their “Before and After” stories are amazing as we watch them embrace hope, pursue healing and come full circle into wholeness.

The Psalmist wrote about restoration in Psalm 71:20-21 – “Though you have made me see troubles, many and bitter, you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will again bring me up. You will increase my honor and comfort me once more.”

God does a mighty restoration work with the women who come to GateWay of Hope. From the depths of their pain and sorrow, he brings them up. He honors them and comforts them, providing hope and a new focus in life.

We love to see what God is doing at GateWay of Hope as he brings these incredible women back to life.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women

How Will You Celebrate Easter?

We spend so much time, energy and stress celebrating Christmas when the major Christian holiday is Easter.Easter lily

True, at Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus and what a momentous event that was! But we also max out our credit cards, deal with the dynamics of family get-togethers and go to office parties we don’t care about.

We worry about buying the best gifts – “Will she really like this?” and try to figure out how to graciously accept the gifts we don’t want. We spend hours in lines either buying or returning gifts, then add to our landfills when we throw away wrappings, ribbons and boxes.

We dutifully attend Christmas programs and take videos of our kids in their cute Christmas outfits, all the while hoping we can somehow manage to eat the Christmas goodies without gaining weight.

Somewhere during the pre-Thanksgiving through post-Christmas season, we remember the squalid manger, a scared teenaged mother and a bunch of smelly animals. So we sing “Silent Night” and say a quickie prayer of thanks for that baby born under the Bethlehem sky.

But Easter is another matter. Sure, we still get caught up in the dyeing of eggs, the filling of baskets and the baking of the ham.

But for the most part, Easter is less stressful and more of a contemplative holiday. Plus, we only have one week to consider what it’s all about.

One week to remember the horrific destruction of a young man’s body – how flogging and crucifixion induced painful inflammation, tetanus and infection.

One week to think about the disciples who fled in fear, then wonder if we wouldn’t have done the same thing.

One week to observe the sacrament of communion and truly remember Jesus.

One week to read each of the Gospel renditions and compare the lyrical version of John’s story to the logic of Matthew’s.

One week to marvel at the miracle of resurrection and how awesome it must have been to see the risen Lord.

One week to remember how important the women were to Jesus – they stayed with him at the cross, they were the first ones to see the risen Lord, they spread the message as Jesus gave them the task, “Go and tell my disciples.”

Only one week. How will you observe Easter this year?

Maybe this Easter week will represent a 360 in our busy schedules.

Maybe we will realize our need for the Savior and truly understand what Jesus did for us on that old rugged cross.

Maybe this Easter, we will decide to fill our Easter baskets with a gratitude that reaches beyond the spring holiday and flows all the way to next December.

Maybe this year, Easter and Christmas will erupt with personal revivals around the globe. Now that would be a reason to celebrate.

©2016 GateWay of Hope – Hope, Healing and Wholeness for Women