33.

Today is the first day of what is known as my “Jesus Year“.

Jesus Christ spent His entire life fulfilling His purpose. However, His Ministry culminated with His Death, Burial, & Resurrection during his 33rd year on earth. So, many believers place emphasis on turning 33. Odd, and a little superstitious, sure. But, I’m confident that the path I am on is becoming less and less randomized and appearing more like a Grand Design.

I still do not know a whole lot. I admit I have much to learn. A funny trend in my 30s, though, has been a repetitiveness of core lessons. What is MOST important to me about Love, Life, Purpose, and Faith has been fortified inside of me through the same lesson that is wrapped in different circumstances. I am reminded of a few things over and over:

1. Everything happens for a reason. Not only are life’s events, no matter how small, packed with inherent meaning, but people are inextricably connected. No matter how much we run from one another, or attempt to classify ourselves into demographics or ideals, God’s Original Design that “It is not good for man to be alone” never goes away. We were made for community. We were made as one people.

2. Because all things have Purpose, that means Someone came up with The Blueprint. The Design for Life. Which means: God exists. But we have done more harm by using Him as a weapon against one another. We cease being students of the Divine and take, what is merely a mirrored image of Divinity, and use it to oppress and violate. I think the saddest fact about most religions is that instead of it being used to offer Hope, it force-feeds Hopelessness.

3. There is nothing that the Human Heart cannot overcome. Look throughout history and see that Human Beings are both fragile, and yet simultaneously resilient. We were created to withstand all of the atrocities that can be thrown at us, seen and unseen. The breath in our lungs is miraculous, because it was originally provided by the very Glory of God. That is our Source.

4. Love does not belong to you. You belong to It. Because it predates all of us. Before the first man was made, God is Love. In fact, our Creation was an act of Love. You disrespect your very existence when you opt out of receiving or giving Love. And I think if we had more reverence towards Love then we would honor each other more. To Love is to Live!

So, here’s to the next 365 days. May I grow roots deeper into the soil that will nourish both my weakened and hardened places. I desire to grow in grace, above all.

Advertisements

Where is God?

I’m coming up on the infamous 20 week mark of my third (and probably final) pregnancy. I have my next appointment in two weeks to do the anatomy scan of the baby…and to see if I have, once again, beaten the odds of having the same issues that I had with my oldest, Naomi.

I’m nervous, of course. With my second child, I experienced a completely healthy, boring pregnancy with no pre-term labor scare, which reveals that probability is on my side. My naturally worrisome heart speaks otherwise. Not to mention I have struggled with feeling excitement about being pregnant again since the day I found out 14 weeks ago. I have prayed about this little one’s purpose. Expecting for God to reveal a set a of bread crumbs, which would lead me to feeling secure that I am actually on track…and not having completely derailed where my little family was headed.

I know, I know. No baby is a mistake. I am aware.

What you do NOT know, however, is that my other two children were not planned either. My oldest was a complete shock because of issues I had with ovulation/menstration since I was a teen. I never thought I’d get pregnant, anyway, without medical assitance at least.

With my son, Noah, we were shocked again — well not so much because I didn’t take a day of BC after my daughter was born (ha). But this time, God spoke to me the moment I saw the “pregnant” indicator on the pregnancy test.

He said, “Joy, this time around….”

This time? Not a word. God has been silent, it seems. And I have desperately needed to hear from him. I remember driving to work recently, and said aloud: “God, where the heck are you?”

Funny question, isn’t it? Where is God?

I’ve been thinking that most often, those who inquire about His whereabouts have looked for Him only in familiar places. But I’m starting to think that this isn’t God’s style at all.

Just look at Jesus.

Folk were looking for him in the palaces and places where Kings dwelled. They figured the Savior of the World would HAVE to come through royal lineage to establish His Kingdom. And what does God do? He goes and sends the Messiah through a poor Virgin and a local carpenter from a town that nobody had heard of.

I’ve been looking for God in familiar places, through Burning Bush moments where God audibly spoke and the Way was too obvious to ignore. But now it seems He is actually in the more common and mundane; hiding in plain sight.

Where is God?

He’s here. Right here with me. In the quiet when I catch myself rubbing my belly. Or in the moment when my son points to my stomach and says “Bay-bee!” He is found in the calm of the morning before the day’s rush hits me; when my house is settled in serenity and He is breathing peace over my family’s sleeping bodies.

I do not have to look for him. Because He is with still me. Always.

Writing for My Life

I’ve spoken with you, dear reader, before about my work with those who are actively suicidal and struggle with self-harm of various forms. I’ve spoken about my one battle with self-mutilation. This post is concerning my bout with self-hatred. Low self-esteem can rear its ugly head in a majority of teens across our world, but for many, it’s so pervasive that a person is abusive towards themselves on a soul level.

I can remember filling multiple college-ruled pages with a single written phrase: “I hate you”. What prompted this? Various things: mistakes, getting yelled at, being rejected by a friend, loneliness. Ruminating this type of inner dialogue caused a death-like atmosphere in my heart. Like I had scorched an entire landscape of fresh, fertile soil with a persistent fire. I felt no good thing deserved to take root in me. I told myself that no good thing could take root in me.

I was a believer in Jesus Christ here. I was a leader among younger teens. I prayed for others to feel the love of God. But inside, I was dead. Aware and in agreement that God’s Love brought life, yet I was still lifeless.

When I arrived at college, I’d been writing for about 6 years. I carried around notebooks full of my words; clutched to my chest. Unbeknownst to me, I was carrying around pages full of seeds. Potential. I had even taken on a pseudonym for my writing role: “I.Am.Spoken.Word.” It was the name I used to identify my desires as a writer. While hiding behind a computer screen, I’d slowly become accustomed to others reading my poetry from the comfort of their dorm rooms. Inside, however, there was disconnect still evident in my heart.

It wasn’t until I started performing/reading that I felt life stir inside. After getting a few on campus open mics under my belt (shout out to my husband for the much needed push), I built a reputation. One particular friend of mine would see me on campus and would declare (without fail) LOUDLY “Speak Life!!!!!”. This went on throughout my entire undergraduate career.

Now, I can look back on this process, and see that where I once used words to speak death and ill will over myself, I now take words to call out life. My words carry the potential to spring up newness where there is stagnation and barrenness. I’m drawn to writing for those who feel cast out, counted out, and broken. Not as the one who provides a silver lining, but the one who can encourage, uplift, and call out our most ingrained sense of resiliency and vulnerability.

I write for my life because I have been given life.

Let Me Explain…

I don’t want to get into the habit of speaking vaguely about what’s going on in life. I feel it’s in poor taste to flood my social media with my problems, but here…this is truly my domain. Plus, I’m working on finding the balance between full disclosure and full responsibility for my words. I want to be a speaker of life and not just a venter of life. On a more exciting, but related, note I’ve figured out the topic of my next book, and I will definitely need this balance. (Trust me. You’ll see.)

So.

In the past 4 months, things have not only been confusing…but also disappointing.

— went from two working vehicles to no working vehicles

— went from sleeping normally to getting 1-3 hours a night (and not because of my kids)

— went from having an opportunity to fulfill a dream to teach on the collegiate level to not being able to

— seeing the possibility of only having to work 1 job, but now still needing to keep up with 2 jobs (technically 3)

— went from having a secure place to stay to being told we had to move in 2-3 months

— on the continual pursuit of my LPC credential to being stuck in residency because I cannot afford to register for/take the exam

— being convinced of the possibility to be homeowners, only to have that opportunity removed

I know these things aren’t as dire as sickness or homelessness, but these things all happened within the same 3 month span. My head is still spinning. I am absolutely fine most days, but then I have a brief relapse of disappointment, anger, and sadness. I trust that things will work out, because they always do and I have been in much worse circumstances.

But, this post is simply to explain that I am actively working on things beneath the surface. I laugh and encourage. Seek to be loving and inspirational. But this post is to explain that a lot of what I write comes from a place that does not have everything figured out. And many times I will write or post something encouraging because I am in need of convincing myself. I know there is life in words and I believe that I am just as much a recipient as anyone else.

I cry, curse,  and doubt like anyone else.

And oh, this past season has had much of these things.

I don’t really have a silver lining today, only to ask that you, reader, will join me in the “continuing on” part. Continue on with me and make a decision today to not stay postured in the hard stuff.

Anxiety Manifested

I still remember getting my first pimple. It was on the right side of my forehead; large, painful, and it left a scar behind. The whole experience was traumatizing.

I had barely begun unpacking the concept of a self-image when this tiny protuberance manifested itself on to my face. And despite how normal I saw it was to be in middle school and have acne, it made me want to hide in a shell that I’d only emerged from 2 seconds earlier.  I was already naturally self-conscious, being a teen, but somehow I felt that my apprehension was more severe. I always wanted to hide myself and being around my peers made my chest literally hurt.

I was labeled as “shy”, but no one knew the chaos that was going on inside my head. It was odd, I wasn’t severely bullied; rather often ignored. But I knew that since I wasn’t particularly known for being pretty, or funny, or really smart, or talented in sports or cosmetics, that I’d better not speak up to draw ANY sort of attention. Because the roast that would ensue would be unparalleled. I felt trapped by the looming possibility that I would indefinitely embarrass myself, so I trapped myself in the social purgatory that I dwelled in until about 11th grade.

That sort of anxiety never let up, and the energy I collected needed to be funneled somewhere. So, I took to self-mutilation. No, I didn’t cut or burn myself. Rather, I picked at my acne profusely. It gave me relief when I scarred myself in this way. I used to wear my bangs/hair in my face to cover the scabs on my forehead, and I remember my mom scolding me whenever she caught me in the act.

Eventually, by the time I started sophomore year of college, the scars on my cheeks and forehead were slowly starting to fade.1923330_520938837788_8251_n

Fast forward 10-11 years. My fight with anxiety has led to many victories and set-backs. But the battles became tougher & scarier. It wasn’t my social life/self-esteem that I was fighting over, but now I fought to trust God with the lives of my children, my finances, and my marriage. The stakes are much higher now. Sometimes I am victorious! But I have not won them all.

IMG_7390

I took this photo today.

I got a little “smarter” regarding how I allowed my fight with anxiety to manifest itself. Instead of picking at my forehead and face, it’s shifted to underneath my chin. These scars are older, I am happy to report, but I recently disclosed to a client of mine that the fight doesn’t just go away because you undergo treatment for a mental illness/condition.

You become more armed to engage in the fight. And you aren’t as afraid to share your scars. I see these marks every time I look into the mirror, but rather than feeling ashamed, I feel empowered.

Empowered to continue to fight and to be victorious.

Trekking Through Madness.

“I have traveled through madness to find me.” – Danny Alexander

 

I’ve spent countless moments giving off a bit of my light, but mainly in secret. My biggest nightmare has never been to give a public speech or being the center of attention. (Although those things are terrifying…) I’m most afraid of being perceived as faking it. Being disingenuous. That I’d be characterized as a phony.

Someone would assume that the things I truly love, the passions and beliefs I carry, I may not be as passionate about as I claim. Or that my abilities and skills probably won’t match what others perceived. It’s funny because the price I’m paying for coming out of hiding; for being me out in the open, is that now I’m looking over my shoulder. Aware that others are, in fact, watching. And they are constantly drawing conclusions about what they see or don’t see. It makes me paranoid, honestly.

I know that the right answer is to not give a single care about what others think. But you must understand something about me: I care. And I cannot help it.

One of the struggles attached with being a self-declared empath (google that one) is that I’m aware of others without trying to be. I can feel variations of others comfort levels, hear depths within the inflections of someone’s voice, feel tension the second I walk into a room. While navigating through this, I often gather that what I’m picking up is directed at me. Ha. Insecurity is poison for an empath.

Beyond wanting to be liked (which is what we all want if we’re honest), I desire to be helpful. Effective. I want people to leave my presence with more good things than they came with. I understand it’s not all on me, or about me, and I often do not have the power to make things happen 100% of the time. But I’m aware that a tiny bit of my own madness can find a way to attach itself to others…..if I’m not careful.

Have the Conversation: My Thoughts on ’13 Reasons Why’

DISCLAIMER: The following blog discusses the topic of suicide in detail & may be inappropriate for some readers. I encourage the reader to divulge into this topic in the presence of a trusted support person, if needed. The information presented are from limited years of mental health work, culmination of academic study and passion for youth, and my own budding clinical judgment. It is not meant to be a substitute for clinical research.

******************************************

My husband and I stumbled upon this show shortly after the buzz began generating on social media. We watched the first episode and expressed mixed feelings: shock over the content, and curiosity of hownthe writers would unfold the remainder of the story. We’re both mental health counselors who work with teenagers/children & felt a mixture of intrigue and dread. When I finished the final episode, I was deeply affected and incredibly sad. Faces of real-life would-be Hannahs, including myself, flashed across my memory. I made a mental check-list of folks I knew were watching to check up on & made a reminder to myself to talk the show over with my supervisor and colleagues. I gathered that whatever conclusions I would make about this show, I was responsible for what I did next.

’13 Reasons Why’ is probably one of the most successful shows Netflix has created in a long time, as far as viewership. But many parents and mental health professionals feel that the program is dangerous and irresponsible. As a mom I share in their caution. It is deeply upsetting to watch a beautiful, smart young girl  carry out a detailed plan to end her life. Secondly, it is normal for adult viewers to become disgusted and disturbed. However, after further processing, I felt the need to look at the popular program from a different angle.

Let’s walk through the criticisms I’ve heard about ’13 Reasons Why’:

  1. The show glorifies and/or oversimplifies suicide.

I must start off by stating that this program is rated TV-MA. Which means that it contains very disturbing material. The drama given to the storyline provided a necessary entertainment element, but I feel Hannah’s suicide, itself, was handled very openly.

Secondly, this isn’t the first time the topic of suicide was portrayed on television/movies.

Image-1Side note: If given the time, I can critique the above movies for their handling of the topic of suicide, but the fact still remains that many will still keep their acclaim. We ultimately  settle on the fact that the writers/directors have an artistic license to portray a topic and leave it in the hands of the consumer to view & digest responsibly.

To some critics, the writers portray suicide as a viable option – one both tragic and simple. Some say that the writers made suicide look easy to accomplish. I would have agreed with this criticism, if this wasn’t close to the train of thought held by many (not “all”) people who are suicidal. They may have moments of seeing death as easier, more peaceful, and better overall. They may feel it will ultimately ease suffering. It isn’t the NOT DYING part that’s difficult for a suicidal person, it’s LIVING that’s often too hard. If anything, the writers attempted to show how intently a person will pursue a suicidal plan if gotten to that point.

There is always hope, I sincerely believe, but because Hannah suffered very much alone, she had no one to help her grasp on to that hope. The tragedy behind Hannah’s fight with suicide is that it did not resolve her problems, ultimately.

The only critique I do have concerning this is that actually many who are suicidal have a methodical period but end up acting impulsively towards the end in order to complete suicide. Meaning, a suicide note is not commonplace (which Hannah’s tapes are considered akin to a suicide note.) The writers do portray Hannah to have been much more methodical than is realistic. However, this isn’t to say that some sufferers do not focus intently on escaping their pain and carry out a plan.

Other critics say that Hannah’s high school setting was overdramatized. It would be a mistake to believe that sexual assault, bullying, and harassment aren’t prevalent issues for our youth. Also, some feel that teens may over identify with Hannah. I say there may be more Hannahs than we are aware.

  1. It is an extended revenge fantasy; blaming those who mistreated Hannah for her death.

I’m often blown away at how much humans lack common courtesy and kindness towards one another. It shouldn’t take a television show to magnify this fact. However, the common culture among youth is fueled by bullying, scandal, and violence. For my adult readers, we all remember how tumultuous our teen years were…any mental health issues aside.

I’m constantly reminded how important it is to extend kindness to the next person, because what I do can deeply affect him/her. To deny the fact that her peers, family members, and school were partially responsible dances dangerously on the line of victim shaming. It places their pain center stage without taking into account the millions of interactions that led them to having suicidal thoughts.

Suicide has always been an “us” issue. Let me be clear, her classmates were not the CAUSE of her suicide, but did play a ROLE in her mental illness. We are all connected and responsible for one another. Hannah felt abandoned & mistreated by those around her. It’s not sound logic, we understand, but it doesn’t make it a fantasy. Rather than focusing on how intently Hannah unjustly sought revenge, let’s take a preventive stance by teaching our children how to treat one another.

  1. It encourages struggling students to not go to their guidance counselors/reach out for help.

This critique hit me hardest, considering I’m a counselor myself. Hannah’s guidance counselor, Mr. Porter, is completely unhelpful and distracted towards her. In Hannah’s tapes, she openly states that no one cared about her. Critics said that the show unjustly encourages Survivor Guilt. Here’s my take-away: Survivor Guilt will occur, regardless of the quality of relationships of those who remain after someone dies.

Also, the sinking feeling I was left with after witnessing Mr. Porter’s behavior was sobering. And I used it properly. It reminded me of my responsibility as an advocate. Simply put, if I am truly present on my job, then I can be a proper channel for change. Many of our counselors (especially school-based ones) are often burned out and overworked, distracted by test scores and administrative responsibilities.

But this actually segues into an even bigger conversation…which we won’t get into today.

To me, the most dangerous thing about the depiction of violence is not that our kids are watching violent content (and might be encouraged to reenact said violent content), but that even after hearing of teenagers struggling and dying, we still put the responsibility on entities that are not actually attached to our homes, classrooms, churches, and communities.

It has never been the responsibility of entertainment venues to educate or heal our children. Allowing them to consume without seeking them out to process afterwards is more irresponsible than the show being created in the first place. Much more. Entertainment is a good access point leading to the discussion, but they were never meant to BECOME the discussion.

  1. It will trigger those already struggling with suicidal thoughts or depression.

I had a friend who took to her FB status to ask others whether she should watch the show. I, more or less, replied, “Not alone.”. I would hope that those who are already getting treated for their depression will have the insight to stay away from watching, or at least be cautioned by a loved one or counselor to do so.

The population I feel the most concerned for are those who are without support and are struggling silently with depression and suicidal thoughts. However, I would still look towards those who are already called out to be the supporters/advocates; our teachers, counselors, pastors and family members. The girl scout leader and the mentor. Bus driver and the babysitter.

We are the “Village” that the quote “It takes a Village” speaks of. It is us that should be raising and safeguarding our children. The show presents a very real & important topic. One that our teens are faced with everyday; the hallways of their schools and text threads already contain the topics we shudder about. It’s our conversations with them after the last episode ends that will better determine their interpretation.

Important to note is that there is a 30 minute interview-style documentary on the hit series on Netflix, called ‘13 Reasons Why: Beyond the Reasons‘, which contains more context and discussion about the content in the show from it’s actors, crew, and mental health professionals.

I also encourage anyone who knows a young person to arm yourself with knowledge on the topic of suicide, because this will be needed, even after the fame of this show ends. Here’s an amazing document I found on the SAVE/JED Foundation’s webpage (www.save.org) , outlining 13 Talking Points when watching the show with a teenager.

13RW-Talking-Points-JED-SAVE-Netflix-801x1024

Use it to start a conversation; one that someone you know may be afraid to have. If we can remove the taboo nature from suicide, then we might just become the right safe spaces for someone to take their first step towards desiring life.