Worthy

In the book of Luke, chapter 15, Jesus shares the story of a “prodigal son”; the story of a man who went to his father and asked for his inheritance early and then proceeded to squander it. Most of the time when I hear that story being told it is referenced as a way to explain the grace of God. His willingness to forgive our foolish choices and welcome us back into the fold with loving arms.

One of the things that bugs me about this lesson though is how often I have seen it taught with a condescending “don’t be like this horrible person” kind of tone.

“See this guy? What a selfish jerk.” is the way I often I hear it being explained, not in those words of course, but the sentiment is clearly communicated. Which I find ironic because I see a lesson being shared on the idea of grace, without actually offering grace to the listener. Instead the parable is reduced to a cautionary tale of extravagant living.

Let me offer a different approach to this story. WE ARE ALL PRODIGALS. Each one of us. And this tale is not about needing forgiveness IF we make poor choices but rather WHEN we make poor choices. No person is ever going to get through life without making sinful choices; it just isn’t going to happen. Of course in an ideal world we should be making less of those choices as we grow and mature, but nobody is perfect.

For many people who read this, that concept is going to come as a no brainer. “Of course nobody is perfect.” We think to ourselves. But the danger in not really embracing that reality is that sin often gets graded on a scale. “I am not perfect but at least I am not as bad as that person.” And we forget that God’s standard is perfection. No, you may not have done some of the things that we see on the 5:30 news but you have done something that goes against the teachings of Jesus. And as far as God is concerned, sin is sin. Even if you did do something bad that ended up on the 5:30 news, this doesn’t change anything.

The good news is that the Bible says that, “anyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Acts 2:21. If you confess that you need God’s grace to cover your sins and rely on Jesus as your means of salvation turning your will and your life over to Him you will be saved. And that is exactly why as a people we need to remember that we are all prodigals. We have all lived at least a portion of our lives with some sort of lavishness not taking our salvation as seriously as we should.

My goal here is not to give you one more reason to think that you suck. In fact that is the exact opposite of what I want to convey with this post. I want you to feel good about the fact that you are normal! As someone who struggles with my mental health I am constantly barraged with thoughts that tell me I am not good enough, I am a screw up, I am not worthy to be loved, I can never get it right so I probably should just quit, and the list goes on and on. That somehow I am the one person who is not good enough to deserve God’s grace and His love. This simply isn’t true though!

Every person starts on the same level. EVERY. PERSON. This is a freeing thing because that also means every person is in the same category of needing grace. And if God is going to make His grace available to some He must make it available to all. That is the definition of grace, unmerited favor, you and I can’t, by definition, be good enough to deserve it.

So if you are reading this and thinking that you are somehow not loved by God. Yes you are.

If you think that you cannot be used by God to do good things. You are.

If you think that your life can never be more than a good example of a bad example. God says you are so much more.

If you feel like you are worthless, ugly, shameful, and a mistake God says you are His child and there are extraordinary things that He has planned for you.

If you are tired, lonely, scared, beaten up and brought down…then know that God is here to give you rest and to hold you up when you don’t have the strength to stand.

Where the world says you are undeserving God says you are chosen.

The identity of the Prodigal Son was not in his lavishness and his mistakes. His identity came in who the father says he is. So live life knowing what your identity is, where it comes from. This parable isn’t about condemning the son, it is about rejoicing in the Father.

God loves you and says you are worthy to be loved. Never forget that.

 

Nate Stewart

 

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

Be you.

About 2 years ago my wife started collecting old frames, some flowers and leaves. She pressed them, dried them and would then take the flowers or the leaves and glue them to the glass that was in the frame. The theory being that when you set those frames in the window the sun light shines through the petals and leaves and they would take on a whole new dimension.

At first I was kinda unsure of why she was doing what she was doing. She explained it but I still didn’t really know what she was doing. But my lack of understanding was outweighed by my love for my wife so I went with it. And I went with it for a while without question because she is my wife. If she wants to do something then cool, I am happy to support her. Although after several months of these leaves being piled up inside old text books I started to wonder if maybe I should have tried to understand a little better. But my wife was excited about the project so again, I went with it.

Don’t misunderstand me, I wasn’t in any way upset or bothered by the books and the frames. And if anyone in my home is guilty of leaving things half done or messy it is ME for sure. I am really good at starting things and not finishing them. I was totally cool with the stack of supplies; I just didn’t understand what the end game was. I kinda did, but not really.

When my wife did finally get the pieces sufficiently flat and dry so that she could put them on the glass…THEN I GOT IT. I had to see the finished project to really understand what she meant.

So what does this have to do with anything? There are a couple of things that I want to glean from this.

  1. We don’t always need to understand the vision to get behind something. Sometimes it is enough to just trust the person that is leading.
  2. It is important to support the dreams of those close to us. Unless the person is doing something harmful, unethical, etc., it is important to not try and dictate what the other person’s actions are. It is their life; let them live it as God is calling them to live it.
  3. It doesn’t have to be worthwhile for you, to be worthwhile to someone else. God created each of us with our own skill set, gifting, talents, or however else you choose to describe it so that we could be individuals. My wife likes musicals. I don’t. That doesn’t mean that I should make her to feel as if her interests are in some way not important or lacking in value.
  4. We are all in the process of becoming something. God isn’t done with us. If He was we would be moved on to the next life.
  5. No one knows what anyone else is going to be, so don’t try and dictate someone else’s plan for THEIR life. Every day people find themselves in their “sweet spot”. They realize what they were created for and discover that God created them for just that thing at just that time. The way we find out what we are created for is to follow our passions.
  6. It is ok to get it wrong. There is nothing wrong with mistakes as long as we learn from them. So try new things.

 

What are your passions? What drives you? Follow those things. As long as you ask God to guide you He will. You will find that the road to discovering who you truly are meant to be will not look like you expect but that is ok. It may seem scary and that is cool as well because that means you are being stretched. Pushing the limit is where you will find that God takes over. This doesn’t mean be careless, but it may mean doing something that seems absolutely ludicrous. Like building an Ark or stepping out on the waves so that you can walk on water for instance.

God made my wife differently than He made me. That is a good thing! We are not meant to be the same. So is my wife’s picture frame flower the reason she was made? Maybe, maybe not. But it gave her something to enjoy along the way. It is the little things along the way that God uses to help us enjoy the process. And the process can be extraordinarily painful so take the gifts.

Growing up I felt that my life was supposed to fit into some kind of box. Go to school, get a job, if you are lucky retire, then die. For me there is nothing in pursuing that where I could say I was living. I wasn’t made to go to college and work a 9 to 5. I was made for so different a path. And now that I am on it I feel so much more fulfilled. Don’t be what someone else wants you to be. BE YOU. And when someone says that they want to do something that seems odd to you…encourage them, pray for them, and support them.  Give them some wisdom when asked for. Watch their back but don’t try to force their actions. Build each other up.

One of the reasons I wanted to encourage my wife in her pursuits. She encourages mine. She was ok with me collecting pallets, and the scrap wood no one wanted.  Now this hangs in my living room and I thank God for her when I look at it. I know this isn’t for everyone but I like it. And I am thankful she is always encouraging me to grow.

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Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

 

Hope is warranted.

Sometimes it is hard to continue working through recovery with a mental health issue in the same way that I work my recovery for my addiction struggles. I wonder at times if I am kidding myself. How do I recover from something that doesn’t go away?

For my addiction struggles I can say I have not had a drink or misused a drug for over 10 years. That is easy to track. At the moment I feel myself fighting off a depressive episode knowing that there is a really good chance that it won’t work to fight it; it is going to come anyway. But at the same time I know I can’t just crawl into bed and pull the blankets over my head like I want to.

And the truth is I don’t know FOR SURE that it will set in, maybe it won’t this time. It has happened in the past where I thought I was sliding down and I didn’t. So just accepting my fate is not helpful when I don’t know that it will actually be my fate.

In reality I know that if I am truly honest (and I do work an honest program) recovery has been tremendously helpful in managing my mental health. Working my recovery means doing the things I need to do so that I can live a life that matches up with what God has planned for me.

For instance. In the past when I felt myself sliding I would have isolated myself. I would have let anger be the driving force behind my attitude. I would have self-medicated. I would have worked to destroy my body.

Now I reach out for help. I take medications as prescribed by my doctor that helps me manage my symptoms. I take better care of myself because I know that fitness and diet play a major role in my mental health. Admittedly I could use some more work on the diet and exercise thing, but it is still better than it was! Progress not perfection! (Or I could step out of the denial)

When I take care of myself and I reach out for help I am able to get out of my lows faster. I am able to have hope that I won’t always feel this way. I can see a future that won’t be horrible.

The definition for insanity that is often used in recovery is “Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.”  But I want to challenge that. What if I look at recovery at as doing the same things, the same healthy things, and knowing that I will get a different result, a better result. Not based on wishing but based on the results of those I have seen go before me. On the results I have seen in myself after putting in the work. I can live differently.

A good different. A life filled with purpose. A life that has mental illness involved in it but still good anyway. My diagnosis is not something I have to look at as a death sentence. My diagnosis doesn’t exempt me from living a life that is extraordinary.

Today I can see the slide begin but I have the ability to see the reason to hope as well. And I know you can too. Maybe not right now, I get that. But please trust me, it can happen. Just know that you don’t have to give up. It will be worth it, you’ll see. I’m not doing anything you can’t do. Let’s get through this together.

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

It’s Thanksgiving, But I don’t feel thankful…

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Today is Thanksgiving! A most wonderful time of the year. A time when families get together, the smell of all kinds of foods and sweets fill the household, the sounds of children’s laughter and baby giggles, dogs barking, cats hiding, upbeat music playing in the background, maybe even a gathering of people in the yard to play a family tradition of football before watching the big game on the big screen. Family is such a huge part of the feeling of Thanksgiving. In every family there are traditions, certain things which are done year after year. For my family, we would always travel to my grandmother’s house where everyone would meet, and you could always bet what was going to be on the menu because we had the same things year after year. It was so comforting to know that I would be amongst family, laughing, playing, talking, and we always ended up playing cards until late into the evening, after other family members had gone home or gone out holiday shopping. The smells, the sights, the memories, THAT’S what I’m talking about when I am talking about the feeling of Thanksgiving.

The Bible also talks about Thanksgiving. However, it is far from the fleshly expectations, sights, sounds, and feelings that I have talked about. Instead, there is a greater, more powerful feeling of thanksgiving. I’ll mention a few of those verses to draw an idea of the kind of Thanksgiving that we are to have in the presence of the Lord, to give thanks to a good, good Father.

2 Chronicles 5:13 reads, “The trumpeters and musicians joined in unison to give praise and thanks to the Lord. Accompanied by trumpets, cymbals, and other instruments, the singers raised their voices in praise to the Lord and sang, ‘He is good; His love endures forever.’ …

2 Corinthians 4:15 reads, “All this is for your benefit, so that the grace is reaching more and more people may cause thanksgiving to overflow to the glory of God.

Philippians 4:6-7 reads, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God. And the peace of God which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

Colossians 3:17 reads, “And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

1 Timothy 4:4-5 reads, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

Thanksgiving—to give thanks. The Bible tells us that thanksgiving is giving thanks to God for ALL that He has created, and that “all of this is for your benefit.” He also asks us to pray to Him in every situation with thanksgiving. Given that definition of thanksgiving, I have a confession to make. I don’t feel very thankful right now. Even though the Bible commands me not to be anxious, I still struggle with anxiety. And the one that sticks out to me, asks me to give thanks to God for everything, regardless of what I am doing whether that be in word from what I am saying, or in my deeds, my actions and behaviors. On this Thanksgiving, I am hurting deeply, and I don’t feel as thankful to God today.

You see, last Thanksgiving was the start of an end. A beginning of a path that I did not wish to go down, a dark path which God asked me to walk down. The great thing is, I was asked to walk along that path with my Mom, so I wasn’t alone! Last Thanksgiving was the day that my Mom told me that they had found cancerous cells when a couple months before, they had found none. Last Thanksgiving was the last day that my Mom was able to eat anything and keep it down. It would be the last time she ate, and I had cooked that for her. What followed was a whirlwind of events, which spiraled down to me bringing her home for the last time. I had to walk my Mom to God. That was the journey which God had asked me to partake. I admit I was not very eager to walk this path. Yet, I had choices I could have made. I could have told God no. I could have refused to listen to my Mom’s wishes. I could have chosen to place my Mom in a care facility instead of choosing to sacrifice my time and my sleep during the week of Christmas. I could have chosen to hate God and become angry with Him again in a rebellious attempt for my Mom to stay (as if being childish and throwing a temper tantrum and telling God NO would have kept my Mom here.) No, I was not thankful to God at all during that time. And as the memories replay in my head, the same feelings of hurt are hanging around. How could I thank God for asking me to walk my Mom to him after He had helped me reconcile our relationship? How could I thank Him for asking me to hand over my Mom, my one chance at having the best friend I always wanted and dreamed of, the one thing I had ever wanted in my whole life—a loving relationship with my Mom? I was not Job, I was not David, I was not Jesus; so how could I look Him in the eye, be asked to sacrifice my Mom by giving her to Him, and then tell him “Thank you for taking my Mom away from me?” That was how I felt. I find myself still feeling this way. This is part of my recovery—forgiveness. Although I had the choice not to follow what God had asked of me, I chose to trust Him and I followed His direction. I kept my faith and my trust in God, even during the dark times. I still do.

How did Job give thanks? How did David give thanks? How did Jesus give thanks? They each made a CHOICE. Guess what? I ALSO have a choice. I have a choice to give thanks. I may not feel thankful at the time, yet if I read Romans 8:28, God can work ALL things for His glory, for His good. Even death. My feelings are just that…feelings. Feelings are not facts. Just because I am overwhelmed with feelings of grief, of memories, I can still CHOOSE to give thanks. God knows my heart. I am not feeling unthankful because I am selfishly angry at God because I did not get something I wanted. I am unthankful because I am grieving. I am enduring emotional pain. Even Jesus grieved. How can I learn to deal and cope with negative emotions if I never allow myself to feel them?

God, I choose to give thanks to you today and I trust that regardless of what has happened, regardless of what I feel, I know and have faith that you can work everything for your good. I know that I cannot do this on my own, and that I am powerless on my own. I am working to fully understand that I matter to you and that you have the power to help me through these times of unbelief and feelings of ingratitude. I am choosing to commit my life to you and your will and I understand that at times you will ask me to do what is difficult, not necessarily what I want or desire. I ask you to continue to remove my character defects so that you can make me more like you in every way. Restore my relationships, God. Help me change. Help my unbelief. Lord, I thank you for loving me during the dark times as well as the pleasant times. Thank you for trusting me enough to ask me to partake these difficult journeys. God, thank you for loving me.

God, I also pray that you will reach out to those other souls who may be broken and feeling as I feel, and I ask that you wrap your healing, comforting arms around them and remind them that they are dearly loved. I ask that you give them the courage to speak up even when the enemy tries to silence them. Lord, I thank you for the lives of everyone.

Amen.

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

 

I’m a Survivor

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This Saturday, November 17th, is the International Survivors of Suicide Loss day. It always falls on the Saturday before Thanksgiving each year. It’s a day where people all around the world can come together and meet locally and even online in groups to share stories of hope, loss, and to share in the grief of losing someone to suicide. I myself am a suicide loss survivor. At the age of 16 my cousin whom I was close with ended his life. There was no warning, no note, no indication whatsoever of what he was going to do. To this day I still grieve in my own way, thinking what it may have been like to speak with him about it to try to get an understanding of his thoughts, his feelings, his emotions.

There are many Survivor Day events that you can find by clicking HERE via the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. 

Just today I was talking with a friend on the very topic of suicide. I have found myself on the side of the one who is contemplating suicide. I have also found myself on the other side of the one who has lost one to suicide. Fortunately for me, my friend was too. Just having someone to listen to me, to talk to me through my grief was something that I did not have when I was going through suicide loss. I still find that I experience feelings and emotions tied around suicide prevention and suicide survivor loss that is difficult for me to process, especially at times such as now during which I find myself struggling to maintain my mental health.

Also today, I read another story of a child who ended her life due to bullying. Yesterday I read about another child who ended their life. Tomorrow, the reality is that I will also read a story of someone who has ended their life. Someone ends their life every 40 seconds. Someone also becomes a survivor of suicide loss every 41 seconds. We are not here to judge their thoughts, their rationality, their feelings, or tell them that thinking about suicide is wrong. If we are to help prevent the grief from suicide loss, then we must be proactive about preventing suicides. How do we do that? Through love. Active listening. Being there for someone going through a rough time. Providing them with effective resources to help them find strong supportive systems and effective treatments. Through the CR Mental Health Initiative, we are striving to break the stigma that bound us to the shame and guilt of talking about things such as suicidal thoughts. We are working to make it okay to talk about mental health. We are working to empower others to be able to sit with and listen with love to those who struggle with mental health issues even when they don’t know what to do.

We don’t always know what to do. Even so, there is always love. If you are a survivor of suicide loss, I encourage you to share your story, to listen to the stories of others, to help others find hope and healing and even yourself find hope and healing. Celebrate Recovery is a wonderful program to help find a strong support system to help us through our mental health journey, and to talk about the difficult topics.

We are changing the way we view mental health, one story at a time. If you’ve got a story to share, we’d love to hear it! You can email it to mncrnate@gmail.com. You can remain anonymous and we won’t share anything you don’t give us permission to.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

It’s not just me. It’s her too.

Last weekend I had the opportunity to celebrate, along with a bunch of family and friends of the family, the 50th anniversary of my parents wedding. 50 years of marriage! These days that is hard to come by. I hear about divorce all the time, but 50 years, that is a pretty big deal. Good job Mom and Dad!

This coming weekend I will be officiating a wedding. Getting to be a part of day one in this kind of journey is an honor. And it is always fun to watch a couple as they are kicking off their life together. They are always so full of hope and dreams for the future.

As a result of these things of course, marriage has been on my mind. Back in the middle of July I celebrated 19 years of marriage. And I am happy to say that we still like each other! But, this journey has not been an easy one. Not because of a lot of the things that many couples really struggle with such as money, kids, in-laws or any of the millions of things that couples fight about though. Sure we have had to deal with all of that stuff, but the largest part of the struggles we have faced, have revolved around my mental health.

When a person has a mental health struggle it is not just their struggle. Mental health impacts the lives of those who are closest to them as well. When I hurt, my wife hurts. We are in this together.

During the Celebrate Recovery Summit of 2017 I had the opportunity during one of the mental health workshops to bring my wife on stage with me and have her share some of what it is like to live with someone like me. I love serving with her so it was an awesome experience but at the same time it is really hard for me to talk about some of the things that she had to deal with on account of me.

One of the things that was the hardest for me to come to terms with happened about 12-13 years ago. My depression had hit an all-time low. I worked in sales and because of what I did for work; all of my people pleasing was used up by the time I got home each night. I would come home, crack a beer, and stare at the TV. My wife said I had basically turned into a zombie. I didn’t realize what I was doing and since I was still bringing in a paycheck and I was in the house instead of running around with my buddies I thought she had it pretty good. What I didn’t realize is that she would lock herself in the bathroom and cry while begging God to give her back her husband. I was not the man that she had married.

Thankfully our story has continued well. I have medications I take. I don’t drink or use drugs to numb myself. I talk about what is going on inside my head instead of holding it all in and hoping it would go away. I work my recovery. Make no mistake about it though; this has been a long and difficult road to get where we are. And we certainly didn’t get here on our own.

If you are reading this and either you or someone you love is struggling like I was, please know that there is hope. You can get through this. I am not going to kid you and say it will be easy. If anything I think it is probably a pretty safe bet that it won’t be. But there is hope.

If you are struggling yourself, seek help. Talk to your Pastor. Talk to your Doctor. Talk to your spouse. There are so many options that are available to you for help.

If you love someone who is struggling, seek help. Just because you are not “the one with the problem” you need a support system around you as well. I am so thankful for the support and friendship that was shown to my wife during those days (and the days since for that matter). You are not betraying them by getting help for you. You can’t fix your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend, relative, etc. So do what you can do. Get some support for you. Find someone who is willing to pour into you. Someone from a Celebrate Recovery group or a Bible study or a therapist or Pastor, just find someone you trust and take care of you. This journey is hard enough you don’t have to do this alone.

Because we have done this, because we got help, our love is deeper.  We are far more connected than we ever where 19 years ago. There is hope. As hard as the struggle is, as impossible as things may seem, there is a reason to hope. God will carry you through this.

Sherawn…I love you!

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

In order to heal…

This past Saturday, I found myself at the Raleigh, NC One-Day Training here in my own backyard. Not to mention Nate came all the way down from Minnesota to help rep the CR Mental Health Table! How cool is that! We got to speak with a bunch of people answering questions about the Initiative as well as explaining our mission, handing out information. One of the fun things we did was do a Facebook LIVE video during that One-Day, and for me it was a lot of fun!

The previous night was chip night at my CR at which Nate was in attendance. It also happened to be the night that I received my 3- year coin for “Saying YES to God,” which was me starting my journey of stepping outside my box. You see, I struggle with social anxiety, which means for me it is difficult to be in crowds and around others in social situations. In fact, when meeting new people I feel inferior and inadequate, which leads me to say awkward things or to be awkward at times. Most people just laugh at me, but I’m the only one not laughing most the time. For the longest time, it caused me to avoid social situations, especially driving places I’ve never been to arriving to meetings and appointments and not knowing where to go or what to do. It almost kept me from attending CR or even stepping foot inside the church. One other struggle I deal with is making eye contact, speaking in front of others, and eating in front of people. A good many people would have never known this about me. Also, doing LIVE videos is a struggle. Yet, as in my testimony, I must do the thing I think I cannot do, so I continued to place myself in those situations so I could do what God has called me to do in this CR Mental Health ministry.

Speaking of that Facebook LIVE, Nate happened to ask me a question that I was not prepared for at all. What caught me off guard even more was my answer to his question. The question he asked me was along the lines of “Before starting CR, what do you wish people would have told you?” It only took me a brief time before I blurted out my answer, “I wish someone would have told me that to go through recovery that I would have to go through pain. That pain is part of the process” (paraphrasing). Go back and watch that Facebook LIVE by clicking HERE.

Looking back on it, it still shocks me that I gave that answer. Yet, it’s an answer that is full of truth. You see, I’ve been going through my own mental health recovery, and I’m finding myself right in the middle of the messiness of it, and I’ve been going through quite a bit of emotional pain, pain that I have kept myself from feeling for SO long, and I’m talking at least 20+ years. Pain that I’ve gotten so well at pushing aside, in the corners of my mind, the back of my mind, into this dark closeted fortress that I tend to place all my yucky, painful memories and feelings. However, God wants to clean up that room, too. And guess what? I’ve had to make my way towards that room. I still am not in that room yet, but I’ve made great progress. And yes, there has been emotional pain involved.

 

In order to heal, we must feel.

 

As a physical wound needs air to heal, emotional pain needs to be brought out into the light so we can heal. I’m going through the journey of learning just how much pain is a necessary part of my healing process. I’m learning to feel my pain, to sit with my pain without judging myself, without trying to force logic upon it, to extend myself grace and patience in that I am learning a completely new language of love and healing.

How has pain been a part of your healing process?

 

-April Brantley, CR Mental Health X-tra Special Factor

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