I can do ALL things…

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me…” reads Philippians 4:13. This is perhaps one of the most used and quoted verses from the Bible. I mean, who wouldn’t be lifted up by such encouragement as to be told that I can do ALL things? I can leap the tallest building in a single bound! I can go out and spend as much money as I want to! I can fly to the moon and back without a space suit! I can quit my job and live off of love alone! I can go out and battle a fierce dragon and come back unscathed! Right?!?!?!

Nope.

Nuh uh.

You see, often, we read this verse and we misuse it heavily. I myself am guilty of this. Instead of its intended meaning, we read it as “I can do EVERYTHING through Christ who strengthens me…” and this is not true. We cannot do anything. We cannot do everything.

I’ve been trying so hard lately to catch up on what I have let fall behind. I have been trying so hard to complete all the tasks and ideas that are roaming around inside my head. I’ve been trying so hard to do everything that I think I should be doing and in the past, anything I’ve wanted to do. I’ve been trying so hard to live the life that I want to live, that I’ve been neglecting to live the life that Christ wants me to live. I’ve been using this verse as an excuse to get what I want for so long. I’ve been using it as a shield to hide behind what God is calling me to do, what He is asking of me.

The context of this single verse is what brings the meaning to it. Here is the passage in its entirety Phillippians 11b-13:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives , me strength.

Here’s where this comes into play into my recovery. Paul is saying here that he has learned to be content with what he has. This verse relates to contentment not abundance. This verse does not give me permission to go out and do what I want to do. This verse does not mean I can go out and do everything, or that I can do anything. It also does not mean I can do nothing. This very powerful verse means that Christ within me allows me to be content with whatever situation in life I find myself in. In this lies within the struggle I now find myself in. Struggling with my mental health issues, I do not feel CONTENT to be struggling. I do not feel CONTENT that I cannot just stop my mental health issue, or that I may struggle with it for the rest of my life. I am quite often not CONTENT that I can’t seem to get my brain to stop shouting obscenities at me or to stop telling me all the horrible things that I’ve done wrong. I am not CONTENT with having a mental health issue. At all.

The beautiful truth is although I am not content right now right this minute does not mean I will never find myself content. This verse means that I will learn contentment through Christ who will help me learn. Where I am weak, being content through my struggle, Christ will help me. This means that if He will help me, then He will help you too. I hold onto the hope that Christ will help me be more like Him in that I will learn to be content with the resources and the life that I have been given. He will help me follow the calling He has asked me to dutifully perform and He will continue guiding me to learning His will.

 

Principle 5: Voluntarily submit to every change God wants to make in my life and
humbly ask Him to remove my character defects.

 

Lord, help me to be more like You in every way. I submit to the changes you want to make in my life. Please remove my character defects and give me the strength to overcome my reluctance, doubt, and lack of trust I sometimes have. Lord, I trust that you will help me be content in Your will of helping me manage my mental health issue. I am trusting that you will make all things right if I surrender to Your will. Thank you for loving me even when I don’t love myself. Amen.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

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I trust God. Just not me.

There is an interesting struggle that comes with being a follower of Christ who struggles with mental health issues. One the one hand I trust God. I believe that He has my best interests at heart and wouldn’t lead me astray. On the other hand, I don’t trust my own brain to do the same thing.

My brain has tried to fool me before. I often want to do impulsive things that seem wonderful at the time. Not reckless things or things that might harm others, just impulsive. For instance, I like to start things. I am an entrepreneur at heart. I have a million ideas in my head. I can think of ways that I could make a large impact on a community. I can think of ways that could make a large amount of money.  I can think of ways to do both. But just because I can doesn’t mean I should.

I want God to guide my steps, and to do that I have to do my best to hear from and watch for God. Usually I get it right. Sometimes I don’t. For me when I don’t get it right, I struggle. With a brain that is full of self-defeating thought I often will spiral down into a depression really quickly. I look at myself as stupid. A screw-up. As someone who is just put here to get in the way and mess people up.

I understand from a logical point of view that these things are not true. Unfortunately there is a very real pain that I feel, and that pain will tell the truth to sit down and shut up.

The way I see it I have two options. I can continue to move forward and try to accomplish the things God has asked of me. Or I can let fear guide me and allow myself to freeze. So what do I do?

First I remember what the safe option is. The safe option is to move forward. This is safer for a couple of reasons. If I am trying then I have an opportunity to succeed. If I remain frozen, I never have that option.  Do I have the opportunity to fail? Sure, but that is still a safer option. Failing, while trying to do what you believe God is calling you to, is always redeemable.  God will use what you and I may see as a mistake for His glory. It is not the action that determines its success it is the motivation behind the action. If my motives are godly then God will use my mistakes.

So I need to check my motives. Why am I doing what I am doing? Is it because I want to satisfy my greed, pride, power, or any number of selfish reasons? Or am I doing what I am doing so that I can get closer to God’s design for me? And that is going to look very differently for each individual. For some of us our tasks are high profile. For some of us our role is behind the scenes. The important thing is to do what God is calling you to do. That is ultimately where you will find satisfaction.

I also need to remember that satisfaction, or contentment, is learned. The Apostle Paul alluded to this in Philippians 4:11-13 New International Version (NIV)

11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

For a person to be content we need to learn how to do that. Learning requires practice and learning is often most effective though using our mistakes as a teaching tool. I am not saying try and mess up. NO, try to do what is right; just don’t waste the opportunity that comes from making mistakes.

And if there is anything I have learned about figuring out God’s plan for my life it is that I cannot do that alone. I cannot trust my brain all the time. But If I know that, and reach out to trusted confidants, mentors and the people who are doing the things I feel called to do, then my weakness becomes strength. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  Sometimes our ability to move forward is a supernatural gifting. Christ also uses other people in our lives to give us the things we need. We are not meant to live our lives in isolation. Lean on and learn from those around you.

I don’t know what my or anyone else’s future will look like. And trying to discern God’s will for our lives is at times scary. I get that, and really that is ok. Just remember this, God’s plan is ALWAYS better. Go for what He wants and you will get there. And do your best to enjoy the journey in the process. God blesses a heart that calls out for Him.

 

Nate Stewart

NTL Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

Fall is awesome

Last week, Nate shared his heart on his thoughts and feelings on fall. This week, I’ve chosen to share mine. As I sit here typing, I am in pain. For once I am not in emotional pain. No, I am in physical pain. I have been since yesterday after having undergone a dental procedure that is going to be a beneficial step in my orthodontics journey. For the longest time, I resisted the option of having the tooth removed. I was comfortable with it. It had always been there. Yet, the longer time went on, the more physical pain that I experienced as my teeth shifted and change was coming about. I was experiencing painful TMJ in my jaw as my teeth were trying to go somewhere in which there was no room to go. So I had to make a decision. Mental health is often like this, as in we are not aware that there are certain things in our lives, certain thoughts and feelings that have made themselves at home and we have gotten comfortable with them, refusing to allow them to leave. What often brings about the change and the decision to extract those necessary items from our lives is the increasing presence of pain, except in the case of mental health, that pain is most often emotional.

Pain is pain.

The season of fall for me brings the start of change, the promise of cooler weather, beautiful nights out enjoying the stars without the presence of mosquitoes, bonfires, the gorgeous decorations of leaves and pumpkins and scented candles, and the turning of the leaves into the most beautiful of God’s handiwork. The sound of the leaves on pavement is a lovely sound. You see I LOVE the cool weather. I love the overcast days. I love watching the leaves change colors and fall to the ground. I love seeing the sight of the leaves falling because then I know that winter is coming. And I love snow! Every year, that change comes. For most, Fall is a season. For me, it’s a feeling. A feeling of joy, happiness, and contentment. For others, like Nate, it brings a feeling of dread. It’s amazing how two people can look at the same thing and perceive it so differently.

This year, I’m not so sure how I’m going to feel. Fall and Winter have always been my favorite seasons. I’ve always loved the fall decorations, and with it comes the holidays, near and dear to my heart. This year, the center around my holiday traditions will not be around. After being so used to the traditions of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas with my Mom cooking and playing games, this year, I won’t have her with me. There is going to be an empty chair at the dinner table this year, one more empty chair than I would have wanted. You see, last Thanksgiving was the last time my Mom was able to eat anything and keep it down. Last Christmas was the last Christmas I spent with my Mom as I was taking care of her while she was at home under Hospice care.

What I do know is that this year, I have looked at those changing leaves differently. When I look at a tree whose leaves are changing, I see a life. I see a life that is changing. I see the life of a loved one, of an addict, of a codependent, or a child, of someone who is struggling with mental health. When I look at that tree, I see God and His promises. Just as the leaves will turn and eventually fall off, life on this Earth does end, yet for those whose life belongs to Him, life may end for them here on Earth, but it’s just beginning for them in Heaven. That tree is my life. Some years my leaves may be yellow, some years red, or even orange. However, my life will always change. I am the tree who will lose its leaves, yet by His promise I will gain new leaves back. Life changes. What am I choosing to accept in that change? Am I trusting God through the change? Change is possible. Not only is it possible, it’s inevitable.

 

God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time; 
enjoying one moment at a time; 
accepting hardships as the pathway to peace; 
taking, as Jesus did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it; 

trusting that You will make all things right
if I surrender to Your Will; 
that I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with You
forever in the next.

Amen.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

 

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Fall is in the air. Blech.

For many people Fall is the best time of the year. There are colors changing on the trees. Summer heat gives way to cooler temperatures. Football is back on the TV. And of course there is the ever cherished pumpkin spice…everything.

For me though, Fall is my least favorite time of the year. It isn’t all bad; I do like the colors for what they are and my favorite sport is football. That is where my enjoyment ends. I haven’t liked this time of year for quite a while but I have to say, this year has been especially hard.

In fact, this year has been so bad that I actually have to fight back panic attacks when I think about it. And I am not exaggerating. Full blown can’t breathe, wanna cry and run away world spinning panic attacks.

I would imagine that there are people out there who might think that I am just being dramatic. “What is the point getting upset over a season? There is certainly nothing you can do about it. You can’t change fall.” And each week at Celebrate Recovery we say the Prayer for Serenity. “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.”

So what is my problem? Why do I let this season get to me?

Here are a couple of reasons I struggle.

I hate cold. Hate is a strong word, so that is why I am using it. I hate cold. And I live in Duluth, Minnesota of all places. Duluth has been rated the worst place to experience winter for several years in a row now by a major national magazine using an assessment of snow, below zero temps, wind chill. And I live here! If fall is here then winter is coming.

“Minnesota! Come for the scenery, stay because your car won’t start.”

Another reason is because I love the sun. That is something I can’t see right now. The sky has been a steady stream of clouds and sadness for the last I don’t even know how long. When doctors are telling people here that vitamin D deficiency is endemic in this part of the world then I have to question why people ever settled here in the first place.

Lastly I love color. Now this may seem a little odd since I just said a minute ago that the leaves are changing. Shouldn’t I be happy about this time of year? No. The pretty only lasts for a short period and then all of a sudden those leaves fall and BAM grey. Grey skies, gray trees, gray grass everything is grey. Grey grey stupid grey. Ok, I will admit I am being dramatic on this one but come on!

You may be reading this and thinking to yourself, “Why doesn’t he just move?” And that is fair. The thing is right now I am not supposed to move. I don’t feel like God has said that I am free to go yet. I am involved in a CR here. There is family within a couple hours from us. My daughter just started high school so I don’t want to pull her in the middle of that for a new school. It’s hard enough to be a teenager these days. I don’t want to make life any harder than it has to be. And the reality is, if I were to move just for the sake of moving then I am not moving TO something, I am running FROM something. There is a big difference.

Moving to something is done when there is a specific call on your life. Right now I know there is a call for me to be involved in ministry with CR and elsewhere, but not in a way that requires me to move. I would love to live in Charleston, South Carolina or San Diego, CA or any other number of southern cities in between. I have mentioned this before. But there is nothing at the moment yelling out that God is saying pick here. I wish there was. But there isn’t. Not right now anyways. So I wait.

The thing that gets me is that I don’t know how long I will have to wait. And for all the things I love about being here. Summer is FANTASTIC! Those other things I mentioned and a few others are not going anywhere while I am here. I will have to endure those things. Just because I believe that I am walking in God’s will for my life at the moment doesn’t mean that everything will be perfect.

For example in Luke 22:44 we see Jesus in such anguish over going to the crucifixion that he literally started sweating blood. Something called Hematohidrosis. No one could ever be more in God’s will for their life than Jesus and He suffered. Now before anyone starts worrying, no I am not in any way placing living in Minnesota as being on the same level as Jesus taking on the sins of the world. That would be dumb. But it goes to the point that having Jesus does not equal easy living.

So what is my point to all of this?

While God may be calling you to go through something, that doesn’t mean it will be awesome. But if God is calling you to do something He will make it possible.

My mental health is not in a good place with this weather. But through this God will do something good. And if God is going to do something good through this, then I feel it is worth it. And because it is worth it I can endure without building resentments toward God. I can continue to move forward without giving up. I can still maintain a hope for the future. Hope brings strength. So when I have a panic attack I won’t give up. When my depression is bad I won’t give up. When things feel impossible I won’t give up.

I will still follow the example of Jesus and ask “for this cup to pass from me” from time to time.

But I won’t give up.

Nate Stewart

Ntl. Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

 

A time to shine.

Today I experienced a first. For the first time in my life I submitted an application for a grant.

It isn’t a huge grant, as far as some grants go, but it is a huge grant to me. From a cash perspective it is important. However there is something far more valuable to me about this process. The reason for the value is because this is an art grant.

I requested funding for some equipment that will greatly improve my ability to produce some photography. Photography has been a part of my life since I was young. My Grandfather was an amateur photographer and I was both impressed by his gifting and fascinated by his technical ability as well. I was too young to help him process film but as far as I was concerned when he went into his dark room in the basement of his house, I was convinced that what he was doing behind that door was nothing short of a miracle.

The impression that experience had on me, led me to volunteer for my high school’s yearbook staff. Taking pictures was one of the few things that I was actually interested in during that time in my life. The thing is though, up until recently, the majority of my art (I also paint and woodwork) was done with the idea that I could create something and then discard it or tuck it away. Occasionally I would give something away as a gift but for the most part I didn’t share it.

I didn’t share it because I didn’t think it was worth sharing. I didn’t see what I did as having much value. My art was a reflection of me. I didn’t think I had value.

That is why this grant application is such a big deal for me. This is the first time I am actually taking action on an idea that involves my art. My art is a reflection of me. I know that I have value.

And something that is also exciting is the idea that the project I want to complete with this grant will include my daughter. She will be working alongside me in this venture. I get to be a part of helping my daughter to realize some of the value that is inside her.

Whether this grant comes through or not, I have an opportunity. I get to share something that God has placed in me. How that plays out may change from what I have for a concept, but either way, I am able to see God working. And I am rejoicing in the fact that today I made a step forward. I have a victory already.

I was sharing with a friend this past week my frustration with my ability to complete some of the things I want to complete. A lot of negative thought was going through my head and I shared that I felt like I was failing and I was never going to accomplish anything worthwhile. They asked me, “If you succeed at being a failure, are you then successful? Or are you a failure? Are you a successful failure or a failing success?” This helped because it showed me the ridiculousness of my thoughts. It also challenged me to look closely at what I have accomplished in my life. To honestly look at all of the things I am able to enjoy because of the work that God has done in me, and the effort that I have put into me. I still have a long way to go. I am far from perfect. Just because I am not perfect doesn’t mean I am worthless. Today I took a big step. I stepped up and said I have something beautiful inside of me and I want to share it.

We are all created in the image of God. We are a reflection of HIM. Let the beautiful that is inside of you shine bright like the sun. Share what makes you…you.

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

Child and Adolescent Suicide: Something No One Wants to Talk About

I recently found myself walking among peace and serenity, in a quiet and seemingly forgotten older area of downtown. I walked in an out of the rows of names painstakingly etched beautifully into the marble, stone, and other materials that were used to make headstones back in the 1800 and 1900’s. I was walking in a cemetery, fascinated by the names, dates, and stories etched on those stones. However, what soon caught my eye were the number of children and young adults who were laid to rest within. Statues of lambs, dates which were too close together. And my mind began to wander.

My mind began to wander to the recent story of the 9-year-old boy who ended his life after coming home from school following weeks of bullying. To the 16 and 12-year-old who ended their lives while playing the horrible WhatsApp Momo Suicide Game. The countless others who have ended their lives due to this game and the Blue Whale challenge, another suicide game. To one of the most heartbreaking ones, the 6-year-old little girl who ended her life after announcing to her family that she was going to do it. This is not the complete list. There are SO  many other heartbreaking stories that I could share, but that would take an entire encyclopedia.

Suicides among youth occur once every 5 days according to the latest CDC study from 2015. The latest findings (click here to view the source) show that suicide is the SECOND leading cause of death for youth ages 10-14 and for ages 15-24 as of 2016. It is no longer the third leading cause. It has now increase to the SECOND. Studies also show that approximately 76% of those youth who ended their life were boys. However, keep in mind that more females attempt suicide than males, yet more males are successful.

 

So, what should we do to help lower these numbers? To help protect our children? This is one of the reasons why it is so important to have programs such as Celebration Place for our children, “pre-covery” if you will. We want our children to know that it’s OKAY to talk about their feelings. It’s okay to feel normal, to struggle with identifying feelings, to struggle with coping. In my experience in counseling younger children, I’ve seen and heard the heartbreaking things they say and feel. I allow them a safe place to talk and express things through play and through their imagination. I give them the attention that they need and deserve.

As adults, we are responsible for providing much of this for our children. Yet, when I am out and about, I see so many adults on their phones, giving their children electronics to play with and keep them occupied, and shushing their children when their children are desperate for attention and someone to talk to. If we continue treating our children as if they are not important, as if they don’t matter, they will grow up thinking and feeling this way. Don’t agree? Just ask some of the adults who struggle with this very thing and have been struggling since childhood. As children we were taught to always pretend to be happy, to just “buck up” and “pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Or my absolute non-favorite, “You’re too young to feel/think that way.”

I want to share with you a video. In the state of Georgia, there have been at least 23 youth suicides to date. That’s 23 SINCE JANUARY! Remember, suicide is now the second leading cause of death in this age group. So how can we prevent it? By knowing the signs. By talking to our children. Opening the door for conversation, spending time with them, providing them with that safe place to just feel and be a kid or an adolescent. In one of the most difficult times with the rise of technology and social media, it’s so important to monitor social media and how our children are treating others and being treated. Let us start paying more attention to them and less attention to our own social media. Their lives are just as important if not more.

This video is a public service announcement done in light of the large number of youth ending their lives in Georgia. Please watch the entire video and help to save the lives of our children and adolescents. They are the foundation of our world, of our future.

 

Youth Suicide Prevention Video for Parents (click here to see the video)

:Trigger warning, strong situations discussed:

*Note: The phone number listed on the video is the Georgia crisis and Access line. If you are not in the state of Georgia, you can call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Hotline in the United States or text START to 741741. If you are international, please call the crisis and access lines in your area.

 

April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

 

Luke 18:16 NIV

Feeling less than today

My Facebook account has been giving me trouble today. For some reason the app is not working on my phone and when a large portion of what I do with the initiative is done through the Celebrate Recovery Mental Health Facebook page my day becomes much more complicated.

I don’t know why it’s happening and I can’t seem to fix it. I have been able to do some work on my laptop which has helped but something strange happened today. My inbox became loaded up. Suddenly months’ worth of messages through the page appeared. I have messages going back to last year!

I haven’t had a chance to go through all of them yet and I won’t be able to get to most of them until tomorrow. So if you haven’t heard from me. It’s not you…it’s me.

I can’t help it when technology messes up, and I can’t go back in time to fix it, but I still find myself frustrated about missing all of these messages. It has more to do with my own feelings of self-worth than anything. I constantly struggle with feeling like I am not doing enough. I want to do more! I have so many ideas in my head about all of the ways that I can help people like myself who struggle with mental health issues. I picture everything from writing blog posts to writing laws around mental health reform. I can think of one time events and long term ministry opportunities. There are so many things that I want to do!

So when something like this Facebook mess-up comes along I can’t help but feel as if I had the chance to do more but I missed it. I hate the feeling of missing an opportunity to make an impact. This is what God has called me to do after all. I want to be a part of change.

People tell me I am brave for sharing the things I do about my mental health. I have a hard time feeling brave. I share my story because I am afraid. Afraid of wasting what I have been through. Afraid of missing the chance to lower the suffering of someone else that is walking where I have been.

Today I am having a hard time letting go. Knowing that God is in charge and ultimately I am not able to save anyone. Sometimes I lack the faith in God that says He can handle these situations. And so I sit and think of all of the things that I am meant to do and become paralyzed by the overwhelming weight of those tasks. I’m expending more energy thinking about what I can’t get done, than energy on what I actually do.

God, I know you are in control. God, I want you to be in control. But I also want you to use me. Help me be what I am meant to be. Nothing more. Nothing less.

God I believe, help my unbelief.

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery