The end of the tunnel

I have never liked when people said they “came to Jesus” and life got perfect. That they don’t have any struggles, all the worries and cares that they were holding onto are gone, and everything is just wonderful. I don’t like it because it just doesn’t work that way and it’s not even Biblical.

A person may have a honeymoon period when they surrender their life to Christ because there are cool things that will happen. There is a release of the pressures of trying to get through life on your own. Freedom from the guilt and shame associated with our lives before Christ that comes with being forgiven and accepted by God is a beautiful feeling. Grace truly is amazing!

There are some things to be aware of that also come from being a Christ follower. We may lose friends that don’t share our beliefs. Some people will even ridicule us for our beliefs, some mercilessly. I myself have been told that I am stupid, close minded, crazy and much worse because of my beliefs.

I haven’t been physically healed from my mental illnesses. I have multiple physical challenges that will most likely be a part of the rest of my existence on this earth. I have watched people I love suffer with no way of relieving that suffering.  I have still lost family and friends to death. I have seen my finances crumble. I have been stabbed in the back by people I thought I could trust. The list goes on.

You may be thinking right now that this is the worst commercial for being a Christian you have ever read. And if I stopped typing right now you would be correct. It would be. But I’m not going to stop typing, because there’s more.

Here is the good news… Jesus says in John 16:33 33 I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.” This is one of the many promises found in the Bible.

We WILL have tribulation, not MAY have, WILL have. Bad things are going to happen in this life. Persecution, spiritual warfare, living in a broken and wicked world brings with it all sorts of trouble. So why is Jesus saying “that you may have peace?” This seems to be a contradiction. So what is it? Peace or tribulation?

The answer is a very definitive…yes. It is possible to have both if we pay attention to three little words, “that in me.” If we lean on Jesus for our support, our salvation, our hope then we can still maintain peace. Real peace.

Jesus has overcome the world. This means that no matter what happens to us in this life we can know that God is bigger than our circumstance. God is working in the details. What we don’t understand – He does! When we see injustice – He sees where justice will be served! When we see pain – He sees purpose! There is never a circumstance in this life that God can’t make work for good.

Because Jesus suffered He can relate to our suffering. He knows how we are struggling with life in this broken world. In Romans 8 we see, 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. Even when we don’t have words, we are wondering, “Why God? How God?” The Holy Spirit is interceding for us, a deep groaning that we can’t even describe. Even creation itself is described as being in the kind of pain a woman experiences in child birth. GOD SEES OUR PAIN!!

The joy and peace can come in knowing that God will not let this go on forever. For His purpose He is allowing these things to happen but He has overcome all of this suffering. Verse 28 says  28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. God is working in our circumstance. What we are dealing with now is temporary. And if God is working IN the suffering that we are IN then we can know that we are not IN our circumstance alone.

Life is not easy. It is not always happy. But it is worth it in the end. At times God gives us glimpses of His purpose and His glory and that is truly awe-inspiring. When we are wondering how much longer we will have to endure, wondering how much more we can take, when we want to give up…we need to remember – it won’t always be this way, and that’s a promise. We can make it one more day. We can and we will! There is light at the end of the tunnel. And not the light of a train coming at us either.

 

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:3-4

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

The Elephant in the Room

Elephant-Legs-Optical-Illusion

Recently, well, let me back up and start over. A few weeks ago, I posted this picture and asked how many legs this elephant has. We received so many comments on this and I’d like to thank you for participating! I’d like to share some of those comments here:

No matter how distorted my perception gets, elephants will always have four legs. I choose facts and truth over perceptions.

Our mind likes to make things up that aren’t really there. The elephant only has four legs but our mind and our eyes see more.

“Too many.”

To get perspective, one must look at the base, the foundation. By doing so, you can see the hoofs. With that, I see five. Yet I know that is wrong!

In addition, there were answers of ranges of 4 legs to 9 legs.

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If we base our query on the idea that all elephants have 4 legs, does this little one have four legs?

If our mind is playing tricks on us, how can we be sure that the elephant has 4 legs and not as many as we see?

How do we know that the elephant has too many legs?

What makes the base, the foundation, the absolute point of reference?

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So I’d like to ask…did anyone ask the elephant how many legs it had?

No?

Okay. See, that’s how mental health stigma works. The elephant is mental health. Depending on how we look at it, we get a different perception. We have our own beliefs, our own conclusions, our ways of looking at things that we are often forgetting that there are other ways to look at the same thing. For example, do this little exercise for me.

So, if you would, please draw a box for me. Now, draw a stick figure beside it. Are you done? Great! If you decided not to do this, you’re missing out!

Now, is that box 3D? How big is the box? Is the box bigger or smaller than the stick figure? What COLOR is the box? You see, the answers to these questions are all based upon your perception. Everyone has preconceived notions about what constitutes a box and how big it should be. This simple exercise demonstrates that. Don’t believe me? Have someone else do the same thing and compare answers. No way that they are the exact same.

With that said, this year is going to be a HUGE year for the Mental Health Initiative. It’s the year of HOPE!!! We are working to change our perception of how we view hope and mental health. We want to change the way that we look at ourselves as deliverers of hope and to share the message that mental health doesn’t look the same for everyone. You can’t fit mental health in a box. We’re going to change the way we look at how we can help those who struggle with mental health while doing it for God’s glory. The way that we think that we can help others through the mental health initiative is all based on our perspective. It’s time to step outside the box and start our journey of HOPE.

We will be reminded that we will have HOPE in what we cannot see, regardless of how we think we see it or what we believe we are supposed to see. God’s greatest show of hope came when there seemed to be no hope at all. It’s time to HOPE.

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April Brantley, CR Mental Health Team X-Factor

The Inner Circle

Celebrate Recovery small group guideline #3 says, “We are here to support one another. We will not attempt to “fix” another.” Some days this is easier said than done, especially when the person that is suffering is close.

I remember a time when my wife was talking with our dear friend and pastor; his name was Jeff. My wife, Sherawn, was going through a really hard time. Many of the reasons she was struggling, on their own, would have been something that my wife could handle without much trouble. Unfortunately that was not the case. She was being hit from all sides. One thing after another was happening to her, and what was more damaging for her, dear friends and family were also being hit.

At the time Sherawn was the leader for our church’s prayer team. This seemed to only amplify the hurt because she was constantly giving to others, praying for others, helping meet the needs of others so she was being drained. She was watching the prayers of others being answered but not her own.

It wasn’t that Sherawn was trying to fix anyone, that isn’t where I am going with this. Sherawn was trying to support people she cared about while she was being pummeled.

It was the way that Jeff explained the situation that made things so much clearer for her. He explained that in Ancient Roman times during a conflict if an enemy had them surrounded in battle they would circle up. Using their tall shields they would stand close together making a fortification from direct attack. A drawback to this technique was that the soldiers on the outside would become fatigued from pushing to hold back the enemy while occasionally striking out at the other side. Eventually a soldier would become too tired to withstand the onslaught. As a way to account for this the solders would not all go to the outside when they first circled together. Some of them would go directly to the center of the circle to keep from having all of the soldiers fatigue at the same time. When a soldier needed to rest they would switch places. The battle worn soldier would take time to rest.

Jeff told Sherawn, “It is time for you to go to the center of the circle.”

So often we forget that even just being a support for someone is in itself a difficult task. Sharing the burdens of others is hard even when we don’t take them on as our own. I would argue that often times it is harder. Anyone who has the experience of watching a loved one become sick, or experience a loss can attest to wanting to save the other person from that pain. This is often called “Compassion Fatigue.”

I have people in my life right now that are struggling with this. And I am at a loss as to what I can offer and that is so frustrating. I want to take the pain away.   I am not yet at a point where I need to go to the center of the circle. And I am glad that those people are reaching out and I want them to continue to do so! I need to be aware of where I am at so that I can continue to be there for them.

We are all in a battle. Our battles look differently from person to person but make no mistake, we are in a battle. A battle for our minds, our hearts, our spirits, even our bodies to an extent.

So what I want to offer is this.

No one in the center of the circle was looked down on. No one in the center of the circle was not considered part of the battle. Being in the center of the circle made them stronger.

If you need to be in the center then reach out to those who can encircle you. Then rest.

If you encircle someone let them know you have their back. Encourage them.

Some of us have been on the outside of the circle for so long we don’t know how to even operate in the center. It is ok to admit you don’t know. It may even feel painful to slow down. This is not a reason to stay on the outside.

Some of you use the outside of the circle as a way to drown out what you are afraid to find in the center. I know at times I fear the inside of the circle because of the times I have found that the quiet seemed to amplify the voices inside my head from mental illness that doesn’t seem to want to let me rest. This doesn’t make you a bad person or weak. Ask someone to journey to the center with you. To sit with you. Talk with you. To hug you and tell you that you are loved.

Someone to help you remember that there is reason to hope.

 

“O Lord my God, I cried to you for help,
and you have healed me.
O Lord, you have brought up my soul from Sheol;
you restored me to life from among those who go down to the pit.

Psalms 30:2-3

 

It won’t always be this hard. It won’t always be this painful. Joy comes in the morning. Let God get you through the night.

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

Seeing past the mistakes.

There is no shortage of creative ideas pouncing along in my brain. I was discussing them with a friend the other day and the response I got kind of surprised me. They said, “You’re such an entrepreneur.”  I don’t know exactly why that caught me off guard but it did. Not in a bad way, it just wasn’t expected.

I like the idea of being an entrepreneur. Being my own boss, and exploring new ideas, has always been something I have enjoyed doing. I hate the idea of going to an office and sitting at a cubical for hours on end. I am grateful for the people that do, because the world needs people to do that kind of thing. It’s just not my jam. I would rather work on 8 totally different projects, in 8 different places, and in 8 different ways, usually all on the same day.

The good side of my personality type is that I am great at starting things. I tend to be able to communicate a vision for something pretty well and when I start on a project I tend to go all in.

The bad side of my personality type is that I am also good at not finishing those projects. I can get distracted easily. I want to move on to the next big idea. I crave a challenge so if I feel like I have something figured out it is easy for me to get bored.

The term I have heard describe people like me is “Activator”. I want to initiate change.

The descriptions I have seen for an activator and an entrepreneur are fairly similar. Often times the motivations for the things I want to do are not related to finances so that may be why being called an entrepreneur hit me funny. I genuinely can say that being rich would definitely be cool but it isn’t my main objective. I have had money and been miserable. I have been broke and content. Money is not my source of joy.

Knowing these things about myself is vitally important to my mental health. If I am not aware of my motivations I can get myself into some frustrating situations. If I take the time to search out the reason behind an idea, I am able to discern whether or not I should be following through on those ideas or if I should focus on something else. Since just because I can, doesn’t mean, I should.

For an example: A while back around this time of year Nintendo launched its newest gaming platform the Wii. It was all the rage, and people were clamoring over each other trying to get their hands on one and the prices on line went through the roof. So myself, being the entrepreneur that I am, decided I should try and take advantage of that trend. So I kept an eye out for these things and discovered a place where I could buy 4 of them at one time for even less than what they were going for in most of the places I was looking. So I coughed up the money on these 4 Wii systems and started to think about all the money I was going to make.  The problem is that I had the idea about a month too late. When the devices arrived I went to turn around and put them on eBay, only to find out that the price had dropped through the floor. Timing worked out just right for me to come into a flooded market with lower prices and ended the whole escapade about $50 in the hole.

This was a great example of me doing something for what I told myself was a good idea but really had horrible motives behind it. “I was just going to make some extra cash for my family.” I said, “I am being a provider.” Ya…right.

What I was doing was putting dollar signs over ethics, trying to satisfy my greed, off the greed of others. I was impulsive and not intentional. And because of the mental health struggles that I have, but wasn’t really treating at the time, I sunk. Losing that money around Christmas time made me feel like the worst Husband/Father in the world. I was a failure in my mind.

Now I can look back and see that I wasn’t a failure, I was someone who was not managing their impulsivity (a part of my Borderline Personality Disorder) and faced a consequence for it.

Being involved in Celebrate Recovery has helped give me the tools to examine myself in an open and honest way. My mental health issues are still there but I have gained the ability to manage my symptoms in a much healthier way. I still make poor choices at times, everyone does. But now I am able to learn from those mistakes and grow. I also have the ability to talk about what is going on with my support circle so I can sort through the thoughts that want to drag me down. I can look at a situation with a realistic view of what is going in my circumstances.  I know that I am more than my mistakes!

And learning about myself has helped me to know who to surround myself with. If I am bad at finishing what I start then I know I need to surround myself with people who have a “Responsibility” personality and will help in getting me to finish the task. I used to think I was a constant failure because I never got things done. In reality I was doing things in the way I was designed to do them, I was just doing them alone. I need people around me who will compliment my strengths and allow me to do the same for them. Working the 12 steps hasn’t taken away my mental illness, but it has given me the ability to see beyond it. There is more to life than just getting through my day. Sure there are times when that is all I can do, that happens. But a lifetime has a purpose behind it. Celebrate Recovery helps me to see that purpose. It helps me to see that purpose and where there is purpose there is hope.

Think about it. How do you feel inside when you are thinking, “What’s the point?”

There is a point. You have a purpose. Even if you can’t see it right now, you have a purpose.

 

Nate Stewart

National Director of Mental Health for Celebrate Recovery

 

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