Gandalf’s Scream, Love, and Why We Need More Anger {A Life Overseas}

by Jonathan

Anger is a wonderful, powerful, amazing, informative, life-giving, protective resource. Or at least it can be. Anger can be a redemptive sword, when it’s wielded by love.

 “Anger is a surgical weapon, designed to destroy ugliness and restore beauty. In the hands of one who is trained in love and who can envision beauty, the knife of righteous anger is a weapon for restoration.” – Allender & Longman

We’ve too often seen anger as the enemy, while all along it was begging to be our teacher. We’ve loved to pray and sing emotional ballads like, “Break my heart for what breaks yours,” but have we dared to sing, “Enrage my heart for what enrages yours”?

That sounds crazy, right? And scary.

As Christians, as cross-cultural workers, we’re way more comfortable with holy sadness than holy anger. And that’s not without cause; sadness is safer. More tame. Anger can destroy. Anger can harm deeply. Anger is like electricity — or fire. Both have tremendous potential to destroy, and even kill. But they also reveal, energize (literally), and make magic.

Have you flown on the fire of a jet engine, propelled through the night sky like a populated comet? Have you ever activated a dozen tiny suns with the flip of a switch? These miracles are astounding, and possible due to the power of white-hot fire and lightning fast electrons flowing on demand.

To be sure, arsons exist, but so do steel magnates. They both harness fire for their own purposes; one to destroy, the other to build. I’ve seen the burns and tissue damage wreaked by a lightning strike, but I don’t scream and run away every time I see an outlet.

Again, anger is just energy. It’s an emotion, neither good nor bad, neither healthy nor dysfunctional.

“Feelings are information, not conclusions.” – Greenberg

“Feeling angry or annoyed is as human as feeling sad or afraid.” – Greenberg

We have to be careful, at the start, that we don’t moralize some emotions as good, others as bad, some as holy, others as sinful. That’s not accurate, spiritually or scientifically. [See The Gaping Hole in Modern Missions.]

It’s also important to distinguish between the feeling of anger and the actions of aggression. The two are not the same thing. Greenberg offers this helpful reminder:

“Anger should not be confused with aggression, which comprises attacking or assaultive behavior. Feeling angry does not mean behaving aggressively, and people can be aggressive without feeling any anger at all.” – Greenberg

Chances are you’ve been hurt by someone who acted aggressively. Perhaps their anger/aggression left wounds you’re still recovering from. Chances are you’ve hurt someone in similar ways. So I understand if all this talk about the goodness of anger feels like bile in the brain.

Read the full post here

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Episode 3: Anxiety and OCD

In this episode, Jonathan and Elizabeth discuss their experiences with anxiety and OCD, what helped, what didn’t, and why there’s hope.

Listen in via iTunes, Stitcher, or below.

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Listen to Episode 3 here or below:

 

Resources mentioned in this episode:

Brainlock, by Schwartz

Loving Someone With Anxiety, by Thieda

The Dialectical Behavior Therapy Skills Workbook

The Anxiety Cure, by Hart

Change Your Brain, Change Your Life, by Amen

What to do When Your Brain Get’s Stuck; a Kids Guide to Overcoming OCD

It’s Not All in Your Head

For a list of counseling centers that serve cross-cultural workers, visit the Resource page on A Life Overseas.

For more from Elizabeth for Velvet Ashes, on fear.

 

Dancing in the Darkness

by Elizabeth

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A year ago I found myself in a deep well. This well was so deep I couldn’t see the sky. Even if I could have seen it, I wouldn’t have tried to look up. That’s how dark it seemed down there.

In the midst of this darkness, a friend invited me to attend a dance class with her. I hesitated. I didn’t have the right clothes. I didn’t have enough time. I wouldn’t know what I was doing; I might embarrass myself.

My friend told me I could easily find the appropriate clothes, and that it wouldn’t matter that I didn’t know what I was doing. Her whole life, she said, she’d never been an exerciser, and she could follow along in class. She assured me I could too. She gave me the courage to try.

That first class found me in tears. I don’t remember what happened. I only know that whatever the teacher (who is a believer) was saying, it matched what God had been teaching me in my prayer times. The second class was the same as the first: more echoes of the whisper of God. And more tears.

The third class, same story. Clearly dance was touching deep, tender places inside me, but at least by that third week, the tears didn’t take me by surprise as much.

I’m a “words” person. Words are how I communicate with the world. They’re how I communicate with God. They’re how I communicate with myself. But after this last year, more and more I find myself agreeing with Jacob and Sarah Witting in Skylark that “sometimes words aren’t good enough.”

Dance speaks a different, wordless, type of language that wordy people like me need. We need to come back to ourselves, to live in our bodies again. Too often I live solely in my head. Thoughts, especially of the dark dreary kind, circle round and round and never find a resting place.

I’d been disconnected from my own body for so long. I didn’t know any other way to live. By the 5th grade I was already stuck in my head; I had already intellectualized everything. At church, women’s bodies were something to be wary of, an ever-present temptation for men. In my own life, a small set of breasts had still attracted the attention of a predator at church and church camp.

These early experiences taught me that the body was sinful, and we must transcend it by the Spirit. The body did no good, only bad. By the 9th grade I had developed an eating disorder. Is it any wonder?

But reconnecting with my body was what dance class was about. Because in that deep, dark well, something was missing, and that something was me. I had gone missing. And in some mysterious way, I met God on the dance floor and came back to myself.

I still remember the first time I could actually execute the turn I’d been practicing unsuccessfully for weeks. I felt a thrill that my body, not just my mind, could learn something new.

I still remember the first time I could actually look at my face in the mirror. All the other experienced dancers were looking in the mirror, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. It seemed vain somehow.

I still remember the first time I implemented a correction on the first try and started to think, maybe I can trust this body of mine. My body had seemed so untrustworthy for so long.

A funny thing happened when I started trusting my body: I became frightened. I had never trusted it before. Trust was what I’d been working towards, but the first time I felt it, it was so unfamiliar that it scared me.

I still remember the class when the teacher kept insisting that we “take up the space.” That we enlarge our movements and really take charge of the dance floor. It made me think about all the ways in which I live my life small, not daring to take up any space, physically or metaphorically.

This was an entry point into the rest of my life. I’m a writer, but even words were lost to me in that dark time. I had shrunk into myself, and I barely wrote anything that year. I wasn’t taking up space anywhere. But dance class challenged me to change that.

Attending class each week got me out of my head and into my body and – importantly – into the company of other people. Because sometimes healing isn’t a solitary venture. Healing is something that happens to us when we’re with people.

Sometime in the course of the year I stopped feeling ashamed of where I was (it’s easy to feel discouraged when you look at others much more skilled than yourself), and I began to better accept myself where I was.

My favorite part of last year’s dance classes, by far, was dancing to the hymn “Amazing Grace.” I couldn’t contort my body into many of the movements, and I could barely remember the order of the choreography. But this one thing I remember: “I once was lost but now am found.”

During this phrase we would fall to the floor flat on our backs, and then reach up for God. We repeated that movement over and over again throughout the spring months. There was something about confessing my lostness and declaring my foundness again and again that undid me every single week.

I knew I’d been lost that year – lost in anxiety and depression and health struggles and poor emotional choices. I lay on the dance floor the same way I lay at the bottom of the well – alone and in need of help. But each time I danced this song, I was also reminded that I had been found by a loving Father. There were times during that year when I refused to talk to God because He wasn’t healing me fast enough. Yet through all my confusion and stubbornness, He still found me.

Somehow week after week I met God on that dance floor. I never expected to meet God on a dance floor. I expected to meet him in an early morning quiet time. Or maybe a mountain top, or an ocean front. Certainly not a sprung laminate floor.

We broke for the summer and returned to class a few weeks ago. Those first few classes were enough to remind me that I am still a beginner. But you know what? That’s ok. When I first started dancing, the instructor told me that “dance is a journey.”  It’s not about arriving or finishing. He repeated himself to me just last week: this is a journey.

I’ve been on a healing journey this last year. Maybe you’re on a healing journey too. Maybe you need physical healing. Maybe you need emotional healing. Maybe the healing is slow in coming. Maybe you feel God is too slow in healing you. Sometimes God heals us in big, sudden ways in an experience or an event, but sometimes He heals in slow, nearly inconspicuous ways.

And sometimes He reaches down into a deep, dark well and week by week gently pulls us up.

And then we see the sky.

And then we dance.

 

Originally appeared at Velvet Ashes; reprinted with permission.

Episode 2: How to Transition to the Foreign Field and not Croak | Six essential steps | With Q&A

We presented this workshop at the International Conference on Missions way back in 2013. At the end of the workshop there are about 30 minutes of Q&A. Listen in on iTunes or Stitcher.

It’s 2019 and we still believe this stuff, so the material found it’s way into our new book, Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker.

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Listen to Episode 2 here or below:

Episode 1: Howdy and Who We Are

Well hello there!

We’re wading into the wide world of podcasting. Want to join us? Listen in on iTunes or Stitcher.

Historically, the trotters41 podcast was a place for Jonathan’s sermons. Those will still be there, but it will also be home to the occasional conversation shared occasionally. We’ll plan to talk about marriage, parenting, TCKs, church work, missions, food, and other stuff probably.

Have an idea or a question or a recommendation? Find us on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or gmail and let us know!

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Listen to Episode 1 here or below:

The Books I Recommend Over and Over. And Over.

by Jonathan

I like books. I also like giving my pastoral counseling clients the option of accessing resources outside of the counseling room. Here’s a list of the books I recommend the most…

Dating/Relationships
Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love

 

Marriage
Created for Connection: The “Hold Me Tight” Guide for Christian Couples  (Read my review and how I use this in marriage counseling here.)

The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work: A Practical Guide from the Country’s Foremost Relationship Expert

 

Parenting 
Families Where Grace Is in Place: Building a Home Free of Manipulation, Legalism, and Shame

Hats: Reflections on Life as a Wife, Mother, Homeschool Teacher, Missionary, and More

 

Anxiety/OCD
Flee, Be Silent, Pray: Ancient Prayers for Anxious Christians

Loving Someone with Anxiety: Understanding and Helping Your Partner

Brain Lock: Free Yourself from Obsessive-Compulsive Behavior

 

Sex
Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship

For more recommendations on point, visit On Making Love

 

Emotions (in general)
Emotionally Healthy Spirituality: It’s Impossible to Be Spiritually Mature, While Remaining Emotionally Immature

The Cry of the Soul: How Our Emotions Reveal Our Deepest Questions About God

 

The Love of God/Perfectionism/Grace
The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out

The Prodigal God: Recovering the Heart of the Christian Faith

From Good to Grace: Letting Go of the Goodness Gospel

Grace for the Good Girl: Letting Go of the Try-Hard Life

 

Cross-cultural Missions
Serving Well: Help for the Wannabe, Newbie, or Weary Cross-cultural Christian Worker

Misunderstood: The impact of growing up overseas in the 21st century

Third Culture Kids: Growing up among worlds

 

Trauma
The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma

 

Miscellaneous 
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No To Take Control of Your Life

Necessary Endings: The Employees, Businesses, and Relationships That All of Us Have to Give Up in Order to Move Forward

Stop Walking on Eggshells: Taking Your Life Back When Someone You Care About Has Borderline Personality Disorder

Walking with God Through Pain and Suffering

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*Amazon affiliate links

 

Saying Goodbye to the Automatic No {how I learned to have fun again}

by Elizabeth

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This photo. It looks so simple and sweet, the picture of a woman enjoying herself on holiday. But it’s more than that. Much more. This photo also represents a victory in a long-standing tug-of-war with the AUTOMATIC NO.

Are you familiar with the Automatic No? It’s an old acquaintance of mine, a seemingly comfortable companion. It’s cunning. It’s clever. But it’s actually a traitor to happiness.

The Automatic No sneaks into relationships and slowly poisons them. Someone, usually a family member, will ask you to do something fun with them, and you decline. How many times have I done this?? How many times has a loved one asked me to play with them, and I said no without really thinking about it?

I’d been obeying the Automatic No for a long time without ever knowing it. Sometimes there’s an underlying fear — I’m afraid of this or that germ, afraid of this or that injury. Sometimes there’s an underlying laziness — I just don’t want to move or get up. And sometimes there’s an underlying assumption that “fun is for kids.”

I wouldn’t generally articulate my reasons. I would just say no and stay out of the activity. Over and over again, I chose to remove myself from the merriment without ever asking why.

But then last year happened. A colleague of my husband’s helped us pinpoint OCD as the cause of so much mental anguish in my life. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: it made so much sense. At last, I had a label for my oddities. Finally, we had an explanation for my eccentricities.

So I dove into the literature on OCD. Some of the most helpful work came from Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, author of Brainlock. Brainlock describes what happens in the brain of a person with OCD, and it prescribes a plan for changing your brain by changing your behavior.

And let me tell you, this plan works. Of course, it only works if you implement the strategies, but the strategies are highly effective. (Watch this 30-minute video for an introduction to the four-step plan for treating OCD.)

Basically what happens in that the gear-shifting system in the brain (the cingulate system) is “sticky.” It doesn’t shift well. So when a thought, usually something bothersome, dangerous, or anxiety-provoking, comes into an OCD mind, it literally cannot leave. The thought is physically stuck on a loop. The brain can’t move from anxiety to safety because the gear shift is faulty.

It takes a lot of work to shift gears, especially at the beginning of treatment. And it is this lack of ability to flex that causes us to say no automatically. We don’t think through our answers; we just say no. We can’t shift our attention very easily, and NO is always an easy answer to give.

My husband, who works as a pastoral counselor, has a lot of books on mental and emotional health laying around the house. One of them is Dr. Daniel Amen’s Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. I picked it up and flipped to the sections on fear & anxiety and on worry & obsessiveness.

It was in the section on worry & obsessiveness that I discovered the name of my adversary: the Automatic No. It was in the pages of that chapter that I came face to face with my tendency to destroy fun in a relationship.

When invited into the fun, I don’t explore it. I don’t get curious. I don’t ask myself if I really want to do something. I just say no. I don’t even consider it. I just say no to getting in the water and swimming with my family, even though I always enjoyed it as a child. I don’t play ball games with my family. I stay on the sidelines and watch. I don’t do that fun thing my husband is asking me to do. I opt out.

Because why should I say yes, when I could just as easily say no instead?

But I recognized myself immediately in the description of the Automatic No, and it scared me. So I determined to alter my customary no’s. To at least try to fight back against my familiar, well-trodden brain paths. To give myself time before answering the invitation. Time to think about whether I really have to say no, or whether I could possibly say yes. I never knew I could say yes, that I could try it and see. Maybe I’ll like it, and maybe I won’t. But I’ll never know unless I try.

So I started saying yes more often. It was a tentative “yes?” at first. But soon my yeses became firmer. The first picture below was nearly an Automatic No. It was a recent holiday, and we were at the mall. I was watching the kids play Skeeball at the arcade. I was cheering them on when out of the blue, my husband asked me if I wanted to play. He had enough coins if I wanted.

Initially I told him, “Nah.” But then I stopped myself. I asked myself what I really wanted, and it turns out, I DID want to play. I hadn’t been thinking through the offer. I had just been offering that dread Automatic No again.

But when I took a moment to mull it over, I remembered that Skeeball was my favorite arcade game as a child. It was the only game I ever played at Chuck E. Cheese, in fact. I had just assumed that “arcade games are for kids.” I never considered playing as an adult (even though my husband plays these games all the time).

So a minute later I nudged him and said, “Actually, I think I DO want to play this game.” And I did. He took this photo after I had just made a 40-point score. That look is not posed; it’s pure joy.

After Skeeball, we all played at the basketball machines — that’s the bottom photo. But I would never have tried my hand at basketball had I not rethought my original Skeeball “no.”

It’s hard at first to say “no” to the Automatic No, but it gets easier with practice. And with time, rejecting the Automatic No leads to a lot more fun in life. Little yes by little yes, we change our brains, and we change our lives.

So if you, like me, say NO to the fun far more frequently than is good for you, I dare you to go out and say YES to something today. Who knows? One little yes may be all that it takes to change everything.

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