Thursday, January 29, 2015

The Healing Hand of God

When you look back over your life do you think of times where some seemingly random decision ended up making some huge impact for your future? Like the person you sat next to in math class ended up being a lifelong friend? Or the advice you actually listened to from a friend’s dad ended up pointing your compass in a really new direction? Well, my decision to enter therapy to deal with my tremendous pain was not a random decision at all but one that was a very real and very calculated one. And it was driven by the pain itself and my desire to break the cycle of abuse in my own new family.

I really wanted to protect my wife and children from the poison that had been passed on to me by my family. The decision I made to step into my own healing was a decision that has had so much impact in my life I can hardly measure it. It has impacted my own life, my wife’s life, my daughters’ lives, and the lives of people whom I have brushed shoulders with for years. I am so grateful for everything it took to get me on my journey of healing. I want that for each of you reading this who may be at that same crossroad in your life.

If you had asked me what my goals were when I started therapy I would have said it was to figure out how to deal with all the pain and try to change my life for everyone’s good. Yet as I got into the deep work of psychotherapy there were times when my mind was unable to respond. I was not in the mood. I was unable to connect to the feelings. I just didn’t “get” what was being asked of me in therapy. During these experiences, my therapists explained that I really was making progress, though it would probably not be tangible to me initially. My mind was opening, a little bit at a time, to the memories I had buried deep inside. What I could not understand at the time was that my opening up to those memories would one day give me back myself.

Doesn’t it sound strange to have an unresponsive mind? It’s like hearing at a hospital that “the patient is unresponsive!” But in my case, when it came to my feelings, it was true. It was evidence of something seriously wrong and there were times I wasn’t sure the feelings would ever come back. I really wondered if they existed anymore.

The cognitive therapist I worked with had his work cut out for him in helping me reconnect with my emotions. What he had to work with first was to help me tame my hyper-vigilant mind that was always trying to protect that wounded child within me. I guess my intellect was still instinctively trying to protect my heart. I was very good at this since I had used it as a coping method from the time I was a very young boy. It must’ve worked well for me. But now, as the suppressed feelings began to emerge, I imagine my mind did not want to deal with the massiveness of what was stirring deep within.

Eventually this difficulty that caused me not to be able to connect with myself and my emotions began to ease. When that happened there were times I experienced a deluge of emotions! A small trigger is all it took and I would find myself right in the middle of the experience of the past abuse and the entire range of emotions that went with it. Depending on the type of abuse event being revisited, I would experience sadness, anger, despair, loneliness, isolation, feelings of shame, a sense of betrayal, rage, feeling abandoned, hopelessness, anxiety, fear or terror. What was hard to handle was how lightning fast I could be back “in” the experience with no preparation and no warning . . . and no skills yet to begin to cope with it.

While I was in the middle of experiencing the feelings the therapists would often assist me to identify the beliefs I had formed while I had experienced the specific abuse. The therapists helped me rethink my beliefs about myself as I was thrown back into the abuse events again and it was essential to my growth that they helped me change my thinking. There is a proverb from the Bible that says “as a man thinks in his heart, so is he.” I could see the truth of that being played out each time I was able to think differently about my past. Sometimes I would actually be able to sense myself coming into a new understanding based on a true and realistic assessment of how horrible the abuse was. At other times this was much harder to do in the real time of re-experiencing the abuse.

I struggle to find a way to explain this to those of you who have not experienced being thrown back in time to a past trauma. It’s like waking up to an oncoming train on a video that is 5 feet in front of you and telling yourself it is simply a movie and not a real train about to run you over. The first time it happens you honestly think the train is going to plow over you. Over time you begin to be able to tell yourself it is no longer a real train, but one you are remembering. But it takes practice and it can be helpful to have professionals processing it with you.

One important area I worked on, with my therapists, was the violence of my father, Fred W. Phelps, Sr. who was a preacher. In order to begin working on healing, my therapists would have me physically lie on a mat on the floor, on my back. They would have me relax and settle until I was very peaceful. Then the husband of my therapist team would suddenly begin to reenact some aspect of the violence, similar to what my father had done. He would drop books on the floor and begin to yell and scream and hit things and throw things and rage at my mother, or at me. He and his wife had a very specific purpose in doing this. They were helping me reenact experiences similar to what I had experienced, but were giving me new tools to think very differently about what was happening.

The wife of my therapist team would cry and whimper and say things like: ‘there’s nothing I can do for you Mark, I can’t help what is happening to you Mark, there is nothing I can do to stop him Mark, you are on your own Mark’. Or she would scream with terror. Or she would say: “I warned you what would happen if you did that Mark”. Or she would threaten to call the police or run out the front door of the house/church building. Then the husband of my therapist team would threaten her or act out beating her as she screamed in terror.

Remember all of this was reenactment to help me go “back” to my early abuse experiences and to bring the light of truth to them. The therapists played the roles of my mother and father and other people in my life to help wake my emotions up to reconnect me with what had happened. During the early experiences of reenactment all I could do was just lie there and lie there and lie there on the floor. Partly that was because I honestly couldn’t feel a thing. Later my therapists explained to me that the laying still was a learned response. That as a child I had not had normal childhood needs met. Children are very adaptive little people and if they cry out to their parents and caregivers and aren’t given care, they quit crying.

What the therapists were attempting to do all throughout this initial part of my therapy was to help me connect with feelings of betrayal and being alone in the world as a small child. This was very terrifying and brought up incredibly vulnerable feelings of despair and hopelessness. The therapists were trying to help me connect with the feelings of this reality of the level of betrayal I had experienced as a child. Because I was laying there on the floor experiencing the feeling of being able to “do nothing” to help myself, I was able to understand what the therapists were wanting me to see. That it does not take long for a small child to stop crying if their cries do not get their needs met - or especially if their cries are met with physical abuse.

When I was unable initially to “cry out” when the scary things were being reenacted around me, it helped me to see what had happened when I was a small infant. The only way for me to stay safe from my father’s raging, as a small infant, was to lie completely still. That was something I learned to do as a coping skill. And that this learned skill now was no longer helping me in my adult life and relationships. So, these exercises, which can sound rather callous on the part of the therapists was actually a part of my healing. Because as I began to reconnect with my feelings as a child they were able to help me process the emotions I should have been able to express as an infant and growing child. I was starting to feel what it felt like as a little baby boy who had been left alone in a world of anger and violence. And I was learning to cry again!

Since my body was safe when my therapists were working to reenact my abuse, it eventually allowed my mind the safety to connect to the feelings of the young child experiencing the violence so often displayed by my father, and the horrific terror that went with it. My therapists always explained exactly what they were doing and why, and assured me I was still safe and if needed, they would stop. But, their goal, and mine, was for me to reconnect with NORMAL feelings you would expect anyone to have from the level of abuse I experienced. They truly created a safe place for me to begin to heal. Safety is something abuse victims long for and I was getting to experience some of that with these experienced, caring therapists.

Sometimes when I was actually connecting with my feelings again as I relived an abuse event I would feel truly terrified. Sometimes I would just feel sad. During the first few months, I was unable to cry at all even though I was able to begin experiencing sadness in my heart. I was still too frightened to cry. By connecting to the feelings, it was similar to re-experiencing the violence . . . and utter aloneness. And initially, apparently, I still didn’t feel safe enough to cry. Remember, when we were children and cried out, crying just got us more abuse. And more pain. To finally be able to cry with the help of these therapists was a huge step for me.

I was a highly motivated patient as I was doing this work with my therapists. But in spite of that motivation and desire I had to work very hard at opening my mind and my heart to the reality of doing this healing work. I would also count on the Lord to help me. Every time prior to an appointment with my therapists, as I drove to my therapists’ office, I would pray, asking the Lord to be close and to protect me and allow me to heal.

I asked the Lord to stay close to me, in my heart, so I would feel able to open my heart and let His strength replace my weakness and brokenness. I told the Lord, also, that it would be very important for me to know He was with me, because I had begun to sense the fear and terror I had felt as a little boy and I really did not want to face these feelings again, by myself. In answer to my prayer the Lord was with me each time. Each time! Sometimes I was more aware of His presence than others, but He always felt near.

I remember years later trying to describe this to my brother Nathan. I explained how the Lord held tightly to me through every terrifying moment and each moment of brokenness I had relived during my years of therapy and had kept me safe. I explained that, of course, The Lord did not literally hold onto me. It was my mind being open to and accepting the clear promises He had made in His written word and taking Him at His word. It was a matter of faith! As I reached out to The Lord, He held onto me and clung onto me and drew me all the closer to Himself. This experience has often made me think of some of the people The Lord helped when He was on the earth. Now when I read things in the Bible about Him helping people, I relate to it in a different way since I’ve had firsthand experience of it myself.

God’s presence in my heart was a gentle strength, gentle and comforting. He was calming and consoling. He was reassuring and affirming. He provided insight and understanding about what was happening deep within. He constructed strength and peace and gave me joy in those places deep within my heart where there had been great fear, confusion, brokenness and despair. He gave me a strong sense of well-being and assurance as he helped me begin to forgive through great compassion and understanding toward my abuser. In the very core of my being he confirmed the beauty and joy of living where there had been the lingering ashes of mourning. I came to know his goodness and kindness toward me personally in the midst of these experiences. I felt a calm I had never felt before. He reminded me of others told of in His word that had reached out to Him to be made whole. I was now one of them.

For example there was the woman who had a hemorrhage for twelve years who suddenly came from behind Jesus and touched the hem of His garment. She said: “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” Jesus turned around, and when He saw her He said, “Be of good cheer, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And the woman was made well from that moment. And many others were brought to him, all who were sick, and begged Him that they might touch the hem of His garment. And all who touched the hem of His garment were made perfectly well.

And there was the blind man, born blind from his birth. When Jesus saw Him He spat on the ground and made clay with the saliva; and He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. And He said to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which is translated, Sent). So he went and washed, and came back seeing.

And there was the leper. A leper came to Jesus, imploring Him, kneeling down to Him and saying to Him, “If You are willing, You can make me clean.” Then Jesus, moved with compassion, stretched out His hand and touched him, and said to him, “I am willing; be cleansed.” As soon as He had spoken, immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cleansed.

And the great hymn Amazing Grace talks about our being blind and then seeing and our being first lost, then being found. All of these have come to mind as I try to find a way to explain what I experienced with the Lord’s compassionate work in my life during my healing therapy experience. As far as I am concerned, I am that blind man. I am that leper. I am one of those who was in great need and I reached out to touch the hem of The Lord’s garment. And the Lord within me clung onto my heart and my mind. He knew His word had been used to cause great damage deep in my heart. So He was the one that saw to it that my heart was restored at the deepest levels possible, restoring me to full life again, with His word and the healing work done with my therapists.

God brought light into the dark places in my heart! He revealed the deep and secret things down in my very broken self because He knows what is in the darkness but He also knows light and wholeness dwells with Him. God uncovered the deep things out of the darkness in my heart and brought into the light the black gloom and the shadow of death that was within me. He literally gave me new life at the very core of my being. The healing work He did in my heart causes me to feel safe and secure in my relationship with Him, and I am so grateful! His compassion and love cause me such great delight; pure joy! I felt His presence throughout all my years of healing work. I truly experienced the healing hand of God in my life. Oh how I love Jesus!

I will get into the details of the work I did to deal with the anger that was within my heart from all the years of abuse in my next writing. For me it was necessary to work through the terror and much sadness before I was able to connect with anger. But the anger came and it came on like a storm.

In my next writing I will get into the details of the work I did to face head on the anger that was within my heart from all the years of abuse. But for now, just be encouraged. Healing is an amazing thing and if it could happen for me it can happen for you.

Mark Phelps

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Healing The Wounds Of Abuse

What surprises a lot of us about becoming adults is all the hard work it takes. Most of us heard plenty of platitudes from our parents and elders about the benefits of hard work! Thomas Edison said “there is no substitute for hard work.” We don’t disagree with the concept. And eventually we begin to see the connection between hard work and accomplishing things in our lives. But what seems so unfair to a lot of us who have come from abuse is that we have to work toward our own healing. Because if we hadn’t been abused, the work would never need to be done and time and energy and work spent on healing would perhaps be far better spent on our adult lives!

Some of you may still be at this place. You may be thinking “I’m happy for you, Mark, that you got some peace in your life. But you’re scaring me with all this talk about hard work. And I don’t know if I can do this.” I really do get it. If I hadn’t had the unique experience of living in a foreign country for a while and the way a different culture made my pain come to the surface I have no idea how long I might have “kept it together” and not felt the call to heal.

I think of those of us with the pain of abuse as sort of like people walking around with cancer. If we actually were diagnosed with cancer and kept telling ourselves and our spouses “I’m afraid of what treatment will entail” eventually our friends might gang up on us and beg us to step into that scary process. But with soul pain like we have, we are the ones who ultimately have to decide to step forward into the healing process. We are in some senses both doctor and patient in that we are part of each step of the process. At no time are we under anesthesia with someone else doing the work! We are present and going through it each step of the way. And we are the ones who must do the strenuous work of healing.

If you read my last blog writing you may recall I talked about the hard work it took to wrestle through and unlearn the lies of my father, the preacher Fred W. Phelps, Sr. As I was engaged in the hard work of dismantling the wrong teachings I had learned from my father it became obvious to me that I still had a considerable amount of healing left to do. The “head” work was important and I do not discount it. It was an important step. But I knew in my soul there was so much more work to do.

The second phase of my therapy really was a move from doing work only in my head to connecting with my heart. My therapists helped me see I needed to revisit emotional experiences from my growing up years with a new perspective that only an adult could have. They wanted to help me remember those experiences of abuse as they happened but to interpret them differently with an adult’s understanding of the truth. And by doing that allow me emotionally, in the present, to experience a very different outcome from what I had experienced during the abuse itself.

This process is a little hard to explain to someone who has not gone through it themselves. I am trying to explain the healing process my therapists guided me through that helped me learn that our amazing human minds have freedom to respond to situations from our past with a variety of new responses. These new responses to old events and old traumas are based on new values or new understanding we have gained that allows us to see and respond differently than we did in our past. You can imagine when I started into therapy at the age of 37 I had far greater resources to understand what had happened to me than when I went through the abuse as a child.

Children respond to abuse by experiencing terror, shame, loneliness, panic, desperation, an inability to control bodily responses (shaking, crying, getting cold, etc.) and any number of child coping skills used to manage the pain and fear. One important thing a good therapist can help an adult survivor do is to look at what the child’s understanding was of what was happening. Many children begin to see the abuse as their fault, as something they “deserved”, as a punishment for wrongdoing, as what a “good for nothing” gets, and any number of other hurtful, damaging beliefs. Those beliefs must be challenged for healing.

When you revisit the abusive situations in your memory, you are able to respond to them differently. Adults can be given a new set of lens with which to view the abuse. With a good therapist, and in my case with the aid of the Lord, I was able to assess the abuse completely differently. I was able to reteach my heart that I was a valuable little boy and that loving parents should never have treated their small child with such abuse or neglect. I also came to understand I was valuable and precious to God, even if I wasn’t to my parents, and that my responses to the situation were simply those of a very young child who was terrified and trying to learn what to do to keep safe.

The truth is absolutely paramount to the adult’s recovery from their childhood abuse. The things their abusers told them were almost certainly lies and often explicitly used by the abuser to keep the child under their abusive control. Adult abusers take advantage of kids’ vulnerability with these lies that can keep the child from ever having the courage to hope for any other life circumstances or ever try to escape his or her situation.

The therapist and the patient become a team who must carefully examine what lies were being told and what truths were not being communicated during the abuse. This takes time. If you have heard your whole life that you are “worthless” or “good for nothing” or “a slut” or “a whore” or “you deserve this” or “this is your fault” or “you are evil” you will begin to believe it. Children have no real ability to fight back emotionally against their perpetrators for very long because they do not have the skills to combat the mind control of a verbally and physically abusive person.

It is especially hard for children to reject messages from their parents since children are truly hard-wired to believe their parents have their best at heart. This is difficult to work through, and is time consuming but the truth about who you are and your value to God and others is a message that does begin to get through.

In this next phase of therapy my hope was also to reduce the emotional pain I had begun to experience when I began to open my mind and heart to my past. I knew the emotional pain at the level I was now experiencing it was crippling me. God has built in pain as an important mechanism in our lives to protect us. And whether that pain is felt by a little hand on a hot stove or as emotional pain from abuse, it is important to listen to all pain. Physical and emotional pains are very important guides to our healing. For many of us, it is the only thing that gets us started on our road to recovery.

Some people’s response to their pain reminds me of the engine lights on cars that were made back in the 1960s. Older cars had a simple engine light and when it turned red if you didn’t pull over you risked ruining the engine. These days there are orange lights that allow us to drive for longer to allow us time to fix more minor problems. When it comes to our psychological health it is important to know when we are dealing with an orange light or a red light. But in either case it is truly good to see pain as a warning to help us. Strong people can push through pain for a season and many of you are very strong people. But there comes a day when you know that the pain must be dealt with to live a full and free life.

I learned through therapy that when I was very young I had shut down and completely closed off inside so I would not feel as much pain from the things that were happening to me. That is how I survived. This served me very well in the environment of abuse. But it did not serve me well at all as I left home and tried to build a life. In fact, this worked against me considerably. And it affected my relationships. Any sense of connecting with people in my life was often at a very low and sometimes even superficial level.

This was just part of what I was learning as I began the healing process with the cognitive therapist. It took a long time to open up my heart. In fact, it was quite a ways into the healing process before I began to make any connection or open up to the part of my heart I had closed off. When I did begin to open up, it became terribly painful.

Remember I’ve been saying that pain has its place in our lives and we need to see it as a warning and as help toward healing. But for many of us who are finally connecting with our previously shut off hearts it can feel like waking up from heart surgery without anesthesia. It can be incredibly frightening and monstrously painful and can cause you to want to crawl back into the safe, suppressed places you once were and that are so familiar.

But let me give you some hope in this process. When you do begin to connect with the pain it is precisely because of the abuse that you experienced. You were abused and abuse hurts! You are likely having a delayed reaction, in full force, that you should have been able to feel long ago when the abuse happened, but couldn’t.

The challenge can be allowing your mind to connect the past abuse with your present heart that is now awakened. You become aware in this process that perhaps you can finally allow yourself to fully feel and fully process the wrong done to you. Many people who had to shut off their hearts as young children or young adults to protect themselves can no longer connect the past wrong with the feelings that are being allowed finally to come to the surface. The feelings that are surfacing feel like a massive disconnect to your present life and can feel extremely uncomfortable.

That is what makes it feel unsafe and so frightening. The feelings don’t match your present reality of going to work every day and going to the gym and dealing with your coworkers and life with your family. The anxiety, sadness, hurt, rejection, anger, loneliness, despair or rage bubbling up just doesn’t “fit” what is going on around you. Often it takes the help of a trained professional to assist you in connecting with the wrongs done to you previously and help you realize that your present emotions, though perhaps inconsistent with your present life circumstances, are VALID and WARRANTED and need to be felt and expressed to begin true healing.

An example in my own recovery was my therapists attempting to help me reconnect with appropriate feelings. Initially I couldn’t feel anything. My therapists were well aware that I had a heart that was shut off. They wanted to help me go back in time to when I was first abused to help me process the normal feelings a child would feel being abused. But they had a problem. I couldn’t feel anything except for a chronic generalized anxiety and discomfort just being in my own skin! So they worked to help me reconnect with specific feelings at all, and then helped me to go back in time to the real abuse and process it fully with their help.

They helped me re-create the circumstances of my abuse and connect with the feelings that would have been appropriate in the original event. My therapists helped me go back to situations in my mind of being treated in very wrong ways. Then with their help I was able to begin feeling what a person who is being hurt should feel . . . anger, shock, betrayal, surprise, horror, outrage, terror, disbelief, loneliness, helplessness, confusion, and denial to name just a few.

And these buried feelings were the building blocks of toxic shame in my life! A distinction might be helpful here. It’s been said that when you experience guilt you feel bad. But that when you experience toxic shame it’s because you think you ARE bad. That is very often true for victims of abuse. The abuser was the wrongdoer but the victim ends up feeling like the worthless person. So tragic, but so true!

This was so true of my life. It might help you understand how shame worked in my life if I tell you the main emotions I felt were despair, dirtiness, profound loneliness, extreme anxiety and worthlessness and these were emotions that were with me day and night. It was almost impossible for me to trust any person and I felt it would make little or no difference to anyone if I lived or died. It was very difficult to want to WANT to live.

If ever there was a need for looking backwards to be able to finally look forward it would be therapy for victims of long-term abuse. Our pasts do not stay in the past. They come crashing into the front and center of our present. My therapists were honestly doing a very beautiful thing by championing the little child in me who had not been defended or protected by adults. I desperately needed to be given the opportunity to respond in the present with all the appropriate and healthy responses any kid would feel who had been beaten or traumatized in his past. There is something very powerful about having your past and your present connected back. And then to be able to be in the present and still remember the past with some new tools to help the child in you who was never protected. When my therapists helped me to do this they helped me begin to heal.

Being able to appropriately respond to wrongs done to us is a very important part of being a healthy, whole human being. Even when our responses are 30 years late! We as humans can overlook plenty of petty grievances and everyday life situations with people pulling in front of us in traffic and hurting our feelings in myriad of ways and we will get by. What is unique to the victim of abuse is they have been trying to “get by” for years with events that were highly traumatic and that desperately need to be expressed in safe ways. For those of us with long-term abuse, it takes time to even remember and respond to all the wrong done to us. And hurrying a person through this process is not helpful.

We have a built in sense of justice given to us by God. That sense of justice and right from wrong is very powerful in us. If we are wronged and do not have an ability to respond with appropriate emotions of anger, hurt, sadness, etc. that hurt can go deep into us until it is properly dealt with. It does not just magically disappear!

The ultimate goal of healing is to deal with the ‘there and then’ so it is not in the ‘here and now’. The victim of abuse can eventually learn to live a healthy life with family and friends without the effects of past abuse destructively crashing in.

Wrongs need to be made right in this world. If you look at the criminal justice system, you discover that many victims get very little help to heal by the legal system’s meting out appropriate lengthy prison sentences for the perpetrator of the crime. What CAN help victims to heal is when their perpetrator confesses to the crime, and expresses not just a repentant attitude but that he understands what he took away from the victim. And the damage he caused in their lives. When this happens in a criminal justice context, there has to be serious preparation on both sides before it is considered safe to have a perpetrator of a crime and the victim in the same room together. One thing that is an absolute requirement is that the perpetrator understands that he caused harm to the victim and is sorry for it.

It is complicated for victims of abuse in that there is not necessarily an advocate for the child victim of abuse. Often the scars of emotional and physical abuse are not visible in any way to family and friends. So the abuse victim has to learn for him or herself other ways to gain some kind of peace of mind and closure about the abuse. With the help of therapists and sometimes from wise friends, there can be steps taken to heal even if the perpetrator refuses to admit his wrongdoing.

My therapists had to help me feel again. And then they had to help me connect up appropriate responses to what I was feeling. Some of these feelings were 35 years later than they should have been! This uncovering of feelings and working through them was a truly lengthy process to go through. We usually react so quickly to emotionally frightening things that we are unaware of any processing we go through. My therapists knew I needed help to identify the thinking I was doing as a child when I was in the midst of those abusive experiences.

These objectives were not easy to accomplish, but they were very important. Thinking affects our beliefs, which affects our feelings, which affects our behavior. Thinking is the engine in this system and is critical for change. These deep, unspoken thoughts in the heart of a child are what determine the way the child reasons with their brain. When a child begins to think terribly wrong things about her or himself such as “I must be a bad kid or I wouldn’t be being beaten or kicked or tied to a chair or not fed enough food or left all alone or be watching my father beat and scream at my mother” it ends up becoming a deep heart-felt belief she has about herself.

The only way for an abused child to become pure in heart after being abused is for her deep thinking and feelings to be revisited and healed. This healing change is essential if there is to be wholeness in her heart and life as an adult! If we want to guard our hearts as adults we must heal our hearts from past abuse!

If the child were to have an adult help them process a one-time assault, there can be healing. We can tell a child “Honey, you did not ask for that man to do that to you. You were all alone and could not help yourself. You are precious and valuable and that man had no right to do that to you. I am so sorry.” The challenge is the child of abuse often has no adult rescuer or defender saying those important things to him or her to help her heal. The adult abuser ends up choosing to say horrible things to his victim so the victim won’t fight back. That is key to all abusers’ power. They create such fear in you that you don’t believe you are able to fight back…And beloved one, those fears were very crippling to you as they were to me.

We will get into the thinking processes an abuser tries to push on his victim but we will also discuss why little children are so susceptible to the messages that come from adults and parents especially. We as adults walk around believing lies about ourselves every day that were told to us when we were children. But those of us who are victims of an abuser’s lies must learn to fight back or we can stay stuck in that terrible place of helplessness and pain.

The good news?! Our minds are powerful and wonderful parts of us that can truly change over time as we bring wholesome, clean truth back into our lives. Truth is an amazing friend to a victim of abuse.

Shame from abuse requires three things to perpetuate it: secrecy, isolation and silence. Part of what we are going to talk about very soon is the process of bringing those lies that were told to us out in the open. Shining a light on the wrong things said to us and done to us is one of the first steps to being truly set free.

Mark Phelps

Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Journey Of A Thousand Miles Begins With One Step

If you have lived on this planet for long you know it is a place where you get hurt. Some hurts are physical and some are psychological but the hurts come and there is a recovery period that our bodies and psyches try to initiate. If your boss fires you from a job you loved that is going to take a whole lot more time to heal for most people than a need to heal from your co-worker who didn’t like your idea in the brainstorming meeting. There are varying levels of emotional hurts in life and there are some amazing mechanisms within the human mind and psyche that allow us to attempt to heal those hurts. The problem can come if the psychological trauma is too great and when we do not know how to assist the psyche.

We can make analogies here to physical trauma. If you have a normal immune system a scratch to your skin is something your body easily heals. But if you suffer a compound fracture or a serious internal injury from a car accident, the chances are very good you will need the specialized care of physicians who are trained to deal with these types of traumas.

The tricky part about a psychological trauma is we often don’t see the person’s initial trauma, much less the emotional scars many abuse victims carry. So it is no wonder victims of abuse often begin to try to cope on their own. Alone is the sad truth about abuse for its victims. And some, like me, appear to do “okay” for awhile. But I think for those of us who have had abuse beyond a certain level we come to understand that we just can’t go it alone. As time goes on the poison in our souls is so painful it is like telling a person who has four broken ribs, a collapsed lung and a lacerated spleen to just “buck up and figure this out.” And we get advice like this from some people!

Perhaps those of you who have suffered abuse will come up with different analogies but it’s as if we have suffered multiple broken ribs, a collapsed lung and internal bleeding and people keep accidentally bumping into us; and the pain becomes so intense we simply can no longer take it. And we begin to stand up to it and often give voice to our pain. Finally! But to those who are around us it might look like we just went from a normal Tuesday to a Wednesday and they will not “get” the profound point of no return we have reached with our pain. It’s true, perhaps the falling apart looks to an outsider like it happens in a moment but often the pain has been building up for years. And years! And finally it reaches a critical mass we simply can’t overlook for one more minute. And sometimes the ways we fall apart and start telling people about our pain is not particularly pretty. And very often makes NO sense to us much less to anyone else.

I finally turned my attention to getting help at the age of 37. I had been gone from ‘The Place’ for 18 years and had an increasing sense of urgency about my need for therapy and knew this was not going to happen magically by itself. I knew it was going to require an intentional and deliberate focus to find a therapist and begin to deal with my soul pain. Though I did not comprehend the path that lay before me I had to take that all important first step! Looking back I now truly realize a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.

For my first experience with a therapist I knew I needed a professional who was trained in the Bible as well as counseling. I started my recovery process with a cognitive therapist, working with an individual who was a doctor of psychology, an attorney, and a pastor. I started with a cognitive approach to therapy, in terms of examining my thoughts and beliefs and working to learn correct beliefs of the Bible and correct thinking about my life.

I had spent years being told half-truths, negative thinking, horrendous judgments of people and outright lies and I needed an individual who could assist me who was skilled at clear and accurate thinking. Cognitive therapy makes sense to a lot of people. The Bible says “as one thinks in his heart so is he.” The way I was thinking was clearly hurting me, so the examination of my thinking would be key. I made some good progress with this.

Even then, the first few sessions I was skeptical. You see, I had a raging storm deep in my heart but I had great difficulty believing ANYONE would be capable of helping me. I had learned the insidious message of arrogance and superiority from my father. What an irony. And how absurd that I who was a truly sick and broken human being would come to the professional and even then argue with his knowledge even though I had little of my own in this area! Here I was broken to the core from continual abuse yet at the same time holding an attitude of arrogance which had been deeply infused into my heart. I could almost chuckle now that the first therapist I picked was also a pastor and a lawyer, but at the time this decision was deadly serious to me.

One of the first things my counselor assigned me was to begin reading. The idea was to begin to override the control of my father by getting me to read different perspectives on things I had been taught by my father about the Bible. This was very helpful for me with the level of brainwashing my father had done in our lives. He had kept us from ever using our minds and being comfortable in even walking through a line of reasoning he had not personally pre-ordained for us, so this was a very uncomfortable but necessary process.

My cognitive therapist would also use a lot of questions, both to learn my experience and what my thinking was, and to encourage me to begin to develop alternative views, perspectives and beliefs.

Many of you who have been reading my blogs know the work that would be cut out for this therapist knowing of my upbringing. Because he would have to help me tackle some things my father taught me that were very wrong. My father got so many things wrong. He was wrong about God and His immense love for us. He was wrong about God’s forgiveness. He was wrong about the human heart. He was wrong about women. He was wrong about marriage. He was wrong about the preciousness of little children and their vulnerability. He was wrong for beating us. He was wrong about the way people should be treated. He was wrong about the value and purpose of work. And he was wrong in choosing not to love his children and his wife. How wrong could one man be? But for me, as recipient of the deadly and sick teachings of this man, the undoing of the wrongs he perpetrated in my thinking was more critical to my healing than the wrongs he perpetrated against my body.

Let me give you an example of the bad teaching my therapist had to help me fight against. My father taught that helping people in need – the hungry, oppressed, lonely, in jail – was foolishness and unimportant. Truthfully, my father never mentioned these concepts except to mock and ridicule them so that the idea of taking any caring or loving action along these lines literally never crossed my mind.

The thing about this particular lie that was so insidious was that it completely went against the teachings of Jesus. Jesus never stopped talking about and modeling love! To anyone and everyone! So, when my therapist began to help me see how wrong this teaching was it caused me to have to rethink the whole Bible. My father had made fun of Jesus. A lot! So, I had to take the time to go back and reread the Bible with a new lens and realize how horribly wrong my father’s teaching had been. But in the process I had the foundation of my previous world, the world he created, completely shaken. If my father was so wrong about this fundamental teaching about whether God was love then what else had he gotten wrong?

And I think intellectually it’s easy to think “well, you got some new correct facts in your head so it was all good then, right?” Well, actually the kinds of belief systems we believe in as children are really hard to change. Early life teachings cling like barnacles to our souls! So when I say I was aided by a cognitive therapist, know that it was hard work to really dig into and understand each step of the lies my father perpetrated on us. And each new thing I tackled made me feel like the sand was shifting under my feet. Tackling all the lies took time and a lot of emotional work to resolve. And the process often caused me extreme emotional distress and insecurity!

Here is an example of this torment and insecurity. My father taught all of his children if we ever left ‘The Place’ we would go to hell and we would be banished from our family. And to be sure, when I left, I WAS banished from my family. But Wait! A husband is supposed to leave his father and mother and hold tight to his wife. And the two are meant to become one.

For a husband and a wife to establish a new family is the right way. Staying under the control of a father for life is horribly wrong. Yet for years I had to wrestle nagging inner conflict to feel safe and secure that I was doing the right thing by leaving my father and having my own family. My father should not have attempted to keep a death grip on all of his children for life. And I should not have had to fight so hard just to feel I was doing the right thing by leaving! But that’s how it was. For a child, early life teachings carry enormous weight, and when the teachings are wrong the consequences are far-reaching and deep-seated.

So for me the first year or so of my treatment was appropriately dealing with and dismantling the wrong teachings about God. That process was extremely helpful as I was beginning to heal. But there would be another step that was also vitally important for me to step through. And that was to reconnect with my feelings.

After a couple of years of work with my first therapist, my feelings began to emerge and I began to experience significant distress and pain. I want you to think about the impact of that statement I’ve just made. After a couple of years, feelings BEGAN to emerge. I can imagine some of you must be thinking “Seriously, it took you two years to get feelings?” If you, or someone you know, have suffered from ongoing abuse, the fact that feelings can no longer be accessed is very common. But it can be hard to comprehend for those who haven’t experienced it.

Though my first therapist may have been qualified to assist me with the intellectual and theological side of my healing, a very necessary part of the process, I believed I needed a therapist whose specialty was the feelings of the heart, not the thoughts of the mind for the next step on my journey. I believe both are important and both are involved. The work my first therapist did with me on the cognitive level was critical but I knew I had more work to do.

I found a married couple who each had special skills and together seemed to have what was needed to assist me further. I made the change to the new therapists with much apprehension similar to the early days with my first therapist. This is to be expected as the therapeutic relationship is one that requires boat loads of trust! I encourage you in your journey toward healing to realize it may take time to find a good “fit” with a therapist for you. Keep going until you find just such a good match!

In this next phase of therapy my hope was to revisit emotional experiences from my growing up years and resolve those experiences with a very different outcome from the initial experiences. While that statement may not make sense on a first reading, I am talking about my therapists guiding me through a process that helped me learn how the human mind has freedom to respond to situations from our past with a variety of new responses. These new responses will be based on new values or new understanding that allows us to see and respond differently than in our past.

Next week I will write in detail about this important healing work of revisiting emotional experiences from my growing up years and resolving them with a very different outcome.

As I think about my own abuse I realize some of you may not relate to the specifics of my particular and unique story. I find it difficult to try to summarize 20 plus years of my healing process into a few illustrations because each day of my healing journey was a bit different. The best analogy I can come up with would be like me going on a 20 year trip and taking a few snapshots every week and then showing you my pictures at the end of the trip. The pictures would be part of the truth. But just part of it! There would have been hugely important days on that trip where a picture was never taken.

As I give you what are similar to “snapshots” of parts of my healing process I just hope it will help you connect up with important parts of your journey. Or the journey you are about to begin. So if any of my snapshots don’t make sense to you or don’t fit your experience that is okay! Toss them! Your experience is the one I care about in this blog and I only hope my feeble snapshots encourage you to take further steps on your journey. Because your journey is your life. Your precious life that you only get to live once.

I hope so much for you that you will seek healing or continue along your healing path until the poison that has been dumped on your precious soul is gone. And even along that journey I hope that you will have better moments and then better days and then better weeks. Until one day, perhaps, you realize you are somebody new. That is my hope.

If you have questions or thoughts about your experience that this blog brings up please write to me about them!

Mark Phelps

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Keep A Lid On It

When you look back over your own life there are a whole lot of ways you could explain it to others that makes sense to you and perhaps to them too. Almost always we explain ourselves to others in a chronological fashion but the way we do it is highly individual to us and our circumstances. I have this feeling that “normal” people just use a standard, chronological format and fill in all the wonderful and varied detail along their journey. (I was a kid, I played volleyball in high school, I went to college, I got married, I got a job, I moved to a new city.)

As I hear folks without trauma in their background, their stories sound something like I have just described. They could easily use the structure of these kinds of chapter headings. But for those of us with abuse and trauma in our backgrounds it’s almost as if there are two volumes to truly describe us. Life before the trauma is volume one and life after the abuse began is volume two. It’s because our lives after abuse were so fundamentally different that chapter headings seem not to give a sense of the drastic change that occurred in our lives after we experienced abuse. But as I am writing this blog I realize for some of us we might really need three volumes if we are victims of abuse.

The third volume would be where we begin our healing process. And it truly needs a third volume because the healing process begins to change the very fabric of our being, too. There is research to show that tremendous damage happens to abuse and trauma victims in physiological and psychological ways that can be measured and are certainly felt by the victim. What is equally true is that over time with powerful healing, other changes happen in our bodies, minds and spirits that help to reduce or even take away the damage from our abuse.

I write today about what it took to get me from the holding pattern I was in towards the end of my volume two to finally knowing I had to get help to even be able to go on living. I invite you into my story but I know each of you who have been victimized by others have your own stories. You also have a story of what it took to get you ready to tackle true change and not just try to cope with the pain and the agony of your abuse. And if you are still in the transition period toward seeking help I hope my story will give you hope. Because there IS hope in the healing!

By the fall of 1989, about a year after my business partner died, my wife was studying French at the local university. In the summer of 1990 my wife and I made the decision to move our family of three to France so my wife could study the French language among the French people, as part of her college work. We planned to go for a year and made plans for the operation of our company and other important plans which would allow us to travel for that length of time. It seemed to us to be a wonderful decision and after spending a little time in London and Paris, we arrived in Aix en Provence in the south of France to live for a year.

After we arrived and were settled, I remember the agony that began to creep up from some unknown place deep inside of me. I do not overstate the emotion when I say agony began to creep up into my heart.

Almost for the first time in my life I had time on my hands because I was unable to work in France. And emotions that I had kept at bay for years, by running on the treadmill of a busy life, really started to flood my heart. I went down very fast and hard emotionally. I began to feel these feelings of despair, wretchedness, dirtiness, hopelessness and worthlessness . . . and intense anxiety! I had a sense of impending doom! It felt much like a bad nightmare except I was wide awake and the pain was real.

I had not anticipated this experience! The way I dealt with the feelings, at that point, was to try to close my body off. I guess the best way to describe what this means is to say I was trying to make myself numb so I couldn’t feel the intense and unending pain in me.

Children of abuse close their bodies off when they experience overwhelming circumstances and I believe it was a very ingrained response for me to do this again. I began to go without eating except for little bits now and then, because I just did not have an appetite. I would also walk a lot! I lost forty pounds during this period as my emotions were being reawakened and I was in a state of severe despair. If you have ever seen those movies about a person given a medication that wakes them up from some kind of coma or twilight in their lives, I think what I experienced had some similarities. All of a sudden I was hit with an oncoming train of pain and had nowhere to go to escape.

This sounds a bit like I was losing my mind over there in France. But I think I was actually losing my lid. Let me explain. Those of us who were victims of ongoing brutal child abuse learned quickly to keep a “lid” on all our normal childhood emotions. We did this because just being a child and doing the things children did got us in trouble. And often! So displays like laughter, playfulness, running around just being a kid, crying over hurts, asking for help, asking endless questions, complaining, challenging parents – any of which you might see in an average American household any day of the week are not allowed behaviors in a home of abuse. Why? Because normal childhood behaviors get you abused! And you quickly learn to put a lid on those responses to life that normal kids experience every day that produce growth and health because to do otherwise gets you hurt. So, the lid saves you from abuse. It can truly be a lifesaver.

Then for those of us who were able to leave our abuser, that lid served other vital purposes. Because emotions and the display of them had gotten us in trouble before until we learned to quickly put a lid on them, we found ourselves in our adult lives having a very useful tool to save us from emotional pain. But in the process of learning a valuable coping skill that saved us from further abuse in our lives we ended up with an unintended consequence. We ended up putting a lid on the pain itself. In the assumption that to ever express that pain in all its ferocity would probably be more than we could bear.

The problem with the lid on an adult, who has suffered child abuse, is that the lid doesn’t always fit too well! And the pain ends up coming out sometimes despite our best efforts. And in places, situations and with people where you least expect it. Or want it.

So now back to our time living in France. When you are in your own culture, speaking your own language and going through your own daily routines you somehow manage to keep the lid on fairly tightly to all the pain that is roiling on the inside of you; using brilliantly crafted schemes to keep the lid on. And when you choose to allow yourself to feel the pain at all you only let out the amount of pain you can handle.

After we returned home and I finally sought out therapy I was able to recognize I was letting out a lot more pain than I realized. And sadly it had been largely in ways that were destructive to those around me. And much of the pain I was inflicting I was simply unaware of.

Part of “taking the lid off” of our pain even briefly, and in controlled ways that are helped along by a therapist, is understanding what our pain has done to deaden our abilities to connect with other people. And part of what you will do in therapy is to understand all the routines, and schedules and ways of doing things you have set up in your life to gain a certain amount of comfort . . . because the routines are predictable and feel safe. And so much of our lives as children were not.

So our routines can quickly become our comfort; a rock to help keep the lid on a little more tightly and keep us comfortable; as comfortable as someone in dreadful emotional pain can be. What you sometimes learn is that what is “built into” your routine are behaviors in dealing with others that are hurtful to them in either word or deed that you have numbed yourself to. At least it was that way for me.

I believe what happened when I was spending time with my family in France was the lid was no longer even able to stay on the pressure cooker of my pain. Two important parts of life in America that had helped to keep the lid on were no longer present. One large part was the safety and busyness of work. That was gone and it had always been my solace. And apparently it had provided more stability than I had realized.

But, the second piece that loosened the lid was the work required in dealing with culture shock. Most people who travel and know they are only going to be gone for a week or two manage the cultural differences fairly well. They say “why don’t they put ice in their Cokes over here?” and whatever other mild complaining cross-cultural travelers do to manage their discomfort.

However when people choose to stay in a foreign country for any length of time, something else sets in. Over time the cultural differences can produce anything from mild discomfort to extreme pain for different people in different circumstances. Because to be in another culture; speaking another language, navigating new things every day, and sometimes every minute of every day, takes emotional work and emotional stability. To someone with a solid emotional core it might be an adventure and only mildly uncomfortable, but to someone in emotional pain the work that is required to just feel stable and comfortable can seem absolutely overwhelming.

I grew up in a very restricted environment where I was not allowed to have normal contact with people and thereby gain the myriad of experiences of a normal child. Normal everyday experiences that children have are what help them prepare to be normal adults. The Phelps children were denied access to friends, social events as simple as the 2nd grade Christmas party, band, intermural sports, the school play, and field trips. All of these experiences that normal kids have prepare them to engage in all that will be thrown at them as adults. We had very few of these smaller experiences to prepare us for much bigger ones.

I truly had no idea how much being in a foreign country would be like shifting sand for me and that I really did not have the ego strength to have all those new experiences thrown at me. So off came the lid of my very fragile security. And without work as the mainstay of my life, the thing that allowed me to stay busy enough and feel worthwhile enough not to have to deal with my pain was also gone. And then the pain hit me like a truck. And I was simply not prepared for the toll it took on me to simply put one foot after the other each day.

The pain was coming out like a volcano and I had no method for dealing with it. Other than running! Do you remember us Phelps kids running 10 miles a day? Many of you who came from abuse will not find this surprising that a coping mechanism I had while in the abuse itself would be one I would rely on when I was no longer with my abuser. So I tried to soothe my pain with lots of walking! Anything to distract my body sensations with movement that would allow me to feel less pain!

This experience of losing my normal cultural surroundings was making me all the more aware that the wretchedness was in my soul, in my body, and now in my mind. This little adventure; this experience; is what brought me to my decision to do healing work, though I did not get to the root of what all these feelings meant until quite a few years into my therapy experience.

The reason that finally pushed me over the edge and made me realize I wanted to heal was because the wretchedness and terror left me without the ability to connect and be intimate, emotionally, with my wife. I could be physically intimate; there was no problem with that. But I couldn’t be emotionally intimate. I couldn’t be emotionally available to my wife, and that was truly painful for her and made her feel like a second class citizen in our relationship and of very low value. For the sake of my love for my precious wife I was determined to heal my heart!

Many of us as men are able to compartmentalize the physical and emotional and not have it seem to affect us negatively. (Or so we think…) I realize I am making a generalization and I apologize to anyone for whom it is untrue! With my very intuitive wife, who was well able to see herself being shut out from me emotionally, there was no escaping the emotional distance and the toll that was taking on her.

I do remember trying very hard to let her know the problem and challenges I was experiencing were mine and did not reflect on my love for her. And we still have some wonderful memories together in that country in spite of the anguish of my soul. She was the ever gracious, loving and understanding wife but I could see what my pain, and my inability to deal with it was doing to her. I told a friend recently that on a 1-10 scale my emotional pain at that time was a 10. That aspect of our trip was a huge wake up call to me and I was determined to address it when I got back to the States.

Business circumstances did not allow us to remain in France for the year we had planned so we returned early. When we first returned home, all of my focus had to go toward getting our company back in shape, as it had experienced some setbacks. I focused on building the business and tightening operations to get things back in shape for the company.

The business needs would keep me running and running on the treadmill of “stuffing” my pain (or trying to!) for a little longer. But soon, very soon, it was all going to come crashing down around my head and I would simply have to seek help.

Next week I will begin the story of my own journey of healing. But as you think about your own life experiences I have put together some thoughts for you about some of the signs that might let you know you are in serious need of more help. And that the coping skills you have set up to deal with your pain are just not enough anymore.

For some of you the signs will be chronic depression or sadness. Others will experience uncontrolled anger that you vent at inappropriate times. Sometimes this inappropriate anger will show up as negative emotions towards those the very closest to us. There are many of us who have been abused who turn to alcohol and substances as ways to cope with our underlying shame and sadness over what has happened to us.

Chronic fear or anxiety plagues many of us who have suffered from long-term abuse or trauma. One thing that is troubling but is a very real indicator of a need for help is if we emotionally or physically abuse others. For others of us we find ourselves exhibiting over-controlling behaviors, either ours or others, in an effort to feel normal. Many of us are filled with feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and our lives just feel out of control.

Some of us in our fear about dealing with our hurts will do a number of things to avoid getting help. Below I am listing things that I used as coping skills or methods of avoiding getting help. I have borrowed from others’ experiences as well. Yours may not be on this list, but perhaps reading this one will help you see the kind of thinking behind our avoidance behaviors. All of which are understandable and real to each of us when we are in a lot of pain!

Ways people avoid getting help when help is needed:

- Numbing out – substance abuse of any kind

- Anger – at everybody and everything – rejection of people, isolation and loneliness

- Chronic rehearsal of abuse we have suffered to justify our abuse of others

- Intellectualizing – Debating – Arguing; mental skirmishes to encircle the pain and avoid it

- Stuffing your pain by trying to ignore your pain

- Keeping busy with work to avoid feeling your pain

- Telling yourself: “What could another person say that could help me?”

- Telling yourself: “Nothing will help me!”

- Telling yourself: “If I seek therapeutic help that means there is something wrong with me!”

- Telling yourself: “Reading the Bible and praying should take care of any problems I have”

- Telling yourself: “I should be able to handle this and figure it out on my own!”

- Telling yourself: “I’m too frightened to face what I don’t want to face . . . with some stranger!

- Telling yourself: “It is adding insult to injury that I have to do this work after all I’ve been through!”

- Telling yourself: “I need to stop being a big baby and just be a man!”

- Telling yourself: “Most people have difficulties but they don’t go running to a therapist!”

- Telling yourself: “He only got mad and hurt me every now and then. It wasn’t that big a deal!”

- Telling yourself: “He only broke one rib . . . that’s not that bad!”

- Telling yourself: “He believed ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ but he was a good father!”

- Telling yourself: “I don’t have a problem and I don’t need help!”

Sometimes life events will finally create the crisis or the impetus for us to change. In one way or another something comes crashing down on us that we can’t ignore. For some of us it will be financial difficulties or relationship conflicts. Some of us will finally see the need for help as we reach a career crisis we can’t handle on our own. For others of us it will be our substance use turning into abuse that we realize we have long since lost control over. For some of us it will be a relationship break up or divorce that will help us see patterns we know are not healthy and that we suspect may be responses to our abuse.

It could be ending up in jail or having such serious legal trouble and finding our livelihood completely threatened. For some of us we will see the lives of our spouses or children being so affected by what our abuse has done to us and to them that we move for change. For some it is an emotional pain that has become unmanageable. Just spilling over into every aspect of our lives so that even when things are going well the pervasive anxiety and pain is ever present.

For example, in my case, by 1989 and 1990 my life circumstances were very good. I had increased my focus and determination to maintain a positive frame of mind. I had increased my self-discipline and self-control, using positive affirmations and goal setting; written goals and daily verbal positive affirmations. I had my life well under control! But after our adventure of living in France I was experiencing an ever increasing generalized anxiety that was permeating every corner of my mind and heart and life. I literally could no longer stand the pain!

So, I pushed myself out of the plane into the free-fall of pursuing healing. And I do not regret for one minute that decision. For many of us loving our wives seems like something that is always about positive, mushy emotional things we do for them...Not that that is bad. But, sometimes we do things for them that requires us to look inside and to do the hard work of change. In many ways the most loving thing I have ever done for my wife and my daughters was the day I made the decision, the determination, to heal. I am SO glad that I was able to do that and to keep at it with the help of others. It has changed the course of our family.

As you read over these lists there may be things you resonate with. You may know in your heart there are things in your life calling out to you that you have been ready for change. Perhaps today is the day you listen to that call. Perhaps today is a new day for you. Perhaps you are sensing a little bit of hope as you read about others healing. Please know there is hope in healing. And the possibility of real change that you can’t yet imagine.

For whatever life event it is that brings you to choosing healing, I admire what you are doing to reach that point. I encourage you to hang on for some of my healing blogs to come as I try to break down how healing happened in my life. Perhaps it will give you some ideas for how to begin or further your journey. If I can be of further personal encouragement I hope you get in touch with me.

Mark Phelps

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A River In The Desert

You who are my wonderful blog readers are on my mind a lot. A lot! I think about you, I write with the hope of helping you in your journey of healing, and I pray for you. Often.

So of course I would be thinking about you as we move into a new year! Because with a new year comes the promise of hope. And hope is something some of you have a hard time hanging on to. Because the pain you carry is great and it weighs on you every day. And you truly want the hope of new things, but perhaps have forgotten how. To hope.

Well today I want to do the hoping with you and for you. And to tell you that God cares deeply about your pain. And wants to give you encouragement and hope and relief from the agony of wrong done to you.

There is a place in the book of Isaiah where God is encouraging his people who are demoralized. He is asking them to not call to mind the former things and not to ponder things of the past. Why? Because He is up to something in their lives that is going to help them break from that past.

God says to them “Behold I will do something new!” He wants them to be watchful for something brand new in their lives. And to make sure they know that He understands some of their struggles he says “I will even make a roadway in the wilderness, Rivers in the desert.” These were images God knew would reach His peoples heart. Making a roadway in a wilderness in those days was extremely hard work. It sometimes took years. And that would have been enough of an image of what He wanted to do for them, but in case they didn’t get it He also said He would give them “rivers in the desert.”

Can you imagine that? A river in the desert? I have been living in Phoenix for awhile and I can tell you how much rejoicing there is around this place when it rains a few drops! But a river? Plopped down in this desert? I have a hard time imagining that!

Well, that’s the image God wanted His people to have about what He wanted to do in their lives. That was very different from the “former things” and the “things of the past” He wanted to release them from. And today the same God wants to release you from your former things. And do something so new in your life that it is like building a road in your wilderness or landing a river in your desert!

Ask God to show you what He wants to do for you! If you have never asked God for anything, and if you don’t even know Him as a personal Friend yet, ask Him anyway. God is SO ready to answer the honest prayers of people in need. He wants to connect you with Himself in a real, honest-to-goodness personal way, and then He wants to bring new things into your life. He does. Always has.

So, as you look at 2015, don’t go into it without asking God to help you make a roadway in your wilderness. And hold on to Him as you make this journey. He is a sure and loving guide through this terrain. And message me if this seems scary and out of reach for you. I would love to be part of the guide team for your 2015 journey!

Mark Phelps