Category Archives: suffering

Upcoming initial and advanced trauma healing training in Philadelphia


Over the years I have promoted the trauma healing curriculum run by the American Bible Society. Now that I am on the Mission Trauma Healing training team of the Bible Society, I will be letting you know of our upcoming local trainings. Whether or not you are local, you can always find out the trainings being offered around the world by us or our alliance partners here.

For those of you who might be new to the Healing the Wounds of Trauma curriculum, it is participatory/experiential healing group model where participants engage Scripture and trauma and explore a healing arc beginning with suffering, lamenting, grieving and talking to God about our pain. It is founded on mental health best practices by designed for lay leaders to learn and then pass on to others in a train-the-trainer fashion.

HWT_USA_2014

Currently the materials are contextualized and translated into 60 distinct languages with many more underway. Some 6,000 facilitators have been trained in the materials.

Why get trained? Here are some reasons:

  • You want to better understand how to put faith and trauma recovery together in the same sentence
  • You want to become equipped to lead others in a healing process
  • You already know a lot about trauma but know that the needs are great enough that you want to have a part in raising up an army of well-trained helpers beginning the conversation about God and trauma
  • You already completed the initial equipping training, have led a healing group and now want to come back for the advanced training to become certified as a training facilitator.

When is it? October 13-16 at Mother Boniface Spirituality Center in Northeast Philadelphia?

Details on cost and registration link? This link will get you to the details page and will give you the link to register. The price is ridiculously low for the training.

 

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Filed under American Bible Society, continuing education, suffering, trauma, Uncategorized

Complex Trauma: Going Deeper, By Diane Langberg


As part of our staff meeting today we watched this video by Diane Langberg. It reviews the 3 stages of typical trauma recovery process plus focuses on the impact of the work on the counselor. Self-care is a common conversation these days. However, a few lines stuck out to me:

Unless we take care of ourselves, we will not be able to bear witness…. Vicarious trauma is not something done to us but a consequence of having empathy…. Evil and suffering also provide an opportunity to expose the weak places in [the counselor]…. Seek out the antidotes to the poison that you sit with…[these antidotes] are not just good coping mechanisms but part and parcel to living the life obedient to God.

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Filed under counseling, counseling skills, Counselors, Diane Langberg, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, suffering, trauma, Uncategorized

Finding hope in a hopeless world


The world has always been falling apart. Well, at least since Genesis 3. But there are times when we are far more aware of just how busted up we are in this world. This is one of those times. Those of us who work in the social services get a front-row seat at seeing individual, family, community, and society level brokenness.

Frankly, this vantage point tempts me to become cynical, skeptical, and in despair. Listen in on some of the thoughts we Christian counselors might have: people don’t change; leaders serve themselves; God doesn’t care… Out of this experiences, counselors may find themselves becoming complacent, settling for palliative care only (vs. recovery), or worse, using clients to sate their own appetites.

So, where do you find hope in an otherwise hopeless world?

Cynicism and skepticism illustrate conclusions we have made about our world. file-nov-28-5-16-13-pmThey illustrate that we have stopped looking for other data. Consider instead these three activities as a reminder and cultivator of the hope available to us:

  1. Waiting and lamenting. I’ve written on this quite a bit over the years. This post was my most recent, but this one and this one may be of use as well. You might wonder whether lamenting leads to more cynicism. But notice that the goal is to actively wait on God for an answer. When we lament in front of God we talk to him about the state of our soul or the state of the world. Waiting requires that we prepare to listen to God’s heart on these same things.
  2. Waiting and looking. This is the season of Advent, of remembering the birth of Jesus, the messiah. †Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist had stopped looking for God to show up. Who can blame him, God hadn’t seemed to show up for a mere 400 years or so. It took being struck silent by an angelic messenger to wake him from his disbelief. Where are you no longer looking for God’s hand in your life? In the world? Look to your present. Ask your friends to tell you where they notice God’s activity. Look to your future, imagine yourself as a child waiting eagerly for Christmas morning. Be like that child and keep talking to God, “Is it Christmas yet?” Look even to the past. See what God has done in your life in the past and let that remind you that he is at work in your present and future. Read Hebrews 11 as a reminder of God’s faithfulness to his people.
  3. Waiting and loving. While we wait, we are not passive! We move and act in love, even when it seems the good we do will not change the outcome. That loving may be acts of palliative care, or it may be an act of planting a dormant seed that one day springs to life and full bloom. This act of loving others grows out of Jeremiah’s lament (Lam 3:21f): because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed. Therefore we recognize that our minuscule capacity to love, to care, even to call others to repentance are all signposts of God’s ongoing love for his people.

Is it crazy to hope in this world? Absolutely. But the signs of birth are around you if you look. Notice in Luke 1 how Zechariah sings of present-tense salvation and redemption, even though Jesus is merely in utero. How much more ought we to be able to hope as we live in the age of the Resurrection.†

†I got these ideas from a sermon preached by Marc Davis on 11/27/16.

 

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Filed under Advent, Biblical Reflection, Despair, suffering, Uncategorized

Lament During Thanksgiving?


First published November 2013 at www.biblical.edu, this continues to be my primary experience today and so I offer you it again, slightly revised.

Thanksgiving is that time of year when we get together with family to enjoy good food, maybe a football game, and to be thankful for God’s provision during the past year. Sometimes, though, we don’t feel all that thankful. Yes, we recognize that God indeed has given us many good things, things like food, water, salary, housing, and the like. We acknowledge that we have no rights to demand these things. We acknowledge that there are many who are far worse off. Given recent events, we can imagine how much more blessed we are than those who refugees from civil wars in the Middle East.

And yet, despite our knowledge of grace and mercy, there are times when all we notice are the broken things in our lives—our bodies, our families, our communities.

I confess this is my state this Thanksgiving. I won’t bore you with the details but I struggle to stay focused on the many good things God has given me.

But it might surprise you that though I am noticing a lot of brokenness, I am not embittered or angry with God. I am full of lament. I lament the length of time it is taking God to act in some matters. I lament how much active and passive hatred for the other is present, even in there is in our Christian communities! Have we not lost love for those we consider outsiders? I lament that Jesus has not returned and ended death and suffering.

I am thankful for lament

Here’s what I am thankful for. We serve a God who has encouraged us to lament to him. Laments are cries of our heart where we question God (sometimes even accuse as in Psalmfile-nov-19-7-46-37-am 89), cry out for relief, ask for understanding, and grieve over sins done by self and others. Think about this for a moment: what King in all the earth not only invites such communication but even writes words for his subjects? He is not afraid of our questions or our complaints. Giving him such can be an act of worship.

Enter Isaiah 64. Isaiah is a book of confrontation of sin, call for holiness, prediction of judgment, and vision of restoration. In addition, we find windows of Isaiah’s lament for what is going to unfold for Israel. Listen to portions of his lament and some of my commentary:

Oh, that you would rend the heavens and come down, that the mountains would tremble before you! As when fire sets twigs ablaze and causes water to boil, come down to make your name known to your enemies and cause the nations to quake before you.

Ok Lord, act already. Do it! What are you waiting for?

But when we continued to sin against them [the vulnerable, the righteous], you were angry…all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags…no one calls on your name…you have hidden your face from us and made us waste away because of our sins.

We so deserve your wrath Lord, but we are wasting away here Lord, if you don’t help us!

Yet, O Lord, you are our Father, we are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand. Do not be angry beyond measure O Lord…Oh, look upon us, we pray, for we are your people.

Lord, we know you are our creator. We deserve no special recognition. Yet, remember we are your image bearers. Oh Lord, shape us, don’t destroy us.

Thankful I can vacillate?

Notice how Isaiah 64 and other laments (e.g., Psalm 42-43; Habakkuk, the book of Lamentations) bounce between recalling God’s goodness, questioning his plans, grieving own sin, yet imploring God to vindicate. Are these writers wishy-washy?

I don’t think so. Too often we think the best theology is all neat and tidy:

Problem + Victorious God = No Problem

While this will be true one day, it isn’t yet. And so we lament in vacillating and non-linear ways. Even as we proclaim God’s sovereign power, we also acknowledge that we are in great turmoil. These laments give us examples of how to hold on to our faith even as we have no answer for the moment. We are not required to end on a happy note. Look back at Psalms 42-3. See how the Psalmist cries out in despair, recalls better times, enjoins himself to hope in God, but then again remembers that he is great pain. Notice that neither Lamentations nor Habakkuk end in victory for the “good guys.” Lamentations, like Isaiah 64, ends with a question mark—“if you haven’t forgotten us already?” Habakkuk acknowledges the victory of being able to praise God in a terrible famine, but that doesn’t remove suffering or the reason for the lament in the first place (ongoing sin by Israel and her destruction by a pagan nation).

So, I’m thankful this season that we worship a great God capable of holding our laments and recording our tears. I am thankful that I do not have to pretend all is well for fear God will strike me down. He knows my pain. He has suffered in every way and so is a High Priest who can relate to my feelings of abandonment. And he is working for our future Good. But for now, I can lament that it (victory) hasn’t arrived in its fullest form and take comfort in a more realistic equation:

Problem + Presence of God = I Lament and am Not Alone

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Filed under Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Meditations, suffering, Uncategorized

Emotions in the face of suffering: Thoughts by Joni Eareckson Tada


“Most people think that living with quadriplegia is overwhelming. And it is.” Speaking at #CCEF16, she says this even as she says that now, nearly 50 years later, she would not give up her intimacy and depth in Christ, deepened through suffering, in order to walk. How do we bring these two opposing experiences together.

Joni tells us there are 1 billion disabled people in the world, most living in the developing world–people who are at greatest risk of being abused, neglected, and not protected. 

She spoke of her chronic pain that grew over the years and exploded in the mid 2000s and how it robbed her of joy and capacity to do the work she wanted to do. “It (the pain) made my quadriplegia a walk in the park.” “I know I am under the sovereignty of God but now his sovereignty seemed so scary.” “My depression lifted the day I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.” She said this with a smile, “Oh God, you might be taking me home now.” 

“I knew in my head that God is sovereign and that I trust him. Why can’t my emotions fall in line?” She then used the idea that in this life we experience “splashovers” of hell and “splashovers of heaven.” “There is nothing more sweet than finding Jesus in your moment of hell.” Pain tends to bring us into self-focus. But when we see the affliction of Jesus on the cross, our focus is changed. It doesn’t mean we no longer suffer but that our suffering done in and with Christ, “no longer afraid of it.” There is comfort in the promises of God even in the dark seasons. 

How can counselors convince others that Jesus is enough even if the pain is not able to be fixed? We start by counseling with compassion (being with them in their pain and suffering). When the sufferer sees they have a place in the body of Christ, that they are not isolated, this is of great importance. Spiritual community helps the sufferer to accept the pain as their own. God never intended us to suffer alone. Together, healing begins. We don’t just declare God is over all suffering, we demonstrate it through deep relationships. 

Someone who knows suffering can say things that many able-bodied people cannot say, or cannot be heard to say. Joni’s voice is prophetic for the Church. She calls us to walk with those with disabilities rather than avoid. May we listen. May be validate their pain first as we sit with them. May we never tired to hear of their difficulties. May we never put our need for assurance that “everything will turn out right” ahead of their need to be heard and loved. 

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Filed under biblical counseling, CCEF, conferences, counseling, suffering

A moment at a refugee camp reminds us of the human tragedy around us


Just over the nearest mountain stands the Syrian border (approximately 6 miles across the valley). The Beqaa valley, known for its wine and farms displays its fertility even through the Spring chill rain. The mud clings to your shoes as you step carefully hoping that it doesn’t suck your shoe off your foot. You move down the dirt road between the refugee homes and are at a loss for words as what constitutes a home.  A “home” is a plastic covered wooden frame covered in plastic wrap and weighted down by tires and other heavy objects. This is a “good” or “5 star” camp in that the homes sit on poured concrete and have diesel powered heater/stoves. You step inside of Ramy’s (not his real name) home where he sits with his wife and a younger relative. Ramy is 24 and has been married for just just one month longer than his 2 year stay. He fled his home, walked over the mountain and arrived in Lebanon without legal status. What would make him flee his home and leave his parents behind? He had a choice to either take up a gun and fight in the civil war or try to get to another location to find a better life. While he doesn’t worry about being killed in battle, life is not easy for Ramy. Ramy cannot work. To pass the time he volunteers in the camp children’s activities. For this help, he is given some small token gifts from which he has to pay rent to the camp leader (who in turn pays the local farmer who has rented the plot as a camp. 
The camp is a good one, comparatively safe and secure, and relatively clean. Of course, this day, everything is wet and dark, lighted by one bare bulb and the glow of a TV. (Yes, some homes have a TV). With nothing to do at the moment, Ramy sits drinking hot sweet tea his wife has prepared. We drink with him.

Ramy worries about his parents and extended family. He can talk to them by phone every few months. He learns they have very little food. Unlike well-to-do migrants, Ramy hopes for peace and the right to return to his home city. Here, he worries about his wife, getting enough food, and whether he can spare some small change to help an elderly couple who can do nothing to provide for themselves. 

Ramy’s relative Mohommed, just 17, rarely speaks or makes any eye contact. He stares off and mindlessly smokes a cigarette. Though he too has no legal status or right to work, he has found a way to make a bit of money on building sites when he is allowed to stay at the construction site to sleep. It is clear he has seen and experienced much that is not good. 

Saying our good byes and offering our blessings, we leave the dank cushioned hut and move on to a small hut, better lighted and full of laughter. An aid worker is teaching English to children between 7 and 14 and a few mothers as well. The children practice identifying letters and writing both capital and lowercase English letters. Through giggles and “Hello, and how are you? My name is…” We learn that the woman reciting English has 9 living children and 2 dead ones. She smiles easily but pain is not far away. 

Soon, our time at the camp comes to a close. We file back down the road as clouds race by and the stench of human waste burns in our noses. We get on the bus, wave good byes and realize how welcomed we were. From there we go to a cheap restaurant and make our way to a hotel overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. Though we look out upon beauty, our hearts and minds are with the children and their parents preparing to sleep on cushions wrapped in a thin blanket and with no hope of it being any different tomorrow, next week, or ever. 

What can we do when our best options seem to be bearing feeble witness and trying to avoid the problems of tragedy tourism (a word used by our aid worker)? What can we know other than these few things:

  • this is not the way it is supposed to be 
  • few people outside this region given their pain a second thought (Think otherwise? Consider the “temporary” Palestinian camps swelling from 40,000 to 600,000 since 1948. These only come to mind today when a political leader is killed in a car bomb in one in Sidon)
  • while there are no simple answers and relief aid is not always the best solution, the human tragedy is still real. For this couple, that teen, those children, they suffer. 
  • And finally, and maybe most challenging, we know that God loves these refugees who do not yet know him. His heart breaks for them no less than it did for Ninevah. Our received blessings are not because we are more loved
  • We lament and ask again what can we do with what talents we have for the good of these brothers and sisters.

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Making the Church a Safe Place for victims of abuse


This Saturday I will be attending and presenting Cairn University’s Faith in Practice conference hosted by their counseling center and department (free but you need to register). I will be speaking about how we can make the church a safer place for adult victims of abuse and trauma. If you want to peak at the slides, click here: 2016 Cairn U Presentation.

The presentation that I will do will only be one hour so that limits what I can do. What I wish I could do is also talk much more about the systemic factors that make churches less safe places for vulnerable people. While we can all grow in better understanding the nature of trauma and how to walk alongside victims, our institutions can be systematically harmful, even when the individuals within the system have no intention to hurt others. Thus we need to keep examining the ways our systems operate that can be toxic to some. While this presentation doesn’t cover these questions, it can be good to ask,

  1. How do we handle recent or older allegations of mis-handling difficult cases?
  2. How do we handle allegations of child abuse (the victims, the family, the alleged perpetrator and family, and congregation)?
  3. Are we a safe place for people who are broken and not all tidied up?
  4. Does our system allow for ongoing lament? (Corporate and individual)?

 

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Filed under Abuse, Christianity, church and culture, counseling skills, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, suffering, trauma

David Brooks on Suffering


Over at the BTS faculty blog, I’ve written a short post pointing to David Brook’s recent Op Ed pieces on suffering. He has been writing quite a bit on the topic lately. I think you will find his nuanced thinking quite useful and theologically rich.

You can read my post here.

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Whose eyes do you see when you look at the suffering?


A friend of mine has written the most exquisite Lenten devotional based on the passage in Mark about the evening of anguish spend alone in the garden.

I commend it to you here.

Why do we suffer? Why is it not removed? This we cannot say. But we can say, as Josh says, that in suffering we see the eyes of Jesus. It is difficult to keep both the depth of our suffering and a sovereign God in sight at the same time. But Josh shows us how without fancy theological argument.

Read it.

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Filed under Abuse, Biblical Reflection, Christianity, Meditations, suffering

Mapping Global Trauma


This week I am participating in the American Bible Society sponsored Community of Practice for trauma healing interventionists. The audience represents many organizations, Exile International, Wycliffe, SIL, the Seed Company, Food for the Hungry, as well as many bible societies. Attendees come from places such as Sri Lanka, Nigeria, South Sudan, CAR, Rwanda, Uganda plus several more.

Today, we heard from successes and challenges in several specific areas. Then, Dr. Matthew Stanford (Baylor) gave us an overview of trauma around the world. When we look at armed conflict, we see much on the continent of Africa. Natural disasters take even more of the globe. Trafficking, HIV and sexual violence cover the rest. While some 50% of the US population are exposed to traumatic events, only about 8% will meet criteria for PTSD during their lifetime. In other parts of the world, 90% are exposed to trauma and 40% will meet criteria for PTSD during their lifetime. One of the challenges missionary/humanitarian efforts face is learning about the symptoms and impact of trauma on populations. Too often people either neglect trauma or only focus on a few symptoms. We can try to work on one problem (domestic violence) but without addressing the deeper roots of trauma, it is likely not to be very effective.

After Matt, Rebecca Deng spoke of the experience of being a refugee (South Sudan) and coming to the US as a refugee. Some 42 million refugees worldwide. Some 25 million internally displaced (IDPs) on the continent of Africa. She told a bit of her story of loss and struggle even as she came to the US as an unaccompanied youth. She spoke this very important question

You can grow food, purify water, but who can clean the wounds of the heart?

We ended the morning session with a presentation from Bethany Haley of Exile International. Dr. Haley spoke about the impact of trauma on children. (Exile has work in the DRC and Uganda.) She reviewed the many sources of trauma (armed violence, sexual violence, trafficking, child labor, orphans, recruitment into armed gangs) and how it commonly impacts capacity to develop well and learn. We know that trauma changes brain structure and function. She pointed us to the work of Karyn Purvis at Texas Christian University who has done work on the effects of trauma on developing brains. In addition, she pointed us to Unicef materials available to teach about child trafficking around the world.

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Filed under Africa, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Psychology, ptsd, suffering