Identity Confusion & The Church

“As a mom–and a Christian–I never imagined facing the heart-wrenching trial of identity confusion in one of my own children. It was simply not on my radar, certainly not to the degree that it manifested itself in my daughter, Lily. I soon came to realize that alternative identity exploration is a growing societal phenomenon. But what exactly is it, and why is this happening in Christian families?” -Vera English

Author Vera English takes us along on her personal exploration, unearthing treasures of hope and a profound invitation to reconsider our identity in the light of Jesus Christ. Learn more

Book Review:

I am grateful for this book. The author speaks honestly from a hard place and this book will benefit any Christian who is struggling with identity confusion or has a loved one who is. Thank you for sharing your story, Vera. -JJ Stevens

Steadiness In An Unsteady World

If there is one thing that is consistent about humans it is that we are inconsistent. Because our emotions continually go up and down, we feel unsteady.

Add to this the uncertainty of our times, disorienting political climate, disease, and social chaos. Even the religious culture is splintering into factions (so many church wounded). No wonder we feel unsettled.

Thankfully, we have a harbor beyond the brokenness of life that is rock solid. Lifting our minds to this reality helps to steady our hearts.

Think about this:

Although our emotions may go up and down – God does not go up and down. He is perfect in His perspective at all times. He does not wake up in a bad mood towards us one day, and good the next. He is constant and ever consistent, unlike us. What reassurance to realize that although our feelings may change about God – His feelings never change about us.

God is immutable. Humans are forever changing. It is a fact of nature for better or worse. God, however, never changes. He is perfectly holy and never differs from this immutable state. There are no degrees or shadows of turning in His being. Every act of God stems from this perfect and perpetual nature. Human life will change and come to an end, but even this will not alter God’s never changing position. His purposes will continue forever unchanged. If one day we are secure and the next we worry that our Salvation is unsure – it does not change God’s promise that stands true, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” (Ephesians 1:4)

God is also infinite, unlike us. We are fragile creations, and everything about us is limited by our thinking, by our doing, and in our being. God, however, is without limitation. His ways are boundless and immeasurable. God’s capacity does not end. To say God’s love is as wide as the ocean still conveys limits; therefore we can only cry out “God’s love is unfathomable.”

Although we may find unrest in ourselves due to fluctuating circumstances, we can rest securely in God. Such a marvel to consider that for my ever changing emotions and perspectives – God never changes!

Blue Skies: Beyond The Dark Clouds Of Broken Thinking takes us on a transforming journey of emotional healing. The fact that God has a plan for our minds (and not just for our souls) is critical to our well-being. He has a harbor specifically designated for our thinking. Beyond insecurity, inferiority, inadequacy, anxiety, discouragement, hopelessness, depression, and loneliness, lies Philippians 4:8–the most beautiful of destinations.

The Danger Of Bad Advice

Are you hurting? Be extra careful who you discuss your pain with because the act of sharing naturally invites response. It is a human impulse to offer advice. All the more reason to be cautious. You don’t want to expose your aching heart to the counsel of Job’s friends. That would be pain on top of the pain you are already facing.

cliff-16

In God’s rebuke of Job’s friends we can see the danger. God addresses Job first by saying, “Who is this who darkens counsel by words without knowledge?” (Job 38:2) Job was sinking into the depth of despair and the people closest to him were thwarting good counsel to his heart when he needed it most. In God’s admonition we recognize, first, that just because someone is close (a family member, a trusted friend, a pastor or a professional therapist) doesn’t automatically make them a good counselor. However, most of the time this is the criteria that qualifies someone in our own minds (and theirs as well). Yes, even teachers and pastors are fallible people and as such quite often switch into black and white when there are many more colors involved. Therapists have their individual studies and biases that vary in opinions and theories, as well.

As wonderful as all these people might be, unless their hearts are in tune, in communion, in earnest prayer with God on your behalf their counsel is at risk of darkening your soul. Great sounding words still fall short–they are words without knowledge–and cast a shadow over the truth that God intends for you to hear. As broken-hearted and desperate as you might be feeling for some type of advice, your first order of business is to say “no” to those urges to bear your soul prematurely. it’s not automatically safe to share with people who fall into typical categories of confidentiality, no matter how close or well-intentioned they may be.

Secondly, in God’s rebuke directed towards Job’s friends we can see the offense of their well-meaning counsel, “I am angry with you and your two friends, because you have not spoken the truth about me…” (Job 42:7). Their discernment was off kilter about God, and God’s wrath was stirred against them. They represented God to Job in a faulty way. They took truths and applied it haphazardly and preferencially. This is the tricky part of receiving counsel. We, who are hurting, don’t see the whole picture–and neither does anyone else (including well intentioned counselors). Only God sees the big picture and complexities, and often our trials are about developing trust, not answers. So the very counsel we erroneously receive acts as a breakdown agent to the fibers of our faith. When we are down and out we are most vulnerable, and God takes any careless handling of this sensitive state by others very seriously.

Should we skip counsel then? No, advice and direction are good, important and often needed. But when considering talking with counselor or adviser let these few basic principles guide you:

  1. Make sure the friend/counselor feels the gravity of their role before God. It is an awesome privilege to be used by God as a tool in this way in the life of someone else.
  2. Make sure they are the type of person who will take information to God in prayer before randomly throwing down verses, platitudes, and heavy doses of opinions. (it’s better to have someone say I don’t know the answer then to have someone feel compelled to offer words without wisdom).
  3. Make sure they don’t have biases towards any of the people involved in your trial. (avoid any critical, judgmental, or superior temperaments)

(If you are already receiving counsel, but they do not meet this criteria then consider finding a new counseling source)

Joy and peace come from learning to walk in the design God has for our thinking. Every day we battle with old thought patterns and emotions that hold us captive. Blue Skies: Beyond The Dark Clouds Of Broken Thinking leads us step by step; taking us deep into truths that set us free to live into a new narrative, one of confidence and purpose—the story we were meant to live.

Bullies And God

The Bible has a lot say about bullies, one of the most notable passages is 1 Samuel 17–the account of David and Goliath. We marvel at this story of young boy named David who came up against a literal giant (bully) named Goliath. It is said that Goliath was over 9 feet tall—this is the height of floor to ceiling in many homes.

As we consider some verses in this chapter we see interesting parallels to the bullying dilemma. But, first we should note that “bullying” is nothing new to God. In fact, this passage is seen by many scholars as insight into the ultimate bully–Satan–who comes against Jesus the Good Shepherd of our Souls.

In verse one we notice the formation of a bullying environment,

“Now the Philistines gathered their forces for war and assembled” (v1)

The word gathered has the meaning of building numbers. We can see how this sets a prime environment for bullying. Bullies like to form large groups of dedicated followers; gatherings of terrorizing proportions. 

One way this is achieved is through bullies cultivating loyalty. Of course, intimidation is the means by which they are successful. Have you ever experienced the strange sense of silence around a bullied person by the community at large? The quest for loyalty influences the group to either join the bullying, or keep quiet. Often, those who keep quiet are not loyal to the bully’s agenda, but stay quiet, anyway, out of fear of retribution. The famous quote by Martin Luther King might well apply here, “There comes a time when silence is betrayal.” For a bullied person, silence, often feels like betrayal. But keep in mind–the silence is a bully initiated tactic. The bully wants to disarm their target with a sense of non-support.

Verse four gives us further insight in the word champion. 

“A champion named Goliath, who was from Gath, came out of the Philistine Camp.” (V4)

Interestingly, we often think this story is soley about David and Goliath when in reality it was about the Israelites battle against the Philistines. Goliath was simply a tool, a means to an end. The Philistines are the obvious villains in our story, never-the-less, they were convinced that they were the victims and had their reasons for war. This brings us to another persuasive tactic used by villains—bullies playing the victim. They solicit sympathy. It is frustrating, to say the least, if you are the target of this kind bullying tactic. Bullies who hurt others, but portray themselves as the victim, are hoping to siphon sympathies for themselves.

In verse five we gain insight into the man selected as the ace-in-the-hole— Goliath (their pawn).

“He had a bronze helmet on his head and wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shackles.” (V5)

Five thousand shekels is about 78 pounds. This bully was big, strong, and armed in the most superior way. Goliath was definitely what might be considered champion material. His stature itself was superior in nature. It comes as no surprise that bullies thrive on superiority.

Verse eight tells us that the bully, Goliath, verbally accosted the subjects of his bullying.

“Goliath stood and shouted to the ranks of Israel” (v8)

Discrediting is another powerful tool bullies use. We noted that loyalty, sense of cause, and superiority can play out powerfully, but now we see discrediting deliver a confusing and disorienting blow upon the psyche of the target. This very effective tactic unglues confidence. Hope begins to fade. No wonder the Israelites shuddered in terror.

Verse eleven gives us a clear picture of the effects of bullying.

“The Israelites were dismayed and terrified.” (V11)

Discrediting naturally causes a bullied victim to question their own narrative. This clever tactic is called gaslighting. Gaslighting is a common technique used by bullies, to not only sway the crowd, but to cause the bullied target themselves to question their own reality. At this point it feels like all is lost. It certainly did to the Israelites.

When young David came onto the scene, his brother, who was apart of the Israelites army, derided his presence. This is another issue that can happen in a bullying circumstance—breakdown from within our own support system.

David who was a sheep herder and had spent lots of time in fields meditating on God, delivered a different narrative that day. It was one of hope in something bigger than the bullies that stood before them—it was God Himself.

Sometimes we are so close to the emotions surrounding a bullying situation that we are unable to see the bigger picture. Yet, this is exactly what we need in a critical onslaught of bullying.

When news of David’s hope made it to the king, the king swiftly put him in the battle. The words David spoke to Goliath in verse forty five instantly changed the bullying climate, as well as, history.

“I come against you in the name of the Lord Almighty.” (V45)

David placed complete confidence in the a Lord. David knew that he belonged to God and for the Philistine bully to come against him was to come against God’s people. In fact, it would mean the Philistines were trying to bully God. This perspective empowered David because it was completely reliant on a God’s provision. Amazingly, God had already armed David with the abilities he would need to face this particular giant. Fighting off bears and lions to protect his sheep made him a valiant warrior. David skillfully brought down the bully with a stone and a sling. 

I pray that if you are currently in a bullying situation God would provide you with all the provision and the encouragement you need to face your Goliath.

For more information on the characteristics of a bully visit:

Bullies Demand Loyalty

Bullies Discredit

Bullies Play The Victim

Bullies Gaslight

Bullies Crave Superiority

X Marks The Bully

Bullies Phantom Influence

Bully Proofing

Bullies Phantom Influence

Lingering allegiance to a bully is a common occurrence, even if a bully’s primary position in our life has changed. Similar to phantom pain from a missing a limb–past trauma from a bully can linger into our future.

Because bullying creates deep impressions in the brain, phantom loyalty often carries on long after it should. We feel bound by pledges of loyalty (spoken or unspoken). Our falling-in-line to avoid retaliation (or to gain favor) becomes automatic. We don’t realize we may still be carrying on a bully’s disrespect for ourselves or others treated unfairly. We are swept along by lingering loyalties.

We see this play out in adult children who feel a great sense of loyalty to a bullish parent. Even after a parent is out of the picture, the adult child still feels obligated to that parent’s wishes and ideas about life. There are feelings of guilt and internal conflict in pursuing a different course of action, or thought.

We can feel confused moving forward. Freeing ourselves requires healthy understanding that it’s “okay” to think differently.

Here are some tips:

1. Identify ways in which you desire to behave differently than the person who has been a controlling influence in your life.
2. Admit (your own) mistakes that were inspired by the bully.
3. If you once said “yes” under pressure, it’s okay to change your mind and say “no”.
3. Seek a trustworthy accountability partner.
4. In taking these steps remember that feelings of guilt are natural part of breaking free. Misplaced loyalty is often driven by guilt—that’s why it has a powerful hold.

*Seeking a qualified counselor may be helpful.

Bully Proofing

Bullies Gaslight

In the article “11 Warning Signs of Gaslighting” published by Psychology Today, gaslighting is described as a tactic in which a person or entity–in order to gain more power–make a victim question their reality. The article goes on to say that gaslighting is a common technique of abusers, dictators, narcissists, and cult leaders.

Applying this thought to a bully’s overall agenda we see how all bullying characteristic works together to achieve one ultimate goal–gaslighting. That is, to create a “believable” false narrative influencing others against their victim. It is sabotage on every level. Onlookers becomes numb and impaired in their judgement. This is because they have drunken, so to speak, from the Kool-Aid of gaslighting.

The brave few who stand up in defense of a victim are quickly cut down to a stump by the gaslighter or their followers. Unfortunately, a gaslighter typically has loyal followers. Utilizing followers is strategic. They are methodically placed within a bullying scenario to cheer on the bully and brow beat opposers.

For those of us who recognize being in this kind of bullying situation, or a eyewitness to it, we must decisively put down our cup of Kool-Aid. This is an intentional step in combating bullying. We must stop drinking from a narrative that has become convoluted. Even the best minds will have trouble deciphering between what’s true and what’s being deliberately spun. Therefore, the antidote is not found in looking at facts (that may be falsified) but rather character. It all goes back to character. When in doubt character is a safe guide back to reality and wisdom.

For instance, a victim’s narrative may look bleak because it’s been vandalized and discredited by a bully—but their character will always tell a different story. Likewise, a bully’s narrative may look very sleek and well packaged—but their character will always smell of fear and intimidation. In other words, even if a bully’s narrative is convincing joining their camp is a dangerous venture. In the same way they treat others they will eventually treat you.

Do you know someone who is being bullied? If so give them an encouraging wink that lets them know that you are not drinking the Kool-Aid served by bully/gaslighters. (Paula Masters)

Bully Proofing

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders, which can manifest in both insufficient and excessive food intake, are experienced by nearly 5 percent of people worldwide. Research shows that more than 90 percent of those who have eating disorders are between the ages of 15-25. Anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating are the three common eating disorders.

Anorexia is characterized by an exaggerated fear of becoming overweight. An anorexic person, who is at an average body weight for their height, feels compelled to become thinner in order feel normal. They are intensely driven by weight goals, which is manifested in food refusal. It is not only about the body image but also about control. Statistics show anorexia often plagues people who have history of circumstances being out of control. Interestingly, this condition reveals wonderful strengths when it is properly directed. To be able to set a goal, and stay on task to achieve that goal, shows great determination and leadership potential. But until these qualities are rewired in spiritually and emotionally healthy directions, these positive character traits will cause negative mental and physical breakdown. 

Bulimia can be characterized by an exaggerated fear of becoming overweight. It differs from Anorexia in that the sufferer lacks self control. The Anorexic takes total control, while the Bulimic loses control and then tries to regain it by vomiting–this is the binging and purging cycle. Statistics show that people who struggle with bulimia have a history of stress and addictive behavioral patterns. Another heartache is the issue of the duplicity it takes on. The bulimic displays themself as healthy to the watching world–yet secretly resorts to an unhealthy habit. Bulimics need help in cultivating life balance.

The anorexic and the bulimic generally come from similar backgrounds. They differentiate in that one takes extreme control and the other finds themself out of control. Anorexia and Bulimia, although seemingly about appearance, are really about the need for deeper transformation of the mind and emotions.


Blue Skies: Beyond The Dark Clouds Of Broken Thinking help us to overcome emotions that fuel broken thinking, such as eating disorders.

Joy and peace come from learning to walk in the design God has for our thinking. Every day we battle with old thought patterns and emotions that hold us captive. Blue Skies: Beyond The Dark Clouds Of Broken Thinking leads us step by step; taking us deep into truths that set us free to live into a new narrative, one of confidence and purpose—the story we were meant to live.

Anger

Anger is defined as emotional excitement induced by intense displeasure. It is the inflammation of spirit in a person, and if not curtailed, can become destructive.

People who struggle with anger finds themselves snapping at slight infractions. If they evaluate the infraction after their temper settles, they will note that their response was much greater than the infraction necessitated. And although it causes momentary regret, anger continues to rise when an offense presents itself. 

A person who struggles with anger will notice that people closest to them walk on egg shells. Since no one knows when anger will blow or what might be the catalyst–they always handle the angry person with kid gloves.

Unfortunately, anger’s effects are far reaching. If children are the objects of anger, they often suffer silently. Their inward brewing many times manifests itself in harmful ways when they become adults. If a husband is the object of anger, his manhood may feel whittled down, causing him to escape through means of secrecy and separation in order to assert his masculinity. Yet around the angry wife, he will continue to exhibit a sense of failure and inability to lead. If a wife is the object of anger she will often wither, and take on unnecessary blame in attempts to cover up her husbands volatility.

Much of anger’s hold is a matter of pattern. A history of handling offenses in a rash or harsh manner has become an ongoing habit. Therefore, to manage anger will mean making changes in pattern, but this alone cannot fully taper its fury. 

A change of thinking is necessary to temper the emotion of anger that seems to take on a life of its own. Blue Skies: Beyond The Dark Clouds Of Broken Thinking helps us to understand and overcome the volatile emotion of anger.

Joy and peace come from learning to walk in the design God has for our thinking. Every day we battle with old thought patterns and emotions that hold us captive. Blue Skies: Beyond The Dark Clouds Of Broken Thinking leads us step by step; taking us deep into truths that set us free to live into a new narrative, one of confidence and purpose—the story we were meant to live.

Mid-Life-Crisis

For women over the age of fifty, sometimes catching the vision for meaning in life does not come easily because we feel drained from transition. All of a sudden we have found ourselves face to face with things like empty nest, divorce, midlife, change or loss of career, aging beauty, death of friends. etc. Projecting possibilities of hope during this time can be difficult if these things catch us by surprise. To top it all off, many times we are not even sure who we are at this stage of life, and an identity crisis sets in. We become discouraged instead of delighted. In fact, we can even feel immobilized by it. So there it sits—the exceptional blooming season of our life—unopened like a large gift package in the corner, and we are perplexed at what to do with it.

We need to know that this time of life does not catch God by surprise. He has foreseen this season and already has it in mind. Psalms 139:13-16 reminds us of this.

For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.

Notice the scripture says that all of our days were written long ago—before even one of them came to be—and God already has seen them. We might have thought the prime of our lives was a time now past, like our youth. But God sees our prime as something entirely different. He is interested in the whole picture—the all of our lives. The second half of our lives yields new opportunities that were not available in the first half. In other words, we see our days in terms of what we perceive as our prime, but God sees our days as being unlimited; he sees that we are free to venture beyond our perceived limitations. Read more

“One of the best books I’ve read to date that focuses on the unique challenges of older women in the body of Christ. Her clear understanding of God’s role for us and her beautiful writing voice make this a book I’ll read many times.” -Kate F Eatom

Suicidal Thoughts

Suicide is the act of taking one’s own life voluntarily and intentionally. Suicidal thoughts are the minds contemplations on the inability to continue on in life. Suicidal thoughts are the practical considerations of method to carry out the actual act taking one’s life. 

Statistics show that suicide is the eleventh leading cause of death in the United States. Suicide attempts that end in hospitalization are three times higher. Such large numbers are proof that “thoughts and contemplations” are of epic proportions. 

Commonly, those who are thinking about suicide exhibit telling signs. It has been debated whether these signs are a cry for attention or an actual warning. Regardless of the motive, it can be agreed that any cry to be rescued is important.

Those who feign signs of suicidal tendencies for attention are certainly in need of help. These people do entertain thoughts of suicide, but not to a serious level. Their need to be rescued reveal, among other emotions, deep feelings of inadequacy. The following description does not apply to this type of struggle. 

If you are a person who is genuinely struggling with suicidal thoughts, please know the simple fact that you are reading this is a positive sign. It shows a desire, even if it’s slight, to be rescued from this desperate place in the heart. 

The person in this position is overwhelmed with a sense that nothing matters any more. They are certain their family would be better off without them. They feels like an emotional burden. Often, they are weighed down by feelings of shame for not being able to pull themself out of this state of mind. These guilt feelings can make them even more determined to end it all. For this person, everything has lost its value, so there is little to no motivation, or effective tool of recovery except for one thing, and that is the possibility of being rescued. 

Psalm 18 shows us through the psalmist what God can do when we feel unable to help ourselves. 

“The sorrows of death compassed me…” 

Says the Psalmist in verse 4, but then he tells of his rescue: 

“He brought me forth also into a large place; he delivered me, because he delighted in me.” 

Look at the power in which this rescue was accomplished: 

“In my distress I called upon the LORD, and cried unto my God: he heard my voice out of his temple, and my cry came before him, even into his ears. Then the earth shook and trembled; the foundations also of the hills moved …”(Psalms 18:4-19).

If you are feeling suicidal, you are not alone.

*If you or someone you love is struggling with suicidal thoughts right now, please call this hotline to let someone know about your pain: 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433). 

Blue Skies: Beyond The Dark Cloud Of Broken Thinking helps those who are overcome by emotions beyond their ability to manage. There is great power from above!

Joy and peace come from learning to walk in the design God has for our thinking. Every day we battle with old thought patterns and emotions that hold us captive. Blue Skies: Beyond The Dark Clouds Of Broken Thinking leads us step by step; taking us deep into truths that set us free to live into a new narrative, one of confidence and purpose—the story we were meant to live.