What is a Christian?

Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

John 14:23-24

My boys holding candles representing the “Light of the world” during a Christmas Eve service.

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My children are filled with curiosity fueled by their tireless and abundant energy and (possibly) too many sweets. This curiosity makes me the direct target of many, many challenging questions numbering into the hundreds during our average 12-hour day. Inevitably, I leave them disappointed… unable in my aging, finite and exhausted mind to meet the herculean challenge of answering all of their earnest questions.

If you have enjoyed the privilege of spending any significant length of time with someone between the ages 3 and 7, you probably understand the feeling—and you likely well know that one deeply philosophical question is followed in strict pattern by one absolutely ridiculous could-have-fallen-from-the-sky inquiry. It goes something like this:

“Mommy, how close can I actually get to the sun without dying?”

“Mommy, can you describe exactly what a booger should taste like?”

“Mommy, can you ask God if we will live in our human bodies when we die?”

“Mommy, do sidewalks have shadows?”

“Mommy, is God a number since numbers never end?”

“Mommy, how are batteries made?”

“Mommy, if I eat an apple seed will I have a baby?”

“Mommy, what is the biggest thing in the whole world?”

You know… typical questions from the pint-sized philosopher.

Although tiresome, these questions are not at all useless. They are great warm-ups for the questions occasionally thrown at me from an adult over a hot cup of tea—and especially for the ones too important to forfeit a response, such as this:

“So, what is a Christian?”

It’s such a great question—and one that always stops my breath for a second. We absolutely need church-attending (or not) folks to consider this question here in the South, and we absolutely need to be asked to answer it. It can be tempting to stack many assumptions regarding the intentions behind this question and balance them on top of one another to avoid the awkwardness of getting right to the heart of the gospel. Oh, how we don’t want to offend. Oh, how we want to make others feel good so that we can also feel good about how they feel about us. Oh how easy it feels to say a Christian is any or everybody who calls themselves one. But what good is this if it’s not true?

The reality is that “What is a Christian?” is an earnest question in need of an honest answer. And we can not fabricate this one, lest we do so out of the delusion that we are mini-gods. Jesus tells us explicitly in his teachings: “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words” (John 14:23-24).

A Christian is someone who obeys and submits to the teachings and commands of Jesus Christ.

“But how do I do this?”

You must prioritize a discovery and an openness to learn what Jesus taught and submit to it seriously in full faith so that it leaves nothing in your life untouched by what you have learned from Him.

“What did Jesus teach?”

He taught many things, but foremost Christ taught that we are all sinners (have turned away from God) and that we must repent (earnestly ask forgiveness from God) in order to receive enormous and incredible forgiveness given through Christ to our souls (the merciful, unearned favor of God to return to His presence). Jesus taught that if we are to “take up our cross and follow Him” (Matt.16:24-26) — we are to make a study of Him and His life that we may learn from Him and model our actions by Him here on earth.

And He stated that the road following Him is not easy, but when we follow Him He provides us a Helper (the Holy Spirit) and we will never be without His help for us.

So many of us have spent our time sitting in pews, singing hymns, owning a Bible, attending Christian private schools, and saying bedtime prayer poems that we may have missed it…

And others of us have devastatingly never heard this good news offered by Christ before. Forgiveness! The presence of God to help us! Could this be true? Is this not a myth?

It is true! And it is so real, my beloved reader…

And just in case you are one of the many who may have missed it, I wanted to make sure I stop and answer this question (like I do with my own children) that you receive a very straight-forward answer here.

In brief, a Christian is someone who believes this to be true: that Jesus is the Son of God who died for their sins, rose from the dead, reigns now as King over all, and because this is true they follow His teachings found in the Holy Bible and repent of their sins, accept the beautiful gift of forgiveness so that they may enter God’s presence, and submit to Jesus’ kingship over their life for an eternity.

Reader, a Christian is someone who believes that God has done the seemingly impossible because He is the very definition of LOVE itself. He has offered rescue to a broken, dying, and undeserving world.

You may need to ask yourself one very important follow-up question in sincerity: “Am I a Christian?”

And if you find yourself in need of a friend to discuss the possibilities of the answer to your question, my husband and I are absolutely available.

With all of my heart—Your humble servant,

Reagan

Scripture as Authority: My search for a solid foundation

“In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it.”

John 1:1-5

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Growing up, I was taught to discover God primarily through life experiences rather than through scriptural study. And, truly, experience is a legitimate and good way to discover God. In Romans, Paul writes, “They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities––his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Romans 1:19-20), and I can attest to this.

Encouragement to seek God through my personal experiences with Him and my observations of His work around me provided me with the confidence to proclaim the presence of a God I knew loved me. Even in my wayward college years, I never questioned the existence of God because I had experienced Him––I heard His voice, I saw His perfection in creation, and I observed His movement in the world in both charismatic and private encounters.

I knew God. 

Growing up, it wasn’t God I questioned.

It was Jesus.

As I was taught Christianity, Jesus was kind of this hand-wavy thing over on the side of an all-powerful miraculous God. I knew about Jesus. I believed He was a real person in history––but I was not completely confident in His divinity.

I fell where I think many bible belt Christians fall on the belief continuum. I was a deist at most who thought of Jesus as that impactful man in history who may possibly,  in some way or another, be the Son of God. But I was unsure.

My lack of confidence in the Lordship of Jesus is what enabled my prodigal years during college. I walked away from Christianity (who am I kidding… I sprinted away from Christianity) in an attempt to find something solid I could stake my flag in. I didn’t want a hand-wavy possibility… I wanted firm truth, even if that firm truth went against all I had previously experienced. I was willing to consider that I may have missed the mark on who God is and who I am in relationship to Him.

I searched for my solid foundation in books. I read voraciously and devoured every critical perspective: postmodern, marxism, feminist, post-colonial, queer, deconstructive theory and more. I began to wonder, is it possible to be something other than seasick in the ocean of personal discovery?

It wasn’t until after my college years and into my early married years that I faced the God I had experienced in childhood and began to seek the answers from Him, and that is when I found redemption and a Savior. I was reintroduced to Jesus entirely by faith, which is really all it takes for a life restored by Christ.

But, still, not fully certain. 

I am the Christian who has prayed time and time again “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”

Then, over one inconspicuous dinner, my faith was bolstered by a very simple question. My friend sat calmly on the other side of a steaming plate of baked chicken and said, “I think the meaningful question to ask yourself is ‘do you believe scripture has authority’?”

Up until that point scripture was most often presented to me as some sort of highly suggested self-help guide, although rather than “five points to a better life,” the Bible felt really difficult to apply and therefore difficult to open at all.

I longed to know the answer… do I believe scripture has authority? 

I was recovering from an emotional block towards the Bible that caused me to hold the scriptures at a firm distance during my young adult years. In all my reading, I never included my Bible in my critical study. I was so emotionally confused by the use of the Bible as a method for claiming prosperity promises from God that I just felt it best to keep it sidelined for most of my academic career.

But that season was over, and I had claimed my faith in Jesus, although still searching for my solid foundation, so I began to intentionally read the Bible. I approached the Bible as a literary text: in context, holistically and as separate distinct written forms. I began to ask the question “who is this text about?” and discovered––to my surprise––that it wasn’t about me at all. The Bible is a book about God.

My Savior. The one I have experienced my whole life through creation, in private prayer, and in my wonder at His miraculous power. I was reading the Old Testament and seeing descriptions written thousands of years ago that matched the very character of the God I knew.

And that God and those scriptures continuously asked me to consider the divinity of Jesus.

From the beginning of creation, through the early years of Israel, in the laments during the Israeli oppression, and in the warnings of the prophets I read one consistent theme––the Messiah is coming. And in the very detailed accounts in the New Testament I read that Jesus answers every longing for that coming Messiah.

A mantra began to form solid and secure within me: Jesus has been prophesied since the beginning of time, and He is now alive in his human body sitting at the right hand of the Father as the Son of God ruling over all.

Over time––guided by scripture––Jesus, the living Word of God, took His place as the authority over my life. Everything just kind of clicked into place once that was cemented.

I no longer feel seasick in the search for my identity––I am a child of God, completely unworthy and fully redeemed, created for a purpose, placed in this time for His glory, called to simply and steadfastly follow in the footsteps of Jesus my Savior and the Lord over my life. The Bible is now the cement that solidifies my firm foundation in Jesus. What a joy it has been to open the scriptures and discover more about the character of my Savior!

Friend, I want that joy for you as well. If you are one of the many who struggle to approach the Bible, I want to help you open this journey into the scriptures. You don’t have to be a literary scholar, an expert in Hebrew, or a staunch legalist to find meaning in the Word of God. You can be you. The scriptures are not mystical or unapproachable. They were written for you by the One who created you about the One who created you.

If you read that and think Yes, I want to know about the One who created me! then you are my audience over the next few weeks.

But, look, you don’t need me. You need Him. So although I will share about reading in context, building biblical comprehension, and establishing a regular meditative practice with the scriptures, you really only need to do one thing to get started in scripture today.

Pray.

With no exaggeration, anytime I have approached God with the request to help me read His Word, He has responded by setting my heart on fire for His holy scriptures. God is willing and eagerly waiting to answer.

Scripture does have authority. It is life-giving and transformative. It reveals our shortcomings leading us to repentance before a loving Father––a God who wins us over with kindness (Romans 2:4). And, yes, the scriptures are ancient and long and sometimes seem culturally irrelevant or confusing, but the scriptures also breathe life into our existence by setting us right on who this whole thing is about and how much the God of all Creation is willing to fight for our redemption.

Paul writes that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).  

If you struggle to understand how that Bible on your shelf may be useful, you’re not alone. Over the next few weeks, I will be sharing a few simple steps and tools that have helped me approach and understand this beautifully written gift of truth from our loving Creator. My hope is that, like me, you will find a solid foundation to bolster a life-giving faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

But it starts now with a simple hello to our heavenly Father, followed by a request for His help in opening the scriptures to us. I can’t wait to dive deeper with Him.

Wrestling with The Sovereignty of God in Delayed Healing

Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 

Romans 8:26-29

She sobbed into the phone, “It’s just so confusing. Does God heal people or not? Jesus healed everyone who asked him, so where is the healing I’m asking for?”

My heart ached for my friend, as she has found herself in a whirlwind of despair while also riding a fast train of newly devoted faith in Jesus. 

“I feel like I’m on a roller coaster, and I just want to know how this all works.”

The issue of healing is confusing in the Bible Belt where main streets in every small town are dotted with Bible thumpers and prosperity preachers arguing about the rights and wrongs of healing faith. I know, I grew up here. I grew up confused.

As we talked, I prayed for wisdom. I’ve personally experienced very miraculous healing. I’ve also experienced long seasons of deep suffering. In some ways, I am still waiting on the Father. I sometimes catch myself observing that although Jesus has conquered sin and death, all things continue to die around me.

As I prayed I kept thinking about the Garden of Eden. Maybe you know the story, but maybe you don’t.

God creates a beautiful garden and then He places the first humans in that garden. We call those humans Adam and Eve. The Lord places two trees in the middle of the garden: the Tree of Life and the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil He deems off-limits––it is His one rule. He commands Adam (and Eve through Adam) not to eat of that tree with a warning that by doing so they will die. But a cunning serpent suggests to Eve that God is a liar and that if they eat from the fruit of the forbidden tree they will not die, but will be like God knowing both good and evil (Genesis 3:5). Eve disobeys God and takes the first step towards trusting her own understanding of what is good and what is evil by claiming the forbidden knowledge as her own. Adam also joins her and their eyes are opened to their nakedness. They feel shame for the first time. The Lord clothes them, curses them, and sends them out into the wilderness with a promise that the longer narrative would not end in tragedy.

Before they eat of the fruit, Adam and Eve live deferring to the God of Creation. When eating the fruit, they follow their own understanding of what is right and permissible for them. As a result, death and suffering enter the human story. The next generations recorded in the Old Testament prove that very real result of sin with a gradual, but drastic, decline in the life span of humanity.

And then another story from scripture came to my mind. 

Job is a man who, although righteous before God, is allowed to endure great great suffering for a long time––great, great suffering. In his cries to the Lord he advocates for himself based on his righteousness (read: his faith) in the Lord.  He is desperate to understand why he is being forced to endure great despair. His friends suggest all sorts of things, including that he might be suffering as a result of sin––but he’s not. When God finally responds to Job’s myriad of questions and pleas and laments, He says, “Who is this who questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them,” and then He goes on to end in the most epic rap battle of all time showing Job a panoramic view of how great and mighty and sovereign He is. Summary: He is the Lord. Who are we to question His wisdom, even in our suffering?

In remembering this history, it occurs to me that the knowledge of what is ‘good’ and what is ‘evil’ belongs to the Lord, whether we have access to it or not. Living with Jesus as Lord means we follow His example and defer to the Father. The knowledge of what we should do and how the Lord should respond to us is His to determine completely––after all, He is infinitely greater in wisdom than our finite beings (Rom. 11:33).

Jesus understands this firsthand. He pleads, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42). He goes forward and endures the greatest suffering known to man to free us from our sins. The perfect Son of Man responds in obedience and endures His unrighteous suffering, but we––in our weakness––sometimes demand results, and if not results––an explanation, in exchange for our allegiance. 

God is not formulaic. God is not transactional. He is relational. And He is beholden to no one.

Yes, not even to you––dearly loved Christian.

Does your skin crawl a little bit and your soul get defensive when you read that? Does something inside you proclaim it is your right to know and determine what the ‘good’ outcome to your suffering should be? 

When we demand a formulaic approach to miraculous healing, it’s as if we are holding the bitten forbidden fruit demanding the God of the Universe conform to our understanding of the knowledge He first forbade. 

I gently and humbly suggest that if our faith is shaken when God doesn’t respond the way we think He ought to, then perhaps we’ve sized God to our own limited definition of ‘good’ and that perhaps in doing so, we are missing out on the larger blessings––the epic wins––as a result. 

“Where is my healing?” is a permissible question to ask the Lord, He can handle all of our questions. But it just might not be the best one. I think the question I am hearing from the cry of the heart of my suffering friend (and so many others) is 

“Can I trust Him in my suffering?”

One sure way I know to offer comfort to a believer is to remind them who the God of the Bible is…

He is sovereign. (Colossians 1:16-17)

He is good. (Mark 10:18)

He is righteous. (Psalm 11:7)

He is wrathful. (Ezekiel 25:15-17)

He is loving. (1 John 4:19)

He is merciful. (Deuteronomy 4:31)

He is miraculous. (Acts 3:16)

He is present. (Zephaniah 3:17)

He is active. (Romans 8:38-39)

He is powerful. (Job 26:14)

He is gentle. (Matthew 11:29)

He is humble. (Philipians 2:8)

He is a restorer. (Acts 3:21)

He is trustworthy. (Psalm 9:10)

He moves towards the broken. (Psalm 34:18)

He is our refuge. (Psalm 46:1-3)

He sees you. (Genesis 16:13)

He is the perfect embodiment of ‘love’ (1 John 4:7-8). He is the very definition of ‘good’ (Psalm 100:5). He created those words and ordained their original meaning (John 1:3).

Knowing what we know about our God, can we defer to Him in all the other unknowns?

My limited view values this life too much. My ego sometimes demands immediate relief from my suffering. But His view stretches beyond the scope of time, eternity, life, and death––and He holds for my life and His glory the perfect plan. And, yes, although everything in this life does die, (who can deny this?) I know that the God of all Creation has promised a new life with no suffering in the end (Revelation 21:1-4). And if you are living under the loving mercy of our mighty Savior, Jesus, then this knowledge is for you as well.

Friend, asking the Lord for healing is in no way undermined by our submission to His sovereignty in all things. We fear an all-powerful God who is out for our ultimate good. He has given a spirit that intercedes for us according to the will of God. Be encouraged that, even when it’s so very hard and none of it makes sense, we have a God that works all things together for our good (Romans 8:26-29)

Jesus & EMDR Therapy: A testimony of healing from post-traumatic stress disorder

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An Important Introduction

Welcome! I am so glad you are here. Likely, you have found yourself here because you have some curiosity or experience with EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy or post-traumatic stress disorder. I am excited–albeit a bit nervous–to share with you my own experiences, as I have already witnessed how my own testimony of healing has poured hope into those who may also be suffering from various mental and emotional trials. I am nervous because in the following testimony I am vulnerable, and who isn’t a little nervous when vulnerable?

What you are about to read is my own personal testimony of miraculous healing from post-traumatic stress disorder through EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapy. Many have discovered healing through the process of EMDR, or similar methods of therapy, and I have witnessed those who are, at most, apathetic toward spiritual things admit the miraculousness of this psychological treatment for trauma.

I believe that the Lord allows mercies both to those who call on His name and sometimes to those who don’t–always for His glory, however He deems best. I fully attribute my own healing to my God and Creator and my Lord Jesus Christ who first conducted the far greater miracle by healing my soul by restoring me to a right relationship with God when I could not, in my own effort, possibly walk in a right relationship with Him. Jesus continues in the hard work of healing and restoration in my life, and my prayer is that this testimony of healing will display His love for an unlovable human and His willingness to answer the cries of the hurting and desperate person.

Our human tendency is to quickly seek the fastest method of escaping our suffering. We long to be whole and healed, to walk happy and confident–to be at peace. Several times when I have shared this testimony with others, they have hurried to book their own appointment with an EMDR therapist in hopes that they will also experience healing from deeply traumatic experiences, and I would never discourage someone from doing so.

My one caution to my readers is this: EMDR therapy is not McDonald’s therapy. It is in no way a quick-fix. It required hard work on my part, financial investment, and perseverance that would not have been possible without my supportive church community, patient and wise therapist, as well as a full surrender and trust in Jesus. My therapist said to me that if anyone visits a therapist who desires to launch straight into EMDR therapy, the patient should run for the hills. EMDR, like any intensive therapy, should be prescribed very carefully by a licensed professional who understands that EMDR is not a one-size-fits-all solution for trauma therapy.

I also had the benefit of being guided by a therapist who, herself, is a follower of Jesus and extremely prayerful and tactful in her work. Part of her great ability may come from the fact that she also experienced trauma–and healing from trauma–in her own life. Just as you might seek out a pediatrician who, himself, has kids of his own and therefore some empathy for your situation as a parent trying to seek healing and care for your child, so it is also probably beneficial to seek a therapist who knows something about trauma themselves, from experience. Having a therapist who understands the great healing that is possible through both modern psychology and faith in Jesus was an incredible gift from the Lord in my life. The Lord works all things together for His good, and I have seen this first-hand in my experiences with my therapist. 

For reasons that are beyond my own full understanding, the Lord allows people to suffer–sometimes for a long time. If you are suffering from depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, my heart goes out to you. Although it may feel at times that you are the only one of your kind, locked in a box of uncontrolled responses to life events that haunt you day-to-day, the reality is that you are not alone. Many suffer in deep and hidden ways. Although I can not pretend to fully understand why we suffer, I do believe that the Lord uses our suffering to draw us closer to Him. For this, I am incredibly grateful.

What we can stake our hope in is that the God who created us is not only interested in public displays of His glory. He is in the business of healing the inner depths of our hearts, minds and souls so that we–in our secret hearts–will praise Him. He is interested in being Lord over your life and revealing Himself to you, whether anyone else sees it or not. He sees you. Standing on the other side of a decade of post-traumatic stress disorder and difficult battles as a result of it, I can tell you that my decision to hand my hurt to Jesus was entirely worth it. Seeking healing from your trauma is worth it.

The Lord healed me, and only my secret heart was a full witness to a healing that I never dreamed possible. My husband–and also my therapist in some ways– witnessed many of the incredible results of my healing, but most of the healing happened in the depths of mind and I continue to stand in awe of the freedom gifted to me, for me–alone.

I hope that this testimony encourages you to pause and look at Jesus. If you would like to know more about Jesus and the salvation that comes from making Him Lord over your life, my husband and I are more than willing to share the good news of Christ with you. We hardly have all the answers, but we would love nothing more than to encourage you to at least consider that the God of the Universe loves you and desires that you would walk the rest of your life in the light of His saving grace.

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The Pit: Encountering the God who loves the wounded

I woke up completely empty. My navel felt like it was scraping my backbone as I lay in twisted sheets staring at the white ceiling above me. My limbs were heavy from the aftermath of too many vodka tonics and something else that tasted similar to cough syrup. I was alone. 

That morning did not differ much from many of the mornings before it. I had fallen head first into a routine of late night alcoholic blackouts that would leave me scrambling for my apartment keys at 3am, pushing aside hunger pangs for lack of money and the willpower to nourish any part of my failing body. Life had been hard, and I nursed my wounds with a type of reckless living that I figured would probably end in an early, tragic, and likely unnoticeable death. I was apathetic.

I refer to that morning as “the pit” when I’m telling someone my story in a more general way. I say “I was at the bottom of the darkest pit, completely alone and abandoned, when I heard God’s voice.” And I was completely alone and completely abandoned by all human companionship. Looking back, I realize that the young woman laying in that bed was a half-dead corpse that had washed up on the shore of complete despair after being churned in the dark stomach of a whale named Brokenhearted. I was Jonah, having run from a God that I supposed probably loved me — but I had run the opposite way into the arms of every kind of disappointment.

I began to methodically plot my exit from life. 

I was just getting motivated in my planning when I heard His voice. It seemed audible, as if He had removed the ceiling and was shouting at me from the apartment one floor above mine. Now that I think back to it, that audible voice may have blasted from between my ears out to the room surrounding me. I’m not sure how the sound moved, I just know that I heard it.

“Are you ready to worship me?”

Stunned, I began to worship Him. Alone, I worshiped Him. My dead soul and my lifeless body cried out to the One who created me. Fully steeped in rebellion, laying in the decay and refuse of my own sin, I worshiped Him.

And that is how I know that God is after the heart of the sinner and that He draws near to the broken. I experienced it firsthand. I was a woman—abandoned, broken, rejected, and afraid, openly embracing a life of sin and depravity. I was a woman who trampled my inheritance of a childhood salvation. To all who looked on, I was lost. But when everyone else sprinted out of the radius of my torment, He remained.  

The House Rebuilt: How the Lord gradually restored us

Eleven years later, I live in a beautiful house on a hill with my adoring husband and two precious boys. My husband and I have survived a storm that resulted from launching a marriage on an ultimatum and weathering chronic depression, apathy and shame in our early years. Five years into our marriage, we turned to stand face-to-face toward God together—in full repentance, we came humbly to a loving Father who embraced us, restored us, taught us His Word and Commandments, and began the lifelong process of pruning our hearts and renewing our mind for His glory.

Over time, we experienced many seasons: miraculous mental healing, emotional healing, forgiveness, the incredible pain of losing two babies—but not without the comfort from a God who knows the depths of every sorrow, the beginning of financial wisdom, a continuing of humble repentance, and working diligently in ministry together pouring into those around us from the overflow of our time with Him—pointing them to the Father and inviting them to learn from the ultimate Teacher with us. 

From the outside, and even on the inside of our hearts, home, and pillow talk—all was well and upheld by the Father. All, except a massive thorn wedged in the middle of my mind that threatened insidiously to unravel everything.

The Thorn: A short depiction of PTSD symptoms

For the sake of not glorifying the demonic and tragic memories that would rage within my mind, I’ll be brief. The trigger was physical touch and the torment would spin up like a movie reel at an old theater, only I could never turn it off. I would regress to childhood and become a victim in my otherwise safe home. Often this would turn into hours of me — hunched in a fetal position—begging God to end the torment. It was all real, it was all in my mind, and it pushed me away from the one who loves me most—my husband. For 10 years, the memories would portray as real as the day they began and I lived in the cyclical torment of a generational curse imposed by an abuser who, himself, died years ago.

The Prayer Closet: Jesus asks me to do hard things

It was 2020, and despite a global battle with a vicious pandemic and all the complications that came with it—our family was thriving. The Lord walked with us through ambitious goals of contentment and financial wisdom in motion. I was excited to enter my prayer closet and bow myself before the throne of the Lord asking “What do you have for 2021?”

My excitement quickly waned. The Lord often speaks to me in pictures and I saw an image in my mind of a long, dark tunnel. Jesus stood in front of the tunnel and then slowly turned to walk into the darkness. 

We are going here, but I’m going first. I want you to follow me.

Oh no. I knew what this was — the dark tunnel represented the darkness in my mind and the hidden trauma that staked claim over the most sensitive part of my daily life—intimacy in marriage.

My body shook all over, but years of suffering in other ways had taught me that the Lord is trustworthy and the best thing we can do is trust and obey Him.

“Ok, Jesus.” I whispered. “But only because you asked.”

A Friend in the Boat: Meeting a therapist who understands

When I entered Sharon’s office, she asked me to take any seat that felt comfortable to me. I chose the far right side of a small loveseat. She took the seat directly in front of me. Beside her was an empty chair, and in my mind—Jesus took His place there.

Sharon began, “Tell me what is impacting your daily life today that you are hoping to resolve.”

I nervously wrapped a piece of tissue around my fingers. I rarely spoke to anyone about my difficulties at home—triggered by touch, spiraling out of control in the middle of the night.

Somehow I managed the gist of it.

She calmly listened and then, as if she had been there—behind my mind’s eye every time I experienced a massive panic attack—she explained to me what happens when I experience one of these episodes. She explained it methodically and in detail—that I regress to childhood, that I enter fight, flight, or freeze “mode,” that I disengage with my body and my spirit hunkers down to endure the frightful hurricane until somehow it ends. She explained that this is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

I was stunned. No one had ever expressed empathy, much less had been able to describe what happened in my own mind during one of these experiences. 

“I am here to tell you there is absolutely hope for healing in this,” she said calmly. “I know there is hope and I am praying now that the Lord will give you the hope that will help you to courageously do the hard work required in the coming weeks.”

The room was quiet. She prayed over me, and I did leave feeling hopeful. It was hope that came from the fresh knowledge that someone was in the boat with me, that I wasn’t stranded on some broken piece of driftwood on my own—enduring one torrential storm after another.

Over the next two months I met with Sharon weekly. Sharon never led with verbal processing, but used methods of therapy that brought disturbing memories to the surface in broad daylight without overwhelming and suffocating me. I made timelines, drew pictures, and focused on my breathing. Somehow the Lord used those methods to bring to the surface the very root of the darkness that would overtake me at night, and it wasn’t at all what I expected. In reality, it was far worse—but as hard as it is sometimes for us to look at the truth of the things that haunt us, we who know Jesus know that His plans for us are good. He is not without deliberate intention, rather He turns on the lights so that all darkness will cease. We can trust that although what we view in the light is sometimes horrifically ugly, the Lord is able to work with clarity and clean up the sinful mess in our wake.

The Lord’s House: The enemy tries to interfere

Two months into therapy and another panic attack started suddenly. I couldn’t put my finger on what one thing may have caused the onset of the panic attack, but there I was sitting in a dark room sobbing uncontrollably between heavy bursts of hyperactive breathing. Likely, it wasn’t one thing—but many. 

I spiraled out of control. My mind began to play the movie reel of all of the terrible things that I had experienced in my life. Once that movie pressed play, I just couldn’t seem to find the stop button. My whole body sobbed as I regressed to my four year old self. My soul felt disembodied and I seemed to stare at myself from above, my mind slowly breaking.

“Lord, you are my Creator. You love me. You are near to me.”

“Lord, forgive those who have hurt me. Help me to heal. Lord, help me.”

I am here.

My sobbing waned and for a moment the room was quiet. And then it picked up uncontrollably again.

I am here.

My sobbing waned. All was silent for a moment or two once more. I was aware of the Lord’s nearness. I was aware that I was not alone. And then the real storm began and chaos erupted in my mind.

Hours later my husband was awake and by my side. Unable to tell him I needed help—I frantically threw my panic at his bedside. He sat up and grabbed his Bible to begin reading the Psalms over me as I lay curled in a fetal position gripping my stomach and pulling at my hair. I moaned in the agony of every horrible memory resurfacing, disconnected from one another, just pummeling my mind. When am I going to break? I thought. When will this end? Oh, God, please help this end.

And then I heard the voices. They were voices like those of passersby, average and human (not slithery and hissing like you might imagine). They were firm and planned. They, I am convinced, were demons. 

She’s breaking… she’s breaking, I think we can go in. I think this is it. Let’s move in. Come on…

I felt myself losing control. My soul, hovering above my body felt suddenly frantic—what if this is the end. What if this is the panic attack that breaks everything?

My husband’s voice whispered in the background—prayers of peace and pleading with our healing God to grant me sleep and protection.

Then suddenly the voice of my heavenly Father—my Creator, the one who calls me by name—called out above all of the voices and flooded my mind and my soul in an overwhelming warcry, THIS IS MY HOUSE. YOU WILL NOT ENTER.

A brilliant flash of light filled my mind and then almost as suddenly as it all began—it ended, and I fell asleep.

Feeling the sudden deadweight of my body against his, my husband put down his Bible and praised the Lord for another victory.

Jesus: The beginning and the end

The next day, exhausted, I sobbed on the phone to my friend and mentor—Karen. 

“I just don’t know if this is worth it. Karen, is it worth it? It’s just so hard… and it’s getting worse.”

“Reagan,” she said kindly and firmly, “Why did you start down this path in the beginning?”

I thought intently. I remembered Jesus in my prayer closet. “Because Jesus asked me to.”

“And what do you expect to find in the end?”

I truly wasn’t sure. I really didn’t know if I could survive such a frightening path into the horrific imaginings in my mind. I hesitated, and whispered “Jesus.”

“And is that not enough?”

Yes. “Yes. He is enough.”

He is enough.

The Processing Session: My experience with EMDR

“What is the belief you have about the event we are going to revisit today?” Sharon sat in front of me, calm and matter-of-fact.

“That I am unsafe.”

“And what do you want to believe instead?”

“That I am safe.”

At the beginning of our hour together she asked me to verbally describe the event we were going to revisit during our EMDR processing session. I could not successfully describe it without climbing the heights of emotional disturbance. I sobbed into my lap. She calmed me.

She played a metronome-like sound and safely led me to close my eyes and press play on the horrific film that so often haunted me in the middle of the night.

The memory began to play. There I was—a little girl in a room. A victim. The nightmare rolled, and my body shook. 

She checked in — I opened my eyes. 

“What did you notice?” 

I told her the details. It was the same three “scenes” that would play in the same order.

“OK — this time, I want you to see if you can remove yourself from the first person experience. Can you be in the room in your memory, an observer during the memory?”

“I can try.”

I closed my eyes — I was a child again, but an observer, and the memory played. The memory became alive and something demonic and frightening lashed out at me. It told me to stand still and be quiet. 

I sobbed. She checked in. 

“Ok, let’s do something different. I want you to see if you can be present in the memory as your current adult self. Can you try that for me?”

“I can try,” I wept. 

I closed my eyes — I was my adult self. The memory played, but this time—when the abuser walked into the room in my memory he saw me there and stopped. “You can not come in,” I said in my mind, “I’m watching you. I can see you. You cannot come in here.”

Suddenly the reel stalled and the memory could no longer move forward. What is happening? I whispered in my mind. The film began to slowly burn away and I stood in darkness watching the ashes flutter all around me. I heard a voice whisper, “I AM the Beginning and the End.”

Sharon checked in.

I opened my eyes, exhausted. I described to Sharon what happened. She seemed pleased. We prayed and I drove home, my mind raw and my body limp from the battle.

After the Battle: The first days of victory

In the days after our processing session I felt as if my mind was healing from a surgical procedure. I was nervous to think too hard in any one direction—nervous to hope, or to despair. But each night came and went without panic attacks. My dreams even seemed calm and restful within my mind.

Now, almost one month since my processing session—I am completely free of panic attacks or triggers of any kind. My husband and I have slowly explored our time together, and we have wept together in praise that we are no longer haunted by the demons of PTSD that would so frequently invade our safe and intimate space.

I think the founder of EMDR, Francine Shapiro, describes the experience best. She describes the experience as “kicking the log.” The brain is not able to process some traumatic event, and that event gets lodged like a log preventing a river from flowing correctly. EMDR helps a patient to “kick the log,” allowing the brain to process the traumatic memory and move that memory to the resolved storage. The memories are not forgotten, they simply don’t have the same emotional drive and control they once had.

In my experience, this treatment is a complete miracle of the Lord. One month ago, heading into the EMDR processing session, I was completely without hope. Now, I am healed. My mind is at peace and the torture has ceased. 10 years of living with that traumatic landscape in my mind, resolved in a one hour processing session. Of course, it took months of preparation to get there, but still… healed!

I praise the Lord that He invited me to walk this difficult path. He promised to go before me, and He did. I would have never ventured into therapy on my own—too frozen by fear, too covered in shame. But my Lord is my Rock, my Salvation. Whom shall I fear? I will follow Him anywhere—even into the darkest terrors of the mind. Will we ever see the end of His goodness? We will never see the end. The Lord has won the battle! There is no better home than with Him.

___

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” 2 Corinthians 12:10

“The Lord will fight for you, you only need to be still.” Exodus 14:14

When Prayers for Miracles Disappoint, followed by A Prayer for the Weary Soul

Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, you want to be with me because I fed you, not because you understood the miraculous signs. But don’t be so concerned about perishable things like food. Spend your energy seeking the eternal life that the Son of man can give you. For God the Father has given me the seal of his approval.”

They replied, “We want to perform God’s works, too. What should we do?”

Jesus told them, “This is the only work God wants from you: Believe in the one he has sent.”

John 6: 26-29

___

“The will of God is love. And love suffers.” – Elizabeth Elliot

___

Everything about the memory seems naively earnest and devastatingly sad to me, and—unlike many other things from those days—I can remember it so clearly. I was seventeen years old, standing over an old man who must have been in his eighties, at least. We were at the front of the sanctuary at a new startup church in my hometown. It must have been number fifteen on my list of churches I had attended with my family over my teenage years, and it would be the last on my list for a while–at least.

The worship music was loud and the people were tossing praises up toward the stage as if Jesus Himself were ripping it on the guitar. But I wasn’t singing. I focused on this old man in the wheelchair. I watched him achingly attempting to bob his head in worship and clap his arthritic hands along to the melody.  

My teenage years were filled with well-meaning people pointing me to miracles. I was told I had the authority of God and that if I had enough faith I could pray for miracles of healing and deviations of prophetic power and those things would be given to me. I was taught that this was the mark of a person truly walking with Jesus.

But I doubted. I had lived two of my high school years watching my mom lay bedriddren, unable to walk on her own–unable to come to my dance recitals or attend my school events. I watched my dad lower her towel-wrapped body into the bathtub every night so she could bathe. I begged her to have more faith. I prayed fervently in my closet at night that God would heal her body. And although some progress had been made over the years, it was mostly delivered by a holistic doctor pumping vitamin C into her veins, not by a divine answer to a request for a sudden miracle.

But this is what I had been told was the evidence of my faith—believing for miracles and seeing them come to fruition. I believed—but no miracles. Something didn’t add up.

I marched up to that poor old man in that wheelchair and I asked him sternly if he wanted to be healed, to which he looked in my earnest brown eyes and said, “Yes! Yes, I want to be healed.” So I did what I thought any warrior of God does in a moment like that—I put my hands in his hands and I begged the God of miracles to help him get up and walk. And the man shook and nodded and tears welled in his eyes and I stood there over him while the music died down and nothing happened.

Nothing happened.

I leaned over and whispered something between an apology and a hope into that man’s ears and I headed straight out the back doors of that church and into the parking lot.

In my car I prayed an honest and humble prayer to the Lord. I asked the Lord if I could search for Him anywhere and everywhere else. And I felt, honestly, that I heard the soft compassionate voice of the Lord say Go.

So I did. I left the church and abandoned my moral resolutions to Christianity for the length of my college years. And this would be a very sad and very hopeless story of abandonment of my Christian faith if it were not the reality that at the end of my running–in my very sinful, very desperate, very messed up search to make sense of it all—He moved in towards me when no one else would and began the great work of calling me home to His true heart.

Today, I completely believe in the God of miracles. I have experienced incredible miracles of healing within my own mind and body. I’ve seen others miraculously healed by a loving God. My mom is completely healed today.

But I can not deny the great suffering in the world, which includes suffering among many fervent followers of Jesus. My understanding of how we are to approach healing and miracles has shifted because I have learned that the God of the Bible is both a miraculous Healer as well as a God who allows for suffering, sometimes for a long time. What I’ve come to discover is that I know close to nothing, but God knows absolutely everything— and He is actively engaged, even in the suffering, and I can trust Him even in the waiting.

I have since walked through incredible valleys of both physical, relational and mental sickness and the Lord has used my suffering to teach me about His character and His heart for the weary. It has deepened my compassion for those who are walking through dark seasons. I now long to move in towards those people, “weeping with those who weep,” rather than moving in towards people with ultimatums tossed up at God demanding that He heal on my count.

Below, I offer a prayer for the weary soul. If you are walking through a season of suffering and find yourself longing for a miracle, waiting for the lemonade to be pressed from the lemons, you are not alone. Jesus, the Man of Sorrows, knows exactly how hard your suffering has been, and He has deep pools of empathy for you. You do not carry this burden alone.

___

A Prayer for the Weary Soul

Our Father, who knows all things. Nothing happens in this world without your permission. We struggle to understand the suffering in the world. The pain in and of itself is torrential, but the separation it seems to cause between us and others—and at times, Lord—us and You, is unbearable.

See the pain of the sufferer, Lord. Look on your creation with Your kindness and mercy. You, the Creator of all, are capable of great things. So we ask, because You tell us we can, for healing. We believe that You—the God that holds the planets in orbit—have the power to do this. If you will it, Lord, please bring Your healing.

But if, in Your divine plan, You have allowed this suffering for yet another day—show the sufferer where You are at work in the suffering. Draw them closer to You. May they empathize with Your sufferings, Jesus. You took on all the pain in the world caused by our sin. You took on all suffering that we may have life.

Teach us about this mystery, Lord. Show us your heart. May we pull from deep wells of empathy for those around us who are also hurting. May we move in toward the sufferer as You work out Your divine plan for our good.

Where we lack faith, Lord strengthen it. When we lose hope, lift our chins to gaze at You.

___

The above is my own prayer for the weary soul, and I hope it was encouraging. However, if you would like more liturgies to guide your heart in prayer during times of suffering, I strongly recommend Every Moment Holy Volume 2 by Douglas Kaine McKelvey. It is a beautiful compilation of modern prayers for death, grief, and hope.

For more on suffering, I recommend Elizabeth Elliot’s collection of talks, Suffering is Never for Nothing.


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