Monthly Archives: January 2013

What you need to know about Trauma

Have you ever wondered how to relate to someone who has recently experienced trauma?

Maybe you haven’t been in that situation yet, but the truth is, most of us will eventually be the person in the trauma or else walk alongside someone who is. Knowing something about it can make all the difference in the world.

I’ve recently spent time in the very thick, but readable book, The New Guide to Crisis & Trauma Counseling – A Practical Guide for Ministers, Counselors and Lay Counselors by Dr. H. Norman Wright. I delved into this book a couple years ago when I was going through my own symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and I’ve picked it up again so I can encourage those around me going through similar things.

Dr. Wright explains trauma as “the response to any event that shatters your safe world so that it’s not longer a place of refuge. Trauma is more than a state of crisis. It is a normal reaction to abnormal events that overwhelm a person’s ability to adapt to life — where you feel powerless” (194).

We are all quick to recognize physical trauma — if a person falls off a ladder, has a concussion, breaks both legs, some ribs, and their wrist, we allow them months, if not years to return back to normal. That kind of trauma is easy to define, recognize, and forgive.

What most of us don’t know is that trauma of the brain can hide in a perfectly normal-looking body. “Trauma is a wound. It’s a wounding of the brain. It overwhelms the ordinary adaptations to life. Trauma creates PTSD” (200). “Traumatized people have alterations in their brain” (204).

What kind of alterations?

First of all, the left side (our analytical side) and the right side (our emotional, visual side) are normally connected (by the corpus callosum) and communicate with each other — so we can discern real threats from false alarms. For example, when your child jumps out of your closet to scare you, you scream and your heart pounds (right side reacting), but in less than a second, the left side of your brain reminds you that this is your precious offspring playing a joke on you: There is no true danger.

When you lose the connection between the two sides during trauma, you suddenly have no ability to discern between true threats and false alarms. The two sides can’t explain things to each other.

Then there’s the amygdala. It’s a little almond-shaped piece of your brain that alerts you to danger, whether you’re awake or asleep. It holds feelings, emotions, and especially fears without any ability to reason. The amygdala becomes enlarged after a trauma, overreacting to any perceived danger and even normal life events.

The frontal cortex can’t operate well after trauma either, leaving you unable to analyze and do your typical left-brain functions. Your memory is fuzzy, and you can’t find the words to express things.

I cannot tell you how happy I was to learn these things when I was experiencing symptoms of PTSD a couple years ago. For a year-and-a-half I thought I was going crazy. Not “I’m going crazy” as in a simple little phrase for someone to laugh at: I thought was going to literally lose my mental and emotional capacity to function normally.

Just to give you a glimpse into what I was like…

1) I Could. Not. Drive.

Physically, was I capable of driving? Yes. I tried it a few times, but I thought I would die. It felt like death to try. My heart pounded, my eyes blurred, the sound of my blood rushing through my veins filled my ears… I was convinced I was passing out, or having a heart attack, or just dying of fear. Even thinking about driving — sometimes even sitting in the front passenger seat brought on the symptoms.

2) Being in a public place sent me into panic mode.

I hated shopping. I dreaded restaurants. My heart raced in church. Maybe it was some degree of claustrophobia. Everywhere I went, I kept my eye on the nearest exit or window. I felt closed in. I had  non-stop panic attacks. Naturally, I wanted to avoid these places as much as possible.

3) I KNEW something (else) horrible was going to happen.

Back in Haiti, our home had been broken into, Jarod had been shot at in our yard, I’d lived in an environment of intense spiritual warfare for eight years. We’d just experienced an earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people, and I’d had to bring our five children to the U.S. on my own in the aftermath under suspenseful, stressful conditions, to say the least. Jarod stayed behind to continue relief efforts. The kids and I were safe in the U.S., but I could not feel safe. I just KNEW Jarod was going to die, or that I had cancer, or that some random criminal would attack us as we slept in rural Kansas. It was just a matter of time before the other shoe dropped.

4) Everything felt surreal to me.

I was experiencing “derealization.” I went through the motions of normal life — I heard myself talk, I saw myself moving around, but the feeling of detachment from myself was so disturbing that it threw me into even deeper panic.

So there’s a tiny glimpse of what trauma can do. Trauma is not just something imagined. It’s more than a person “overreacting” or “being dramatic.”

Something to remember, of course, is that everyone responds differently to different traumatic events. What may traumatize you might not have much of an effect at all on me and vice versa. “But for all of us there comes a point at which our defenses are overrun” (206).

So how can we help when we see someone else going through this?

1) Understand the stages and react appropriately. (p. 229-230)

A) The Cognitive Stage. The traumatized person has to gain a clear understanding of what happened. They need to discuss/write about/remember the events and get to where they can see it objectively instead of emotionally. In this stage they will be able to reduce guilt and understand that things were truly out of their control.

  • We should encourage our traumatized friend/relative to process everything instead of telling them to “stop re-hashing everything,” “get over it,” or “you don’t need to keep putting yourself through this.” Remember this is part of the healing process.

B) The Emotional Stage. Even though they are able to see things more objectively now than before, the traumatized person has a myriad of emotions to feel and process at the gut level.

  • We need to remember that even though quite a bit of time may have passed since the trauma, our friend/relative is going to have to release these emotions. Allow them to cry it all out, express (in a safe way) their anger, grief, anxiety, etc. We shouldn’t act shocked that they haven’t gained control of their emotions yet, even though the rest of us were able to “move on” long ago. They won’t be in this stage forever and they need it to push through to healing.

C) The Mastery Stage. The traumatized person becomes a survivor, allowing their experience to shape their perspective on life for the better. They have found the meaning and purpose that God intended them to find.

  • Remember that it can take a very long time to get here (like the friend that fell off the ladder). Once they are here, affirm them and rejoice with them. They will be greatly encouraged when you share what you’ve seen God doing in and through them.

2) Empathize instead of fixing.

How I LOVED good listeners as I healed from trauma – people who validated what I was feeling.
How I HATED the cheerful pat answers that I already knew – “Well, just remember, God’s in control.”

How I LOVED God’s Word and people who shared beautiful verses out of love and empathy.
How I HATED when verses were given to me for the purpose of fixing my annoying problems.

3) Don’t avoid the traumatized person.

You probably feel very awkward around this person, because you have no clue what to say, and you are afraid you’ll say the wrong thing. But really, the worst thing to do is nothing.
– Give your friend a hug.
– Tell them that you are praying for them.
– Tell them that if they’d ever like to talk with you, you’re there for them.
– Tell them that you’re so sorry for what they’re going through.
– Tell them you’re really glad to see them.
– Don’t be afraid of awkward silences or tears. Your presence through both is appreciated.

4) Forgive your friend/relative for not being normal right now. Be patient. Serve them.

If you are really close to the traumatized person, you’re going to become very frustrated. This person who used to be there for you is going to let you down right now. They won’t be cheerful, they won’t return your smiles, they might not even answer your questions. They may not thank you for all the nice things you’re doing for them. They’re going to seem rude. Just remember, they feel like they are in another world. You might be completely surreal to them. They can’t remember if they told you thank you or not. They probably can’t remember their own phone number sometimes. As you serve them, and they don’t respond to you, remember that we don’t serve for the praise of man — we serve Christ himself.

5) Help them seek professional help from a Christian counselor. And a doctor.

There are going to be unexplainable, “unsolvable” issues. Like my driving phobia. There is no logical explanation for why I didn’t want to drive, and no logical explanation for why I wouldn’t drive. I just could not. No amount of reasoning with me, reading Scripture to me, preaching at me, or bribing me could change that. I (and those around me) needed professional help to understand this and work through it. God brought healing over the course of months and years, through counseling and through the diagnosis of adrenal fatigue. Once enough healing had taken place, I was able to do the work to press through my panic. No, it didn’t magically disappear, but I was healthy enough on all levels to be able to work through it. (That took a lot of patience on the part of those around me.)

6) Understand “compassion fatigue.”

Know that following a crisis or trauma, we all have a tendency to grow weary of the burden. When we’re not the one directly impacted, we are ready to get on with life. That’s normal. God did not create us to dwell in a perpetual stage of sorrow. Just be aware that your traumatized friend is also fatigued of his/her own issues. You may want to write their name on your calendar every week or every month to remind you to check in on them. Your emotions and thoughts are moving on to other things, but you can still let them know they are not forgotten.

7) Pray for them.

Jesus knows, far better than I, any counselor, or you, what the traumatized person needs. He brings healing. Pray fervently for your friend. Christ is the True Physician, The Holy Spirit is our Comforter. Pray His blessing on their lives.


Tired of Interruptions?


I spent the first half of this week annoyed and overwhelmed by them. I’ve been wondering how God expects me to fulfill His callings on my life when life is so full of interruptions. Actually, I’ve been wrestling with that issue for a lot longer than a few days.

How am I supposed to follow the dreams God has given me, such as writing a book, for one, when the daily stuff of life (children, piano lessons, worship team, laundry, cooking, grocery shopping, interacting with the people I love) consumes all but a few measly little hours each week?

Did I misunderstand? Should I forget all about it? Am I being too nice — not telling my family and friends “no” enough? I do, by God’s grace, possess just enough sense to realize that the idea of writing a book in the name of “ministering to others” is pretty silly if I have neglected my family and missed out on countless opportunities to bless others. So what am I supposed to do?

On Wednesday, when the entire day was an interruption from my plan, (the day that I helped the kids create costumes for HCA spirit week, mailed citizenship applications for our three adopted kids, shopped for a ridiculous amount of groceries, called in the refrigerator repairman, put the groceries away, gave a piano lesson, picked up 3 kids from school, made dinner, bought a sympathy card, picked Jaden up from school — late, served dinner, went to a funeral, took the kids to Awana, played piano for choir practice and worship team, and put the kids to bed), I decided to listen to a podcast interview of Susie Larson, while tackling the sea of clean laundry that had apparently filed for citizenship on our queen-sized guest bed.

(Please forgive me for that horrifically long sentence.)

During that final “interruption,” God enabled me to sort through a lot more than just laundry.

Susie (whom I had not heard of until that day) talked about her new book; Your Beautiful Purpose: Discovering and Enjoying What God Can Do Through You.

One of her first anecdotes:

She had long toyed with the idea of writing a book. She asked the Lord again and again if it was really His idea, or just her own. He patiently, repeatedly showed her that it was indeed His calling. She asked again. And He answered again. (This I can identify with!)

Finally, she resolved to begin. She sent her kids off to school, and sat down at her computer. (I get this too. It’s not as simple as it sounds.) The only problem was that she drew a total blank.

As she stared at her computer screen, God impressed on her heart that she was to get up, cross the street and check on her neighbor. Confused, she reminded God that He had just led her to sit down to begin her book, which was not going well so far. And yet the conviction grew. She got up, crossed the street, and found her neighbor in tears, desperately in need of encouragement and prayer.

Once back at home, the words flowed.

“Interruptions” are divinely orchestrated. They are not for nothing.

Folding laundry is one of the most annoying interruptions of my life. How ironic and appropriate that God would speak so clearly to me then and there.

I had to buy a copy of Susie’s ebook. Here are some quotes from her first chapter:

“You and I have a calling on our lives. Scripture is clear. May God give you a strong sense of your kingdom-call so you can begin making life choices that line up with your divine and appointed purpose and direction.

There’s another aspect to our calling. And this part of the call is just as important, if not more so than the dream or vision we have for our lives. If we get so focused on our kingdom-call that we miss the daily call, we will be susceptible to selfish ambition, self-centeredness, and a self-important view of our role in God’s kingdom work…

Our lives are meant to intermingle with each other while tending to the tasks God gives us. Our kingdom-call matters, but we’ll lose our way if we miss the other part of our call…

… If we tend to the daily call, if Jesus has our full attention from day to day, moment to moment, He’ll get us where we need to go so that we can live out the big-picture, divinely appointed call written over our lives.

Oftentimes, those up-close acts of obedience seem completely unrelated to the overall direction of our kingdom-call. In fact, sometimes those little pit stops will seem to take us completely off track from our call. But Jesus knows what He’s doing.”

Susie explained on the podcast that there are various stages in following God’s purposes for us.

First, we are eager — begging God to let us follow His leading, feeling ready to tackle all the challenges ahead of us in this grand new adventure. Yet, it’s when we are feeling so ready that God actually holds us back. He wants us to wait for His timing and in the meanwhile, to learn some very important lessons.

About the time that God deems us ready, we suddenly see things realistically. An up-close view of the mountain that looked so glorious from a distance is rather overwhelming! Even so, it’s time to do this thing: face the challenges, do the spiritual battle.

Once we’re in the thick of things, we have to learn to stay the course. Jumping into God’s beautiful purposes for us is one thing, staying in an arena where we are constantly stretched and challenged is another. We are called to “last long, finish strong.”

(I’ll probably write more about those stages after I dive deeper into the book.)

The truth is, this is all very simple. I knew this stuff already, deep down, but as I heard Dennis Rainey say on Family Life Today, “We all suffer from spiritual amnesia.” I’m grateful to be reminded.

Of course obeying God in the moment-to-moment is going to lead us to His ultimate, beautiful purposes for me.

Of course I can trust that if He’s called me to do something, He’ll bring it about in His perfect time.

Of course I cannot leave my family, the laundry pile, and other daily ministries, become a hermit, write a fabulous book and say it was “God’s calling on my life!”

Here’s praying for the grace to live by these truths… to trust that God is in charge of every single interruption… to trust that He knows — far better than I — how to accomplish the purposes for which I’ve been created, whatever they may be.

And now my kids are home from school to interrupt me. Bye.

A link to Susie Larson’s book:
Your Beautiful Purpose

My Brokenness: A Billboard of His Grace — Part 3


Ebenhack Family-126 edited

It’s been exactly three years since the day Haiti was turned upside down.

I wish that I could look at Port-au-Prince today and see healing. Millions of dollars were sent to mend and rebuild the broken city, and yet it is ravaged still.

Has there been healing that we cannot see? Healing of souls and minds? I pray so. I know from experience that it does not happen overnight. But I know from experience, that by God’s grace, it can happen.

While there are always fresh sorrows, and while there are seasons of unbearable grief or misery, there is still always the goodness of our God. “The steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…” (Psalm 103:17).

Over the past three years, the Lord poured out His steadfast love on this broken vessel through various means, and brought healing through each of them. Healing did not come in a sudden, miraculous form, as did our exodus from Haiti. It came slowly and painfully.

But healing came…

… through listeners: my husband, my mom, my dear friends.

… through professional Christian counseling: working through The PTSD Workbook: Simple, Effective Techniques for Overcoming Traumatic Stress Symptoms by Mary Beth Williams, and Crisis & Trauma Counseling by Dr. N. Norman Wright.

… through books: The Hidden Link Between Stress and Adrenaline  by Dr. Archbald Hart, Who Switched Off My Brain? by Dr. Caroline Leaf, Traveling Light: Releasing the Burdens You Were Never Intended to Bear by Max Lucado, One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp.

… through giving thanks — lying in bed, fighting panic, listing things both large and small for which I was grateful.

… through the renewing and retraining of my mind through Scripture and intentional new patterns of thought. (Romans 12:1-2, Philippians 4:6-7, Romans 8:6, Isaiah 26:3, principles found in Who Switched Off My Brain? Controlling Toxic Thoughts and Emotions by Dr. Caroline Leaf, Beth Moore’s Esther Bible Study)

… through both fitness and relaxation exercise.

… through the profound help of a holistic doctor who diagnosed my condition as adrenal fatigue.

… and finally, through time. Broken bones aren’t mended overnight. Nor can we recover from traumas overnight — even when we are walking in faith. (How much deeper even our faith can grow, when given time.)

Amongst my dear friends around the world, I know there are many who long for healing or resolution. So many who are asking if God still sees… still cares. I have spent the better part of the last dozen years asking the same thing. And because of the painful journey, I can answer with absolute certainty that He does.

Today, I remember the horrific suffering experienced by a nation already too accustomed to despair. I also feel the sadness of those in different, but equally dark circumstances.

Yet at the same time, I give glory to my God, who is sovereign, whose loving-kindness endures forever, and who promises to one day wipe every tear from the eyes of those who are His own.

Psalm 103

Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

The Lord works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.
He made known his ways to Moses,
his acts to the people of Israel.
The Lord is merciful and gracious,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
He will not always chide,
nor will he keep his anger forever.
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us.
13 As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
14 For he knows our frame;[a]
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass;
he flourishes like a flower of the field;
16 for the wind passes over it, and it is gone,
and its place knows it no more.
17 But the steadfast love of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him,
and his righteousness to children’s children,
18 to those who keep his covenant
and remember to do his commandments.
19 The Lord has established his throne in the heavens,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Bless the Lord, O you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his word,
obeying the voice of his word!
21 Bless the Lord, all his hosts,
his ministers, who do his will!
22 Bless the Lord, all his works,
in all places of his dominion.
Bless the Lord, O my soul!

Road to Limbe

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