We thought it would be good to give you a real life picture of the difference joyful relational skills make. When we think about joyful transformation, we think of Anna Hill. It has been a delight to watch Anna’s life literally to be transformed over the years. So today Anna is going to share about joy transforming her family and ministry. It is so full of good stuff we are going to make it Part I about her personal transformation and how that affected her family.
We’ll start out by defining what joy is and that will give a context for everything else.
Joy Defined: Joy for me is not that jumping up and down, Christmas morning type of feeling. Joy has really become, “It is well with my soul” in the midst of whatever is happening around me. Joy is a peace, a knowing that God is in control.
My family is why Thrive and joy matter to me. Those little grandchildren…there is nothing that fills a heart more. I want to see them grow and live healthy lives. So that is really what started to drive me into this journey.
My Journey — As an adult I received a lot of prayer ministry because I recognized that I had learned some unhealthy behaviors as a child. “Did I do okay? Did I do good?”
When you grow up with those insecurities or with alcoholic parents, and pain, you learn how to act mature whether you are or not. You learn how to act joyful and hide what’s going on inside. I learned very well how to act like I was a good Christian–it was important to me. I wanted to be the best Christian I could be.
When I married and started having a family I thought I needed some help so I went for prayer ministry. I also went to psychologists for help. I did all kinds of things to try to be better and to fill a hole that felt like a gunshot to my stomach…a hole in the middle of my gut that felt like everybody could see right through.
I knew how to act and talk–I learned the language of Christianity. I was a leader in ministries for the church. So, people would not have known how much pain I was in. I knew I should be joyful. Christians are joyful, happy people. I should be joyful. That added to my pain because I could not understand why I was not. What’s wrong with me that I am not joyful? That difference between what I knew was possible and my reality became a huge amount of shame. The shame was overwhelming and led to depression, suicidal thoughts and prescription drug addiction.
I learned as a young mom which drugs to take to numb that hole in my stomach. I described it as “this emptiness.” I knew how to ask the doctor for what drugs I needed. I tried to appear strong. If you had just met me, you would not have thought there was anything wrong, but inside I was absolutely dying. I weak, broken and in so much pain…so, I tried harder to be joyful. I tried harder to do the things that I thought I should do. I worked hard as a mom so that my kids would not struggle. I wanted my kids to be happy; I wanted them to not feel the pain I felt.
Gentle Protector Skills — The 19 relational brain skills are now called The Gentle Protector Skills in the new Joy Starts Here book.
Transformation for me happened when I began to realize the piece about joy and the piece about maturity. I received so much prayer ministry. I was the one who would be at the front of the church being prayed for. I was the one people gathered around and prayed for–and prayed and prayed and prayed. But I still did the things I didn’t want to do. I still did things that were not like me to do!
The first two or three years I went to Thrive I learned about maturity. Emotionally I was an infant. I did not have people who could identify my weakness and speak into the weakness. In fact, what I experienced was more a lot of strong people making it worse. I knew I wanted my children to see and experience a different mum—a mum who could get off the couch.
The Strong and The Weak Together—When I met Chris and some of the people involved in the early years of Thrive, I realized that they were weak but yet they were functioning well. They were able to minister and speak into me and help me mature. Maturity wasn’t something that was, “Okay, I am going to do 1, 2, 3, & 4 and then by next Monday at noon, I am going to be mature.” That’s what we all want, but maturity is about the weak and the strong working together. It is about having people in your life who can help you in the maturity process and download those relational skills when you need them.
One thing that was frustrating to me early on was that Chris, would just say, “Yeah, just keep practicing.” And I would say, “Chris, I know it, I should just be able to do it!” He would be so gentle, “Just keep practicing; keep practicing!” It is life changing.
We hope this is clear to everyone; literally, you want to start practicing these skills and as you practice them on the good days they will translate into the hard days and the bad days. But, if you do not practice them on the good days, then do not expect them to be there when the storms hit. You practice it on the good days, not when you are in crisis. Chris
Tender Responses To Weakness—I needed tender responses. That was something I had never experienced much of growing up. I had to learn through healing and through Thrive Training how to give tender responses. The tender response wasn’t so much about my words; it was more through my voice tone, and facial expression that I was able to communicate that I am glad to be with you. It wasn’t something that I had to “drum up,” it was a part of me. I naturally wanted to respond tenderly but how to do that had not been modeled for me so I didn’t know how.
I worked really hard at interacting with Jesus and practiced the presence of Jesus. I practiced asking questions. I would often say, “Chris, this is what this event is telling me…” When things happened I would say “I am feeling shame or I am feeling …” and Chris would help correct my interpretation of an event. I often see that happenings are misinterpreted. Just taking the time to ask Jesus, “Jesus show me where you are; Jesus show me what you are doing. Jesus, show me how You see me.” Doing that created a greater sense of belonging in my family. My kids and people around me naturally want to be with someone who is glad to be with them. To this day, I still interpret some events incorrectly but I have people I can go to and ask, “Is this what you thought of this?”
These things continue to be really important for me—the mind sight and Jesus, how do You see me? Those things are key for transformation.
Attachment Styles—At a marriage retreat my husband and I were able to look at and study the attachment styles. I learned that when my husband was in the garage or was not being relational with me that he was not necessarily rejecting me; rather, his attachment style is to be dismissive. I tend to be more of the distracted style so the more I would chase Garth to be relational with him, the more overwhelmed he would become and the more dismissive he became. It would trigger all those feelings of rejection in me! In learning about attachment styles, I was able to see that he was struggling himself. His dismissive style isn’t about me. That was HUGE in learning how to be in a healthy marriage; how to be in a healthy relationship.
Overwhelm—One skill that I did not do very well was to quiet. I grew up with chaos around me, lots of fighting and lots of pain. I lived in constant overwhelm. I had to learn to recognize when I was overwhelmed. Not knowing that overwhelm was my normal, I believed that was what life was! I remember the times I spent with Chris, sitting quietly. I didn’t have to talk. It really calms the spirit; it took me a while to learn what overwhelm was NOT.
What I believed was that you pushed through. You shut up and do it anyway. If you don’t like something, if it is overwhelming, you do it anyway. You push through and you push through and you push through. And that is how I raised my kids–to push through. I had no idea what it was even like to have peace, to not be overwhelmed, to not have sleep disorders, to not be stuck in depression.
Overwhelm is not our natural state but I really thought that it was. Now I listen to myself. I say NO sometimes when the kids or clients asks for something. Sometimes I turn my phone on “silent” so that I don’t become overwhelmed. These new behaviors are filling in some of those gaps in my own maturity. Learning to take care of myself, learning to say no, and learning to do hard things are developmental tasks that I should have learned at earlier stages in my maturity. But the good news is that they can be learned and I now have strengthened those areas.
Other strategies that can help when in an overwhelmed state are appreciation and quieting. Appreciation is very helpful to me when in an overwhelmed state. To be able to think in the midst of a struggle, “What am I thankful for?” When Mum was in the hospital I could say that I appreciated the doctor and the staff. I appreciated God’s presence. I appreciated that I was able to sleep for a couple hours. Finding things to appreciate, along with the quieting, is really helpful.
When I have been able to quiet my chest feels strong, I feel content. I feel less shame. That is the big thing…I feel so much less shame. I remember one time when I was with Chris. He was ministering and then we went for supper afterward. I just wanted to go home and crawl under a blanket. Staying relational with Chris in the midst of that was hard. When you realize you were able to do a hard thing, you feel empowered.
I recognize that I am still sometimes overwhelmed. Last night some things happened, I hit overwhelmed and I didn’t act like myself. However, I was able to quiet and go back, talk it through and not be weighed down by shame. My ability to recover has improved. And that was a skill that was missing. No one of us is perfect. Just because we are in a place of leadership does not mean that we are in tune, 100% of the time with all the skills…but, now I have learned to recover — that is huge.
Mind sight and the heart sight helped me improve my ability to recover. To recover would be to take a step back, to quiet, appreciate and interact with Jesus and then go back. For example, yesterday it was my son. I came back and said, “You know son, I think that I put too much pressure on you and I am sorry that I did that. Then he said, “It’s no big deal Mum.” But, yeah, you were overwhelmed and I didn’t recognize that you were overwhelmed and I am sorry for that.
The mind sight skill is when you are able to put yourself in his shoes and kind of predict or guess or imagine what he must be feeling. And heart sight, or God sight, is asking what God sees when he looks at someone or a situation. That is actually a learned skill. Mind sight starts at about 5 mo. of life when you realize there are people behind those faces you see, people with feelings and hurts. Practicing mind sight is seeing things from another’s perspective. And heart sight is asking God what He sees about this.
Another result of restoring like that is the safety that it brings. Even if my son could not fully acknowledge what I was offering and sharing, what I did would have created safety in him because, “Mom gets it, Mom gets me even if I don’t tell her that maybe.” The result is that I feel safe with you.
Quieting—The thing I hear a lot of people say is, “my kids are too old, I missed it. My kids have left home.” Now when my little Cadence is overwhelmed, I see her mom and dad pick her up, take her to another room, sing softly to her and hold her. Within 90 seconds she is back and ready to play. She needed a little bit of quiet; she just needed to catch her breath.
Quiet is huge for my grandson, Deegan. It is a significant bonding tool for him. The way my daughter does quiet with him is to sit him on her lap. If there is a behavior issue she does not give a time out or “Go to your room.” “It is Deegan, come here, you need to quiet.” He starts by kicking and screaming. She talks to him and sings to him; he quiets down. He is quiet for a bit and then he is ready to go. He now will ask for quiet time when he knows he is becoming overwhelmed. He spent some time with me yesterday and he said, “Nanna, blanket, quiet.” I think that is crucial.
My kids are learning quieting through teaching it to my grandkids. When I see them pick up their children, my precious grandchildren, and help them quiet…I can’t even put into words what that feels like (chokes on emotion). There is a lot of safety there.
To my family I often say, “We need to build joy” or, “We need to quiet.” Sometimes they roll their eyes and say, “Oh, Mum! It is just mum and her stuff.” I do it anyway. The kids learn just because I do it!
If you have not known how to quiet, it is good to have an idea of what happens with your body when you do quiet so you recognize it. When I first started to practice quiet, it did not feel natural. It felt uncomfortable. The more I practiced; my body began to feel comfortable. I wouldn’t wear my shoulders up to my head like ear rings; they would be relaxed and sloped. Quieting helped me slow inside and I felt restored. You feel like you can come out of that quiet and be okay. You can carry on with life. When you don’t know how to quiet, you are just trying to keep your head above water. You feel like the waves are just knocking you down; negative emotions are robbing you. It is kind of miserable.
A Hard Test—About a year and a half ago, my mum got sick and this is where I saw the Thrive skills come to my rescue. I was amazed at how well I coped through that. My mum was broken—a life of addiction and pain. A life of many relationships; she was just a pain filled lady. She was not able to build joy with me; our relationship was not a healthy, great relationship. She became ill and I think she was seeing some of these gentle protector skills emerge in me so she moved closer so that I could help her. We went through a journey of cancer–a diagnosis and treatment. Then we received the bad news that she was not going to get any better. She would continue to have pain and suffer until Jesus took her home.
I knew that my mum had faith. I was able to sit with her; the last six weeks in the hospital were really difficult physically. But, I was able to ask Jesus where He was and see Him rubbing my mum’s feet. I saw Him with His hand on my shoulder. The two days before Mum passed we had amazing conversations. We talked and prayed and prayed and one of the last things Mum said to me was, “I’m sorry.” We prayed the Lord’s Prayer together numerous times—that was so special.
As a family we gathered around her hospital bed and were able to sing her into heaven. I know that the peace and joy that I felt would not have been possible without the Thrive skills—The Gentle Protector Skills. I would never have expected to experience that much peace and that much healing. My heart still hurts; I still miss my mum. I miss the special times we had toward the end and the love that grew between us. It almost made the grief more intense because I had a taste of what we could have had. God gave us a huge gift.
I know that the Thrive skills got me through. Up until then I had been seeing and experiencing little things. Going through this journey really solidified for me that this stuff really works. It is a huge, huge blessing to me.
We will continue Anna’s testimony of how the Gentle Protector Skills have enriched her ministry in the next blog post. We hope her testimony gives you hope for your life, your family, your ministry.
May your joy be full,
Chris and Carol
Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, www.thrivetoday.org
Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive www.fromgodsheart.com
Anna is a leader in Edmonton, Canada; she started the Thrive Training up there. She is on staff with the West Edmonton Church of God.
This blog is based on the Pastors’ Weekly October 10, 2013.