Crisis…what can you do?

Crisis is alwaysDepression3.png difficult, but crisis during holidays leaves a deeper and more significant mark that can haunt you for a long time. For some, grief slides into depression and from depression to hopeless despair. The holiday becomes a trigger that releases restraints. Pain becomes intolerable and the enemy whispers, “Torment will never stop, so… go ahead. You can end it.” And a suicide attempt is made.

What do loved ones do? What can they do? This question was presented at one of our Round Table discussions and we thought we should share Dr. Wilder’s answer.

If you are trained in hopeless despair, then join them in that emotion. The lie is that no one wants to be with them in their hopelessness. The truth is that Jesus always wants to be with us—even in our hopelessness! Truth is that Jesus in you can and does love them through you. But words are not much good. They need you to be with them—to be Jesus with skin on for them.

By “trained” we mean that you need to know who you are, what it is like you to be in this emotion, who Jesus is, who you are in Him and remember who you are, even in hopeless despair. Knowing (not just in your head) what it is like you to be in this emotion, who Jesus is and what it is like Jesus to be, and who you are in Him will keep you from slipping into despair yourself. Hopeless despair will not be able to entwine itself in your emotions and drag you down.

A word of caution:

If you are in crisis now (or your family member is) find a mature counselor near you right now. Crisis is no time to train. When the crisis is past and you want to train yourself to deal with hopeless despair then contact us for training. Contacting Chris Coursey would be good. The Connexus training is not set up to deal with hopeless despair enough to be considered a training program. It is more for getting people on the joy track and keeping them there. 

Once the crisis has passed, two relational skills you can practice with this person are quieting (skill 2) and appreciation (skill 4).  Skills 2 & 4 build a person’s capacity for joy, which in a crisis is at low ebb.

Skill 2 – Quieting


Relationships require a rhythm of joy and rest. You rest then cycle back to joy. You build joy and return to rest. This moment by moment interaction leaves you satisfied. Short moments of rest provide strength and stamina for more joy. You see this in infants who reflexively look away from interactions once they reach a peak of joy. They quickly return for more face-to-face joy, and the dance continues.

When synchronized, energy levels mutually climb and drop. Your brain knows these patterns and the fun feels natural. Lack of rest makes you feel overwhelmed. Alternating joy with rest prevents relational casualties. Quieting is the rest period between the high joy times. Quieting releases serotonin on an “as needed” basis to recharge your relational battery. Serotonin leaves you content and peaceful.

Skill 4 – Appreciation

Skill4.pdfAppreciation, when shared, activates your relational circuits, resettles your nervous system, and releases a cocktail of bonding hormones so you feel connected and peaceful. You are in your best form when Skill Four permeates your interactions. The student of Scripture will discover frequent reminders to remember, appreciate, enjoy, and meditate on the good stuff. “Be thankful” in good times and bad.

Thanks to dopamine, learning something new builds memories, strengthens long-term memories, and helps you grow closer with people. In order to become a usable brain skill, appreciation must be practiced, enjoyed, and shared on a daily basis. Thankfully, you can use appreciation on your own. Appreciation keeps you focused on what is important to keep you free from regrets and guilt. You restore appreciation when you ask, “What am I thankful for today?” You share appreciation when you express appreciation. Start and end your day with appreciation and you will notice more energy, a more positive outlook and an increase in stamina to navigate hardship. Your health and relationships will thank you. For example:

3-3-3- Appreciation Exercise can easily be incorporated into family functions like at the supper table. Name 3 things about each other, 3 things about your family, and 3 things about God that you appreciate.

Resources for Skills Two and Four:

  • Joy Starts Here: The Transformation Zone
  • JoyQ Assessment
  • 30 Days of Joy for Busy Married Couples
  • Jesus In Mind: Talks on Kingdom Life
  • THRIVE Skill Guides—52 Weeks Of Training Exercises

Mastering Joy and Rest

Mastering Returning to Joy

Mastering Applied Strategy

Training Opportunities: For More Information Click Here then click on the “training tab”

  • Connexus
  • THRIVE 5-day Training
  • 2015 in Austin, TX and
  • July in Grand Rapids, MI
  • Joy Rekindled Marriage Retreats

If you have further questions regarding crisis response,

May your joy be full,

Chris & Carol

Chris Coursey, MA Theology – Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer,

Twitter – @coursey_chris

Carol A. Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive

Carol’s email –

P.S. Update on Chris’s back. He will be receiving an epideral for pain control and we will see how that goes. Chris and I have decided while he is receiving treatment, to shelve  the writing of the book for pastors because of the non-stop pain. He needs to focus his limited energy on basics and family during his small window of functionality. Because of that we are pointing everyone to the Joy Starts Here blog– This blog will be put on hold until Chris is back to himself!


Holidays and Attachments…(what’s the connection?)

Attachments Are Life’s Connections 


As we approach the holiday season it is a time of great pain for many people. Some are very clear about the source of the pain they feel, while for others the holidays evoke a deep pain that seems to have no clear source. Life hurts. The music, decorations, and pictures of family love and joy are stark reminders of what they don’t have. It takes them on a downward spiral into a holiday depression. Your attachments, or lack thereof, to primary people are a key to understanding your holiday funk. (Photo courtesy of Meilee Anderson)


(Photo credit © wittybear –

The Foundation –Many people these days build homes. There are essential steps in putting up a house.  The contractor must be very careful to have a foundation that is level and secure.  If there is a faulty foundation, the house will be unstable, not sound.  Ground must be level, smooth, and solid.  Even a small problem with the base will directly effect the rest of the building.  A competent, trustworthy contractor is very cautious in this beginning phase, being aware of the slightest detail. The owner of a house with an improper foundation will be in for a lot of work, worry, and expense.  Similarly, when our bonds are not secure we are in for a lot of pain and distress.

What is Attachment–According to Daniel Siegel, attachment is an inborn system in the brain that evolves in ways that influence and organize motivational, emotional, and memory processes with respect to significant caregiversThe attachment system motivates an infant to seek closeness to parents and to establish communication with them. [1]

Attachments are imperative for a child to seek out mom and dad for comfort, love, joy, and result in strong emotional/mental health when formed.  Attachments are foundational for organizing a healthy internal state of mind and for joyful, fulfilling relationships.

Secure attachment is one where parents attune, or are sensitive to the child’s needs.

clip_image009.jpg Insecure attachment is when the parents fail to remain sensitive at meeting needs.

Attachments are selective; only certain people will do when the infant seeks to bond.

Bonds form security for the infant that will be needed as he/she grows older and develops an independent and group identity.


By eighteen months, a child develops “evocative memory”.  This is a form of remembering through the image of faces, voice tone, smell, taste, and touch. [2]  Evocative memory is an internalized image in the memory, which brings comfort and security for the child if mom is unavailable.  Life giving interaction takes a healthy mom who can be sensitive to the child’s needs when it is time to build joy and when it is time to rest.  Early years are a fragile time for the infant.  If mom pushes joy building when the infant needs to rest, the experience becomes overwhelming and traumatizing.  Mom needs to be sensitive to what the baby desires, and what the baby does not need.  The ability to differentiate the two energy states strengthens the child’s mind, builds, and equips the emotional center.  The right hemispheric control center needs to be strong for all the roads an individual will travel, and emotions the child will confront.  The more practice, the better the child will be at regulating emotions and staying relational in distress.

Depressed 3

There will be no greater pain for a child than a parent who is distracted and unresponsive to the child’s needs and fails to respond when the child requires connecting.   Neglect, the absence of a connection, is experienced as a “death”, and the child will probably spend the rest of his/her life trying to avoid, mask, or numb the pain.  This child may experience relationships as anything but fun, exciting and enjoyable.  People may become a means to an end, objects of pain/pleasure, or bristles on a fragile wound.

Attachment pain can be the cause for addictions, compulsions, disorders, and a number of other symptoms and problems.  Attachment pain can instigate affairs, divorces, drug/alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, physical abuse, and many other disastrous situations.  Oftentimes attachment pain goes unnoticed, unrecognized, or mis-diagnosed.










 (Photo courtesy of Meilee Anderson)

Attachment pain can be intensified during holidays by pictures of delighted children opening gifts, happy families gathered around groaning tables of food, scenes of happy shoppers, and the ever present joyful Christmas music.

This is the first in a series of five on attachment pain. If you have a short story about low joy and the holidays that you could share, please do. It may help someone who struggles emotionally this time of year.(Photo courtesy of Meilee Anderson)

[1] Developing Mind, by Daniel Siegel, pg. 67

[2] Developing Mind, pg. 71

Thrive Training Reminder…

Feb. 23-27, in Austin, Texas

July 26-31, 2015 in Grand Rapids, Michigan

Registration Information here.

May your joy be full,

Chris & Carol

Chris Coursey, MA Theology – Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer,

Twitter – @coursey_chris

Carol A. Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive

Carol’s email –




What it looks like—

Sitting home alone in your living room… suddenly you hear an urgent warning on the television. A ferociously large tornado is rapidly heading toward your city. A twinge of fear passes through you. I thought the forecast said it was going to be sunny today, you think. You glance out the front window and notice the sky turning dark. Swirling clouds form before your eyes. Branches on your trees begin shaking violently. Fear grows but so does your sense of helplessness. You have nowhere to go. Your house has no basement.  You search the room, almost expecting an answer to fall from heaven. You hear your neighborhood alarm sounding. Your fear grows and your heart races. You breathe rapidly, palms become sweaty and your mind floods with pictures of tornados and their devastation. You try to think of what to do next but nothing comes. You feel helpless.  Your stomach squeezes into a knot, you swallow hard.  Memories of past tornado devastation flash through your mind.



Suddenly the phone rings, jerking you from your trance and disrupting your mind. Your body is energized and shaky. You quickly leap to answer the phone before the second ring. You recognize your neighbor yelling and screaming jumbled words about a tornado approaching your house. Suddenly the phone goes dead. Time is running out. You can’t reach help. You can’t escape. A sense of hopeless despair floods in converting your terror into DREAD. You throw the phone down and clutch your head. Panic overwhelms you. Terror surges! You want to call your loved ones and warn them what is happening but you can’t. Hopelessness surges. You want them to pray. There is no basement to run to, or shelter to hide in. This feels hopeless. Time is not on your side. Hopeless despair grows. You feel frozen. The door shakes, the windows make a cracking sound and you hear what sounds like thunder getting louder and louder. Terror rushes through your veins. Like water slipping away down the drain, the sense of imminent danger (terror) and seeing no way out (hopeless despair) locks you up in dread. It paralyzes you.

Though this scenario is fictional, you can easily picture and imagine your words, actions, and responses. You visualize the events and anticipate your decisions. You think about your options, how you would act under such a stressful situation. You estimate how you would respond. Most recognize this familiar pain and feel despair and fear, even as you ponder the above situation. You cringe as you imagine feeling this way for an extended period of time. The internal agony of so much turmoil leaves you bewildered and disoriented.

What dread is and what it does to you—

????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????Dread is a combination of terror and hopeless despair. Though you may not recognize dread when it hits, you may be familiar with its horrible sensations. Dread intrudes upon your thoughts and disrupts your peace. Dread envelops your outlook and easily transforms your perspective. Dread takes a toll on your health, work, family, and relationships. Dread leaves you weary, restless, and irritable.

Unless you grew up with plenty of practice returning to joy from terror and hopeless despair, you will not fare well with dread and would rather avoid the feeling altogether. It is a suffocating cloak, easy to put on and hard to remove.

A deer caught in the headlights


This toxic combination causes a deer caught in the headlights physical response. It is similar to the engine of a car that has the accelerator and brake pressed at the same time. The consequence, if not immediate, will be wear and tear on your nervous system.

Terror, a sympathetic response, energizes you. It produces a decrease in serotonin and raises your dopamine levels. The means your ability to self-quiet and calm diminishes. Your state becomes attentive and watchful. A steady flow of adrenaline into your bloodstream gives you energy. Your heart races; you breathe short, quick breaths, your pupils dilate and you begin to problem solve.

Hopeless despair, the parasympathetic response, drains you of energy. is You lack hope and lose motivation. You want to hide, shrink and sleep. Depression sucks the life out of you. Dopamine levels drop and serotonin levels rise. A constant release of adrenaline and cortisol without a change in your environment or a release by your body causes trouble. Hopeless despair is your inability to see a way out of a situation or circumstance. Even the thought of a dreadful scenario, which replays in your mind, can produce a physical reaction, as if it were happening at that moment. Psychological distress generates body signals, urgent warnings of problems and disturbances.

How much damage does an engine sustain when you press the accelerator and brake?  Imagine if the above tornado illustration was going to happen the next week, and then the following week, week after week! Would you be able to rest, be still, and have peace knowing you are a few days away from another disaster? How would you cope? Hopefully, you would have plenty of practice and training to be yourselves and suffer well rather than become traumatized. Hopefully you would rely on a large God for such a large problem. Unless you practice, train and utilize your resources distressing situations prove challenging and debilitating.

Where do you see dread in the bible?

How about when Saul and his army stood in battle array before the Philistines? Unexpectedly a huge, powerful giant-man named Goliath appears sporting a hefty shield, sword, and spear. He arrogantly confronts and mocks the Israelites. This overwhelmingly adversary triggers enormous panic among the army of Israel. They frantically problem solve and flee.1 Next, the soldiers regroup and strategize. You almost feel their alarm and fright upon Goliath’s appearance, then their gloom and despair at the bleak circumstances. The army struggles with despair. What will happen next?

Imagine their racing thoughts, “Who will go out and face this giant? Who is the brave soul to fix and put an end to this mess?” Dread consumes them and they wait. Thankfully one young shepherd named David had some experience (and faith) in this area. David, acting like himself, quickly volunteered and overcame with the help of Israel’s God. David had plenty of experience fighting lions and bears.2 We hypothesize that David had much training tackling his terror, overcoming his hopeless despair, and returning to joy. God’s faithfulness brings about a victory through David as he conquers the giant and returns Israel to joy.

You can handle dread like a winner when you practice and train with those who are experienced. You triumph over dread when you grow up with parents who know who they are and act like themselves when they feel afraid or hopeless. Capable trainers are those who stay relational while they experience the specific emotion. You learn to avoid emotions when mom and dad forget who they are when afraid or hopeless. Possibly you will sidetrack to other emotions. This occurs when you jump to another emotion rather than stay in the specific emotion of terror or despair. Men usually experience intense anger and rage when afraid while women may experience sadness. If you can’t handle one emotion, surely two of them simultaneously disable you at the most and hinder you at the least. You hit your desired target when you return to joy from dread.

What you can do about it–

You resolve the dread dilemma when you find an experienced partner. A qualified companion is one who is available to spend time with and teach you how to act like yourself amidst distress. Practice and training allows you to become a capable “sufferer” who can handle fear and despair among other emotions and not be traumatized. You find hope and relief when dread no longer consumes you. This means you do not panic and fret when a tornado approaches or a giant stands before you. Rather, you find yourself actively on your knees praying or putting stones in your pouch rather than reacting. You find liberation when you stay relational during distress and act like yourself. You may even hear God speak, as He spoke to a man named Job out from the whirlwind!

1 – 1 Samuel 17:24

2 – 1 Samuel 17:34 +

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May your JOY be full,

Chris & Carol

Chris Coursey, MA Theology – Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer,

Twitter – @coursey_chris

Carol A. Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive

Carol’s email –



When Essential Brain Skills Are Missing-Case Study-Part 2

Brains-Amplify.pngIn the last blog, I talked about what it looks like in real life when one or more essential relational brain skills are missing and how that played out in one family. I described the rule of thumb that when our brain does not have the skill of returning to joy from one or more emotions, then we will do almost anything to avoid that feeling.

Michelle was a highly sensitive burden bearer, who had been made the family scapegoat. There are three ironies in making her the scapegoat.

Irony One: Michelle who was accused of intending to be harsh to her dying mother, was the family scapegoat precisely because she was the most tender hearted in her family of origin. Michelle’s heart was very tender. Being highly sensitive, she was actually the safest family member. She would cause the least amount of pain because when she did inflict pain, she felt it and sooner or later that caused her to stop. Increasingly, she learned to trust Jesus and worked to use her sensitivity to avoid inflicting pain in the first place.  Some evidence of Michelle being the safest one in her family was that when family members could not avoid feeling hurt, they went to Michelle and confided in her.

Irony Two: Michelle was angrily accused of being mean but she was the main person, aside from the father, who helped her family learn the way back to joy from anger. He also kept the mother’s alcoholism under control.

You see, the one who was the kindest, the one who worked the hardest to make things better, the one who was the most apt to forgive made it possible for angry siblings to become less angry, calm down, and even return to being glad to be together. Things may not have been allowed to be talked through to resolution, yet Michelle’s ability to be a sponge and absorb without always dishing back in kind, made it possible for emotions to settle down.

If Michelle was as mean to others as they were to her, they would never have learned a way out of anger. If Michelle was as angry and mean as the accuser said, none of them would have ever learned a way out of anger. It was her kindness and her sensitivity that found a way to forgive and be glad to be together again.

Irony Three: Michelle’s love was characterized as meanness. She loved people, including her family even more than she loved the comfort of their alliance. Linda, who characterized herself as loving actually loved the comfort she gained from having Mom as an ally more than she loved Mom.

You can see this dynamic in Jesus with the rich ruler in Luke 18:18. Jesus loved the rich young ruler and he loved him enough to caringly confront that man with his need to sell all he had so he could own things instead of things owning him. If Jesus had loved being admired by the man more than he loved the man, he would have been “nice” and enabled the man to stay in denial rather than say anything that would upset him. Even a loving correction can hurt like a wound. The truth is that Jesus loved the man enough to risk losing him and sure enough when Jesus told him the truth with love, the man walked away. He walked away sad rather than angry, but still he walked away. The Bible calls what Jesus did “an open rebuke”, a wound that “can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:5-6). There are times and places to do that with love.

Let me say it again with the brain skill. If someone’s brain doesn’t know the way back to joy from sadness or fear, then they cannot make a loving open rebuke—a faithful correction. They could still make a correction from their anger, but that will be for self or from being out of control. It wouldn’t be for the sake of the other. If someone’s brain knows the way back to joy from sadness or fear, then they can risk losing the relationship for a time or even risk losing it permanently. They can risk giving a loving correction and risk being seen and talked about as being a mean person because they love the other person even more than they love the comfort that comes from the relationship, like Jesus.

Michelle would have loved for her mother to reconcile and acknowledge the harm caused by her narcissism. There was a long list of hurtful actions that the mother had not acknowledged. However, Michelle knew that her mother was probably incapable of apologizing for what she had done. It would have had to be a miracle from God. She would NEVER demand her mother’s acknowledgement—especially when she was weak and dying.

Michelle’s heart was to be loving, to make the mother’s passing as peaceful as possible. “Linda’s” story was a figment of her imagination—a way to distract and avoid the painful emotion of fear and the sadness of loss. She ran from these feelings to a familiar sanctuary (anger) because anger made her feel powerful. Fear made her feel powerless but anger made her feel powerful.

Like every person actively serving God, Michelle was a work in progress. She gave credit to God for continuing to renew her mind, for her husband’s love and support. She was involved in a small group whose members possessed these brain skills to varying degrees, though none felt they had arrived. She learned about burden bearing and through her group learned a larger understanding of the dynamic of being the family scapegoat. That alone was profoundly healing. The Lord used Jim Wilder’s ministry to give understanding of the importance of learning how to return to joy from painful emotions . She was learning the healing power of truth with love.

Footprints.pngTake Away Lesson: It takes time to build new connections in the brain and it takes time for the heart to heal from old hurts when ongoing behaviors create more wounds. But it is possible and vitally important to learn brain skills that were missing in the family dynamic. Learning the skills makes it possible to stop the hurtful patterns from repeating in successive generations.

May your joy be full,

Chris & Carol

Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer,

Twitter – @coursey_chris

Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive                        Carol’s email —

p.s. Last 2014 Thrive Training to learn these brain skills:

Date: July 14th – 18th, 2014
Holiday Inn, East Peoria, IL. USA
Registration: Is now open!
Click here to register.
Find Out More

When Essential Brain Skills Are Missing-Case Study-Part 1

We can talk about essential relational brain skills and you can read about them…but what does it actually look like in real life when one or more are missing? How does it play out in the family dynamic?


The general rule of thumb is that when we are missing the brain skills for dealing with even one emotion, like anger or sadness, then we will avoid that emotion at all costs. Avoiding out of wisdom is one thing, but avoiding out of fear can be costly.

When we lack the brain skills to deal with one or more emotions, we will go through all sorts of contortions to avoid feeling those emotions. This includes contorting the truth and even putting others through serious hurt.

What is Needed — We have learned (consciously or unconsciously) that if we feel that emotion, we become lost, or stuck in it. We need to learn how to return to joy when there has been a rupture in our relationships where one or both people are not glad to be together. These brain skills are not something we can learn from a book or lecture. We learn this best through face to face interaction with others who have learned them.

sharing joy

Case Study —  In this case a number of essential skills were missing in the matriarch of the family. She fit the profile of being narcissistic. We will look only at the essential relational brain skill of “return to joy from fear and sadness.” Because “Ruth” (fictional name), the matriarch, did not have the skill, none of her children learned it in childhood.

The impending death of the matriarch set off overwhelming fear of loss in one sibling. We will call her “Linda”. I don’t know which was the most painful for Linda, fear or sadness but the fear of loss combines both of them. Since Linda did not know how to find her way back to joy from fear or sadness, those emotions felt unsafe to her. She avoided feeling fear or sadness at all costs.

Anger is often the “go to” emotion to avoid fear—a person may know how to return to joy from anger, but not how to return from fear or sadness. Linda’s mind rescued her from the fear of loss by pulling out bits and pieces of the family history which she wove together with newly imagined “facts” to create a potential scenario which she “knows” to be truth.

She drew on the family dynamic of “Michelle” as the scapegoat of the family. Any family member who did not know how to process an emotional event would conveniently find Michelle and angrily blame her for something real or imagined. After the explosion the family member felt better (self-righteousness is a stronghold in the family line). However, the explosions left Michelle staggering under the load of blame, accusation and shame–even for things she did not do.

Michelle was eldest child, so as well as being the scapegoat, she also had the role of being the responsible one, the one everyone went to when they needed fixing. They were saying, in essence, “Come sister, grab my pain, grab our pain, come and make it better.” They were unconsciously using and abusing Michelle’s high sensitivity, her empathy or as we call it, burden bearing ability. Michelle did  this for so long, it was as reflexive as breathing. She began asking the Lord to help her have boundaries for her sensitivity a number of years before her mother’s death.

Fear–As mother’s death approached, Linda’s mind put together the story that Michelle would come to the bedside of her dying mother and make a scene. She would insist the mother apologize for a laundry list of hurts and slights and demand the mother ask forgiveness for a multitude of sins, and break the mother’s heart. Linda spewed horror and outrage that Michelle could be so insensitive and unloving.

The payoff for Linda in creating an uproar was that she could feel justified in her anger and avoid seeing how she was using anger to avoid feeling fear and sadness from the anticipated loss of mother.

Taking Sides–All her life, Linda took sides and insisted that others take sides. She chose mother’s side and made her identity to be “the good daughter who takes care of mother.” When mother died, who would she be? Unfortunately, when she identified so closely with mother, she also picked up the narcissistic behaviors that mother modeled. The mother was capable of causing the most hurt, i.e. she was the most unsafe person in the family. Consciously or unconsciously, Linda found it “wise” to side with the strongest, most dangerous person.

When Mom died, Linda lost her most powerful ally. She felt vulnerable and fearful and attempted to fortify her position. She defaulted to anger to avoid feeling her fear and attempted to recruit everyone to her side leaving Michelle as “the bad guy.”

Michelle and Linda’s brother and Michelle’s son were normally close to Michelle so those alliances were threatening to Linda. She worked to draw both brother and nephew into her vortex. She filled them with her imaginary scenario and her outrage over what Michelle would do. Looking at things through Linda’s eyes, they became offended, outraged, and pulled away from Michelle–even refused to speak to her.

They also tended to avoid feeling fear and sadness and it never had been safe to disagree with Linda, especially when she was angry. It was much safer to be angry at Michelle. She would forgive you and you could find your way back to joy with Michelle, back to being glad to be together. 

Take Away Lesson: Missing skills in one generation will have a ripple effect on the following generations within a family. Those who invest in learning these brain skills are investing in the health of their family and future generations.

Next week we will bring you the conclusion of this case study. We hope you will be able to use this and other case studies we write up to help identify the missing skills at the root of problems you encounter in your ministry.

May your joy be full,

Chris & Carol

Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer,

Twitter – @coursey_chris

Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive                  

p.s. Last 2014 Thrive Training to learn these brain skills:

Date: July 14th – 18th, 2014
Holiday Inn, East Peoria, IL. USA
Registration: Is now open!
Click here to register.
Find Out More

From Ashes to Beauty – A Tornado Update

It’s been three weeks since an F4 tornado struck Central Illinois, shredding homes and destroying 20% of my hometown. One of the most devastating parts of this tragedy involves the reality that so many families have been uprooted. 1200 homes were damaged. Everybody knows somebody who was impacted. Every person seems to have a story from the morning of November 17th, what they were thinking or doing and how they responded. Sounds and images continue to sear minds and steer conversations. PTSD is far-reaching as people say things like, “I can’t sleep.” “My mind won’t stop.” “My daughter now cries for no reason.” “My son started throwing temper tantrums.” Some feel depressed and can’t get going while others are anxious and can’t seem to stop. 


Many are simply overwhelmed by the gravity of it all. People feel uncertain about the future and dazed by the past. The effect of such a powerful storm, in November nonetheless, cannot be forgotten. Life as we know it is turned upside down. Piles of debris adorn streets that once were friendly neighborhoods where children used to run and play. The scene looks surreal, as though some invading army dropped a bomb which shattered homes across the state. tornado 3

I noticed my body tense up once I first entered the afflicted area hit the hardest. I quickly realized that I could not find my way around all the wreckage so I used a map program on my phone to figure out where I was and locate where I was going. “How strange,” I thought to myself. “I used to roam these streets with my high school buddies only now; all signs of familiarity are gone.” It took less than 30 seconds as 200+ mph winds cleared homes and threw cars and minivans like they were leaves.

The story continues and there is hope on the horizon. The community is pulling together like never before. Accounts of salvation and unexplainable intervention paint a picture of God’s hand that remarkably saved countless lives and families. One church packed full of praying congregants huddled on their knees were spared as the tornado struck the parking lot then miraculously changed course with a last second shift in its path. Families’ report how some went to church for the first time in years that morning – which saved their lives since their homes were lost. Others fled to their basements as the tornado hurled debris, vehicles and trees at their homes.

A father was holding his two infants safe in his arms as the tornado struck his house. Once he opened his eyes, he saw his two infants safe and sound nearby while his lap was full of bricks. The tornado was big. The tornado was bad. Yet, God was good. For many who are looking for God, peace is replacing tension and pain while others still feel trapped in despair. 

One of my friends lived just on the line of the tornado and was a first responder to many of the demolished homes in his neighborhood. He described the scene to me, running up the stairs from his basement then peering out at the devastation from his deck. He ran to piles of rubble then grabbed dazed children as they were lifted out of basement windows, he helped shocked families climb out of debris. When we prayed together, he experienced TornadoefriendpicsmImmanuel change for the first time since the tornado and his perception of God being with him brought much-needed peace and relief, even some new perspective. During prayer he noticed a new “God thought”, and described how he perceived God carefully guided the tornado through the town for the least possible casualties. “God was protecting us” he said as a smile broke loose and melted away tension and anxiety. “God was with my family” he said, and now he could breathe easier.

 Tornado ChrisJen and I knew we needed to reach out and serve our community. Here we are, sitting on a gold-mine of training and resources that equips people to thrive, to start joy and to recover when things go wrong. “We must do something! But what?” we asked ourselves. We turned to Immanuel for guidance and felt God’s quiet affirmation, “I will bring the opportunities to you.” He has.

This Sunday, December 15th we are offering Share Immanuel training for leaders to learn basic tools at New Life Christian Church in Morton, Illinois. The following Wednesday, December 18, we invite the community for a time of ministry and prayer to help families find comfort, peace and joy by having the awareness of God’s presence.

There is not much time before these events take place and we pray God will bring people to these scheduled meetings who need some peace. We will follow up with more training events after Christmas. Will you pray with us that God will restore the ashes to beauty for this region?

Thanking you for your faithful prayer support,

Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, 

Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive                  

Road Hazards & Low Joy Congregations – Part 2 of 3

Understanding the metaphor of five common driving hazards is critical to the life and health of individuals, churches and communities. These hazards/conditions are a picture of low joy congregations. They also apply to the individual in that an individual low on joy can experience these same symptoms. Today we look at rain and fog (impaired vision leading to lack of growth), and black ice (an inability to manage emotions).

Hazards3 Suddenly out of the driving wetness you see a massive grill about to annihilate you…Rain and Fog create conditions similar to what happens when the strong and weak do not mix. Rain and fog impair vision so you cannot see what is coming or anticipate making corrections. Many near accidents happen because of those road conditions. Many accidents and casualties happen in congregations also when the strong, who have the resources and maturity, do not connect with those who are weaker.

 Part of how the strong continue to grow is by sharing and giving life. Those with few resources, or little maturity, grow by receiving and then giving. But when the two camps do not interact within the same community the weak stay stunted. The transaction of giving and receiving life does not happen.

Ed Khouri[1] says a kind of “recovery ghetto” develops within those churches. When you hurt, all you can focus on is what hurts. People with pain and problems are over here, and those of who are “fine” and “have it together” are over there. The goal for God’s body is for the two groups to interact and share life together, lest the weak remain in their pain and develop a problem centered focus.

I (Chris) recently sprained my back and it has been a very painful ordeal. But when my back is hurting and I am sitting there trying to focus on my computer, all I can think about is this throbbing pain!

That is what happens for those who find themselves in this place of pain. They focus on what hurts and may not know how not to focus on the pain.

The strong—those who have some maturity—remain in their comfort zones. They want to keep the status quo and do not rock the boat. They stay where they feel it is safe, which leads to a form of “keeping up appearances”.

I remember growing up in the church. I always believed that I had to have my best look—my best smile, my best clothes—I had to have the best for God and for people. The problem was that I didn’t feel like I could bring any dirty laundry. I wanted to hide my dirty laundry. I didn’t want people to know that I had dirty laundry. That kept me weak and stuck. And that is a common pattern.”

God’s Solution

tender response Isaiah 58 lays out God’s solution to these dynamics. It talks about a certain kind of fast that God wants from His people—a fast that cares for the weak. It stresses how those who seem to have it all together need to share—need to give some of that life.

Those who do not have a lot of life to give, for them it is time to receive. As pastors and leaders we want mutuality between the two camps so that the congregation becomes one camp, one body.


When the strong and weak do not mix there is a lack of a transformation zone, a comfort zone replaces it. The comfort zone impairs the vision much like rain and fog. There is a loss of vision and transformation doesn’t occur. People may know the words and talk the talk. A congregation may have the best music and the pastors give the best sermons, but if the strong and weak do not mix something is missing.

clip_image006.gifYou still go home and still fight with your wife; you still might have anger issues or struggle with hidden addictions. There is no change. The lack of growth is often attributed to lack of faith. Many people who are stuck might feel, or may have heard, “if only I had more faith, if only I tried harder; if only I’d prayed harder; if only I’d served more—if only I had made better choices everything would be fine.” Photo Courtesy of Microsoft

Those are all good things, but if you see somebody who is drowning, they don’t need a sermon. They need a life- jacket or a tow rope to get them to shore. They need to find “Where God was in all that. What does God have to say about this stuff?” The strong must be able see ahead to provide what the weak need for stability and maturity.

Separation of the camps leaves people feeling guilty, particularly the weaker camp because they feel, “What is wrong with me? I am a failure? God is not going to want to share life with me.” All kinds of unhelpful stuff follows that thinking.

Hazards of Low Joy2Black Ice — Black ice is hazardous. You can see the frost and ice on the landscape, but not always on the pavement. It is very scary hitting black ice because you have no control of your vehicle. You can press the brake; try to turn your wheel, but you slide wherever your momentum will take you. This same kind of thing happens when emotions and conflicts cause ruptures. Having little to no emotional control indicates little capacity—meaning that you or I have little capacity to manage feelings or recover from upset. When there is little capacity for recovery, people tend to avoid the troublesome emotions.

If you grew up with a raging parent, you will likely have a hard time dealing with angry people. You will try to people please. You will try to make them happy; and want to avoid making them mad so you try to please. Or, if you don’t know how to get back from shame then when there is a conflict or a disagreement or a rupture, you feel stuck in shame.

For many churches patterns developed over years  where a leader, staff member…someone acted out and got into some kind of trouble. No one knew how to explain it so leaders put more rules in place to prevent these disasters from happening and yet they keep happening.

These people do not understand that lack of maturity and low joy is why train wrecks continue—they have no language for joy. Trouble is right around the corner when joy levels start to sink. Problems become very big and the environment fear based because people don’t know how to manage what they feel.

If you know how to manage what you feel, you can feel upset, come back to joy and it’s okay. You can still keep in relationship and still remember what is important.

You might have a fear of upset, for example. Then you don’t want to upset the pastor or certain elders; you don’t want to upset certain congregants because they have resources or they are an important part of the church. I frequently advise pastors, “don’t make decisions out of fear.” Rather, look at the fears that motivate you because they will hamstring you in some way, shape or form.

clip_image004.gifA fear of hopelessness is common …Then you will find yourself not knowing how to sit with people when they feel hopeless about something, so you stay busy. This is part of the BEEPS phenomenon where if you don’t know how to manage some emotion, you find other ways to deal with it. You may stay busy; you may overwork, you may… Whatever it is, it is solving a problem in an unhealthy way. The goal is to learn to manage what you feel and know that it will not kill you.

The Psalmist says, “I will not die but will live!” Psalm 118:17

Low coping capacity leaves people feeling disconnected. You may have been going to a church for 10-15 years but you don’t feel like people know you. You may not feel seen by other people, or by the leader—there is a disconnect that you can’t put your finger on. Those are some of the things that you hear when joy levels are low and people don’t know how to manage what they feel—not a fun dynamic.

Footprints_thumb.png Action Step: To help you examine your own life for fears and low joy, meditate with the Lord on the following questions. You might want to share these questions with your family, staff and/or board to make an assessment of joy levels in your congregation.



1. What hinders joy for you?

2. What are some of the obstacles?

3. What helps or hinders your joy?

4. What hinders joy for your congregation?

5. What role does fear play?

Next week will be the final blog in this series. We will be highlighting the solution to low joy.

May your joy be full,

Chris & Carol

Chris Coursey, MA Theology — Author, Speaker and Thrive Trainer, 

Carol Brown, Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive                  

[1] Ed Khouri is one of the co-authors of Joy Starts Here. He specializes in addiction recovery.

This post drawn from a Pastor’s Weekly webcast by Chris Coursey, Sept. 12,2013

Anybody see Joy? Which way did she go?

In a healthy brain, you should be able to return to joy from fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame and hopeless despair within 90 seconds. “What?! You must be kidding! That sounds impossible!” It may sound impossible, but it’s true.

Science doesn’t tell us yet, at least as far as I’m aware, why fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame and hopeless despair knock joy out—they just do. These six big, bad negative emotions are very difficult for most people, but everyone needs to learn how to come back to joy from them if they want healthy, joy filled relationships. When you think of being in fear, anger, sadness, disgust, shame or hopeless despair, you would think that when you are back to joy you would feel, “Woo hoo, yippiee, skippy, life is wonderful!” But that is not what is happening in your brain.

Being able to return to joy means that you are still in the middle of the emotion but you are glad to be with somebody in the midst of the big bad negative emotion.

Take fear for example. You are in the middle of a tornado…many of you are huddled together in the basement…you have your family members together. You are still frightened with the tornado going on around you, but you are glad to be together. You are glad that your family is there, and even though you are still in fear, you are building joy because you are glad to be together. Joy is the crucial element there.

You want to build a pathway back to joy from each one of those negative emotions; otherwise you get stuck and don’t know your way back.

The problem is that most of us are missing a skill or skills along the way. When you can’t find joy when in the midst of those big negative emotions, you become lost in them.

In the examples of Jesus being able to go through what He went through… Often times when you think of Jesus being angry you go back to when He overturned the tables in the temple as the illustration of Jesus being angry. He may have been, but Scripture doesn’t use the words “Jesus was angry.” The place that does talk about Jesus being angry is in the story when He healed the man with the withered hand. Jesus was angry, Scripture says so, but He was still who He was—He was a healer and He healed the man with the withered hand even though He was angry.

He was angry with the Pharisees who were upset about Him healing on the Sabbath. He was rock solid in who He was. The strong emotion of anger did not cause him to act differently than always did. If He had been full of sadness or disgust or shame or any of those emotions, it was still like Him, as a healer, to heal. He did what it was like Him to do regardless of what emotion He had. So he healed the man.

Jesus remembered who He was in the midst of anger and you and I likewise need to remember who we are in the midst of strong emotion. Remember who God created you to be so that you are able to relationally interact with other people during your upset or theirs. That is a crucial skill that you need to be able to learn to use in your everyday lives.

For pastors in particular, being able to know how to relate to your staff, your family, your congregants, the ones in your church, and continue to be relational with them during their upsets is critical to the overall health of each group.

People tend to view authority figures, especially pastors, as representatives of who God is. Leaders often bear the brunt for wounds people have toward authority figures. If you run into a pastor, or people in authority over you, who don’t have these skills you feel dismissed as if they are not paying attention. You feel diminished. If you, as pastor, are not able to stay engaged with upset people and stay relational with them, you are not able to teach them the skill of returning to joy because these skills are all passed on relationally.

How can you learn this skill?

Come to the Thrive Training. When you come, you will work at being able to pay attention to who God created you to be—what kind of a heart did God give you? You want to know how to repair ruptured relationships; how to return to relationship with people when you are feeling upset, overwhelmed, misunderstood and accused—which is frequent in relationships in church. People can be upset about how the music or child care is run, or when someone spills on the new carpet. You want to be able to return to joy when interacting with upset people who are stuck.

Thrive Training is like teaching you how to ride a bicycle. You can read the manual on how to ride a bicycle and imagine it and watch somebody riding a bicycle, but you have to get up on that bike and practice to actually learn balance. You have to take off those training wheels, and learn how to be able to navigate. That’s what we do at Thrive Training and when we work on returning to joy we practice the skill; we have to do it over and over again. It’s not something you can learn right away; you have to practice it.

I puzzled for some time why these relational skills were not just written up in a book so I could learn them. Why did I have to come to the Thrive Training? It finally dawned on me…reading and all that encoding and decoding happens in the left brain. Relational skills happen in the right brain. The right brain doesn’t learn well from books. It’s into show and tell. It runs more like monkey see, monkey do. If you learn it from a book, only 1/2 the brain is involved! You learn from a brain that already knows how it is done. Ah, ha! I finally get it!

Action step:

  1. With your bonded partner, check your calendar and sign up for the very next Thrive Training
  2. If you do not have a bonded partner or cannot take 5 full days to train your brain, find a Thriving Recover Your Life program and commit to one night a week. You will love the result!

Blessings, Chris and Carol 

Carol A. Brown, B.A., M.A.C.I.                                                         Author of The Mystery of Spiritual Sensitivity and Highly Sensitive                                             Chris Coursey, B.A., M.A. Theology, author, international speaker and trainer

This post is from a talk given by Kitty Wilder for Pastors Weekly May 9, 2013.