My Existential Story or (Let the Redeemed of the Lord Tell Their Story)

whats_your_story_offWe all have a story to tell. Here’s mine:

I have an older sister, Amanda, who is 33 with a family of her own now. I am the second oldest. Then I have a little brother and sister who are twins, and they are 22. Our parents were good parents, but in 1992 things went downhill. In October of ’92 my dad was covered up by a rock in the coal mines. He survived but by the grace of God. He was in and out of hospitals and had multiple surgeries. It was there that he developed an addiction to the pain medication. Now before this my parents were never addicts. They smoked pot and drank while in high school and occasionally afterwards. While my dad was recovering from his accident he became addicted and thus got my mom into his addiction too. Then in 1995 he got busted for selling pot. For the next 8 to 10 years, he was in and out of jail for various things; he was an alcoholic and spent time in jail for various DUIs being one.

While he was in jail we were left with our mom, who was always gone. My older sister had already left home and had a baby when she was 17 and a senior in high school. My mom was always out late getting drugs and would stay gone for hours while it was just me and the twins at home. So you can see that at a very early age I was forced to grow up and become the man of the house. I raised my little brother and sister.

When my dad was out of jail, the various times that he was out of jail, he and my mom would fight. It always got physical. My younger siblings and I would just shut ourselves in a room and cry while they fought it out sometimes even on school nights. There were times when there was not a lot of food in the house because our parents wasted it on their addictions to drugs and alcohol. In 1998 we lost our house because my mom had not been paying the payments, so we moved into a trailer park.

Now this all went on for years. The same old cycle over and over. My younger siblings and I just looked out for one another. I tell you this because it is just the introduction to how things got worse and my spiritual journey has come about due to all of this.

February 8, 2001 I can remember that day like it was yesterday. I had in-school suspension that day for cutting up in class, and I had gotten sick. I checked out of school early that day and spent the rest of the day at home. My dad was out of jail at this time. Later that night my younger siblings and I were at home with our dad passed out in the living room. Our mom was at some neighbors. Then came a knock at the door, it was our friend Jesse. We answered it and he said, “Your mom is lying dead in Dee’s kitchen floor.” We woke up our dad and rushed to find her overdosed from an 80 milligram OxyContin. She had stopped breathing multiple times but the people there had brought her back. I just got my little brother and sister out of there because they were crying and really scared. The EMTs arrived and took her to the ER. Meanwhile, I called my older sister and she came and picked us up. The next day we went to visit our mom at the Detox Center. Then my sister petitioned the court to let us stay with her. And the court granted her a month I think, and then we returned to live with our parents.

One day my younger siblings and I were out playing. Our parents were not home. My little brother had falling into a creek and had gotten a little wet. So I sent him home to change. But when he got to the house there was a police officer looking for my dad to serve him some papers. He noticed my brother was wet and that we were without supervision. He rounded us all up and took us to social services. That night we spent the night in a foster home. It was the worst night of my life. I laid awake worried about my little brother and sister and our futures as my little brother cried himself to sleep beside me. Thankfully, my older sister had been reached and the next day we were given over to her in a custody hearing in court.

Things started to be better when we started living with our sister who had two kids of her own. But it was not too long before things between she and her husband started getting out of hand. The fighting physically had started between them. My sister was stressed out and put on Klonopin. She, too, became an alcoholic. She and her husband went out on each other just as my parents had. In October of 2001 my brother-in-law found out that she had been cheating on him with her high school boyfriend. The fight was so bad that the law was called. My dad was in jail again during this time. We had to go to court again and the court gave us time to find somewhere else to live because my sister was to lose physical custody. At first it looked like we were going to a foster home, but a couple in my church told us about a place called Mountain Mission School. So we applied to get into Mt. Mission which is a home, school, and church for children in situations like the one we found ourselves. So we went and took a tour of Mt. Mission and applied. We got accepted due to our dire situation. So on December 21, 2001 we left home and moved into Mt. Mission.

I had been saved when I was a little boy. But I had never been baptized. About two months into being at Mt. Mission my younger siblings and I got baptized. It was February 6, 2002 two days before a year of my mom’s overdose that my younger siblings and I accepted Christ and were baptized.

Now that would you expect to be the end of the paper. But I have found that spiritual journeys are lifelong and there is more to say.

I was in 8th grade going into Mt. Mission, but due to my own stubbornness and refusal to do my homework I failed the 8th grade that year. I passed the next year and went on to 9th grade. Then I did the same thing again and failed the 9th grade.

While at Mt. Mission I fought and fought the staff. I was disrespectful and caused problems. I had a chip on my shoulder. I was a very, very angry and bitter young boy. I felt wronged. I was hurting. I hated Mt. Mission and wanted nothing more to leave, but things at home were still the same and even worse. My older sister had gotten drunk and wrecked her car with her kids in it. She was then enrolled in Teen Challenge of Chattanooga. My brother-in-law got the kids and was still into drinking and doping too. My parents were still the same. So I had no way out but to tough it out at Mt. Mission.

I do remember a few years after being there one Sunday one staff member spoke about being broken by God. And he had us pray at the end that if we really wanted to be broken by God to pray along with him, to pray that God would take over our lives and break us. He warned that if one prayers this prayer that God would follow through. He was right. It was there that God began to slowly get my attention.

My sophomore year I was 18 which is about the time I said that prayer. That year was a tough year for me; but 19 came and it was tougher. I had been dating a girl I really loved for about 7 months. I turned 19 on May 11 of 2006 and a few weeks later on June 3 I had to have surgery for a ruptured appendix. I was still at Mt. Mission, but was at home for summer break. So I stayed with my mom. Now she had an apartment that my dad and she had gotten together, but in April of 2006 he left her for another woman and divorced her.

He had gotten out of jail that prior December. He had been somber and was doing right. But my mom was just fighting him. She stayed messed up and drunk all the time. He wanted out of that, so he left. He has been somber now for 3 years. When I was sick I stayed with her. She would get so messed up and just make me so mad. I was still bitter and angry. My girlfriend Maranda had broken up with me, and that had just made things worse. I headed back to Mt. Mission that year for my junior year very angry and bitter. I goofed off more in school that year.

Later on in the year I began to realize, because of Maranda, that my anger and bitterness was pushing those I love the most away from me. God had used her to show me that. She and I got back together for a little while longer. And she helped me a lot in those months. I learned a lot from her that is for sure. I ended up being in jeopardy over becoming a senior, but due to the president’s grace they let me be a senior with certain requirements. While I was 19 God got a hold of me. He showed me that I was pushing people away, that I was copping out, and that I was throwing my life away. Thankfully, he sent me people like Maranda and the staff at Mt. Mission to love me and show me what I truly looked like. They loved me through it all.

My senior year of Mt. Mission came, and I worked hard all year. And as of May 30, 2008 I was a very proud graduate of Mt. Mission School. I guess one could say I have come a long way, but God had to kick me along at times. Now, I am just three months from graduating from Johnson University with a B.S. in Bible and Preaching/Church Leadership.

I have had a lot of disappointments in my life, but as you can tell from reading this my biggest has to be my childhood.  Today, my father is back to drinking.  Almost every time he calls me he is drunk and angry.  I have learned that he is hurt from the hurt his father, who recently passed, caused him.  His father was an alcoholic and his mother was strung out on drugs.

I have never had a strong father figure in my life.  This is probably the biggest disappointment out of them all. It hurts me very deeply that he is hurting.  I have tried to think of ways to help him.  Perhaps seeing my family in shambles and growing up the way I did is what has driven me to want to be a marriage and family therapist.  Perhaps allowing God to renew my thinking from such a disappointment of a childhood through a separation from my wife is what is driving me.

I pray for my dad.  He is a hurt man filled with fault and weakness.  It hurts me deeply! It makes me so angry I want to shake him to death to knock some sense into him when he keeps resorting to the bottle, but all I can do is pray and forgive.  I wish my father and I could have a relationship, but I have boundaries.  I do not distant or cut myself off from him, but I cannot allow that into my life too much.  I love him dearly, and I pray that he will find a good therapist.  He needs a few years of good, in-depth psychotherapy to deal with his issues.  I pray for his healing, so that we may have that relationship one day.

My mother, despite her previous drug habits, is actually pretty sober these days and has removed herself from our hometown.  She lives in an apartment in Abingdon and is doing quite well.  I hope that once she is off her probation that she will continue to do well and stay out of trouble.  She, too, grew up in a dysfunctional family with an abusive father who left.  She endured physical/sexual abuse as well.  I have come to be more compassionate and forgiving of both of my parents understanding what they endured too.  I have been deeply hurt by their failure as parents.  It is not easy to forgive and move on from such pain.  At times it is hard to even think about.  I process it often and forgive as needed.

My mom and I have a relationship too, but I am not very close to either of my parents.  I have learned that distance and cut-off are two bad relationship patterns that bring a temporary sense of healing.  So I do try to stay in touch and speak with my family more and let them be a part of my life.

My older sister is in a much better place today too. She and her husband are back together and are raising my niece and nephew.  She cleaned up her life as well.

I have had to go through much growth in the last year or two.  I realized that my way of viewing myself and the world was horribly flawed due to my family of origin and childhood.  Children create a universe for themselves to be safe if reality is not safe.  I was still thinking and living as a scared little boy when I got married.  I had serious control issues.  God renewed my mind, and my thinking. He still is. He is bringing me into theosis.  I have found healing in His mysteries found in the Orthodox Church. Despite my many disappointments, He has restored me and has healed my broken soul, is healing my broken soul, and will heal my broken soul.


I am part of the redeemed of the Lord and this is part of my story, which has yet to be completely written.


What’s yours?


john pavlovitz

I have some bad news, friends: Our dirty little secret is out.

It’s not really surprising to most of you, when I say that pornography is ripping apart the marriages and homes of countless people, many of whom consider themselves Christians. It’s eroding the self-worth of young girls, contaminating the character of adolescent guys, and damaging families in ways that we really can’t overstate.

And much of it is about proximity and availability.

What people used to have to travel to seedy, poorly light storefronts for, is now as close as their smart phone browser. What once was only accessible in bad neighborhoods and dark alleys, is today only a click or two away from our bedrooms and offices.

The online community has placed us all in the middle of a continually-evolving toxic soup, of easily acquired graphic imagery, narcissistic social media sites, and incalculable amounts of sexual content. Couple…

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The Concept of Self-Differentiation or (How Differentiated Are You?)


I have been reading Peter Scazzero’s “Emotionally Healthy Spirituality”, and I got to the part last night where he begins to talk about living from our true selves in and through Jesus. He uses Dr. Murray Bowen’s term “self-differentiation” to talk about this.  He says, “One very helpful way to clarify this process of growing in our faithfulness to our true selves in a new way is through the use of a new term: differentiation. Develped by Murray Bowen, the founder of modern family systems theory, it refers to a person’s capacity to ‘define his or her own life’s goals and values apart from the pressures of those around them.’ The key emphasis of differentiation is on the ability to think clearly and carefully as another means, besides our feelings, of knowing ourselves.”


Differentiation is about knowing yourself and who you are and who you are not and holding on to that self.  The goal is to hold to your self and your values and goals apart from all the anxiety and pressure around you (separateness) while remaining close to those in your life (togetherness).  These two forces of separateness and togetherness are what makes the tension in differentiation.


Scazzero writes, “People with a high level of differentiation have their own beliefs, convictions, directions, goals, and values apart from the pressures around them.  They can choose, before God, how they want to be without being controlled by the approval or disapproval of others. Intensity of feelings, high stress, or the anxiety of others around them does not overwhelm their capacity to think intelligently.”


Mr. Scazzero has simplified a scale of differentiation found in Dr. Bowen’s theory.  He says of it, “On the lower end of the scale are those with little sense of their uniquie God-given life. They need continual affirmation and validation from others because they don’t have a clear sense of who they are. They depend on what other people think and feel in order to have a sense of their own worth and identity. Or out of fear of getting too close to someone and thus swallowed up, they may avoid closeness to other completely. Under stress they have little ability to distinguish between their feelings and their thougth (intellectual) process.”


Considering that Jesus was 100 percent true to Himself, or “self-differentiated,” where might you place yourself on this scale? (This is Mr. Scazzero’s scale, not mine)







Can’t distinguish between fact and feeling

Emotionally needy and highly reactive to others

Much of life energy spent in winning the approval of others

Little energy for goal-directed activities

Can’t say, “I think….I believe….”

Little emotional separation from their families

Dependent marital relationships

Do very poorly in transitions, crises, and life adjustments

Unable to see where they end and others begin




Some ability to distinguish between fact and feeling

Most of self is a “false self” and reflected from others

When anxiety is low, they function relatively well

Quick to imitate others and change themselves to gain acceptance from others

Often talk one set of principles/beliefs, yet do another

Self-esteem soars with compliments or is crushed by criticism

Become anxious when a relationship system falls apart or becomes unbalanced

Often make poor decisions due to their inablility to think clearly under stress

Seek power, honor, knowledge, and love from others to cloth their false self


50-75  (This is where I am beginning to live. I’d put myself around 60-65 of this part)


Aware of the thinking and feeling functions that work as a team

Reasonable level of “true self”

Can follow life goals that are determined from within

Can state beliefs calmly without putting others down

Marriage is a functioning partnership where intimacy can be enjoyed without losing self

Can allow children to progress through development phrases into adult autonomy

Function well–alone or with others

Able to cope with crisis without falling apart

Stay in realtional connection with others without insistenting they see the world the same


75-100 (Few function at this level)


Is principle oriented and goal directed–secure in who they are, unaffected by criticism or praise

Is able to leave family of origin and become an inner-directed, seperate adult

Sure of their beliefs but not dogmatic or closed in their thinking

Can hear and evaluate beliefs of others, discarding old beliefs in favor of new ones

Can listen without reacting and communicate without antagonizing others

Can respect others without having to change them

Aware of dependence on others and responsibility for others

Free to enjoy life and play

Able to mainatin a non-anxious presence in the midst of stress and pressure

Able to take responsibility for their own destiny and life



On which part of the scale are you?


Do not fret! If you are at lower levels of functioning you can work your way up with very hard work, dedication, and lots and lots of prayer!


Begin to ask Jesus to reveal to you where you are weak? Ask Him to reveal to you where you need growth? Ask Him into the hidden places of your heart, so that His light will shine in on those parts and His healing balm will restore those wounds. Ask Christ for His grace and mercy as you seek to grow.


Ask Christ to show you how He sees you and I promise He will show you!


“Oh, that God would give us the very smallest of gifts

To be able to see ourselves as [how He and] others see us

It would save us from many mistakesand foolish thoughts

We would change the way we look and gestureand to how and what we apply our time and attention.”


A helpful resource:

Too often the rising number of teen pregnancies and STDs and what not are used to further promote abortion, artificial birth control, and immoral living sadly. Stopping and pursuing is a great way to look at it. Separating ourselves is key. St. Thalassios the Libyan said, ‘A wise man is one who pays attention to himself and is quick to separate himself from all defilement.’ Paying attention to the passions and how they control us helps us to create a virtue out of them.


ImageI’ve been researching statistics on teen sexuality the past couple of weeks in preparation for a series we’re doing at Crash (our student ministry) entitled, “Sex on Fire.” I am more than saddened by some of the numbers that I’ve been seeing. The United States still leads among other developed countries in regards for teenage pregnancy rates. States that teach abstinence only have some of the highest pregnancy rates in the nation. 

For a nation that boasts in being a “Christian Nation,” our numbers sure do not prove that to be true. By saying that, I am not saying that I support the idea that America is a “Christian Nation.” That opens up a whole can of worms that I am not willing to dive into at this time. I am simply saying that the American evangelical church boasts in this title and yet, we lead among other developed nations…

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