Tuesday, December 30, 2014

We Are Moving

Thank you for following our blog! We have now opened our brand new blog, Meier Clinics Moments, on our website. Head on over to meierclinics.com/blog to check it out!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Seeking God in the World of the Selfie

Late last year, President Obama made headlines when he was spotted taking a selfie while attending the funeral of Nelson Mandela. A few years ago, a selfie (taking a photo of yourself, sometimes with others, on your phone) was not a regular common practice at all. Today, it fits right in there with the American obsessions of iPhones, iPads, iPods and YouTube. Hey, it’s all about you, or me, right? Or, maybe it's not. In our selfie society, we seem to have a lot of suffering people. The prevalence of personal publicity via Facebook, Twitter and other forms of social media seems to have fueled a world of people who are often anxious, empty, or sad. There seems to be a great deal of concern about who’s doing what, where and when, and how I am doing in comparison. 

In the midst of this “iWorld” of affluence, there is a great deal of worry about performance and presentation. We have adults worrying about how well they are doing, or not doing, in relation to others, as well as how well their kids are doing. The assumption is: I need to make things happen; I need to make things work. If I’m not on this, things will not go well for me. All of this “iNess” begs the question, where does God come in? When we look at Matthew 5:3, we get some specific direction: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Biblical scholars tell us that the poor in spirit are those without material possessions, who recognize their complete dependence on God. 

I have a young pen pal named Laura, who lives in El Salvador. Her family lives in a rural area and struggles to obtain the basic necessities of life. Yet every time she writes to me, she never asks for anything or remarks upon the challenges that she faces each day. Instead, she has simple questions for me such as “What crops do you grow?” And “What are your family traditions?”

Every one of her letters includes her wishes for God’s blessings for me and my family. When I reflect upon Laura and her life, it occurs to me that the absence of material possessions has helped her to pay attention to what’s important: God’s presence in her life. She is not distracted by an I-phone or Facebook; she has no time or opportunity for a selfie or Twitter. She is a sweet reminder of the blessings of the poor in spirit. “The eyes of all look hopefully to you; you give them their food in due season. You open wide your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing.” (Psalm 145:15-16). In the middle of this “selfie" world, we have powerful reminders that it’s really all about Him. As we turn toward God in our everyday lives, as we seek Him and move away from self, we can feel the power of His grace and tender mercies. As we look to Him in every aspect of our need, we find blessing.

___________ _ _ _ ____________

Katie Retzner has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker since 2003 and provides counseling services at the Meier Clinics in Wheaton, Illinois. Prior to joining Meier Clinics, she worked for seven years in the Illinois public school system with children, adolescents and their families. Katie describes her counseling style as nurturing, strengths-based and relational. She integrates cognitive-behavioral, insight-oriented and solution-focused approaches along with humor as she works with her clients.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Being the Hands and Feet of Jesus

Recently, our family had quite the scare! On a Wednesday afternoon, my 12-year-old daughter and I ventured over to our rental property to check on my husband, Travis, who was working in a basement bedroom. My daughter went downstairs first, and a few seconds later, she began screaming, “Mom, Mom, Dad is hurt! He's bleeding and lying on the floor!” As she ran upstairs, I immediately ran downstairs and found my husband lying on the floor, only semi-conscious and bleeding by his ear. He was breathing and moving but was unable to open his eyes and talk. He wasn't responsive to my requests to lie still, assuring him the ambulance was on the way. My first thought was he may have been shocked because I could see he had been working with electricity. I couldn't tell if he was bleeding out of his ear or by his ear. He was clammy and swollen. After 15 minutes and about a dozen emergency response personnel working on him, he was loaded in the ambulance and we were on our way to the ER.

The doctor was waiting for him, and it was soon decided he would be flown to Denver, CO. Soon after, "Plan B" came into action because there was a storm between Goodland, Kansas, and Denver. We
were flown to Wichita, Kansas, where he was taken to the trauma unit at Via Christi Hospital. I was immediately met by a chaplain, Cecil, from the hospital as I departed the ambulance. He was so kind to stay with me the whole time my husband was being looked over and scanned. The CT scans were normal and they found no burn marks from electricity, so they put him into ICU, stitched up his ear, and tried to ease him off sedation. As I watched this, I soon realized he was behaving the same way he was when we had found him on the floor – agitated, non-purposeful movements with no responsiveness
to commands from the doctors and nurses. At this point, I felt my heart sink, as there had been no
change and this excellent team of trauma doctors had no idea what was wrong. They decided to keep
him sedated and let him and his brain rest, as this was the choice of treatment, regardless of whether he
had a severe concussion, had been shocked, or had some other type of brain trauma from something
else unknown.

Meanwhile, Jesus was already showing His amazing love to us in so many ways. Our wonderful pastor
and his dear wife cancelled her elbow surgery scheduled for the next day in Denver, so they could
escort our children to Wichita. Because all of my in-laws live much closer to Wichita than Denver,
they were able to arrive that night as well. More dear friends showed up in the following days. Thanks to
Facebook and the blessing of living in a small town, word about the accident spread rapidly, and we
were so encouraged to hear about more and more people praying for Travis. Jesus even sent people we
have never met to minister to our family through gifts, cards, and scriptures. Our 18-year-old son led
us in communion twice for the healing of Travis. One of our friend's granddaughter, Savannah, could
see her grandma was feeling sad and asked what was wrong. As our friend told her granddaughter
about Travis, Savannah held up her little hand and said, “I've got this covered.” This five-year-old
made her way over to her rock garden, laid her head on the rocks, and prayed. She then declared that
God had told her, “He's going to be fine. God told me He'll heal him in three days.” We held tight to
Savannah's message, as well as to the scriptures we'd been given and the scriptures we'd see on the wall
every time we went into the ICU. One of the most meaningful scriptures given to us was, “The Lord
will fight for you; you need only to be still.” (Exodus 14:14)

On Friday, there still had been no change in Travis' condition, so they did an MRI and an EEG. They 
were becoming suspicious of irreversible brain cell damage from a possible lack of oxygen. However, 
both tests were normal, except for the EEG showing slowed brain waves, which they said would be 
expected due to sedation. On Friday night, our church held a community prayer vigil for Travis, and 
many came and prayed. As far as I can remember, this was the first prayer vigil held in Goodland. We 
also continued to hear about numerous prayer chains Travis was on throughout the country. There was 
truly an awesome number of people praying for his healing.

Later Friday evening, after the prayer vigil, one of the ICU trauma doctors came out to the waiting 
room to tell us they thought they had seen some signs of understanding and responsiveness, as Travis 
had possibly looked at them when they called his name and may have wiggled his toes upon their 
request. He said they would call us during the night if Travis awoke. We went back to our hotel room 
feeling very hopeful that night.

Saturday morning came, and as much as I was trying to be happy and hopeful, there was no denying 
my mood was sad. Our children were sleeping, so I went downstairs to eat breakfast with my friends. 
I was telling them I was sad because the doctors had not called during the night, which meant Travis 
was still not awake. Shortly after this conversation, the phone rang, and the ICU doctor (who I'm pretty 
sure had worked beyond his 24-hour shift), called to tell us Travis was awake and responsive. I ran 
upstairs to tell our children, and all of us rushed across the street to see him. Our first question to 
Travis was, “Do you know who we are?” He smiled and nodded yes! We were beyond happy and 
relieved. The next several hours were spent reminding him where he was, as he slowly became more 
and more alert. By the way, this was the third day. Little Savannah had truly delivered a message from 
the Lord. “At that time Jesus said, 'I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have 
hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. ” (Matthew 11: 25)

Travis was able to be moved out of the ICU on Sunday, and after several additional consults, a spinal 
tap, and another EEG, he was dismissed on Tuesday afternoon. The neuro-ophthalmologist put him on 
seizure medication, which was something we had never considered because he has never had seizures. 
However, two chemicals that were elevated in his blood work were consistent with seizures; one of 
those chemicals can also be indicative of electric shock.

So what happened? That's the "million dollar question." Even after a very detailed, high-resolution second MRI, we still don't know. We know he did not have a heart attack, a stroke, an aneurysm, spinal meningitis, encephalitis-some of the biggies. We know more of what did not happen to him then what did happen to him. He has no memory of that afternoon, even several hours before the accident. No one thing explains the partial coma he was in for three days. Some of us suspect it was several different events all coming together at the same time, kind of like the perfect storm. 

But here is what we do know: we know God is so good, we know God answers prayers, and we know 
there is power in prayer! We know because of prayer, God saved Travis' life. Prayer might be the 
reason the tests did not show anything; maybe so much prayer went up so fast, that God had already 
begun the healing process before the scans and tests were done. We know God had it all under control
and, upon looking back (hindsight is 20/20), we know God was preparing us for this event several 
weeks before it happened. We also know God is bringing our community together in corporate prayer. 
Because of this incident, I even gained a new prayer partner, whom I've never met. We know God 
wants His people to talk to Him through prayer, and He wants us to pray often, with a thankful heart, 
about everything. Philippians 4: 5b-6 says, “The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but 
in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”

We also know God wants the Christian community to be there for each other and with each other, not 
only lifting each other up in prayer, but also helping each other and breaking bread together. Our pastor 
preached on Acts 2: 43-47 on the Sunday after Travis woke up. This passage talks about this very thing. So many people reached out to us – our family, church family, friends, and neighbors cleaned 
our home, mowed our lawn (including our rentals' lawn), brought in meals for a week, washed our 
laundry, took care of our animals, came to Wichita to be with us, took communion with us, and prayed 
for us. Some of the little children in our church even drew Travis pictures, illustrating their “get well” 
wishes and prayers. It has been incredible and we have felt so blessed!

This incident has also been very convicting for us in that we need to be much more aware of others' 
needs. Travis and I are especially prone to getting caught up in our own little world, and we had 
become way too busy for our own good. We had come to the point of glorifying busyness, without 
realizing that was what we were doing. We had great intentions of being there for our brothers and 
sisters in Christ, but we really weren't there for them like we could have been. However, God loves us so 
much, He allowed us to have a wake-up call. I have heard others say they wouldn't change the past 
even though they have experienced trauma or tragedy, and I have to agree. I wouldn't change this 
experience either, for we have never felt more loved by Jesus than we have since June 25, the day 
something mysterious happened to my husband and people responded by being the hands and feet of 

Travis continues to heal and is doing better every day. He is taking it slowly and isn't pushing himself, 
thus one of the lessons we've learned. He has become closer in his walk with Jesus, as have I. We are 
studying God's word together, and we're praying together, which is something I had longed for. Our 
marriage and family are stronger than ever, and our faith is as well. We are once again growing in our 
relationship with the Lord.

So my challenge to myself and all of you reading this is that we spend more time with Jesus so we can 
become more like Him. This will help us be mindful of those in need, asking Jesus how we might be 
able to help. We need to back up from our busyness and invest our energy in directions that really 
matter – God's agenda vs. our agenda. We need to spend more time relating with and worshipping 
Jesus, being like Mary instead of Martha. (Luke 10: 38-42) We need to not only pray more but come 
together in corporate prayer more often. Prayer is the one tool that Christians have access to that can 
bring God's power into play better than anything. Yet we tend to use it only a fraction of the time. We 
treat prayer as a last resort, saying things like, “Well I guess we'll just have to pray.” Instead, prayer 
needs to be our weapon of choice to wield against the enemy. “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions 
with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all 
the saints.” (Ephesians 6:18) I pray we all become better about being the hands and feet of Jesus. 
What a powerful way to bring glory to God, Who is so deserving of nothing less. “Glorify the Lord 
with me; let us exalt his name together.” (Psalm 34: 3)

____________ _ _ _ ____________

Angie Witman has worked for Meier Clinics in Northwest Kansas for nearly 16 years. She has been married to Travis for 22 years, and they have two children. Their 18-year-old son will be attending school at Biola University in CA, and their 12-year-old daughter will be a 7th grade student in Junior High. One of their favorite activities is sitting by the pond and waterfall the whole family dug and built in their backyard. This is her favorite spot to meet with Jesus.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Overcoming Sexual Addiction

The phenomenon of sexual addiction has been well described by Patrick Carnes, Ph.D., who first popularized the idea in 1983. The outpouring of books on the subject from both secular and Christian writers has been tremendous. Unfortunately, the common sense approach to healing is often reserved for the latter chapters or pages in these books. In this article, I would like to share what I have learned about practical steps toward healing for this problem which I gained over the last 25 years as a significant part of my practice as a Christian psychotherapist.

There are many formulas and prescriptions for healing from sexual compulsion (my preferred term). The seven essentials discussed below are found in one form or another in most schemas for healing.

1) A willingness to let God in and the consequent opening of a person to God's Holy Spirit is the first step. Many Christian men and women begin healing with this kind of surrender only to be frustrated by relapse. Keep reading!

2) Practicing the spiritual disciplines which include prayer, meditation, Scripture study, fasting, confession and many others which restores our brain circuitry and our soul to a right relationship to God. The men I have worked with who "do the disciplines" seem to have more and longer lasting strength in overcoming "the sins of the flesh" than do those who seek a quick fix. (See Romans 12:21)

3) Physical exercise tires the body and perhaps, more importantly, focuses the spiritual mind. Hint:The professionally managed gym with its inevitable cadre of well sculpted bodies is not useful for many men.

4) God's gift of the "positive pleasures" outlined by C.S. Lewis in his classic, The Screwtape Letters, gives us full indulgence in positive, healthy, life-affirming practices. Screwtape (the devil) instructs his apprentice in ways to subtly undermine a Christian's view of pleasure. Lewis' point is that enjoyment of non-sinful pleasure helps the Christian to be somewhat immune from temptation. (See Philippians 4:8)

5) Group and/or individual accountability (see confession) creates an opportunity for one who struggles with lust to receive prayer and active support from a "band of brothers." Hint:Having a spouse act as an accountability partner is not recommended.

6) Eliminate access to lust as much as possible. The ability of computer protection programs allow safety settings to be password protected by an accountability partner or spouse. If the struggler is a computer genius, I recommend a "spy ware" program called Spectre Pro. Some software such as Covenant Eyes, Safe Eyes generate a report about websites visited and their content to an accountability person.

7) Psychotherapy for childhood issues may be required for those who suffer from childhood trauma or excessive shame and guilt.

_________ __ __ __ _________

Jim Alexander is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker at Meier Clinics in Fairfax, VA. He has been treating individuals, couples and families for a wide variety of mental health issues for more than 30 years. He currently serves as Board Chairman for Restoration Ministries, DC, an organization which seeks to bring mental health and Christian healing to underage victims of sex-trafficking in the DC metro area. He and his wife, Barbara, are currently enjoying an empty nest.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Are You an Optimist or a Pessimist?

During my first year of college, I sang in our church’s choir. In February or March of that year, we went on tour. We were only on the road a few days, and I only remember the specifics of two concerts though I’m sure we did more. Our gigs were all around Portland, Oregon, and culminated at a church in Cannon Beach. It was about a four hour drive between the church in Bellevue, Washington, and our first stop. As we were entering Portland, Gordon, our music minister, yelled up at the driver of our van, “Mark, how are we doing on gas?” Mark paused as he looked down at the gauge. Yelling back he said, “Well, it says half, but I’m not sure if it’s half empty or half full.”

We sometimes divide people into those who see the glass (or tank) as “half-full” and those who see it as “half-empty.” Pessimists view their world in terms of deficits and problems, always looking at the negative side of a situation and complaining that their counterparts view the world with “rose colored glasses” or, in some other way, refuse to see how bad things really are. Optimists, on the other hand, look for the good, for possibilities, assuming there will be a solution to whatever problem may come up along the way, without denying the reality of it. Now there are those, maybe quite a few, who don’t seem to fit neatly in either group, judging situations as they come up and projecting a realistic positive or negative outcome on it based on the available information. We’ll call them optimists too.  

There are characteristics, other than a predicted outcome, associated with optimism and pessimism that we don’t necessarily think of or may even be surprised to hear. Martin Seligman lists these traits in his book, Learned Optimism. According to him, the core of pessimism is a position of helplessness – the position taken in which there is nothing that can be done to affect a change in a situation’s outcome, which is inevitably bad. Likely, you wouldn’t be surprised to hear that many of the pessimists’ “I told you so’s” end up being self-fulfilling prophesies or, at least, made worse by actions taken or decisions made based on their negativity. Pessimists tend to give up more easily than optimists and get depressed more often. Seligman reports that optimists do better in school, at work and in sports. They get elected more often than pessimists, are healthier, and may even live longer. While pessimists assume a helplessness position, optimists look for opportunity and act within their sphere of control.  

For the Christian, there is every reason to adopt the outlook of an optimist. In fact, optimism is the Biblical position to take. The apostle Paul demonstrates his optimism in his second letter to the Corinthians. In chapter 4 beginning at verse 16, he writes: So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 (English Standard Version)

A couple of chapters later, Paul lists his personal “light momentary afflictions”...”with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. Five times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger from false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” 2 Corinthians 11: 23b-27

Paul acknowledges his situation and doesn’t deny reality; he views life and life’s troubles from an eternal perspective. While helplessness is associated with pessimism, choice and self-control are characteristic of optimism. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul lists self-control among the fruits of the Spirit. Some older translations use the word “temperance.” The emphasis here is that the Spirit-filled Christian can choose to resist the lusts of the flesh – exercise self-control.

The helplessness of the pessimist leads to giving in (or giving up) to external pressures – continuing in addictive behavior, procrastinating instead of studying for an exam, spending money frivolously instead of keeping to a budget. Acknowledging that one can act in a way that influences outcome, it is part of being an optimist. Victor Frankl, in his classic book Man’s Search for Meaning, observed that hope was essential for surviving the Nazi prison camps. “The prisoner who had lost faith in the future – his future – was doomed. With his loss of belief in the future, he also lost his spiritual hold; he let himself decline and became subject to mental and physical decay. Usually, this happened quite suddenly. . .” (p. 74)

I’m not proposing a “name it and claim it” mentality, or suggesting that anyone ignore the reality of any situation. Ultimately though, the Christian wins. Eternity, separated from sin and present with God, is what waits for us. Really, what else matters? I don’t know if Frankl ever turned to Christ. He did face a situation in which everything was taken from him. He was reduced to a number; he was separated from his family, humiliated, beaten, and confronted with the likelihood of death at any time. In spite of this, he declared to his fellow prisoners, “I (have) no intention of losing hope and giving up.” (p. 82)

So, how does a pessimist change? The first step is probably the hardest. It’s acknowledging that something can be done about it. It’s giving up on helplessness, and choosing to take control over one’s life. The next step is to work through a course of cognitive therapy (CT). That may mean seeking help from a therapist who practices CT. I’d never discourage this move, however, it may not be necessary in all cases.
Cognitive therapy involves analyzing one’s responses to the events of life that ultimately result in an emotional consequence, and then changing one’s perspective to one that is more realistic and useful. The formula is as easy as ABC. “A” stands for an antecedent event. It’s what happens out there in the world that results in a ”C” – an emotional consequence. “B” is the belief one has in the “A” that results in the “C”. After this is all laid out, you work through and, if necessary, make changes to one’s belief about the event that’s being addressed. This isn’t the place to go into all the details. Reading Seligman’s book is a good start, and it deals specifically with optimism. I have many of my clients go through Greenberger and Padesky’s, Mind over Mood, a manual that can be used as an adjunct to counseling or as a self-help workbook. This book deals mostly with depression and anxiety, which can be associated with pessimism. It deals more specifically with the mechanics of CT, than Seligman’s text, which may be beneficial if you are working through it by yourself.

Pessimists usually have reasons for taking on a negative outlook. One of the more popular is, “I don’t want to be disappointed when it turns out bad” or something like that. The thing is, optimism is Biblical, it yields better, more positive results, and is healthier for you. Consider your outlook, do you tend toward being a “half-full” or a “half-empty” kind of person?

 _____________________________________ _ _ _  _____________________________________

Dr. Kyle Pontius is a licensed psychologist and the Clinic Director at the Meier Clinics in Laguna Hills, California. He holds a PhD from Alliant International University and is a graduate of Talbot Theological Seminary, Biola University. Dr. Pontius lives in Rancho Santa Margarita, California, with his wife, two sons and two cats. He is actively involved at Saddleback Church, and enjoys art and music.