Review: Gospel-Centered Counseling by Robert Kellemen

Re-Discovering the Father of Compassion

By Marie Notcheva

One of the characteristics of a truly good biblical counseling book is that believers who are not actually ‘counsellors’ may gain just as much from it. Such is the case with “Gospel-Centered Counseling: How Christ Changes Lives”, one of three books (“Gospel Conversations” and “Scripture and Counseling” being the other two) by Biblical Counseling Coalition Executive Director Robert Kellemen.

In the Introduction, we are presented with a beautiful picture of mutually-encouraging Christian friendship:

"Christ's triumph in the drama of redemption guides our interactions in our one-another ministry. We engage one another in gospel conversations, encouraging each other to ponder: "Why give up when we lose one battle, since we know we have won the war?" "Why choose mere survival, when we are more than conquerors?"
This ‘one-another’ ministry is the framework through which the “Good News” will become more ‘real’ and not simply an abstract doctrinal concept.

The God Who Cares

Much of biblical counseling literature (and Reformed writing, in general) is very exegetical, solid, intellectual, Scripturally-solid, uncompromisingly biblical. We need this study of systematic theology in order to know how to rightly divide the Word, know which principle to apply to a given situation, and not read our own interpretation into passages of Scripture. At the same time, however, we must be careful not to present God as an emotionless, detached Deity Who is so far removed from humanity that He cannot sympathize with our human struggles. Kellemen gets the balance just right – portraying the personal, involved and loving God Who comes running to meet the wayward child – without sacrificing the biblical truths of His holy perfection; His need for nothing; and man’s total depravity.

In his typical style, Kellemen engages the reader as if having a coffee together. While emphasizing from the outset the importance of sound theology, as it relates to every aspect of life, the reader never feels lectured or bogged down in hermeneutic explanation. When Kellemen insists on a proper understanding of the God of Scripture, he is not arguing the finer points of supralapsarianism versus infralapsarianism. He is asking the reader (or counselee) to consider, “What is my image of God?” and, by extension, the implications of “His great love for us” (Ephesians 2:4). With this starting point, Kellemen guides the reader to consider eight important life questions (and, chapter by chapter, how the Person and work of Jesus Christ answers them). Undergirding all counseling issues, life problems, doubts and faith is how we answer the two most basic questions:
"We all ask two central questions about God: "God, do you care?" -- questions about God's love; and "God, are you in control?" -- questions about God's holiness. "Every problem of the soul includes a distorted, unbalanced answer about these two questions about God's infinitely perfect character." (p.71)
These questions are equally important, whether I am in the counseling office with an eating disordered patient - or encouraging a burnt-out high school student on the other side of the world. We all have been hard-wired with a need to know that God is aware of our plight; and that He cares for us deeply, personally, and purposefully. Kellemen has successfully tapped into this deepest of questions, and devotes the rest of the book to showing how a right understanding of the Trinitarian, relational God is foundational to lasting change (and joy). He does not leave the reader with a list of “put offs” and “put ons”; rather, he demonstrates how “cropping the cross of Christ back into the picture” (a proper understanding of grace) transforms sin-shattered lives.

Woven throughout “Gospel-Centered Counseling” are case studies from Kellemen’s family counseling experience. This is a helpful approach, because we see how doubts about God’s attributes or character surface in the counseling room in “real time”. Faulty views of God (common to many of us) are brought to light, then countered with the Word. Unbiblical lies that keep people stuck in life-dominating sin (rather than running to the cross) are exposed:
“Satan seeks to fill our souls with shame that separates us from God. "Give up on life. Throw in the towel." Paul labels this "worldly sorrow" that produces death (2 Cor. 7:10). Satanic shame involves self-contempt and self-disgust that cause us to despair of all hope that God could love a sinner like us. Condemning shame convinces us that God has forever justly rejected us. Godly sorrow, on the other hand, is guilt that leads us to return to God. It is guilt that escorts us to grace. It reminds us of our absolute dependence on Christ's grace and invites us to return home to our forgiving Father. Shame separates; sorrow connects." (p. 87).
From Vertical to Horizontal Relating

Kellemen demonstrates throughout “Gospel-Centered Counseling” how a right understanding and relationship with our Creator is foundational to edifying relationships with other human beings, a reflection of an being made in God’s image. Moving beyond the simple fact that we were made to glorify God, we understand that we were created to relate; experience; engage; and live fully. Thus, we increasingly reflect the inner life of Christ. Knowing, understanding, and compassionately caring for people in their fallen state is the biblical counselor (and Christian friend’s) goal.
The compassion with which Kellemen writes, and longs for all counselors to employ, comes through on every page. Never does he portray God as aloof or too holy to be approachable; even when writing about sin (‘spiritual adultery’) or the pit of despair that (gasp! God as the ) even Christians find themselves in.
“Like Equiano and Paul, we’ve all endured hurt that has driven us to the precipice of despair. Unfortunately, we’ve likely been sent subtle messages: “Christians don’t hurt.” “Spiritual Christians don’t talk about their struggles.” Paul, inspired by God, tells us that that’s a lie. In fact, he shows us that when we deny our hurt, we deny our need for God.” (p. 172).
We cannot expect someone to “renew [his] mind with the Word” until he truly knows God as the Father of Compassion and God of all comfort (2 Cor. 1:3). Kellemen then discusses how we reach out to others with the same hope and ‘Christ-received comfort’ that has sustained us – a key component of ‘one another’ ministry.

A Biblical Counseling Model Based on Grace

The final chapters of the book are devoted to progressive sanctification, and what ongoing reliance on Christ’s finished work, redeeming power, and relentless, pursuing love looks like. Do we see God as forgiving Judge, or welcoming Father? Do we – or the people we counsel – ‘accept our acceptance’; embrace our forgiveness? Kellemen demonstrates how Hebrews 10:19-25 draws our justification in Christ together with the mutual encouragement that is crucial for vibrant Christian life. He then turns to the regenerated heart – the believer has a new ‘want to’, and because of the Holy Spirit, a new ‘can do’. This is a welcome message that needs to be internalized by many struggling within the Church – whether in formal counseling for specific problems; or quietly enduring self-loathing for spiritual ‘failures’.

I have met many brothers and sisters in Christ, across different generations and of various cultures, who live with the nagging sense that they are letting God down. The Holy Spirit does the work of conviction and encouragement, of course; and He calls people individually in His own way and through diverse circumstances. “Gospel-Centered Counseling” is a grace-infused, Christ-oriented, empathetically-written resource whose message can help the process.

Counselors and “average Joe Christians” alike will find much truth here – simply stated and beautifully written – to point their fellow sojourners to the Great Physician. Kellemen quotes Puritans and Reformers; draws spiritual truth from Clint Eastwood films and Smurf cartoons; introduces us to real people, and reminds us – like the Apostle Paul – that we are never alone. A truly inspiring and helpful book to assist both reader and counselee growing in grace.


When Our Theology Stifles Our Compassion

This article appeared last month on the Biblical Counseling Coalition website, and was re-posted around the web. Thoughts I have gleaned while counseling those with eating disorders.

When Our Theology Stifles Our Compassion

When our Theology Stifles Our Compassion
Yesterday, I received a disturbing phone call. A young woman I had been counseling attempted suicide over the weekend. In God’s mercy, He intervened before the overdose could do its lethal damage. But in the aftermath, “Mary’s” soul remains raw and bleeding. She doesn’t have the strength to fill in a “Discovering Problem Patterns” worksheet or memorize verses right now. Mary needs to grasp the biblical reality that she is precious to the Savior Who will not let her go. The promises of Scripture—which are just words to her right now—need to be real in her life.
And I realized anew that I am utterly powerless.  
The training in systematic theology and hermeneutics we have is valuable, in terms of ministering the Scriptures to people who seek answers. Yet, there are times, if we are not careful, when our “sound doctrine” may sound like a clanging cymbal, and push hurting believers away. This can happen both in the counseling room, and in our friendships.
Does this sound like a false dichotomy? It isn’t. One of the things God is teaching me lately is that while our words may be true, and biblical, andspoken in love, there is a depth of understanding and compassion that cannot always be expressed verbally…yet is crucially important.
Sometimes, when faced with another’s pain, one simply doesn’t know what to say. I have the opposite problem—I always know exactly what to say (and usually which verses to cite).
It’s knowing when to shut up that poses the problem for me.

Being Grace-Oriented before Solutions-Oriented

The plumb line for all counsel is, of course, the Bible. Scripture dictates what we do; not culture. Sound doctrine matters. I want those words engraved on my tombstone! However, a sticky truth is that people are not formulaic, like computers: we cannot simply re-program them with a “string code” of certain verses, and expect that their hearts will be automatically transformed. Unwittingly, the homework we give to help counselees think biblically may even add “performance pressure,” leading to additional condemnation.
As biblical counselors, trained to identify the problem and then apply the biblical solution, this can be frustrating. “Faith is not determined by feelings,” we want to protest. We think, “Empathizing with someone is not going to help them—the Word of God is what will fix their problems!” However, Christ-like compassion never pits Truth against Love.
We want to help. We love our friends, our family, our counselees. In our desire to help, we need to understand that it is perfectly “theological” to minister to someone who is hurting just by moving towards them in their pain, without preaching. A phone call or e-mail can simply communicate that we care, are praying, and above all, that we are there for them.
There is a time to give a theology lecture; and there is a time to give silent hugs.
Different situations call for different approaches, as Jesus demonstrated in His ministry. Of course, He is the only Counselor with perfect insight into a hurting heart, yet we can and must still learn from His example. In John 11, after the death of Lazarus, Jesus comforts Martha with the promises of God and bolsters her faith. Mary, however, threw herself at His feet weeping. The Lord, far from remaining emotionally detached, cried with her (John 11:32-35).
Mary needed compassionate empathy in the midst of her pain. Likewise, my suicidal counselee will not hear a theology lecture right now. She needs the Jesus Who will pick her up off the floor, dry her tears, and remind her that her life still has value—to Him, even if to no one else.
Encountering severely depressed believers requires a special patience and sensitivity that we need to seek from the heart of God. Yes, biblical encouragement includes using Scripture wisely. But when one is immobilized in their Christian walk, it is not the best time to unpack all of Ephesians 4. “Putting off” the sin nature and “putting on” the new man seems impossible when just getting out of bed is difficult. While it may be difficult, in these seasons showing Christ-like love may mean just sitting next to our friend (or counselee) in the pit. Once they are strong enough to take the first tentative steps of faith, then we can come back to applicable doctrine.

What Does a Supportive, Christian Friend Look Like?

Most of the people we love are not counselees, and are not usually looking for cut-and-dried spiritual advice. Nevertheless, Scripture portrays the Christian life as one of mutual encouragement, correction, and exhortation—both within our families and churches (where authority comes into play), and within friendship.
In these precious, rare Christian friendships reminiscent of David and Jonathan, “building up of one another” flows naturally. When a “log jam” in a friend’s life occurs, our first instinct is to get proactive and fix it. What better way than to point them to Scripture? Especially when we believe they may be—gasp—backsliding believers.
A popular catch-phrase among Evangelicals a few years ago was “What Would Jesus Do?” This is a valid question, but there is just one problem when attempting to discern another’s heart: we are not Jesus. We do not have the benefit of His omniscience, nor His insight into all angles of a particular situation. Obviously, in cases of blatant sin (e.g. adultery; theft; habitual drunkenness; pre-marital sex), the loving response would be scriptural confrontation. Supporting someone is sin is neither loving, nor Christ-like. But in real life, situations are rarely so clear-cut. What we may consider disobedience may simply be questionable judgment. In our minds, we may be discerning; in our friend’s, judgmental. If we are sensitive to the Holy Spirit, God shows us what it means to be “A friend [who] loves at all times” and a “brother in times of adversity” (Proverbs 17:17).
Recently, a dear friend said to me, “If you know anything about me, you know I can line up all those Bible verses and teaching and the doctrine and all…so there is no point in telling me this, as if you’re saying something new. I just need to talk to God right now and listen to Him, because right now that preaching doesn’t help me.”
Love constrained me from retorting: “If you want to ‘listen to God,’ open the Bible!” I understood the heart behind my friend’s words. Where people’s lives, situations, emotions, and biblical principles converge, a simple verse (or worse, a sense that they are being lectured in a self-righteous way) is not going to encourage them.
And the ultimate irony? I don’t want to “be right.” I don’t want to win an argument; prove a point; or beat my friend at a game of Bible Trivia. What Ireally want is to have a coffee together; put an arm around her shoulder; and most of all, see the joy of Christ flowing in her life. Likewise, when I am confused or feel alone, knowing that a trusted friend is praying for me brings far more comfort than being hammered and peppered with confrontation.
Once God has “poured out His love in our hearts” (Romans 5:5), loving people comes more naturally. While it is often not easy or automatic, we long to share the liberating Truth of the Gospel with others—and help those close to us apply it to their lives. Even when our motives are pure, godly counsel may not be received that way if we wield it without tenderness. It is far more difficult to patiently support, silently love, and unceasingly pray than to exegete a passage of Scripture. We need to seek the Holy Spirit regularly for discernment in our approach, in order to be truly competent counselors andcompassionate friends.

Join the Conversation

What do you think of this summary statement?
It is far more difficult to patiently support, silently love, and unceasingly pray than to exegete a passage of Scripture.


Loving the Way Jesus LovesLoving the Way Jesus Loves by Philip Graham Ryken

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Love Is a Person

Loving the way Jesus loves is a daunting task, yet one to which every one of His followers is called. Phil Ryken approaches the central calling of the Christian’s life by walking the reader, slowly and deliberately, through 1 Corinthians 13, the “Love Chapter of the Bible.” Less an exegetical treatment of the text than a life application, Ryken’s approach in Loving the Way Jesus Loves is to show us that love is a Person—Jesus Christ—and not a “feeling” nor an abstract theological concept. He states it plainly: “The biggest challenge for us here is not to understand what Paul meant but to do what he said.” (76).

Ryken establishes the necessity of biblical love more than any other attribute, then goes on in subsequent chapters to demonstrate how each characteristic of love mentioned in verses 3-13 is personified in Christ. Throughout the book, he emphasizes that all of the virtues mentioned in this passage are verbs; attributes we are to put into practice by imitating Christ. Interwoven throughout his discussion of each aspect of love—patience; kindness; selflessness; trust; etc.—are scenes from the life of Christ which underscore how He Himself demonstrated each virtue. Christ’s refusal to become provoked or irritated takes us to the shores of Galilee, at the end of a long day of ministry (Mark 6:7-13). Forgiveness is tenderly demonstrated in His restoration of Peter (John 21:15-17).

Examining our own hearts in light of Christ’s responses to people, we learn how to anticipate our own temptation to become irritable (what Lewis Smedes calls a “spiritual readiness to get angry”), and where it comes from: putting our own wants ahead of other people’s needs. By dissecting irritability (and the other opposite attitudes of those mentioned in the passage), Ryken illustrates in an every-day, non-judgmental way how we fail to love people and hinder our relationship with God. “Love lets the needs of others set our agenda, rather than letting our agenda limit how much we are willing to serve” (55).

A Question…

From the beginning of the book, a question may linger in the back of the reader’s mind: “If love is primarily a choice, and not a feeling (as biblical counselors often exhort), is what Ryken calls ‘loveless social action’ worthless? Do we not have to choose to demonstrate love sometimes—even when we don’t feel like it—out of simple obedience?”

The answer is yes, but to think of love in terms of duty is to miss the point. The problem, as Ryken summarizes, is that “we are less loving than we think we are, and a lot less loving than we ought to be.” Therefore, we need to learn how to love—and this begins our journey into understanding the heart of Jesus. Love is as love does; and through His interaction with other people (most of whom did not reciprocate any kind of affection, let alone charity), we learn to see what love looks like. The Gospel, the Good News that we are loved undeservedly and unconditionally, is what transforms our hearts – from that of dutiful servants to joyful heirs.

Outward Behavior and Inward Heart Change

Throughout the book, Ryken draws the connection between outward behavior and inward heart change. In Chapter 4, Love’s Holy Joy, he explains that rejoicing with the truth (v. 6) goes beyond theology and morality by taking us to the dinner table of Simon the Pharisee. More than warning against participation of sin, however, love does not rejoice in the wrongdoing of others. A subtle sense of satisfaction may creep in when another—especially a rival—falls into sin. What Paul is pointing to (and Christ demonstrated through forgiving the sinful woman) is the joy that comes with a personal experience of God’s grace—and what we rejoice in vicariously when another tastes it. This transformational, selfless, joy-sharing love is what motivates true Christ-like compassion. What better way to cultivate patience towards a fellow believer, than to appreciate a holy God’s patience with us in coming to repentance!

In order to appreciate the multi-faceted love we see in Scripture, Ryken probes deeply into the self-centered human heart in order to understand how and why we fall short. In every failure to forgive; to be long-suffering; to trust—there is an idol. We prize our own comfort; security; reputation or convenience. By contrast, a heart transformed by the forgiving grace of God will be preoccupied with extending the same blessing to others. Ryken shows how our hearts can be truly transformed by grace: “First it takes our failures and forgives them. This gives us so much gratitude that we start loving Jesus in return. But that is not all. The love of Jesus then enables us to serve others with the same kind of love.” (171).

This attitude—giving freely what we have freely received from the hand of God—applies, of course, not only to forgiveness; but to every other loving behavior-attitude listed in 1 Corinthians 13. Far from being a “behavior modification” chapter, Ryken shows, through simple anecdotes and the life of Christ, how to “put off” unloving human reactions and “put on” their godly opposites. His life, example, and personal involvement in ours is what transforms our attitudes and motivation towards others. In this practical and compassionately-written book, Ryken helps Christians of all stages see how walking in love is a natural consequence of living in the overflow of God’s intense, personal, and active love for the believer.

This review was first published on The Biblical Counseling Coalition's website: http://biblicalcounselingcoalition.or...

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Superb Review of RFTP from Vision of Hope

Resource Friday: Redeemed from the Pit

by  | Vision of HopeOct 17, 2014dark-dawn-dusk-1820-825x550
This week in our “Resource Friday” series, we would like to talk about a great book we use for many of our ladies who are struggling with eating disorders, Redeemed from the Pit by Marie Notcheva. This book has truly been instrumental to our ladies here at VOH and offers great, biblical help to those who are struggling with destructive eating habits.
Marie writes in a way that is compassionate, yet challenging; speaking the truth in love. In her book, Marie helps the reader think through what is actually going on in the heart, what true repentance looks like, and how to live in freedom from enslaving habits through Christ. Marie does an amazing job of getting to the heart idols that drive destructive eating habits, and leaves no room for excuses.
As she writes about changing behavior, Marie addresses the issue of having a “works righteousness” perspective. While striving to change destructive habits, it can be easy to fall into the error of focusing solely on changing the behavior, missing the heart that is driving that behavior. Marie assures this does not happen in her book, as she wisely teaches her readers what it looks like to change the heart along with the behaviors. She writes:
Trying to change behavior without dealing with the underlying motivations is doomed to failure. Superficial change does not acknowledge the lordship of Christ – a deep heart change is not necessary simply to break a habit. True transformation requires us to hate out sin passionately; not just seek to avoid the consequences of it (2 Corinthians 7:10). Simply trying to change our actions means we are still trying to be our own god – thinking we can change ourselves apart from the Holy Spirit. Rather, Jesus reverses the order: “…first, clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.”(Matthew 23:26)
We are so thankful for this amazing resource that has helped so many of our ladies find freedom in Christ! If you would like to purchase this resource, get it here.
Bethany SpenceBethany Spence
Bethany heard about Vision of Hope while attending Word of Life Bible Institute in Florida. When she began praying about what God wanted her to do after graduating, He kept bringing Vision of Hope to her mind. Knowing that there was an internship available, Bethany applied, was accepted, and began her internship with VOH in July, 2012. Since then she has been amazed at the opportunities God has given her to learn more about His Word and how it applies to everyday life. Bethany now serves on staff at Vision of Hope.


New Resource from Focus Publishing - "Eating Disorders: Hope for Hungering Souls"

I was recently asked to write the Foreword to Dr. Mark Shaw's latest biblical counseling book, written with co-authors Rachel Bailey and Bethany Spence. Bethany and Rachel both serve in the field of eating disorders at Vision of Hope and Houston Eating Disorders Center, respectively.

It was a huge honor to be involved with this project, and I believe God will use this important resource to help many struggling women!


My Eating Disorder Journey During Pregnancy

(Originally written for a friend of mine, who is a doula with a special ministry to pregnant women with eating disorders.)

For a young woman with body image issues, the prospect of carrying a baby and watching her body grow and change (in ways she cannot control) is frightening. In addition to the physical aspect, pregnancy is a bit of an enigma to young women: in high school and college, the unmarried but sexually active fear it. There is shame and stigma attached, which partially accounts for the high abortion rate. Once married, pregnancy is desired and greatly anticipated – the joyful promise of a new baby awaits. Where, exactly, does the woman suffering with an eating disorder fall into this spectrum?

That is a complicated question, as many of us who have been through this experience can attest. The life-dominating obsession of anorexia or bulimia is an intensely lonely experience, and many women with eating disorders truly want to become nurturing mothers to a little one who loves them unconditionally. Having an eating disorder during pregnancy is not a matter of selfishness; of putting one’s vanity or pride before the child’s needs. The pregnant woman struggling with anorexia (or, more commonly, bulimia), needs compassion more than ever in order to reach out for the help she needs.

My eating disorder began 10 years before my first pregnancy in 1996. Although severely underweight in high school, I had managed to maintain a normal-enough weight throughout my early twenties to conceal my bulimia. At 5’5” and 110-120 lbs., I weighed enough to menstruate regularly and had no trouble conceiving and carrying my babies to term. (I had stopped menstruating from age 15-19, as I had insufficient body fat to produce the estrogen needed to ovulate. Many women with eating disorders permanently lose their fertility; it should be noted that I was extremely lucky.)
As a pre-teen, I had casually made the comment once to my mother, “Being a fashion model seems like a fun job to have,” to which she caustically replied: “What would you model – maternity clothes?” This comment stayed with me my entire life…causing me to associate pregnancy with being overweight. As a young married woman, I do not recall, however, being unduly concerned about weight gain or looking “fat” during my pregnancies. However, as I was regularly bingeing and purging (up to four times per day), I did not gain as much weight as the average woman would have. During my first pregnancy, I gained 15 pounds – and delivered a healthy, 8 lb. 4 oz. baby girl. My second pregnancy was similar – the bulimia continued, undetected….and I gave birth to an 8 lb. 1 oz. baby boy.

Towards the end of my third pregnancy  in 2003, protein was noted in my urine. Tests were done to check my creatinine clearance – a measure of kidney function. Knowing that long-term bulimia can affect the kidneys, I became worried. Thinking I had been drinking insufficient water, I began fluid-loading…..which skewed the results of the tests and caused my ob-gyn to think my kidneys were failing. Knowing nothing about my bulimia, she assumed I was pre-eclamptic (despite my low blood pressure) and scheduled an induction at 37 weeks gestation. A difficult and painful delivery followed, although my son was healthy and strong at 7 lbs. 6 oz. Several months later, I saw a nephrologist who assured me my kidneys were completely healthy….and that compromised kidney function was often present in late-term pregnancies.

Nevertheless, the experience scared  me…..and it was part of the wake-up call God gave me to turn my life around. While Stefan (my third child) was an infant, I began the process of repentance from the eating disorder that could have claimed my life. Intercessory prayer by others, as well as regular time in the Word and personal prayer were tools that I used to overcome the bondage food had become in my life. (See my book, “Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders” , (Calvary Press) for helpful information on the process of renewing the mind.)

In 2005, I unexpectedly found myself expecting once again – this time, with a second daughter. In between buying pink outfits and nursery toys, I was by this time talking to women online who found themselves in the same predicament I had years earlier – pregnant;  trapped by eating disorders; and scared. I shared with them the same hope that God had given me – and explained that there was freedom available in Christ. I encouraged them to get help, either through their churches or with a local counselor. Eating normally, this time I gained 30 lbs. (although I had slightly more edema) and came home from the hospital 20 lbs. lighter. Without reverting to restriction, purging, or any other unhealthy mechanisms, I was back down to my pre-pregnancy size 3 within a few months. Natalia, who weighed 8 lbs. 6 oz. at birth, was the only one of my children conceived, carried and born post-bulimia.

The physical risks of eating disorders to a pregnant woman (and her unborn child) are sobering. Dehydration can lead to severe cramping, which may be mistaken for miscarriage. Malnutrition causes key nutrients and minerals to be leached from the mother’s bones, in order for the baby to obtain what he/she needs. Worse, in the case of anorexia, miscarriage is common and low-birth weight (along with insufficiently developed brains) is a major risk. Although my children were fortunate not to have been physically affected by my eating disorder while I was carrying them, while practicing bulimia I could not have been the mom that they needed. Constantly being preoccupied with thoughts of food and the takes time, energy and attention away from the little ones who need it most. One of the first things I noticed when I stopped the bulimic behavior was how much more energy I had. I was also able to concentrate and stay focused much more easily.

Overcoming an eating disorder is never easy, and because the mindset and behavior pattern is so difficult to break the motivation to “just do it for the baby” is simply not enough. Moreover, such statements (however well-intentioned) may add to the guilt a pregnant woman with an eating disorder already feels. She needs to feel safe enough to confess the bulimia (or other eating disorder) to her doula or trusted medical professional, in order to get nutritional and spiritual help. Pregnancy can be an added incentive to a woman’s recovery, but transformation is never automatic. If you are pregnant and suffer from an eating disorder, there is hope. Do not be afraid to tell someone you trust, and allow others to help and support you! 


Trips, Changes and Pits that Have Nothing to Do with Bulimia

Sometimes the counselor needs counsel. Or just understanding.

Wow...has it really been 3 months since I blogged? I started this blog in 2011 (I think), as a platform for my writing about eating disorders, and in hopes of getting my first book, "Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders" picked up by a traditional publisher. It worked - Calvary Press released RFTP in October of that year, and I still get e-mails from women all over the world seeking help. (I try to keep up with them as much as possible.)

I completed my certification as a biblical counselor the following month, just in time for the counseling ministry at my church to fall apart and the Associate Pastor to move to Canada.

Oh well. I've always considered myself more of a writer than a counselor anyway. (For those of you who don't know me personally, I am a courtroom and medical interpreter by profession so I keep busy. As of now, I am the only certified Bulgarian<=>English interpreter on the East Coast. My dream is to interpret for a biblical counseling conference someday, if ACBC ever brings biblical counseling to Bulgaria.)

But I digress. Why have I not been writing? Well, the truth is, I HAVE. This spring, articles I wrote about overcoming eating disorders in the power of Christ were published in both Albania and Bulgaria, as well as a second article about using social networking to further the Gospel. I can barely keep up with the e-mails and Facebook messages I receive from women in both countries, and I have been trying (thus far unsuccessfully) to get "Redeemed from the Pit" translated.

Recently, I was honored to write the Foreword for a booklet Dr. Mark Shaw is publishing on eating disorders (His Truth in Love Ministries). I was a contributor to Nancy Kennedy's fourth "Miracles and Moments of Grace" series, "Inspirational Stories of Survival". And, this month I completed my second book, "Plugged In: Proclaiming Christ in the Internet Age", which is in second-draft form at the publisher's. (More on that as release date gets closer.)

I have not updated this blog because I have not known what to say, really.....apart from answering the desperate e-mails and Facebook messages I regularly receive, my life has so little to do with eating disorders. And, increasingly little to do with biblical counseling (although I am currently counseling one young woman). For several years, including after completing my biblical counseling training, I have been increasingly apathetic towards theology, and dissatisfied and disillusioned with my family situation.

This summer, my family and I traveled to Bulgaria and Albania for the first time together in 6 years. We had been planning this "Balkan Road Trip" for 3 years, with the main purpose being to visit my husband's family in Bulgaria (and naturally to attempt sharing the Gospel with them, as we have in the past). I have "family in Christ" in Albania, and have developed close relationships with several students and their families. For years, I was dreaming about the day I would introduce my husband to them. They, also, were eagerly anticipating meeting my family and husband.

The "vacation" did not go as planned, despite the cheerful, happy pictures I managed to upload to Facebook. (Ever notice how we can make our Christmas card family pictures and Facebook albums tell a much rosier story than reality?) What I had seen coming - known was inevitable - hit the proverbial fan on the first afternoon of our trip. Maybe someday I will be able to write about it. But not yet.

Anyway, as incongruous as it sounds for a certified biblical counselor, my husband and I are now in counseling. With a wonderful ACBC counselor (who is a pastor). For our marriage. Which I no longer believed could be saved. And, one Wednesday night in a hotel room in Albania - during a week that was supposed to be a "dream come true" for me - I threw in the towel, and that became my decision. After years, and years, and YEARS of verbal abuse. The Holy Spirit has already begun to work. If our counselor is right, and our marriage begins to "sing", it will be a truly amazing testimony of God's grace....and I will happily write a blog for the Biblical Counseling Coalition about the Happily Ever After of allowing God to meet us in a new "pit" and pull us out.

Today, however, is not that day.

I am still too angry, double-minded and emotionally raw to give you a success story of being transformed by the power of God's Word. Right now, that's all it is....just words, like the ones I crank out in my book manuscript.

So, that's where I am at right now.....busy as always; writing where possible; struggling to find the will to save my marriage. I will not be writing about that here, as a blog is much too public and personal to write about one's marriage struggles, but I do hope someday to have a grace-filled testimony to share. Thank you for your prayers, patience and understanding as I try to move forward. As Martha Peace wrote in one of her books, learning to obey and glorify God is more important than whether we ever are published or not. I don't really know what He is doing right now or why He allowed this, but I am trying to trust Him.


Prayer of Freedom from Eating Disorders (Re-post from Shalombewithyou)

I did not write this, but a young friend shared it with me from another blog and I am re-posting. Hope someone is blessed by this prayer today!

“Dear Heavenly Father,
I want to thank you that I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  I come humbly to you with a repentant heart.
I have not been treating the amazing body you have given me with the respect it deserves. For some reason I have bought the lie that I am not good enough.  I haven’t felt ‘good enough’ for as long as I can remember.
In the name of Jesus’ I bind any generational curses of insecurity that could have been passed down to me through my father’s or mother’s bloodline leading all the way back to Adam.

Lord, show me the source of where the wounds of self-hatred were inflicted.  Help me to forgive those who have hurt me and help me to forgive myself for hindering my health as well. I bind the spirit of depression, self-hatred, bulimia, anorexia and the suicide spirit.  You no longer have control over me.  I am giving every area of my mind, heart, soul, spirit and habits to the Lord.  I am allowing the spirit of Christ to overcome the spirits of darkness that once ruled in those areas.  You no longer have dominion. Lord, open my eyes to see how the enemy deceived me in the past.  Help me to see the truth for what it is and the lies for what they are.  Help me to distinguish wrong and right thoughts and to make the choices that will bring me life, not death.

In the name of Jesus I am asking for a complete healing and restoration of all the areas of my life that have been affected by the spirits of body dismorphia, anorexia and bulimia. Lord, I need healing in my mind.  I cast out the spirits of fear, anxiety, dizziness, foggy thinking, fainting, shame and low self esteem. Restore my brain chemistry to be perfectly balanced and in alignment with your Word.

Lord, please regulate my body fluids.  Raise my levels of potassium, magnesium and sodium if they are off balance.  Help me to keep these levels where they need to be with proper nutrition. Restore my heart to be strong. Remove all heart flutters, low blood pressure and any unaturally slow heart rates. Help me to eat in a way that will keep my heart strong.  Give me a balanced view of exercise for longevity.

Strengthen my kidneys.  I have put this amazing organ under extreme stress. Relieve and heal my irregular bowel movements, remove all inflammation, bloating, diarrhea and abdominal cramping in the name of Jesus.
Lord, restore my hormones to be where they should be for a person of my age. If I have started depleting my bones of calcium restore what I have destroyed and help me to eat in a way that will build my bones, not destroy them.

If my mouth has suffered from sores, heal them.  Heal any irritated throat and esophagus tissues. Restore what the devil tried to steal from me in the years and quality of my life. Help me to understand the root causes of this eating disorder.  I will not claim it as mine as it will no longer have an impact on my life like it has in the past. When I feel the compulsion to restrict my calories or to throw up, remind me of how much you love me. Help me to tap into that love whenever I don’t feel love for myself.

Heal my wounded way of thinking and all the damaging memories that are associated with this disorder. Pour the blood of Jesus and the dunamis power of His resurrection spirit over these areas of my mind and body. If Jesus could raise Himself from the dead, he can raise me up from this deadly way of thinking and acting.

When I am healed, allow me to be a beacon of light and encouragement to others who are struggling with the very issues you are healing me from today. In Jesus’ precious name, I accept this full and complete healing, Amen.”

Author: Julia Shalom Jordan

*Prayer should never be a substitute for receiving medical attention.  If you, or someone you love is experiencing suicidal thoughts or harmful tendencies towards themselves or other individuals, please help them contact a qualified physician in addition to praying for them.www.shalombewithyou.com does not assume any responsibility for any personal decisions or choices made by it’s readers.


Question About Telling My Children (from Reader)

"Hi Marie,
Hope you're doing well. I was just pondering today and thought of you. I was wondering how you talk about the topic of eating disorders with your kids. More specifically, the fact that you had one. What age did you bring it up? What did you say? How exactly did you go about it - did you sit them down or talk about it more casually? Has your history of having an eating disorder affected your parenting? Look forward to hearing from you.

Hi L!

Huh. Good question. I don't specifically remember having any real conversations. When my book came out, Valentina and Miro read the first chapter, my testimony, but didn't have any particular comments. I guess they're just used to the idea that (like a lot of people who they would have heard sharing a testimony over the years) Mom has something in her past that, with God's help, she overcame. 

Valentina was the only one old enough to have any (even vague) memory of my ED - not that she would have been consciously aware exactly at the time, but since I was still buying and planning my days around out-of-control binges (while trying to hide it) when she was in Kindergarden, 1st grade.....it was making me more short-tempered and irritable, as well as exhausted and I'm sure that did affect her. But she has no conscious memory of either my bulimia or drinking problem. However, she has always had a sneaky side......hiding/lying about stuff (usually small stuff), and even at 17, waits until we are out of the room to sneak sweets out of the fridge. Which is ridiculous, given that we have never restricted any of them from having chocolate (or whatever); why hide it?? My husband once wondered if my past might have had anything to do with her inborn "sneaking", but I doubt it.

How has it effected my parenting overall......I would say, I don't repeat the same mistakes my mother did. I have never made an issue of weight with her, never used the word "calorie" in a sentence or passed on any food hang-ups in any way (probably because I no longer have them.) I'm more concerned, if anything, about all the GMO and junk in the American food supply than my kids getting fat (but not concerned enough to go organic....I'm far too cheap.) 

I hope that answers your question......I never really addressed it or made a bid deal out of it with them, but they've long known (probably because of my book.) However, telling my husband was another matter entirely and a very hard experience. See "Telling Someone" in my book. 

Hope that helps!


Review of "Redeemed from the Pit" on the Biblical Counseling Coalition

Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance And Restoration From The Bondage of Eating Disorders by Marie Notcheva

Redeemed from the Pit is a solid read for the biblical counselor who is looking to expand their understanding on this important topic and for anyone seeking to overcome an eating disorder or is ministering to someone who is enslaved to the lifestyle. The personal story victory and practical application of Gospel truth makes this a great resource.

In the Pit of Despair

As a biblical counselor and as a person who was once diagnosed with bulimorexia, I took on the challenge of reading Marie Notcheva’s book, Redeemed from the Pit: Biblical Repentance and Restoration from the Bondage of Eating Disorders book for both personal and professional reasons. I have had a love/hate relationship with food all my life. Like Marie, I once struggled with binging and purging and I alternated those behaviors with starvation.  
From the introduction to the end of the book, Marie makes it clear to the reader that eating disorders are not a physical disease from which a person recovers but a spiritual disease from which a person must repent. 
Marie’s personal story is weaved throughout this great book. She gives vivid details of how her early years provided the perfect mental and emotional set up for the development of her eating disorder. The culture of the late 1960’s and early 70’s that subjected women to consistent expectations of thinness and beauty fueled the fires of shame ignited by her family’s careless words about her weight and appearance. Her mother in particular (who appeared to struggle with her own food issues) was exceedingly fearful Marie would be overweight and suffer consequences to her health. She enrolled Marie in a toddler dance class to slim her down and restricted her access to sugar and starches.
At age 11, Marie began taking gymnastics. By 14, with gymnast Nadia Comaneci as her idol, she began a lifestyle of severe calorie restriction and over exercise. The highly competitive worlds of gymnastics and dance fueled her desire to become sylphlike. While she got the desired results through constant exercise and living on Slim-Fast and vegetables, the following year she determined to eat as much as she wanted, eliminating the food binge through vomiting.
In a very short amount of time, Marie’s binge/purge lifestyle was out of control. It was clear to everyone around her she needed help. Her health was in serious jeopardy. While referred to psychologists, psychiatrists, and therapists, they were unable to breach the concrete protecting her heart. 

A Way Out

In her sophomore year at college, she joined Campus Crusade and put her faith in Christ. She continued her secret lifestyle while active in Cru, Bible study, and discipleship. A job abroad followed college and her slavery to bulimia remained an active part of everyday life. She also began to drink heavily as a way to medicate the constant guilt and shame she lived with.
Marriage and children did not expose or alter her bulimia, although her husband did express concern about her drinking.
Marie writes at length about the self-disgust she experienced. It caused her to question her salvation and consider herself a hypocrite. She felt hopeless and at times she feared God had rejected her. However, she had such a desire to return to Him that she continuously tried to turn away from her sin. In desperation, she met with a small group of Christian women who prayed over her. It was then that she began to find freedom from alcohol and bulimia.  
From this point forward in the book, Marie develops the inward battle of change at the heart level. She describes her battle with overcoming her eating disorder both on the physical and spiritual level and does not shrink away from describing the difficulties she faced or her failures in overcoming the desire to binge and purge. She notes, “Overcoming an eating disorder requires our constant, active commitment to inward change” (7). 

Living Free

She urges the reader to “be one who believes” in the power of the Gospel as the means to transform life from victimhood to victorious in Christ, rightly emphasizing the critical need for repentance in overcoming an eating disorder.
“Forgiven, cleansed, and given a new start, He expects you to get up off your knees and get started—walking in repentance” (6).
Marie carefully breaks down the numerous issues of the heart that a person with eating disorder behaviors must repent of to overcome this sin and live victoriously. There is an entire chapter devoted to the believers position in Christ, which is very important for a woman with an eating disorder to understand since so much of her thinking is performance oriented. Marie brings forth the truth about the role emotions play in how a person thinks about food. This is vital since those with unhealthy eating habits believe many lies about food.
Throughout the book, there are application steps that make use of charts and Scripture memorization. There is also an entire chapter on practical issues that a person with disordered eating faces. Marie highlights the refining benefits of a biblical counseling relationship and involvement in a local church. 
This book is a solid read for the biblical counselor who is looking to expand their understanding on this important topic and for anyone seeking to overcome an eating disorder or is ministering to someone who is enslaved to the lifestyle. The personal story victory and practical application of Gospel truth makes this a great resource. 
Julie Ganschow

Julie Ganschow

Julie Ganschow has been involved in biblical counseling and discipleship for over a decade. She ministers to women through Biblical Counseling for Women and writes a daily blog on counseling issues. She is a staff member at Reigning...
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Feedback from a Professor...and Former Bulimic

Dear Marie,

Thank you for your sincere, honest, straightforward, inspirational book! I am a 36-year-old, single woman living in California. I was severely bulimic for 6 years, and for another 6 years after that, I struggled with non-purging bulimia (bingeing and restriction). I also developed alcoholism during those years. I wasn't raised to believe in God, but I always knew my eating disorder was a form of sin and dated back to my early experiences with lying and petty theft as a pre-teen.

I accepted Christ in 2007, much to the dismay of my family. I now work as a professor, teaching about the sociology of addiction. I also mentor women struggling to recover from eating disorders. I was very excited to find your book, because I think it will be a huge help for one of my mentees in particular, named Laura. She will go several weeks without bingeing and then get mentally tripped up about the boundaries of abstinence. She knows it's not wise to eat trigger foods, but she's also wary about making them off-limits because it perpetuates food rules. I'm going to suggest she try your advice to make certain foods off-limits for 6 to 8 weeks and then pray to seek further guidance.

Your advice and insight is spot-on, based on my own experiences and observations. I've seen a lot of bulimics (including my own sister) and a lot of spiritual and nutritional approaches to ending the habit, and everything you wrote rings true.

Eating disorders are crippling. Yes, they are triggered by family and environmental situations, but I also believe they are a serious site of spiritual warfare. Sometimes I think people who come from non-believing families are particularly targeted by the enemy, because he knows how many opportunities we have to help lead people to Christ.

I am so grateful to know you are out there! Please pray for my mentees and let me know if there's anything I can do to help you.

In Christ,