Note: This post was written by Ashton Songer, Charlotte Fellow class of 2014. Ashton is an amazing freelance photographer and Pure Barre instructor living in Atlanta, GA with her husband Thomas. Reposted with permission.
Beauty and the Bitch: Grace for the Worst in Me—oh yes, that was the eye-catching title of the book my counselor recommended to me during my time at the Barnabas Center. And it’s a book I want and need to read again and again. The title alone pretty much sums up a massive chunk of my experience as a Charlotte Fellow.
Backing up a bit, The Barnabas Center is a “nonprofit, nondenominational, Christ-centered counseling, training and teaching ministry” with offices in Charlotte, Davidson, N.C., and Richmond, VA. I first encountered the Barnabas Center when our Fellows class attended a Barnabas training seminar not too long after we began our journey in Charlotte. The basic seminar is designed to deepen our understanding of others by first understanding our own hearts in light of the Gospel. Ultimately, the hope is to come away with the tools to engage in more meaningful, Gospel-filled conversations and relationships. The training alone was incredibly helpful, but that was just the beginning for me.
For a long time, I had a generally negative and fearful view of counseling. It sounds like a place where people who have issues go. Well…that’s true. Turns out, we all have issues and we should all probably visit a counselor at some point! Shocking, I know. At some point in college, when I finally embraced the idea that counseling is actually a positive thing, I didn’t know where to go, who to turn to, how I would pay for it, etc. Those questions remained unanswered largely out of the fear that, upon going, someone would discover that there was something wrong with me—that I’m scarred, I’m crazy, I’m wounded, I’m weak, I am the problem, etc.
In many ways, the Fellows program brings you face to face with your own heart issues. Week after week of this heart work (and we all know it was just the beginning), followed by the training seminar, rave reviews from other folks who had been to the Barnabas Center, and with financial aid provided by the Charlotte Fellows—all of these things led me to book my first appointment. And then my grandfather, who had been my father in the truest sense of the word, passed away a day or so before I was supposed to go. As you can imagine, this was earth-shattering for me.
So, I came to the Barnabas Center utterly stupefied and totally running on empty. I don’t remember much about those first visits, but I can say with certainty that my life and my heart began to change from the moment the words, feelings, and stories poured out of my heart into the safe space of my counselor’s office. The Lord used those seven months of counseling to teach me more about myself, about others, and about Himself. Even when I was resisting His embrace—at war within myself, raging against my heart, my mind, my spirit, my past, my present, my fears, my anxieties, my world and, essentially, my God— He was patiently teaching me, lovingly waiting for me and kindly revealing Himself to me.
When I contemplate that transformative stretch of time, it’s difficult for me to articulate just a few takeaways. Sure, I can rattle off a list—managing my anger, working through wounds, having hard conversations, managing conflict, preparing for marriage, working through loss, grief, change, and fear, experiencing redemption, reconciliation, and healing in relationships, loving myself, grappling with grace… The bottom line is that this heart work is a life-long journey, and the Barnabas Center, along with being a Fellow, took me further than I’ve ever been before.
As disciples of Christ, we know that our lives don’t supernaturally become easier and our struggles instantly dissolve. Likewise, my heart issues weren’t magically resolved by going to the Barnabas Center. In fact, I wrestle with the same set of struggles I always have—just differently. The Barnabas Model of Change states:
“Our job as counselors is to reveal the human condition, exposing it in the moment, both in its potential to become what God has in mind and in its self-centered autonomy. It is in this context that we pray God’s Spirit will choose to move in the depths of one’s heart. Ultimately, no methodology or theology can change a heart. Only God can.”
It’s not often in life that we find truly safe spaces in which we feel wholly listened to, fully heard, and unconditionally significant. That’s why I believe this sort of counseling relationship is so invaluable and why I’m so deeply thankful for it.
Ashton Songer is a member of the Charlotte Fellows class of 2014. Ashton is an amazing freelance photographer and Pure Barre instructor living in Atlanta, GA with her husband Thomas.
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