Expecting Suffering

What you believe about suffering can have a huge impact on how you face life in a broken world. A lot of people we talk to want to believe that suffering has no place in this world or in their lives. If it happens, they are shattered and disoriented. Those feelings are understandable. No one likes to suffer. But if we understand that it is not realistic to live in this world and not face hardship – we tend to develop an accepting outlook towards suffering that can help us cope with the realities of life. Even more helpful is an understanding that though the God of the universe is perfectly good, he never promised us a life free of suffering. Instead, He promises to use difficulties for the good of those who love Him.

For a better understanding of suffering, we recommend that you read Tim Keller’s Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering. Also, don’t be afraid to be honest with others when you are having a hard time making sense of the difficulties in your life. It’s a feeling that is common in all of us who live in a broken world. Thankfully, there is a God who came to redeem a people and prepare them for an eternal life without pain.


Being In The Moment

Mindfulness is one of the treatment approaches we use sometimes in our sessions. There is a lot to this approach. One thing we like about it is that it encourages people to be aware of, and just present in each moment of their day, in the now.

In the Bible Jesus reminded us of how helpful this can be as well, especially for those prone to anxiety. In Matthew 6:4 he encourages us to worry about today, not tomorrow. In Philippians 4, the apostle Paul encourages us not to be anxious (which by definition is worrying about the past or future), but to cast our cares onto Jesus. He encourages us instead to fill our minds with what is true and noble and lovely as we allow the peace of God to rule our hearts and minds. The truth is this – that God sent his Son to die on the cross for us and offers us all we need for today!

May you have a peace-filled day as you focus on how sufficient God is for you in each moment!

Marriage Help 101

Many of the people we help are in difficult marriages. This means that as we help others, we are frequently thinking of ways to offer lasting encouragement and solid counsel in light of these realities.  Here are just some of the basic advice we offer people who are discouraged in their marriages.

Get Help

It’s often difficult to admit to yourself and others that you need help – especially when that means acknowledging hurts in a relationship. But acknowledging the difficulties can lead to change or important growth

Acknowledge Your Need for Growth

Relationship difficulties understandably causes us to focus on another person’s shortcomings and weaknesses. But it can also be an opportunity to examine our own need for growth. Individual growth and maturity has a huge impact on how well we weather relationship struggles.

Relationships Will Disappoint

At Emmaus we believe that we do not live in a perfect world. Instead, we live in one that is affected by the brokenness and sin of each one of us. It is because of this that we are not surprised when people (ourselves included) experience difficulties in relationships. We are deeply saddened, but not surprised. It is also because of this that we encourage people to consider anchoring themselves in someone other than themselves or loved ones. We invite people to anchor themselves in the love offered by the God of the Universe. We invite our clients to ground themselves in Jesus Christ – God made man – who came to rescue us by taking on himself the punishment of our sins as He died on the cross. A hope extending beyond brokenness can transform how we deal with relationships.

We are thankful that there are many resources and assistance for those of us struggling in relationships. For advice or guidance about next steps, don’t hesitate to contact one of our counselors or call our main number at (703) 729-2822. 


Quick Tips on Teens and Technology

It’s a new age (maybe not so new anymore) and technology is a common topic in therapy offices. Technology presents a lot of blessings, but also some complex problem that makes it a huge issue that can be tricky to tackle.  Because of this, we’re going to offer a series of posts and resources about addressing the use of technology in everyday life.

Here are some questions to consider asking when talking with teens about technology.

  1. Who do you accept as “friends” on social media and why? Helping teens be aware of the motives they have when they expand their list of social medial followers is so important. For instance, were they trying to increase their number of friends, or did they accept a request from someone because of their flashing profile picture? Do they know the people on their friends list?
  2. Can you put your favorite device aside for a couple of hours and concentrate on face-to-face conversation with a friend or a family member? I tell teens this is even difficult for adults (like me) to do. We’re so used to holding a device and referring back to it to check information or statuses, we often are not fully present for face-to-face conversations.
  3. Can you name some benefits of having face-to-face conversations with family or friends regularly?
  4. Do you understand how much of what you do on your phone is not private?

If you need some expert back-up as you talk with your children (or anyone!) about safe technology use, check out the suggestions about staying safe online from the United States Department of Homeland Security here at this link.


Body Language

By Patti McCarthy Broderick

The first time I heard her, I ignored her.

She pointed out my youthful round limbs and torso

But I kept playing.

She showed up again in the gaze of my peers,

As their bodies began to develop,

And mine didn’t – not that way.


She seemed to have my best interests at heart:

She wanted to make me better, acceptable.

Soon she was in charge.

I got thinner, but it wasn’t enough.

I got in shape, but her voice was still loathing.

She consumed my thoughts, my dreams, my aspirations.


For years I served her.

For years, she loathed me.

Soon I began to see that there was no pleasing her.

She was a slave-master and her message was simple:

“You have the wrong body.”

And I believed her.


Then I began hearing His voice.

It was radically different from hers.

He wasn’t looking for a perfect body.

But a willing vessel, a dwelling for His love.

His gentle pursuit confused me – it seemed too simple:

“I created your body to thirst for my love.”


For a while, I tried to listen to both voices.

I didn’t trust His motives when it came to my body,

So I listened to Him about everything else,

But not about my body, nor my lies about it.

Her taunting voice was louder than His call to freedom,

And I loathed myself.


She was always demanding, and never satisfied.

He was always giving and desired all of me for Himself.

He asked me to trust that He could meet my deepest needs.

Reluctantly and fearfully, I dismissed her empty promises.

And purposefully, I began listening for His gentle voice

And I found the freedom in His real, sacrificial love.


Her voice still calls to me,

It has diminished appeal, but I hear her,

Promising me the body that I have always wanted.

When I already have what I thought that body would bring:

To be fully known and deeply loved, just as I am.

A body, transformed by the language of Love.

Nutrition and Mental Health

Guest post by Angela Mari of GoodLife Nutrition LLC

When I was invited by Emmaus Counseling Center to write a piece for this blog, I was thrilled to have such a conversational platform on which I could open a discussion about nutrition and mental health.  These two worlds are often kept apart when, in reality, we should eagerly marry what we know about both.

The good news is that there has been a noticeable shift in perception and understanding; the inextricable link between nutrition and mental health is turning the heads of practitioners and those of us who struggle with our own mental health.  Last week, my client asked me, “Angela, I heard that the gut is the ‘second brain.’  What do you think about that?”  This question was music to my ears and introduces our conversation about how nutrition affects our brain chemistry, emotions, stress response, and even pain perception.

To explain why our gastrointestinal tract aka “the gut” is referred to as the “second brain,” I’m going to share a mind-blowing statistic: 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced by our gut bacteria.  Hold the phone, right?  It’s not only serotonin, though; our gut bacteria produce all the other neurotransmitters that we’re familiar with, like GABA and dopamine.  We can start to imagine what might happen to our moods and stress responses when the bad bacteria take over, which can happen due to dietary inputs, infection, inflammation, or emotional and environmental stress.

Let’s talk about these dietary inputs and lack thereof.  Nutrient insufficiencies can also affect our mental health.  Vitamin D deficiency is one that many of us are familiar with here in the northern hemisphere, but it doesn’t stop there.  There are many cofactors in the synthesis of our neurotransmitters.  For example, nutrients like iron, zinc, magnesium, and B vitamins are required in the synthesis of serotonin.  If intake of any one is insufficient, susceptibility to serotonin-related mood disorders increases.

For the sake of keeping this conversation short and sweet, I’ll quickly run through other nutrition-related factors that can affect our mental health: blood sugar dysregulation like in diabetes and reactive hypoglycemia, food sensitivities like gluten sensitivity, thyroid problems like hypothyroidism, and gut inflammation like in the case of irritable bowel diseases.

So, what can we do to support healthy emotional and stress responses?  I’ll give you a few general action items that can profoundly impact your mental and physical health.

First of all, favor whole foods.  This seems like a “given,” but in a world of packaged groceries and fast food, we’ve lost our connection to living food.  Our bodies speak in the language of whole foods; we best recognize nutrients when they are delivered in the “team environment” of a whole food.  Enjoy vegetables, responsibly-raised meats, nuts, seeds, whole grains, fruits, spices, and herbs.

Limit processed foods like white breads and pastas, sweets made with refined sugar high fructose corn syrup, and anything including artificial sweeteners.  This will support healthy blood sugar regulation and discourage inflammation.

Incorporated fermented foods into your diet.  This goes back to promoting the “good” bacteria in your gut and discouraging the “bad.”  Experiment with foods like sauerkraut, kimchi, olives, pickles, kefir, yogurt, oolong tea, kombucha, wheat grass shots, miso, natto, and raw vinegars.

Working with a nutrition professional can also be helpful in navigating your mental and physical symptoms and to personalize your efforts.  Because each person’s scenario is different, this discussion doesn’t include functional foods and supplementation, which can be very important parts of our healing.  Ask your nutrition professional if you might benefit from any of these interventions.

These suggestions leave us with a strong starting point for supporting our mental health nutritionally.  They partner well with counseling and physician-directed interventions.  Of course, not everything is for everyone, so always take care to discuss any efforts with your medical team.

Angela Mari is the founder of GoodLife Nutrition LLC which is located at 20925 Professional Plaza Suite 110, Ashburn, VA.  She believes in helping people harness healthy behavior and the therapeutic value of whole foods to heal and thrive.  In addition to her clinical nutrition practice, she’s recently co-authored two case reports in the Journal of Human Nutrition.  

Contentment vs. Feelings

By Layla Zickefoose

A couple of weeks ago I found myself using the restroom in seconds and running out of the bathroom towards a screaming child. Pretty sure I broke some record. And as I did, I wondered why I grumble sometimes about my life without kids.

So I have been married for about three years and right now, it is just my husband and I. We hope to have kids one day, but we don’t yet. We spend our evenings quietly visiting, reading, or watching television together. Sorry parents. I know this sounds like vacation to you. It’s pretty awesome. I’ve been realizing this since I’ve started living with my sister Sharon. We live in the same house, different floors. My little sis is a super mommy who adores her two kids under two and twin 7-year-old step-daughters. But when the hubby and I walked past her on our way out at 10 p.m. to get take-out and a movie from Redbox a few weeks ago, her big eyes got bigger. “What are you doing?!!?” she asked. I told her like it’s no big deal and then realized that to her, it is. In fact, we’re doing our own thing a lot while she’s heading to bed exhausted after a day of chasing a toddler and feeding two giggling girls with an infant attached to her breasts. I realized that in those moments, she would give a lot to have what I have – freedom and time. The irony is that as I tell her “good luck sleeping tonight” and keep walking towards the door, I want what she has too.

Yeah, we want kids. We got married later in life and so everything is just later for us. I’m okay with that most times. I realize falling asleep on the couch whenever we want, being able to go on dates without another adult being involved, and getting time to read a whole book, are huge blessings. And I’m very thankful. Until someone makes a comment about my biological clock ticking or a friend who is 10 years younger gets pregnant. Then I want what I don’t have and question God’s timing and goodness. Then I experience my sister’s life for just an hour I’m thankful for mine again. If this sounds confusing to you, I understand. It’s confusing to me too, because that is how emotions often are. We can’t rely on them as we struggle to live in contentment and trust in God day-by-day. Good stuff happens and hard stuff happens that causes our feelings to shift and swing and soar and fall. But, God in His goodness does not change. Hebrews 13: 8 says that Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” The Psalmist says to offer “thanks to the LORD, for He is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting (Psalm 136:1).

And that’s what I realized after trying to watch my one-year-old nephew and five-month old nice when I really, really, really needed to use the restroom. I realize this is probably too much information, but I’m bravely sharing to make a point. And I could not figure out how to make that happen without leaving two kids under one (and a rowdy golden retriever!!) unsupervised while I did so. Leave the bathroom door open? Nope, the dog and kid would follow me in while the baby screamed. You mommies out there might think I’m a wimp but I’m not comfortable using the restroom in front of a small human and an animal sniffing at me yet. I opted for trapping the kid in his room, setting the baby down and doing my personal business in seconds. I rushed out of the bathroom, realizing my contentment level is way more dependent on my experience in any given moment than on my rest on God’s good plan for my life. Well, that sounds way holier than I really was in that moment.  That night I really just thought “wow, this really isn’t as fun as it looks!” But, as my sister and I continue to live in close proximity and in two different stages of life, I have been thinking more about contentment. I think she has been too.

Pretty sure Sharon had to fight for contentment this morning when, after a sleepless night, her son took his diapers off, peed on the floor twice, and climbed the stairs to knock on my door at 7 a.m. I opened it to see my naked nephew at the top of my stairs and his sleeping parents on the couch bellow.

One of my favorite passages is Hebrews 13:20-21. “Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.”

He gives us what we need to do His will! Living in His will and plan is the best thing for us in every moment. Thank goodness this does not depend on our changing feelings!

Fighting Low Self-Esteem

By Layla Zickefoose

Low self-esteem is an issue we hear about frequently as counselors. It comes up so often I’m convinced people think it’s a diagnosis in itself. It’s not, but it is certainly a huge buzz word in the mental health world that countless authors and counselors have addressed. This post is just some quick tips for anyone who would be helped by some “self-esteem” tips based on the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

First, it is helpful to explore the kinds of reasons people have feelings of low self-worth. Is it because they have done wrong and feel shame? Do they feel inferior and shamed because of wrongs done to them? Could it be that some trial or disability causes them to compare themselves with others and despair?

It is then helpful to realize the common denominator in each of these “self-esteem” issues is the fall of man described in beginning of the Bible. God created the world perfect. No sin, no injustice, no physical or emotional struggles. He created man to live in perfect joy, in fellowship with God himself. But the humans God created disobeyed Him. By doing so they brought sin into the world and created a barrier between them and God.  In his love and mercy God responded to this by sending His son Jesus Christ to live a perfect life in earth and then die on the cross to take the punishment for sins.

Because of Jesus, our sins have been forgiven and we don’t have to live in shame if we repent. It says in First John 1:9 that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Because of Jesus, we can rely on a personal relationship with our Savior God, finding strength to forgive others, just like he forgave us. Ephesians 4:32 says to be “kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Those who trust in Jesus are assured one day all things will be made new and there will be no sadness or pain. I love the passage about Heaven in Revelations 21 that reminds us of that. It says “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away. He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

We now live in a world experiencing sin, injustice, and physical and mental suffering. But, praise God we can live in hope despite these realities. I realize that people who suffer from low self-esteem often have complicated reasons for doing so that I do not mean to minimize or dismiss here. But I do believe that an important step towards overcoming these feelings must include the realization that God saw our brokenness and loved us enough to create a way of escape.

Helpful Reading on Social Anxiety

By Layla Zickefoose

Being with others is something anxious people often worry about. Just interacting with others at work, church, or school can cause a surprising number of people anxiety. For some, these fears can be so intense that they avoid events all together.  Reasons for this kind of anxiety vary. Some people may have been mistreated, causing them to fear further mistreatment. Others may avoid interactions because they have trouble communicating. Introverts can become exhausted being with people. Whatever the reason, social anxiety can often get bad enough to require help. The book When People Are Big and God is Small: Overcoming Peer Pressure, Codependency, and the Fear of Man by Ed Welch is one helpful tool we recommend.

Solutions to social anxiety are not quick, but the good news is that people can learn to act differently. Popular counseling approaches to social anxiety include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Counselors use this method to challenge unrealistic and untrue thoughts (such as all people make fun of me, or I can’t talk with people) that fuel social anxiety.  This approach can be helpful, but only go so far. What happens when people really are mean or when someone really finds it hard to communicate? What can help people to fight fear of man then?

In his book When People Are Big and God are Small, Welch challenges readers to consider how their view of people and God affect their interactions. He writes from a Christian perspective, and points out that the most helpful solution to any anxiety is trust on the Lord Jesus Christ as a Savior. His underlying theme is that people should exclusively trust a God who saved us from our own sinful brokenness and can help in our relationships with others. Welch challenges readers paralyzed by opinions and actions of others to recognize we are most paralyzed when failing to understand God for who He is. Welch writes that as we become more aware of the love, care, and reign of God in our lives, we can then love people more and care less what they think.  We can have conversations without excessively worrying what others think, because we are secure in God’s thoughts of us. We can make relationship decisions more motivated by the truth that the God of the universe saves people and calls them His children than by what others will think! Welch’s advice is practical, challenging, and a great starting point for anyone wanting to tackle their fear of others.

If you read the book, let us know what you think!

Heart Healing

Wrestling with unanswered prayers for healing or change of circumstances? Focus on the Family aired such an encouraging message by Joni Erickson Tada last week. Joni has spent the last few decades in a wheel chair suffering from chronic pain shares a moving message about how our loving God cares most about healing our hearts.

Listen to part one and part two here.