Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

How are you so normal?

Written by: on April 13, 2022

How are you so normal? It is a question I get a lot of times after someone hears a bit of my life story. My answers is always Jesus – and I will never be convinced otherwise. Reading through Bessel Van der Kolk’s The Body Keeps the Score was for me an invitation to dive deeper into the realities of trauma, healing, and how our entire body, mind, and brain have been created to work together for our good. This work settled deep into the realm of psychological studies provides a comprehensive look at the historical developments of trauma, provides both research and anecdotal support, and argues that while trauma can impact certain areas, it is through engagement with the entire person that genuine healing can be realized.

My husband often remarks that my life has really just been a series of one traumatic event after the other. While we can joke of it, there is much truth to the statement. I think it is perhaps how and why I am able to connect with so many different people experiencing their own pain a trauma from divorce, abuse, significant deaths, addictions, and striving to be the ‘good’ one that floated under the radar to mitigate additional anxiety for myself or others. Now as a parent, I find myself daily thinking about my gratitude for the fact that my toddler is being raised in a secure environment, feels safe and connected to both parents, and that his brain is already being formed under positive circumstances. While that was not the same for my husband and I, it is exactly the reason that I say the name of Jesus when people ask how my husband or I are so ‘normal’ given what we’ve each walked through. For both of us, we encountered the Lord before high school and have never let go – and it has made all the difference.

Van der Kolk states that “the job of the brain is to constantly monitor and evaluate what is going on within and around us.”[1] The brain connects to every other area of our body, has the ability to process events differently between our left- and right-sides, and has many more built-in mechanisms to help us process and cope with situations than many realize. The brain has neuroplasticity – the ability to heal and change itself, digging new neuropathways as we engage in the hard work of leaning into the hard, the painful, and the scary that would be more convenient to forget than face.[2] As the statistics throughout this book showed, the sheer number of people who have experienced trauma in one avenue or another is heartbreaking and I was reminded this week of just how important our role as a Christian leader is in not only leading towards health and wholeness for our organizations, but leading the individuals we have influence over towards individual health and wholeness. As Van der Kolk states, “all systems — families, organizations, or nations — can operate effectively only if they have clearly defined and competent leadership.”[3] We can tie this to Friedman and the connection with healing and self-differentiation, Leiberman’s understanding of brain chemistry and the power of dopamine, incorporating more of Kahneman’s System 2 thinking to usher in healing, or perhaps overlay the importance of experience with Nettle’s understanding of our core personality traits. However, I feel an increased prompting to settle in on Isaiah 61:1-3:

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.

He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

They will be called oaks of righteousness,
a planting of the Lord
for the display of his splendor.

This was what Jesus came for. This is what we are called to take part in today for ourselves and those around us. He is restoration. He is reconciliation. He is redemption. So while I know that are likely additional layers of healing to come, I have survived and found much healing already through the help of therapy, seasons of medications, connecting with others, and leaning into the hard work of experiencing past trauma as described in this book. But even more so, I have seen the healing come through allowing the Lord to meet me and sit with me. For Him to have access to the places of shame, fear, and deep-seeded pain is hard and takes significant trust, but He has yet to utilize that offering for anything but my good.

For those who are looking for additional resources to dive into your own healing or walk with others, these have become some of my favorites over the years:

  • Revelation Wellness: Utilizing physical activity for the gospel with heavy emphasis on the brain-body connection.
  • Skills Workshops: Christ-centered curriculum that dives into the entire body connection to our trauma, createdness, and how we function.
  • Creating Balanced Health: Comprehensive scans that pinpoint functioning of various parts of your body and areas to address. People such as @maddie.adeline.wellness on Instagram articulate clearly how different organs hold connections to different trauma/feelings.
  • Art and Creativity for Healing: Art-based therapy that allows participants to connect to emotions in a non-traditional format. Workshops focus on targeted needs.

[1] Van der Kolk, 96.

[2] Ibid., 3.

[3] Ibid., 285.

About the Author

Kayli Hillebrand

Associate Dean of International and Experiential Education

4 responses to “How are you so normal?”

  1. mm Troy Rappold says:

    Kayli: Great post, thank you for these thoughts. I loved this book. The author is so thoughtful and with thirty years of experience of case analysis, his expertise shines through. All throughout this book I was thinking about the tough things I’ve gone through in my life and wondering to myself if I have really processed them or are my fears and pain lingering below the surface? Like you alluded to, when you have Jesus in the equation, you can rest easier, knowing that all will be healed and our lives are shining forth in glory as we get o help build his kingdom.

    • Kayli Hillebrand says:

      Troy: I’ve found over the years that I can never truly ‘close the book’ on a specific traumatic event as different circumstances or life stages have ushered me into new dimensions of healing that I may not have been aware of before. As cliché as it sounds, it really feels like an onion at times and trauma and healing both function in a more layered fashion.

  2. mm Eric Basye says:

    Kayli, great post. Those resources at the look look exceptional. I actually used that particular passage for my prototype in working with vulnerable individuals for many of the same reasons I am guessing you landed on that passage. Pretty amazing and encouraging. I am very appreciative of your perspective, resiliency, and hope. It is contagious.

  3. mm Denise Johnson says:

    Kayli: Thank you for letting us in on your journey. I appreciate your list of additional resources. I am going to jump onto your response to Troy. We all have trauma that can resurface at any time a trigger that we thought we had victory over.
    I felt the connection to Friedman was a great point. Do you have further thoughts about how the information from this book can be integrated into the systems we lead?

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