Encouragement

They Are Worth It

November has been a blur of activity in the Prevention Department! This month alone, we have presented more than 120 unique lessons with one common mission: promoting sexual integrity as a means to achieve the safest, healthiest life outcome possible.

And you know what? Sometimes it’s a difficult job. When you walk into a middle school classroom with a box full of stuffed animal STDs, you’re not usually met with applause. Some of the topics we cover in the classroom–as important as they are–can be awkward. (Pornography, anyone?)

However, along with the discomfort of discussing sperm, fallopian tubes, and STDs, our students are learning life skills they will need for the rest of their life. We teach topics like assertive communication, setting boundaries, making decisions, and cultivating healthy friendships, just to name a few.

One of the most rewarding parts of this job is hearing from our students. We received some encouraging feedback recently and wanted to share it with you. Knowing we are impacting young lives like these is truly what makes it all worthwhile. Enjoy!

“After you guys came in to talk to us I feel so much more confident on making big choices that I’m unsure about throughout my lifetime.” –Blair, 7th Grade

“I think the best and most awkward part was “REAL Differences” day. It was the best part because I think that this was the day that I finally understood my body and what it does once every month.” –Mia, 8th Grade

“I have learned more in 11 days than what I’ve ever thought I would. I had no clue that there was that many risks of sex. I had no clue that there was that many STDs out there. You are TRULY inspirations to me. I loved the class and not just for the candy. You’ve taught me more than any bucket of candy could.” – Parker, 7th Grade

“I learned that whether you want to or not, you should always set boundaries for yourself, and if your significant other can’t respect them, then they aren’t worth your time.” –Hadyn, 7th Grade

“In my opinion the best part of your being here was the lesson you taught us on pornography. I believe this was the best lesson because I feel that it is a very overlooked subject. Most people my age, including myself, really didn’t know the damage pornography could do to your physical and mental state.” –Ellie, 8th Grade

“I would have never thought of someone trying to kill themselves over a break-up. Now I know that in the future if I want to break up with someone, I will do it in person in a public place.” –Sophie, 8th Grade

“These are things that I will keep in my brain and use for the rest of my life to keep myself on a good path.” –Christian, 8th Grade

“I’ve learned a lot in your class, too much to handle.” –Austin, 8th Grade

“I don’t have a lot of friends, but I feel like you were mine. A close friend.” –Beau, 7th Grade

“I’m glad we’ve been given the opportunity to learn these things, and to do it with great teachers that I can tell really care about how we turn out and the choices we make. This program really helps me have hope for my future.” –Ali, 8th Grade

“What you taught me in the last two years is more important than any school has or ever will teach me.” –Quincy, 8th Grade

“I was a little uncomfortable at the beginning but then I learned that it’s a part of life and is something we needed to learn.” –Gabi, 7th Grade

“This class helped me make my decision to have abstinence until marriage. I think that with abstinence from sex is very important because it will make the healthiest outcome.” –Fiona, 8th Grade

“I didn’t just like this class because we got candy, I liked it because you guys took the time to get to know us and care to teach us.” –Landon, 7th Grade

“It made me think more about the ‘marriage before baby’ thing that my mom and dad enforce on me. I never asked about why, I always nodded along and said, ‘I know.’ I guess that you guys made me understand that more.” –Sara, 7th Grade

Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen

Prevention Assistant

Letting Go of Anger

Here’s a fun topic…ANGER. Who wants to talk about that? I do! Not really, but we’re gonna give it a shot anyway. We’ve all felt it…the sudden rise in our blood pressure, the feel of our face getting warmer, our muscles tightening, our breathing accelerating until we finally explode. Anger, it’s ugly. Sometimes very ugly, but we’ve all felt it. There are those moments of anger where self-control gets lost and we explode due to the circumstances. The pressure is released and we begin to pick up the pieces of what’s left in the wake of our storm of anger. But that is a whole other blog topic.

There is another type of anger that isn’t always talked about. It’s not momentary, but rather, long lasting. It’s the type that sticks with you, hardens your heart over the years and changes you. This type of anger lies to you. Makes you believe relationships and decisions don’t matter. Before you know it, you’re living a life of justifications and bitterness towards life circumstances.

Last weekend, I met a couple whose journey and pain touched my heart deeply. During our Rachel’s Vineyard Retreat (a retreat for those struggling with the emotional, mental and spiritual effects of abortion), the retreatants participate in an activity to help them explore and identify with their anger. They might be angry with themselves or someone who took part in their abortion decision. They may not even know why they are angry but through the activity, we get to drill down and work on these strong emotions. This is where my experience on the journey with this couple took a turn I will never forget. The husband…successful in his career, big and strong, loving to his wife, and ready to deal with emotions he’d stuffed for years, broke my heart and gave me hope as we walked through this activity together.

The goal was to release the anger, to give it to God and find freedom from chains that have held him hostage for so long. He was asked to pick three people in the group and express his anger to each of them. He hesitated as the awkwardness of this request set in. As trust took over, he began to move to the first person around the circle, said his piece and moved on to the next. The third person was me. I stood up, looked him straight in the eye and took it as he delivered his message of pain and anger, “Why did you help me kill my babies?”

I felt the anger, the bitterness, but I also felt the deep regret of this man’s heart, the pain of living years with sorrow for a decision made out of fear and haste. A life with questions that have gone unanswered, “What if…”. It was a punch to my gut. My eyes could not hide the pain I felt for this man. I wanted to look away in shame and guilt, but I held my gaze into his eyes for just a few more seconds until he made his way back to his seat.

But it wasn’t over…he was now asked to go back to those same three people and release them. Again, he started one by one, and as he reached me once again, I stood up and looked him in the eyes as he said, “I forgive you.” With all gentleness, pureness of heart, and love, he said, “I forgive you.”

Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:31-32

We live in a world angry about a lot of things. We are fed anger by the media and through other social experiences. God has asked; required us to let go of such things, even when we feel justified. For bitterness grows in the soil of justification and it will poison our souls. It gets in the way of God’s plans for your life. Therefore, anger must be released and dealt with in a Godly way. What would happen if…

  • we focused more on forgiveness than judgement?
  • we chose to forgive rather than live in justification?
  • we allowed ourselves to experience the vulnerability of forgiveness and grew in hope, love and peace?

That is what forgiveness did for this man. After blessing each of us with forgiveness, he was asked how that practice made him feel. With tears in his eyes he looked up and said, “I feel free.”

Lord, I pray that this message speaks to the heart of anyone living with anger in their hearts. That they hear your voice calling them to freedom from their anger, bitterness and hurt. Lord make us vulnerable to one another, allowing our hearts to reveal compassion and safety for each other. We cannot live the life you created us for holding on to anger. Lord, heal us and help us. In your name, Amen.
Bridgehaven: Chelsey

Chelsey McDill

Executive Director

#thankful

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work. 2 Corinthians 9:8

I am all about a good hashtag. I mean, I loooove clever hashtags and support the overuse of them much to my son’s dismay. In fact, there was a stressful day in my former work life when I spent most of the day speaking in hashtags. But there is something about #blessed that makes me itchy. Don’t get me wrong…I think it is great that people appreciate what they have. And I totally think we should be more aware of the blessings God surrounds us with. However, #blessed is so overused and misused…I can’t do it. During our prayer time this week, Michelle, our marketing coordinator, presented a lesson on gratitude. It was wonderful and really got me thinking about all the ways Bridgehaven has been blessed but I refused to be #blessed so instead, I will be #thankful.

First, I would be a horrible development director if I wasn’t first #thankful for all of our wonderful donors. I met the sweetest lady this week. She has been retired from Alliant Energy for years and participates in their volunteer program that allows employees and retirees to complete volunteer service in the community and earn money to donate to local organizations. She and her husband stopped in with a check and were so delightful. I was able to share more about what we do and they were amazed by our impact in the community. “I can’t wait to tell all my friends about how wonderful you are.” That is a good day in my world. There are stories like this that happen every day. Some donors support us every month without fail. Some write checks with lots of zeros and a nun in Cedar Rapids mails in coins. And no matter what the amount is, it is always humbling when someone wants to join us in our mission.

A big piece of supporting that mission is Treasures. Treasures is located on 8th Avenue and is such a joyful part of our ministry. This resale shop houses some of the most spunky 90+ year old volunteers you could ever meet. These gals, and a few gentlemen, come in every week to make sure merchandise is sorted, cleaned, priced and sold for very reasonable prices. They take pride in having a beautiful store that features customer service that will knock your socks off. And those who donate to the store provide beautiful items and fabulous clothes and we are humbled to be chosen when there are so many options in our community. All of this, from the sorters and cashiers to the donors, provide support to the ministry in a meaningful way and fund our pregnancy support center in ways that were unimaginable when the original women were hosting pop-up garage sales across town when this aspect of the ministry began. I hate to be too cutesy but Treasures really is a treasure in so many ways.

Bridgehaven is also wealthy in the way of volunteers. Would you guess it takes over 200 volunteers every month and over 450 throughout the year to run our ministry? These volunteers do everything from drive vans to pick up food at Target to counsel the men and women who walk through our doors every day facing an unplanned pregnancy and they are led by a dynamo staff member, Leanne, who cooks them turkey dinners, gives tours and has a heart for this ministry that is contagious. Our volunteers are so talented and so giving of themselves. It is really a testimony to watch them serve.

Where can I even start in describing the staff at Bridgehaven? It is a gift to watch them love clients and work with people in all circumstances surrounding pregnancy. I have watched them pray with clients, celebrated with them as they tell stories of transformation and seen their hearts break when they are unable to help those who come here. These women, and Dale, are completely dedicated to serving the Lord through our clients and it is so cool to watch them work every day. I am in awe of their patience, kindness, hard work and love.

Cedar Rapids is a community rich with non-profits who do great work in so many areas. It is great to see how people support all these different organizations and it makes it even more humbling when donors, volunteers and staff members choose to become part of the Bridgehaven family. The work is important and we are able to help more families every year because of a huge group of people. Our light grows brighter in the community only through the goodness in those who choose to give and to serve here. It is trite to say we are #thankful but there really aren’t words to express what it is like to see God moving in the hearts of everyone involved with our ministry.

God can pour on the blessings in astonishing ways so that you’re ready for anything and everything, more than just ready to do what needs to be done. 2 Corinthians 9:8

kylee pusteoska

Kylee Pusteoska

Development Director

The Cost of a Click

People at work have started calling me the “porn queen.” I’m considering adding the title to my resume just as a conversation piece. How did I earn this title, one might ask? When the topic of pornography comes up (and it often does in my line of work), I have no choice but to shift into educator mode and drop some knowledge. My coworkers good-naturedly bob their heads when I launch into one of my animated educational speeches, complete with flailing arms and recent statistics. While “porn queen” might be a funny (albeit misleading) nickname, the truth is that pornography addiction is no laughing matter.

Porn hates God’s design for sex. It creates destruction and tells lies. It infects the minds of its victims, regardless of age, gender, status, or place of residence. To give you an idea, here are some things I’ve heard just this month:

“Sometimes I’m unable to watch it because my phone is too slow, and that makes me very angry.”

“I’m ashamed and confused about my sexual choices.”

“Since I know he’s watching porn, I never feel like I’m attractive enough to keep him interested in me.”

“I’m heterosexual, but when I see an attractive photo of a member of the same sex, I feel triggered to watch pornography.”

“I live in fear that he is looking at other girls for sexual pleasure.”

“I’m ashamed by what arouses me, like being physically hurt.”

You might be surprised to learn that all of these quotes came from teenage girls. Pornography is often thought of as “a guy problem” when in fact, one out of three porn viewers is female. It’s also frequently touted as “adult entertainment” when the truth is the average age of first exposure to pornography is 10-11 years old. Whether or not your child is searching for pornography, it is most definitely searching for them.

I want to clarify that being curious about sex is a natural part of growing up. It’s a natural part of being human! God created sex—it was His idea! It is a gift meant to be celebrated in the security and commitment of marriage. But pornography preys upon sexual curiosity and tells lies about God’s beautiful design.

When people are engaged in anything addictive (like drugs or pornography), a 4-step brain cycle begins. First, because it is addictive, there is an over-consumption of the substance or activity. Next, the brain is hit with a surge of dopamine. Next comes a release of Delta Fos B, and finally, sensitization of a neural pathway, causing cravings and triggers.

If, like me, your mind doesn’t easily attach to science-y terms, here’s what to keep in mind:

Dopamine tells the brain, “This activity is valuable, let’s do it again!”

Delta Fos B tells the brain “I’ve been here before, and this is what I can expect.”

Let’s use substance abuse as an example. If someone is using cocaine, the dopamine surge tells the person’s brain the activity of snorting cocaine into their nose is valuable, fun, and rewarding. Delta Fos B tells the person’s brain when they see white powder, it means they are going to get high. Even if this person stops using cocaine, they will likely be “triggered” by anything resembling white powder in the future, thanks to Delta Fos B.

But pornography addiction is slightly different from drug addiction. Our brains do not have a built-in circuit for drug use—but our brains are naturally wired for sex. God created us to be fruitful and multiply, so he gave us a built-in circuit for reproduction. Porn hijacks this naturally existing brain circuit and force-feeds it lies.

Because of Delta Fos B, the brain learns the porn on the screen is what to expect from a real-life sexual encounter. And here’s the kicker: the adolescent brain is more flexible than a mature brain (which reaches full development at age 25-26), and also contains a higher concentration of Delta Fos B. That means deeper, longer lasting pathways are conditioning the mind.

So, what lies does porn teach adolescent brains about sex?

  1. Sex should be accessible at any time. If a woman wants a relationship, she must give him whatever kind of sex he wants.
    Unlike a real-life sexual relationship, pornography is never unavailable. Unlike women in real life, women in pornography will never say, “Stop, that hurts.” They will never say, “I feel disrespected.”
  2. A woman is to be dominated and used. Verbal cruelty and physical abuse are normal and permissible in relationships.
    88% of all pornography contains some form of female degradation. This normalizes abuse and teaches the brain to find it arousing.

  3. The only goal of sex is for the man’s physical pleasure. A girl’s self-worth is tied to her appearance and sexual performance.
    Porn does not care about emotional, intellectual, or spiritual connection.

  4. When a guy is no longer fulfilled, he should find someone/something new that excites him. A man can never be fully committed to a woman mentally or physically.
    Among other things, dopamine is triggered when the brain experiences novelty, shock, and guilt. This causes the compulsion to seek new and different types of pornography with each use. When one type of sex act becomes boring, you can search for something else. Sex is viewed from the perspective, “What’s in it for me?”

When this brain conditioning is carried from adolescence into a real-life relationship, it wreaks havoc on the hearts, minds, and bodies of all involved. As a matter of fact, one in three guys between the ages of 18 and 25 suffers from porn-induced erectile dysfunction, or PIED. This causes feelings of shame, inadequacy, and sexual frustration. In many cases, it leads to infidelity and/or divorce.

As if that weren’t enough of a reason to avoid pornography, it is reported that about half of all sex trafficked victims are forced to create porn. There is no guarantee that what is being viewed on the screen has been made voluntarily, even if it appears that way. Because there is money to be made in the porn industry, it creates a demand for people having sex on camera. Sex trafficking is one of the major content suppliers of the porn industry.

So, now what? Once a porn user knows this information, is there any hope of recovery? Absolutely. There are support groups, accountability apps, and resources like the ones listed below. Once you know better, you can take the responsibility to do better–for yourself, your relationships, and the entire world.

SOURCES:
Fight The New Drug
Your Brain on Porn
These are the info cards we hand out during presentations, complete with resources.

Kelli Hansen

Kelli Hansen

Prevention Assistant

Drop-off Lane

God is good. He wants His best for me. The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Check. Check. Check. Being a Christian is easy. It is so easy to agree to all of this when life is good…when things are easy. It is simple to embrace these promises when God’s will is lining up with ours. We get the sense God is blessing our plans and life is good. Being a Christian is easy. Except when it’s not. Except when we are also single moms working full-time. Or when we go on another date that ends horribly. Or when we are waiting in the drop-off lane at Solon Middle School in the morning…

The morning was going great. I got up with my alarm and was able to complete my devotional and a little prayer time. K got up with relatively little grumbling. My hair dried quickly and the protein shake was tasty. Life was good as we headed to town and practiced Spanish nouns for K’s quiz. The sun was shining on the beautiful fields…ah, it was a movie type morning. If I turned down the horrible rap music blasting in the car, I am sure I could have heard birds chirping. Sigh. Awesome mom moment. School on time. Child rested, fed and ready for school. And then it happened…the drop-off lane.
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I Will Not Give in to Fear

Our son went through a phase of night terrors and they were like nothing I’ve ever experienced; I felt helpless. The one thing that would begin to get through to him was speaking the name of Jesus. Once I moved past the fear of what was happening in front of me and spoke the name of Jesus, calm and love entered in. Nightmares can be terrible, especially when it’s your child who experiences them. As a parent, you want to ensure safety and protection at all costs. You create a joyful and playful environment for your child to live in but the darkness still comes at night.

The darkness of this world makes a child’s nightmare seem so small in comparison. The world is aching, crying out in fear. When I look around and see the immense brokenness of the humans walking on this earth, my heart begins to physically hurt. Then, I look into the big eyes of my child and think how in the world do I protect you from all of this? This is not a scenario where I can scoop you up in my arms, whisper the name of Jesus over you and pray until the storm passes. No, this is an ongoing battle that seems to have no end.
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Carolyn’s Story

“I call Him the Risen King because He is alive!” – Carolyn.

I have the privilege of knowing Carolyn for 7 months now, she is a part of the Earn While You Learn program at Bridgehaven. Carolyn is a single mother of 3 children and a lover of Jesus! Carolyn experienced a life-threatening situation this summer; she clearly understands and communicates she is alive and well because of God’s faithfulness. She feels like she has been given a second chance at life and she is taking every opportunity to proclaim and share her story with others. Upon recovery, Carolyn shared her testimony with me of what the Lord brought her through. During our time together, I was moved with compassion, my faith rose, and God’s faithfulness swept over Carolyn and I as she shared her testimony detail by detail! All I could do or proclaim was, “Wow, God, You are beyond good and so worthy of our worship!”

I knew Carolyn’s testimony needed to be shared and released! It is with honor and gratefulness that I introduce you to Carolyn, a woman of God that worships the King of Kings!

“Worship is an it-is-well-with-my-soul experience.” – Robert Webber

Dawn Michaels

Dawn Michael

Director of Client Support

In Her Shoes


As we are rapidly approaching Bridgehaven’s In Her Shoes 5k Run/Walk, on Saturday, September 30th, I am reflecting on the whole idea behind the title of this walk. Our clients’ faces, stories, and circumstances come to my mind, and I am incredibly humbled by what it means to really walk in her shoes.

When I think about the start of the route we will be traveling on, I can see in my mind on our clients who so bravely walk through our doors every day to start the beginning of their journey. Sometimes, this looks and seems paralyzing. There is no way to even think about taking another step because of the deep-seated fear and anxiety that pulses through someone’s body with even the thought of a potential pregnancy. Sometimes, it feels exciting and joyful to walk through those doors to hear the news of a long-awaited dream and desire that has been placed on their hearts coming true. Sometimes, it feels like this was the farthest thing from their mind, but here they are, at this place, at the start of their journey, and they are seeking someone to come alongside them to help empower and give them hope.
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A Great Light

“The people who walk in darkness will see a great light; those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” Isaiah 9:2 NASB

I was invited to attend the Care Net conference this month in Washington DC. with several other staff members at Bridgehaven. Care Net is the umbrella organization that supports one of the largest networks of pregnancy centers in North America, including Bridgehaven. We soaked up four days of engrossing keynote speakers (like David Nasser and Andi Andrews), current knowledge and instruction from amazing workshop leaders (like Kathy Koch), rich networking fellowship with others from all across the nation, and powerful times of holy worship after each morning devotional.

I have many, many take-aways (I am still deciphering and organizing my notes). But, what has traveled home with me, and what I have found myself talking about more than anything else is a session with Lisa Hosler, President of Susquehanna Valley Pregnancy Services in southeastern Pennsylvania. Her session was called Leading in the Secret of the Productive Pause.
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Hold on to Hope

Do you feel it? Can you feel the heaviness circling around us? It can feel like we are suffocating in despair and sorrow, fear and worry, tragedy and death. The pictures from Harvey & Irma, the pending devastation, the wild fires, and more. My heart breaks constantly and my mind is consumed with images and empathy for their circumstances. Where is hope in these situations?

Where is my hope–who can see any hope for me? Job 17:15

Then with one image, one story, hope can flood all the overwhelming feelings of hopelessness. I do not have this image, but was only told of its existence. Even so, I felt its powerful message as the image was created in my mind and then on my heart. It was of a woman, rescued by boat from the aftermath of Harvey. In her hands, the only things she carried and had left in this world were a pair of flip-flops in one hand and a flower bulb from her drowned out home and yard in the other. At first glance you might pity her for the loss and only see the very little she has left. But this image represents a gift. A gift greater than anyone can imagine or see with their eyes.
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