Today, I am privileged to be interviewing Jennifer Harshman, an author and owner of a publishing agency. Jennifer shares with us her personal story of overcoming trauma, how she wrestled with God and how those awful experiences formed her character.
- Jennifer’s childhood
- Hating God for not putting a stop to it
- Moving away and cutting ties with family members
- Staying connected with God in the midst of trauma.
- How Jennifer dealt with her traumatic experience.
- How God used her story in a positive light.
- Jennifer’s Book: Better Days Journal: For anxiety and depression, ADHD and autism
Related links and resources:
Better Days Journal: For anxiety and depression, ADHD and autism
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Transcript of Episode 47
Welcome to Hope for Anxiety and OCD Episode 47. So as many of you know, I often work with clients who have experienced a wide variety of traumatic experiences. Often, these traumatic experiences are the layers that are underneath their anxiety and OCD. I thought it would be great to do a show on why does God allow certain things to happen in our life.
And so today we have a personal story of overcoming trauma and working through those spiritual wrestlings of why God allowed her to go through certain things and how He allowed that and used it for good in her life. So today I’m speaking with Jennifer Harshman who owns a small writing and publishing service agency. She helps a wide variety of authors through the publishing process, which I’m sure is quite a process from what I’ve heard from authors.
Carrie: Jennifer, thank you so much for agreeing to be on the show and tell your story.
Jennifer: Thank you for having me, Carrie.
Carrie: So tell us a little bit about why you wanted to come on and share your story on the podcast.
Jennifer: I feel a lot of people who struggle and grapple with the question about how can a good and holy God allow such terrible things to happen in the world. I have been through what I would say is more than my fair share of that terrible stuff and so I think that I have a good handle on how to make some good use out of those things and how the whole experience can be transformative and how it can be a good thing, looking back.
Carrie: Okay. Tell us what was your childhood like.
Jennifer: They can’t put the content into movies because it’s that bad. I was severely abused in every way that you can imagine. From the time I was born to the time I escaped my home just after I had turned 18, if you can think of it, that happened and probably more. So I don’t know how much you want to get into that, because I know that hearing about some things can be very triggering to people.
Carrie: Right. Sure. So I imagine that it’s so double whammy when you’re in that type of environment, because not only are you having awful things happen to you. You’re also not having anyone provide any kind of emotional support or encouragement or needs being met, kind of those trauma wounds and also the attachment wounds.
Jennifer: Well, there was one place where I felt like I could be successful and that I had at least some measure of protection and safety. So that’s where I excelled.
Carrie: Did anyone suspect what was going on at home?
Jennifer: Everyone knew because I was one of those people who broke the rule of “don’t tell anyone”, and a lot of narcissistic family systems and in a lot of abuse cases, there’s this intense fear of calling people. Usually, the abuser is the one who instills that fear in us because they say, “if you tell this, bad things will happen”. I didn’t care. It was so bad. I wanted it to stop no matter what. So everyone knew, but my family members were well connected enough that every time it went to court, it was instantly thrown out.
Carrie: Wow. So major things were covered up and excused. Wow. Was that hard for you to get out of? How did you get out and just be on your own at 18?
Jennifer: I had some skills and I got a job and worked multiple jobs and I just scratched and clawed and finally found people that I could relate to and depend on and I started to build my own family.
Carrie: Yes. I’ve had many clients who have had to do that because unfortunately, the situations were so severe. They had to cut all ties with their family. That doesn’t happen in all cases, but in some of the more severe abuse cases where people aren’t willing to acknowledge their behavior, then sometimes that’s the only option that people have in order to stay safe.
And to heat all from everything that’s happened in that process, how did you learn about God or become a Christian?
Jennifer: Well, I hadn’t been raised in the church, but going through all of those things that I went through. I was praying and I was crying out to God constantly. Give me a way out of this, make these people stop, make the police actually do something and it seemed like He just didn’t and just didn’t. It got to the point where I attempted suicide multiple times because I just wanted it to stop and I wanted to hate God. I was so angry with Him for not putting a stop to it. When we’re young and even when we’re older, maybe we are one person with one perspective and we’re from a certain point of view. We can’t see everything that God can see.
And so here I was in my little bubble, seeing only the things that I could see, and I had no idea how any of that could be something good. It seemed awful. How could this possibly be for my good? And I saw scripture verse, “All things work together for good, for those who are, who love God and are called according to His purpose.” And I was like, well, I love God. I think I’m called according to His purpose. Why isn’t He doing something? How can this be good?
Well, now years and years later, that’s very different and I can see all of the good that can come from things like this, and all I can see is a lot of the good that has come from it. We can’t see everything. There are ripples that we will never know about. I’ve been on a lot of podcast interviews. I don’t know who all listens. I don’t know how it may affect them or help them and I may never know that and that’s okay.
Carrie: Sure. Absolutely. So there was this sense where you talked about, like, I wanted to hate God. What kept you from hating God? Obviously, you got to a very, very dark place, but there was a part of you that was so connected to Him.
Jennifer: Yes and I don’t know that it was necessarily something in me. I think that’s one of those instances where we say, but for the grace of God, like He kept that connection like I wanted to. I think it’s kind of like a kid, you get mad at mom. You might say, I hate you, but you still have that feeling of connection and that even under all of that mess, your mom still loved you. I think that’s what it was. It was just that constant and then my spiritual health gradually improved from that low point.
Carrie: What was that process like of getting help for dealing with these traumatic experiences? Like did you go to therapy? Did you read self-help books?
Jennifer: Yes, I did all of that and I also went to college to get a degree in psychology to help me figure out all the mess in my family system. And how can people do those kinds of things and figure out how to heal myself with the help of therapists with the help of books. It was a long road. I don’t want anyone to think that “Oh gosh, okay, you can go through all this horrible stuff, and in a month, snap your fingers and everything’s okay.” It tends to take a long time and I still have what I call baggage. I still have some issues that I’m working on with my current family, my husband and my kids, and people that I have chosen to be kind of like adopted sisters and adopted brothers to me.
Carrie: I think that’s a good point to make because sometimes people say, okay, well, I walked away from that experience. It’s not going on anymore. And so, therefore, it shouldn’t affect me, but those psychological scars most often impact relationships as where those things tend to show up. So it takes time to work through those things.
We all have some level of baggage that we’re working through in our relationship life. If we have people that are close to us, if we’ve walled people off, it’s probably not as affecting us as much, which can happen too. But I think that that’s huge to make that point that you do have to work through those residual effects of trauma.
What was the process like reconciling, okay? I know these horrible experiences happened to me and maybe even asking God, why did you allow such evil to pervade my life for a long time and not rescue me from it? Because you could have, you could have just jumped in or sent somebody that really believed and wanted to do something about it.
I could have been in a just court system, whatever the case was, God could have intervened and He chose not to, like it that’s a hard thing for us to sit with.
Jennifer: It is. I think for my case, anyway. The big thing was scripture kept coming to mind and other people would point out some things. Now, sometimes people try to be helpful and they give you these pat answers and it’s not helpful. But I had some people who were helpful in things that they said. That scripture that I mentioned kept coming back to mind and I kept saying, okay, I believe that scripture is true. I just have to figure out how it’s true. So I took it as my job to figure out how those things could be good for me or good for the kingdom as a whole. Once I had made that decision that I was going to look for ways that this could be a good thing.
I started to see those things. I was able to spot a family in a fast food restaurant and know that the father was sexually molesting the daughter. I was able to put a stop to it by calling the local police. I worked in a daycare where I was able to spot some abuse taking place and put a stop to that.
So instances like that, where when you have lived it. You know what when you see it. You know what to look for and being able to take action and help someone else. Now, if I had never lived through that, would I have been able to help any of those people? Probably not. So once I took on that attitude and said, it’s my job to find out how these things are good for me or could be good for the kingdom, then it just changed everything.
Carrie: Wow. Were you able to, as you process some of the trauma, go back and find some of the good pieces of your childhood, even if they were small? Like those positive interactions with teachers and things like that?
Jennifer: Yes. That was another thing too, at the time. I didn’t really notice because of all the big, bad. But looking back in hindsight in 2020, I was able to spot that there were even stranger who would say something in the grocery store or on the street while I was waiting for the bus, just little things that at the time I would kind of like raise an eyebrow, scratch my head, like what? But it was a seed planted or it was the encouragement that I needed to get through that day or that week and there were so many of them.
That’s what makes it obvious to me that God was there and He was intervening. But He chose not to stop what I wanted him to stop because it formed my character. It turned me into the kind of person who could make a big difference in this world and now I’m grateful for it.
Carrie: Wow. So you had told me when we talked earlier off the microphone, that you wouldn’t change anything that happened to you. I thought that was a huge statement for you to make.
Jennifer: Yes. If I had changed it, a lot of people will think those types of things like, oh gosh, if I could just go back and change time, like erase that part of my history, I would. I would not because of those reasons. Because I don’t even know what kind of person I would be. Maybe I would have been spoiled. Maybe I would’ve been entitled and selfish and oh goodness, I don’t want to be that kind of person. So I think everything that I went through shaped me into who I am into developing the skills that I’ve developed into serving the people that I serve.
If I were to go back and change any of it, then all of my current life and all of the people that I’ve been able to that might be changed and I would not want to do that.
Carrie: I think that’s a huge statement and definitely it takes a lot of recognition on your part to see, and to identify all the different things, ways that God has used your story in a positive light.
So you talked a little bit earlier about going to therapy, seeking help. What were some other things that you did that helped you along that journey?
Jennifer: One of the things that I did was I journaled quite a bit. I wrote things out, wrote out my thoughts, and I would be able to look back on that and process and try to put things into perspective. I also was very frank with God. So in my prayer life, I did not pull any punches. I was not afraid that He would be mad at me. I figured He is a big God, He can handle my anger. So I just let Him know how I was feeling and what I was processing through and I’m thankful that He still loves me in spite of my bad attitude, which I have had at times. Those types of things can be very helpful to people. Trying to put your thoughts into perspective.
Carrie: I know that we’ve all had bad attitudes towards God at one time or another. It can be very frustrating just being on the earth and having a limited viewpoint. God has that vast viewpoint like you’ve talked about earlier and trying to bridge that gap in a way where we can humanly understand things. Sometimes we just, aren’t going to get it. Tell us about this better days journal that you created with your daughter.
Jennifer: So my daughter just turned 18. She and I together, everyone in my family has had their issues. She has struggled with anxiety and depression. She’s autistic and she has ADHD. And so together, I had started creating some journals, planners, organizers, those types of things, where people can write and organize their day. I got the idea to have her help me pick some images to put into one because I knew that having something would help her. She had been struggling with her anxiety quite a bit.
I walk her through some exercises verbally, but I thought when she’s alone, if she had something where she could write her own things and just process through that on her own, without needing to come to mom, then that would be very helpful to her throughout her life. So I handed her a stack of images for the different sheets that could go into one of these.
And I said, why don’t you pick what you would want, in a journal or planner and she was so excited. She’s like me? Well, what would it be about? I said, well, what do you struggle with? So she listed off the things and I said, let’s do this and so it is now on Amazon. It’s Better Days Journal and the subtitle is for anxiety and depression, ADHD, and autism. So anyone who struggles with any of those types of things who might need to take a thought that’s negative and turn it into something positive. There’s a page that has little clouds where they can write the negative thought and then turn it into a positive thought. There are places where you can put down whatever it is you’re worried about, and then put it into perspective and ask yourself. Then when you get that perspective, it can help you to feel calmer and it can help you to feel like you have a step that you can take to move forward. And boy, that feels so empowering.
Carrie: It does. So it was a little bit of a therapy journal combined with a planner and organizer. That’s good. For the closing question, I used to do this question about, tell us the story of hope and then I started having people on to talk about personal stories. So it didn’t really make sense or have alignment because I thought, well, your whole story is hopeful. So I came up with a different question, which is still along with our hope theme. If you could go back in time, what encouragement or hope would you provide to your younger self?
Jennifer: That is a very powerful question. I would tell myself it’s going to be okay and you’re doing all the right things. Just keep that way. If I could just that one little snippet, that’s what I would say. I would and maybe even say, look for the help that is there. You’re not seeing it right now but look for it because it’s there.
Carrie: Sure. Somehow you got a glimpse that there could be a better life for you, and that seems to have propelled you forward. So that’s awesome. Well, Jennifer, thank you so much for being on our show. I know that people are gonna really be blessed by this episode and be able to resonate with some of the things that you’ve talked about.
People that have been through traumatic experiences. Sometimes it’s really hard to reconcile that with faith and, and why questions, but I think that you provided some guidance for people on how to look for how God’s using this for good. So thank you so much for doing that.
Jennifer: Thank you.
Carrie: I want to tell you all about an exciting opportunity and something that I’m launching this month that is that we now have a subscription service for the show. The subscription is available for people who may be listening to the show on a regular basis, really believe in this ministry, and want to support what we’re doing. It’s also for people who would like access to exclusive content related to the show. What I’m going to start doing is having a monthly live question and answer format for our subscribers that will be videotaped and put in the subscription service.
I am also including my thought hush program, which has mindfulness and meditative activities, a workbook that you can follow along with. This is all really just good self-help material to help you along your journey, whether you’re going to counseling or not going counseling. It’s something that will help your process as you’re working through your anxiety or OCD.
For more information, we will put this link in the show notes as well. You can go to, buymeacoffee.com/hopeforanxiety. Thank you so much for listening to the show today, and we will be talking to you next week.
Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum. Until next time may you be comforted by God’s great love for you.