Recently a woman came to my office for pastoral counseling. Within moments she was sobbing and could not even talk. Eventually she was able to tell me that she had just learned that her husband had had an affair. He wanted to work things out and try to save the marriage, but she was consumed with pain and anger. As she told her story, she vacillated between talking about wanting to kill her husband and wanting to kill herself. By the end of her visit, she was considerably calmer and ready to begin the hard work of determining whether her marriage could be saved.

emotions facialThis story brings up some questions. Was it acceptable for this woman to have these strong negative emotions? It is understandable that she would be terribly upset by what had happened. But wouldn’t a person who was trusting God have more control over her emotions? How could she talk about killing her husband or herself?

Sometimes the church sends out confusing messages about how Christians should handle their emotions. Some seem to say that negative emotions, like fear, anger and pain, are always sinful. Anger in particular is often considered sinful. Some say that righteous anger (anger concerning an injustice) is acceptable, but all other anger is wrong. For example, being angry about abortion is all right, but being angry that you made a mistake is not. On the other hand, most Christians think that positive emotions are good. In fact, some people believe that jubilant emotions are an indicator of God’s presence. But is God’s presence only marked by positive emotions? Can He be present when we have negative emotions as well?

These are important questions to answer. All of us experience a wide range of emotions, and learning their role and function in our lives is essential. We need to understand them and learn to deal with them correctly. Let’s look at three principles concerning emotions.

Negative emotions are not evil or sinful.
When God created man, He created him in His image, and this image included emotions, both positive and negative. Scripture tells us that all God created is good (Genesis 1:31), and therefore, all emotions must be good. Another reason we cannot say that emotions we consider negative (e.g. anger, jealousy, fear) are not good is because both God Himself
(note God’s anger in Psalm 78:31,38,49,50)

and Jesus, as a man, experienced these negative emotions. And we know that God did not and cannot sin. Therefore, we must conclude that it is possible to experience negative emotions and not sin. The book of Hebrews describes Jesus experiencing powerful negative emotions:

During the days of Jesus’ life on earth, He offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save Him from death, and He was heard because of His reverent submission.
(Hebrews 5:7)

Jesus clearly felt the freedom to express his negative emotions to the Father without any fear of reprisal. In fact, the Father accepted these prayers and at one point, sent an angel to minister to Him (Luke 22:41-44).

It is important to understand that emotions, even negative ones, serve many positive roles in our lives. Emotions help us understand what is going on inside of us, and therefore, help us to identify our needs, likes, dislikes, and desires. They also help us experience intimacy. Intimacy occurs when two people connect on an emotional level. If we cannot identify and express our emotions, we cannot connect with someone else on a personal intimate level. We cannot share our life with a person without letting him know who we are or what is going on inside us.

Emotions also energize and motivate us to do whatever needs to be done. Without emotion we would live our lives without passion and conviction, like robots. For example, love compels me to sacrifice to meet the needs of those I love, while anger motivates me to fix something that is broken or energizes me to remove a blockage that is in the way.

Negative emotions serve the function of alerting us when something is wrong, telling us that something needs attention. Negative emotions are like the warning lights on the dashboard of a car. If the oil light goes on, we had better do something quickly to remedy the situation. Like the physical pain that warns us to take our hand off a hot burner, emotional pain is the warning system that sends us the message that there is a problem that we need to attend to.

We need to attend to our emotions and respond by taking appropriate action. The action may be corrective for negative emotions or repetitive for positive emotions. Our emotions may send us confusing messages, especially when we feel both positive and negative emotions at the same time. In this case, we need to sort out the positive from the negative.

Acting on our emotions may lead to sinful attitudes and behaviors.
A young man, who had a wife and small child, had a good job, but he felt he had been passed over for several promotions. He became increasingly angry and, without consulting anyone or having another job lined up, he quit his job in a fit of anger. Finding a new job was difficult, and while he was looking, he and his wife suffered financial hardships, and began fighting about his irresponsibility.

This example demonstrates that acting indiscriminately on emotions, positive or negative, may cause us to hurt others and ourselves. Though emotions are not bad or sinful in and of themselves, how we act based on our feelings may be sinful. For example, a person might feel like punching someone because he is angry. If he acts on his feelings, he may be arrested for assault. Another common mistake is to take out our frustration on a loved one who had nothing to do with the reason for the anger.

It is possible to have positive emotions when doing something wrong or have negative feelings when doing something right. A person who steals something may get a positive rush of adrenaline as a result. Or a mother who sets a limit by telling a child “no” may feel guilty even though she is acting wisely for the welfare of the child. Emotions cannot be trusted to always give a correct reflection of what is right (or wrong) in a situation.

It is wise to process our feelings before acting, to think before we act. There are many ways of processing our emotions. The simplest is to process emotions by choosing to continue feeling them until they go away. This may take quite some time— days or months with a big loss such as the death of someone close. Or it may only last for a short time when the loss is smaller.

In addition, for some people it may also be necessary for them to talk about their feelings with someone they are close to or with God. Talking with someone about our feelings tends to reduce the intensity of the feelings and allows us to make decisions and act in a calmer manner. It is important to talk about feelings and not make judgmental remarks about the person who hurt you.

Another helpful suggestion is to write about what happened and how it made you feel. Writing often enables us to sort out facts and feelings and make a wise decision about how to respond. All of these processing methods help us slow down, calm down and decide on an appropriate response.

Even though there are no emotions that are wrong, emotions can be expressed in unhealthy or sinful ways; and therefore, it is important for us to know how to process and handle them. When emotions are expressed in healthy ways the actions we take will be constructive and helpful to others.

Denying our emotions or suppressing them can lead to serious problems.
Denying or suppressing emotions are unhealthy ways of handling emotions. We often think that if we can avoid them, they will go away. They don’t. Instead, they get stored in our bodies in the form of stress. Then the emotions may be triggered (brought to the surface) by a situation similar to the original source of pain, hurt, etc. Thus, a person will overreact to a minor situation because of a past situation. After the overreaction (explosion, tirade, etc.) the person feels better, but has usually damaged his relationships significantly.

People deny their emotions by minimizing them or ignoring them. Many people seek to control their emotions by exerting their will power, but this only works temporarily. Others try to control their emotions by turning to addictions. Addictions involve exchanging an external focus (such as food, sex, work, shopping, exercise, gambling, etc. as well as drugs and alcohol) for an internal focus on the real problem (what is going on inside). Addictions also provide other functions besides distraction. They may make us feel better temporarily or they may numb our emotions.

No matter how hard we try to avoid our feelings they do not go away. They end up buried inside of us. Scripture warns us not to do this. It tells us to “not let the sun go down while you are still angry (Ephesians 4:26).” In other words, don’t suppress your anger. Rather, deal with it quickly. The same truth applies to all negative feelings.

Ephesians 4:27 states that when we do not deal with our anger in an appropriate and timely way, we give the devil a foothold in our lives. That is, we open ourselves up for attack and for provocation to act out our anger in the wrong way. Any time we allow emotions to build up inside of us we are in danger of becoming overwhelmed by the emotions and having our judgment clouded. Therefore, we need to learn how to deal with our emotions in appropriate and timely ways.

Summary
In another Pocket Principle we will discuss more about how failing to deal appropriately with negative emotions affects us. At this point, it is sufficient to understand that negative emotions are not bad or sinful. When we impulsively act on our negative emotions, without first processing them and thinking about what a godly response would be, then we are in danger of acting sinfully. If we deny or suppress our emotions we are only storing up trouble for later and opening ourselves to temptation.

Application Suggestions:
Read Psalm 13

How does David deal with his emotions: positive and negative?
• How have the ideas presented in this lesson caused you to reconsider how you think about and deal with emotions?

 

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Atomic Bomb BlastThe Fall of man was like having an atomic bomb go off near Eden. Adam and Eve survived, but because they were exposed to the radiation, they were greatly deformed and sickened. It was as if they were altered genetically, and all their offspring for all generations would be affected.

All men have been affected by the Fall. They no longer love God and the things of God but have become hostile toward Him. The Bible indicates that as a result of the Fall, all men have received a sin nature. Paul in Romans 8 describes how this fallen nature affects everyone. “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires . . . The mind of sinful man is death . . . the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” (Romans 8:5-7)

A reasonable question in light of this is, “Has the image of God in man been destroyed?” The answer is no. God’s image was defaced and damaged, but it was not obliterated. The Bible continues to speak of mankind as being in God’s image and admonishes all men to treat others with dignity and respect because everyone still reflects God’s image to some degree (James 3:9, I Corinthians 11:7).

Because of the Fall, all people are lost and unable to respond to God. There is a desperate need to reverse the effects of the Fall. And God, in His graciousness and love, has set in motion all that is needed to gradually reverse these effects through two initiatives.

Reformation
The first initiative we call reformation. Man is in need of a radical change of heart: hostility toward God needs to be changed to love; a sense of alienation from God needs to be changed to a sense of acceptance by Him; a natural inclination away from God needs to be changed to a desire toward Him. But man cannot change himself. He cannot reverse the effects of the fall. There is nothing in this world that can change him. This world says that man can be changed through education or political views or his own will. Though there is some truth in these views, none of these can change or heal a heart that has turned against God.

Only God can change a man’s heart. God brings about a radical inward change when a person repents of his sin and submits to Him. Ezekiel the prophet describes this radical inward change in this way:

I will sprinkle clean water on you and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezekiel 36:25 27).

Christians usually notice evidence of this change of heart shortly after their conversion. They find new desires within themselves. They want to pray and seek God while in the past they did not have time for God. They seek to be around other believers and have a new desire to understand God’s word and to follow Him. They often have a new inward sense that they are children of God. One of the most surprising things that happened to me when I came to Christ was that I was changed from a totally self-centered person to a person who really cared about other people. I have no explanation for this change except that God invaded my life and changed me. God changed my heart.

Restoration
The second initiative of God toward us we call restoration. Even though He changed our hearts at salvation, He now needs to change our lives by restoring the defaced image of God in us. Paul refers to this in Colossians 3:10 when he says, “you have put on the new self which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator.” This is the process of renewing that begins when we come to know Christ personally, and continues throughout our lives.

We are being restored to Christlikeness. Jesus is the visible expression (image) of the invisible God, so to be made into Christ’s image is to be made into the image of God. This process begins at salvation and goes on throughout our lifetime. Then when we die and go to be with Jesus, God instantly finishes the project. Thus, the effects of the Fall will not be totally reversed in our lifetime, but God will bring to completion that which He has begun in us. (Philippians 1:6)

The restoration process has two parts. The first is growth in our relationship with Christ, which is accomplished as we spend time with God and His people seeking Him, learning about Him and His ways and applying His Word to our lives. The second part of restoration is healing from the damage of sin. We all come into the Christian life damaged by living in a fallen world and by the sinful choices we have made. We have all been hurt in our lives and often have little insight about how to heal from those hurts. Often, the need people have to heal from emotional damage has not been well recognized in the church, but it is clearly part of Christ’s message of hope to us.

At the very beginning of His ministry, Jesus quotes from Isaiah 61:1-3 (Luke 4:18-19), which refers to the healing aspect of His ministry.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach 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 gladness 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. (Isaiah 61:1-3)

Jesus came to set us free from the damage that sin has done in our lives. The damage from our past sinful choices and sinful treatment by others may take many forms: addictions, depression, a distorted self-image, relational problems, unhealthy thinking patterns, unresolved emotional problems or many other difficulties These problems have roots in unresolved pain from our past, and to get better a person must process that pain and replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy ones. This takes time and help from others who understand the healing process. Notice that healing is a process and does not occur instantly at salvation.

God has set out to transform us. Apart from His work in our lives we would never be able to change. He has to reform us by changing our hearts and then restore us by giving us the strength and direction to become more like Christ. Apart from God’s work in a person’s life there is no hope of a better, more meaningful life.

Application Suggestions:
• Meditate on Isaiah 61:1-4
• Think about and answer these questions:
a. What are areas in my life that need to be restored?
b. How have I seen God begin this process of restoration?

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problem modelWhy is Life so unfair sometimes? Why do I have to suffer the consequences of someone else’s behavior? Ever heard those questions before? Ever asked them?

I know I have. And I have heard those questions asked numerous times in counseling sessions with other people.

None of us like it when somebody else messes up and it affects us. It leaves us with the responsibility of figuring out how to correct the problem. One of the biggest areas that I help people work through in counseling has to do with their fathers. Many fathers are absent, neglectful and hurtful towards their children. Some fathers don’t even realize what they are doing, or the effect it might have on their children.

When these children become adults, the fallout of their father’s interactions with them can cause major problems. When they show up in my counseling office they are suffering from the results of someone else’s behavior. Together we have to figure out how to correct the emotional damage done to them. The good news is that there are solutions. The bad news is that the solutions involve going through a process that takes time and hard work. Yet there is hope and healing during the process.

 

In the Pocket Principle (Fallenness of Man) , I noticed many similarities between the counseling process and the solution God has provided for man’s fallen condition. They both involve a change of heart and a process of restoration. Read on to discover the good solution that God has given us for the consequences of Adam and Eve’s bad behavior.

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Genogram GraphMany times, in counseling situations, we use a little tool called a genogram. If you have never heard of this tool, a genogram is just a glorified family tree. Only, many times, what people discover when they make a genogram, is not so glorious.

The purpose of a genogram is to learn more about your family history. An understanding of your family history can be helpful to gain more insight into yourself, especially your decisions, feelings and thoughts. It is important to understand where we came from so we can better navigate where we are going.

A genogram used in counseling will generally focus on relationships and how people function. Deaths, divorces, remarriages, births, siblings, birth order, illness, and many other things can be noted. Discoveries made when creating a genogram can go something like this; “there was a lot of alcoholism in my family”, “women in my family did not pick good men”, “there were so many people who died young in my family”, “divorce was really common in my family”, to name only a few.

What people notice in a genogram is patterns and trends of how their families related to each other. This helps people understand why they do things one way or another and that understanding gives them power to break unhealthy patterns.

In this Pocket Principle, we take a look at the human genogram by going back to the original mother and father of humanity and studying how their behavior affected every person born since. What we learn about our history is not so glorious, but understanding the impact of Adam and Eve’s behavior is important for our own growth and maturity.

 Read our Pocket Principle – The Fallenness of Man  and look for part two next week.

 

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last night i went to the first meeting of a group i swore i would never set foot in. the first of 17 meetings.

jesus is quite the practical joker. if i ever swear i won’t do something, it’s pretty much guaranteed that in the next few years, he will take a bulldozer straight through that promise, with me chained to the front scooper gizmo, screaming all the way, and then it will turn out to have been a heaping spoonful of blessing-pants.

2003: “i will NEVER set foot in that campus ministry. they are a cult.” a few weeks later, i step in because they have free chili and i am hungry and lazy. then, i am going every week. a few weeks later i meet my husband inside that building. a few more months and i meet jesus there and the following year i am working full time and living in the house. as alumni, we now give a large amount of money every month to keep this “cult” running, pray daily that our kids will find a community like it when they get older, and even speak at their retreats when asked.

good one, emmanuel.

so i should have known that when i said, “ew, i will NEVER take a restoring your heart group. i’m a hippie jesus chick and don’t like binders and programs and i would NEVER spill my guts to a bunch of lady-strangers,” that i was essentially saying, “give me my name tag and my spiral-bound study guide, i’m IN!”

so a few years back, when wda introduced a new program, called “restoring your heart,” that was developed with the aim of discovering where you have been wounded, how those wounds have affected, and still affect you; and then grieving those wounds, and beginning to heal from them. i thought, that sounds great, i’m sure lots of people who had crappy childhoods will really benefit from that. but again, not for me. i don’t have any huge, glaring baggage that i felt like i was still carrying around. i have never been abused, haven’t dealt with addiction, never dealt with death or abandonment…none of the big headliner issues. i figured, nothing that bad ever really happened to me, so any issues i have are of my own doing.

Ironically, I kept hearing people I respected say, “i never realized ___ about myself until i did the restoring your heart group but….” and we’d hear other couples rave about the results. like: every, single one goes on and on about how much it has changed their lives. how much it sucks at first, but then what freedom and wisdom comes from it.
i started to think more about it. but i always came back to, “no, i really don’t have any wounds that i haven’t already healed from.”

all this has been playing out over the past 4 years. we have dealt with marriage issues, becoming parents, having conflict with friends and family and trying to think about how we want to raise our kids. lots of these issues seem to repeat themselves: hubs and i having the same types of fights again and again, me losing my cool at my son over the same stupid triggers, getting into misunderstanding with friends because i feel devalued. these sorts of patterns made me start wondering.

one night last month we called some wda-ers over for an SOS emergency marriage counseling session. after a few hours of talking through things and them asking questions, it finally hit me that i do a lot of the things that cause me and my husband and my kids pain (and will continue to) because i am wounded. not in any lifetime original movie kind of way, but just in a way that screams, “oh hey, this is a fallen world and sin and lies are everywhere and they are all over you. Didn’t you know?”

i came to the conclusion that while growing up i interpreted and received what i thought was truth the only way i knew how. in the process i was told, perceived, believed and reacted to many lies. lies about who i am. lies about who jesus is. lies about how god loves me. lies about shame and worth and safety.

it is really important to note here that there isn’t a human bad guy in this story. it’s not like my parents or a bully or a teacher ever outright lied to me on purpose to hurt me. and even though, sadly, that can sometimes be the case that people lie to and hurt us intentionally, we have to remember that they are victims of a broken world too. the only person whose entire identity is that of a liar is satan. he is where all of this crap comes from and it gives him amazing amounts of joy when he can convince us to swallow them.

every single one of us is a limping, burned, disfigured product of these lies. in the process we bang around hurting each other, even if we want only the best for and to love one another.

so in the process of growing up, and with the mind of a child, i interpreted false messages that wounded me. that taught me unhealthy patterns and unwise reactions. as kids we are constantly being passively programmed: taking what we see and hear and experience and feel and instantly interpreting it, with no conscious thought–with our tiny minds–into the worldview from which we will operate for the rest of our lives.

so, yes, a 3 year old programmed the brain from which 80% of my thoughts, assumptions and decision originate…awesome! that really explains so much.

satan is a crafty butwipe and he hurts us the most subtly as children, when we are too immature and unlearned to put words to the hurtful things and feelings that we come across. these unnamed things get cemented into our heads as “just the way things are” or “normal,” or, “truth,” and by the time we are old enough to “know better” (no, my dad didn’t love me less because he worked all the time, or no, my mom didn’t think i was stupid because she encouraged me to do better in school, or no i am not worthless because some bully kid singled me out), it doesn’t matter because the fallout from those unspoken lies has already tangled itself around so much of our operating system that it has become our truth, even if we “know better” in our conscious minds.

i would say the easiest people to hate in this life are those that target and harm children. well, the devil is the king of child predators and he started working on us from infancy. he has planted sneaky and evil lies in the hearts and minds of the smallest souls that never even knew they were in a war or had an enemy. it is disgusting and evil to the core. satan’s lies seek to harm us in the only lasting way that we can be hurt: by tearing us away from the truth of how much jesus loves us. it’s his only weapon and he wields it with impunity and skill.

it’s hard to imagine any damage being worse than what we read about in the papers or see on the news about the horrible and rare things that can happen to children, but i am realizing that every single one of us has been the victim of an even worse abuse: trying to have our hearts and minds stolen away from and twisted against our most perfect heavenly father.

and the sneakiest part is that these acts committed against us leave no outward signs, and the victims and eyewitnesses to them don’t even know they have even occurred. let me say it very clearly: satan is a disgusting, malicious piece of garbage and is the only one who hurts us with full knowledge of what he is doing to us and why he is doing it. he isn’t acting out of his own woundedness; he is acting purely out of his identity as a predator who wants to destroy us.

i was always afraid to talk about my “stuff” because mine “isn’t that bad.” i was afraid of looking like a pampered little complainer next to others who have suffered in more external or obvious ways. but you know what? i am just realizing that that’s a lie too. everybody has their own stuff and by saying someone else’s is better or worse than mine, i am attempting to judge what’s good and what’s evil based on some scale that my brain came up with. i seem to remember that doing that exact same thing didn’t work out so well for all of us when adam and eve first tried it out in the garden. and you know who was right there telling them to do it? plot twist! it was the devil there too.

i now hate the little saying, “if we all put our troubles in a pile and saw everyone else’s, we’d want to grab ours right back out again.” we are ALL living in a broken world and have been poisoned by it. every single one of us is lost. no one wins this contest of “who’s got it roughest/easiest?” because they have the “least” or “smallest” mess. it’s not an objective scale. we are all walking around with the same score: me-0, satan-1.

just like you can’t compare your physical pain to someone else’s because you CANT FEEL THEIRS, we can’t do that with emotional pain either. what wounded me is what wounded me and that’s all i have any control over or firsthand knowledge of. end of story.

so i am done keeping my junk in the darkness. that’s what satan wants anyway. for me to feel like i am a freak or that i am alone in feeling this way, or that i am lucky and didn’t really get hurt. that’s not truth and that’s not jesus. there is no shame in christ. he would never turn me away and say, “shut up, that memory of being humiliated in 8th grade was nothing; try having nails through your hands.” he is ever-comforting, always gentle, and wants to be with me FOREVER. there is nothing in my heart that he would ever dismiss or write off.

so i will be going through this class for 17 weeks with 6 other women, all strangers, led by another woman who has been trained by WDA people who wrote the program. i have committed to a serious covenant of confidentiality about the things i hear during our group about the other women’s stories, but i do want to share my own personal walk through this process in a public way a little bit in case any one else has ever thought their stuff was too big, too small, too ugly, too messed up or too anything to not address.

my goals: to stop some of the cycles of unhealthy behavior and recurring wounds that i exhibit, receive and inflict by discovering the lies and hurt that i developed these behaviors in response to. that sounded fancy. here’s what i really mean: to figure my junk out before i pass it on to anyone else or make it worse for myself. to walk more like christ.

the thing that finally won me over was hearing people I love get emotional saying how much they would give to have gone back and done this before they had kids. they would pay thousands of dollars to have known what their own wounds were so they could catch themselves in the moment of acting out of those wounds and hurting their kids as they were raising them. their grown children are already benefiting greatly from having more healthy and self aware parents, but stopping the cycle for the next generation BEFORE many of the wounds and lies are cemented in childhood is an invaluable opportunity that i couldn’t spit in the face of.

dear jesus, i already know what it feels like to have wounded my kids due to my own issues. i refuse to do that anymore out of my ignorance. will i still wound them? Inevitably, and tragically, yes. but i will have this stuff in the light, before my eyes and turned over to jesus, so its insidious power is lost. i might not ever get the cure on this side of heaven, but just knowing my diagnosis and what the symptoms of my wounds are will go a huge way toward breaking the cycle of their power to cause even more hurt.

i am so ready to start the painstaking process of asking the questions that lead me back down the tangled paths of emotional unhealthiness and identify where the stupid, backward messages started. to call out the lie and deny the liar. to claim the freedom that we have all been promised by the one who is truth. to trade in my scorecard of k8-0, devil-1, and redeem the inheritance that i was ransomed to: jesus-a billionty googzillion for ever eternity, satan-ultimate loser.

bring on my spiral-bound binder of class materials! i don’t expect this to be easy. i don’t expect it to be fun or solve all of my problems. i do fully expect jesus to show up and hold my hand and start turning the pixels of my heart one by one over to the truth side. it’s what he does, when we let go and let him, and he’s kind of undefeated at it.

here we go.

This Blog was written by a Restorative Ministry Participant.

WDA’s Restorative Ministry and Restoring Your Heart Groups are a vital part of many people growing in grace. Learn more about WDA’s Restoring Your Heart.