Unhitching from the crazy train

Published 10:19 am Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Christian counselor Julie Sparkman says the title for her popular women’s conference – “Unhitching from the Crazy Train” – came from a piece of advice she found herself repeating during sessions at her private practice in Birmingham.

“I was dealing with women who were focusing the efforts of their lives around people and events outside of their control,” she shared with me during a recent phone interview. “I was telling them, ‘You’ve got to unhitch.’ I probably said it five times in one week. It stuck.’”

Posters like the ones advertising the upcoming “Unhitching from the Crazy Train” conference at Brookhaven’s Faith Presbyterian include a catchy subtitle as well, one that alludes to finding that all elusive commodity, rest. Sparkman, however, is quick to point out that she’s not offering conference-goers what many assume that rest to be — a rest from busyness.

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“My focus is on a different kind of rest,” she stresses, “a rest from attempting to control things in your life that you cannot, the things that happen when life doesn’t turn out the way you expected.”

The posters go on to spell out the unexpected in terms of family troubles, job disappointments and health issues, and Sparkman has a simple answer for how unhitching relates to those aspects of life.

“Unhitching is all about looking inward,” she says, “It’s about developing a stability that will withstand those kind of outward jolts.”

The speaker/teacher’s own major jolt came when her son was diagnosed with lymphoma three years ago.

“I learned the discipline of staying in the moment and believing that God is in the moment with me,” Sparkman recalls. “Prior to then, I was never forced to do that. When your kid is that sick and you think of the what-ifs, you can go right over the edge. I had to learn it at that point.”

A public speaker since age 21, Sparkman likens herself to a personal trainer. “People understand the broader principles of Scripture, but as a counselor I can work to help them understand how those principles relate to everyday life — from their fights with their spouse to their anxiety about work,” explains the wife and mother of three.

Local resident Karen Braden says Sparkman is spot on, and that’s why she’s excited about the Faith Presbyterian event.

“A group of us went to hear her in Madison, and we were so inspired we bought the video series,” Braden remembers. “Julie has a gift for taking principles and making them practical, things I wish I had understood when I was young. I’m trying now to use them as a mother of young adults and as a grandmother.”

And with content that crosses denominational lines, “Unhitching from the Crazy Train” conferences are attracting women of all ages. Sparkman maintains that an attender in her mid-20s can relate to the material as much as a 75-year-old, all because of one word – control.

“They have to be at a point in life when they’ve realized, ‘Hey, it didn’t work out as I had planned,’” she says. “Some are devastated by that realization, others are at rest with it. Why? Because your theology is played out in your life. This conference challenges women to look at their lives and consider, ‘Is this a true representation of what I believe? Do I really believe that God is in control when I’m up until 4 a.m. writing a mental email to someone who has messed up my picture of what I want?’”

Sparkman says she is looking forward to her visit to Brookhaven March 4-5, one of many speaking engagements and workshops she has scheduled this year. Even so, the founder of Restore Counseling Ministries wants to make something clear: she’s not very together.

“I don’t seek that women would admire me, and they don’t. I seek that women admire Christ,” Sparkman explains, going on to admit that she forgets her notes, can’t find her glasses and spills her water 90 percent of the time. “And that’s in front of my audience,” she laughs. “I’m a rubber-meets-the-road kind of girl. Women won’t leave the conference impressed with me, and that’s as it should be.”

For more information about Julie Sparkman and her “Unhitching from the Crazy Train” conference, visit www.faithpres.net or call 833-0081.

Wesson resident Kim Henderson is a freelance writer who writes for The Daily Leader. Contact her at kimhenderson319@gmail.com.