ELUSIVE REST

A young couple. First child. About two weeks from term. Stillborn.

I made my way to a room of mourning on a maternity ward. A contradiction of settings. Inside a mother and father held their silent child. “Will you baptize her?” the mother asked. It wasn’t a time for a theological discussion. It was a time for pastoral ministry.

I asked a nurse for some water. She notified the priest on duty. He sent up holy water. I gladly used it. Taking that lifeless girl in my arms, I baptized her assuring her parents that she was with Jesus.

We buried her a few days later. The unanswerable question, “Why?” laid on the morning dew. It whispered on the wind. It was etched on the faces of the mourners. All around that little grave was the feeling of unrest. Yet, in a cruel irony, we were laying this precious child to rest. We were troubled. She was at peace.

“Why did I not die at birth?

Why did I not perish when I came from the womb?

Why did the knees receive me?

Or why the breasts, that I should nurse?

For now I would have lain still and been quiet,

I would have been asleep;

Then I would have been at rest

With kings and counselors of the earth,

Who built ruins for themselves,

Or with princes who had gold,

Who filled their houses with silver;

Or why was I not hidden like a stillborn child,

Like infants who never saw light?

There the wicked cease from troubling,

And there the weary are at rest.

There the prisoners rest together;

They do not hear the voice of the oppressor.

The small and great are there,

And the servant is free from his master.                                                            Job 3:11-19 (NKJV)

These words are spoken by a father with no children. A husband forsaken by his wife. A boss without employees. A wealthy man in poverty. Health broken. Unforgiving pain. Disfigured beyond recognition by his friends. Is it any wonder that Job would wish that he had died at birth?  

We are put off by Job’s words. Isn’t it selfish to wish such agony upon one’s parents? For 25 years I dreamed of the child we lost in the womb. Some were troubling. Others comforting. All saturated with longing. How could he yearn to have perished at birth?

But past the first revulsion, you learn Job’s true desire. Quiet. Rest. No trouble. No weariness. No oppression. Freedom. It doesn’t matter to Job if he is counted among the kings, princes, and counselors of the earth or as a prisoner or slave. What does he care if his tomb is lined with silver and gold or be it unmarked, hidden, and forgotten. He cries for rest. Rest! REST!

God created rest. “God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work.” (Genesis 2:3 NKJV) Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27 NKJV) God didn’t need to rest. He created the day of rest for you and me. The Hebrews writer moves beyond the physical to the spiritual. “There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God.” (4:9 NIV)

Jesus shouts that great invitation, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28 KJV) Troubled? Rest. Weary? Rest. Prisoner? Rest. Oppressed? Rest. Enslaved? Rest.

Oh, my friend, although Job longs for a rest that comes with death, there is a rest in Christ Jesus that comes with life. It is not a rest FROM trouble, weariness, imprisonment, oppression, or slavery. It is a rest AMIDST those things. A peace in the soul. A Presence that sustains. A faith that is firm. A hope that holds.

1. There is a place of quiet rest,

near to the heart of God,

a place where sin cannot molest,

near to the heart of God.

Refrain:

O Jesus, blest Redeemer,

sent from the heart of God,

hold us, who wait before thee,

near to the heart of God.

2. There is a place of comfort sweet,

near to the heart of God,

a place where we our Savior meet,

near to the heart of God. [Refrain]

3. There is a place of full release,

near to the heart of God,

a place where there is rest and peace,

near to the heart of God. [Refrain]

Cleland Boyd McAfee

Rest in your faith in God for today and your hope in Him for the future.

Hope in the LORD,

Jay

WHAT IF I NEVER WAS?

The perennial Christmas favorite, It’s A Wonderful Life, is about a man, George Bailey, who wishes he had never been born. An angel, Clarence, shows him the consequences of his desire.
His younger brother, Harry, drowns because George was not there to save him. The pharmacist, Mr. Gower, is ruined when George was not there to stop him from giving the wrong prescription. The building and loan that his father worked so hard to build closes, George is not there to save it. Uncle Billy, who helped run the building and loan, is institutionalized. The poor that George helped to get into better housing are condemned to squalor without him. George’s mother is forced into running a boarding house to make ends meet. His wife, Mary, is a spinster. The men that Harry saved during World War II are killed because Harry drowned without George.
One man’s life, judged by himself to be worthless, touched the lives of so many.

After this Job opened his mouth and cursed the day of his birth. And Job spoke, and said:
“May the day perish on which I was born,
And the night in which it was said,
‘A male child is conceived.’
May that day be darkness;
May God above not seek it,
Nor the light shine upon it.
May darkness and the shadow of death claim it;
May a cloud settle on it;
May the blackness of the day terrify it.
As for that night, may darkness seize it;
May it not rejoice among the days of the year,
May it not come into the number of the months.
Oh, may that night be barren!
May no joyful shout come into it!
May those curse it who curse the day,
Those who are ready to arouse Leviathan.
May the stars of its morning be dark;
May it look for light, but have none,
And not see the dawning of the day;
Because it did not shut up the doors of my mother’s womb,
Nor hide sorrow from my eyes. Job 3:1-10 (NKJV)

In chapter three Job makes three wishes . . .
• I wish I never was. (3:1-10)
• I wish I had died at birth. (3:11-20)
• I wish I could die. (3:21-26)
Have you ever wished you had never been born? Never been conceived? Never existed? I have.

Job is so distraught with the burden of his physical and emotional pain he curses the hour of his conception. The day of his birth. The day itself. And the date. He asks God to totally obliterate his history and anything related to it. No sun, moon, or stars. Darkness! Blackness! Death! Elimination! Eradication!

Job is depressed and in despair, both mentally and spiritually. Hopeless. No meaning to life. Absent strength to carry on. I was always told that despair is sin. But God has said that Job did not sin with his words. How can the two be reconciled?

I think I have experienced despair without sin. To think of the future (hope) was too agonizing to contemplate. The “dark night of the soul” had descended. Enveloped me. Smothered me. Would not let me go. Yet faith remained. Hope was unreachable, but I still believed.

Job expresses such. “May God above . . .” is his appeal. “I wish I never was, God. Only You can make it so.” Weak? Yes. Unwise? Yes. Desperate? Yes. But enough faith, enough belief in God to plead with Him. Even though that request would not be granted.

What if I never was? My mother could’ve been seriously injured when I wasn’t there to catch her after she blacked out. A young lady wouldn’t stop me on the street to tell me about getting clean in the program I supervised. A consumer with severe anxiety, misdiagnosed by others, wouldn’t have stabilized and been able to live again. My son wouldn’t exist to be ministering in the Appalachian Mountains of Kentucky.

What if you’d never lived?

May you have faith in God for the moment. Even, like Job, a negative moment. Until those moments continue one second or minute at a time while you are waiting to find hope in Him.

Hope in the LORD,

Jay

THE COMFORT OF SILENCE

It occurred to Pooh and Piglet they hadn’t heard from Eeyore for several days. They found him in his little stick house.

“Hello Eeyore,” said Pooh.

“Hello Pooh. Hello Piglet,” said Eeyore, in a Glum Sounding Voice.

“We just thought we’d check in on you,” said Piglet, “because we hadn’t heard from you. Are you okay?”

“Am I okay?” Eeyore asked, “Well, I don’t know, to be honest. All I can tell you is I feel Sad, Alone, and not much Fun.”

Pooh and Piglet both sat down, one on either side of Eeyore.

“What are you doing?” asked Eeyore.

“We’re sitting here with you,” said Pooh, “because we are your friends. True friends don’t care if someone is feeling Sad, Alone, or not much Fun. True friends are there for you anyway.”

“Oh,” said Eeyore. And the three of them sat there in silence.                                                                                                                                                                        (A.A. Milne & E.H. Shepard, adapted)

Now when Job’s three friends heard of all this adversity that had come upon him, each one came from his own place—Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite, and Zophar the Naamathite. For they had made an appointment together to come and mourn with him, and to comfort him. And when they raised their eyes from afar, and did not recognize him, they lifted their voices and wept; and each one tore his robe and sprinkled dust on his head toward heaven. So they sat down with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his grief was very great. Job 2:11-13 NKJV

BFFs (best friends forever) have common characteristics. Job’s friends demonstrated at least three of them.

Caring

These men loved their friend Job. They had genuine concern for his wellbeing.

It is not known with certainty where Job lived. Two places rival for that recognition. Wherever it was, two of the friends had a very long journey. It may have taken days or weeks to reach Job’s home. It was arduous, dangerous, and expensive. Months would pass before they could return to their families. But they cared enough to be there.

Several years ago a dear high school friend suffered a sudden and horrific loss. My wife and I had previous plans to see Janet (name changed), but because of her emotional state several days were pared down to a two hour lunch.

Upon arrival we met one of Janet’s friends that had come to live with her for a time. Her friend left her home, which was quite some distance, family, and presumably a job to care for Janet. All the time we were there, this friend assessed Janet’s health and her tolerance for the chaos and conversation we brought. She served as waitress, busgirl, dishwasher, and nurse. When she thought Janet had reached her limit, she signaled that it was time for us to say our goodbyes.

To my knowledge she stayed with our friend for several weeks. She cared enough to be there.

Empathy

In the ANE (Ancient Near East) it was common to hire professional wailers for a funeral. Job had no need of them. His friends came with voices lifted in agony. Tears cascaded down their faces and off their beards.

They were not mourners from a distance. Each tore his robe as a sign of affinity with Job. His torn heart was their torn heart. His adversity their adversity. His mourning their mourning. Their lives enjoined with the ashes of Job’s life.

Silence

Seven days of silence. A profound expression. What words did they have to relieve Job’s pain? None! Pythagoras reminds us that “Silence is better than unmeaning words.” For seven days Job experienced the succor of presence from his friends. The comfort of silence.

If all we knew about Job’s friends were contained in these three verses, they would be counted among the greatest friends in the Bible. Moses and Joshua. Naomi and Ruth. Jonathan and David. Elijah and Elisha. Job and Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar.

Oh, that you and I could be so blessed to have friends like these. Oh, that we could be a friend like this to others.

Loyal friends can inspire you in your pain and darkness to put your faith in God for today and hope in Him for all the tomorrows to come.

Hope in the LORD,

Jay  

STEADFAST HOPE

Grief, especially for a child, can draw a husband and wife together or tear them apart. No manual exists to guide you how to handle your grief, let alone that of your spouse. Grief, especially complicated grief, turns your world upside down. It is chaotic. Challenging. Disruptive. Tumultuous. Unpredictable. You will express grief in your own way. But then, so will your spouse. Your grief cycle will likely not be on the same timetable nor felt and expressed the same as hers/his. (University of Rochester School of Medicine, Health Encyclopedia)

So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord, and struck Job with painful boils from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. And he took for himself a potsherd with which to scrape himself while he sat in the midst of the ashes. Then his wife said to him, “Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Curse God and die!” But he said to her, “You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God, and shall we not accept adversity?” In all this Job did not sin with his lips. (Job 2:7-10 NKJV)

Two things happen in these verses –

Job’s health fails. He was violently struck (smote [KJV]) with an agonizingly painful, loathsome disease. Head. Face. Neck. Chest. Back. Shoulders. Arms. Armpits. Hands. Fingers. Stomach. Buttocks. Genitalia. Legs. Feet. It was a whole-body experience. No escape. No relief. No cure.

It’s possible he was contagious; therefore, he was alone with his illness. The smell foul and repulsive. The sight revolting as ulcers oozed. The itching incessive. Shards of pottery were used to incise and drain the boils. Scabs and scars took their place. Job probably expected his disease to be fatal. Death would have been preferable to the measure of his emotional and physical suffering.

The author paints a pathetic picture of this man. Job sits in a rubbish heap, his life in ashes. He uses broken jars as his only source of comfort. He is a broken man.

I had a 1988 Chevy Nova that went through a severe hailstorm, some softball size. The windshield was broken, and the body left with deep dents. At the time I was in seminary and supporting my family. I needed the insurance money to pay off the car more than I needed it to be made whole. Once I passed through a toll booth, the attendant said, “Looks like you’ve been in a hailstorm.” It showed.

For the rest of his life, Job bore the scars of his near-death experience. They were obvious.

Not only did Job’s health fail, but his wife forsook him also. In Mrs. Job’s defense she was living through her own kind of torment. Grief and brokenness were her daily companions, too.

                She recognizes Job’s integrity, but out of her own pain tells him it has not served him well. “You’re a good man, my husband, but all your goodness has been for naught,” I can hear her say. At that moment her faith fails, and she becomes an ally of Satan in wanting Job to abandon his integrity and curse God. No doubt Job felt forsaken and terribly alone.

Job is you. Job is me. We bear the scars of our past. Each one tells a story. Something dumb we did. An accident. Abuse. There are unseen scars. A harsh word. Broken promises. Betrayal. Loss. We, too, sit in the ashes of our own burned-out lives.

Like Job, many of you have felt the sting of abandonment. In your darkest hour “for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until parted by death,” didn’t mean for your spouse what it meant for you.

Through it all Job found the grace of God was sufficient. God was good in the good times, and He is still good in the bad times. Although the worst of life had taken grip of Job’s world and his body, it did not possess his soul. What was true for Job is also true for you.

The Imperials performed the song, Jesus Never Fails. Here are some of the phrases . . . Tested souls. Broken hearts and minds. A world of troubles. Deep in despair. . . . followed by the chorus

Jesus never fails,

Jesus never fails,

You might as well get thee

Behind me, Satan

You cannot prevail,

Because Jesus never fails.

With faith in God for today and hope in God for the future, you are an overcomer.

Hope in God,

Jay

INTEGRITY AND LOSS

“Spiritual surrender is not mush. It produces a heightened personality… Jesus does not reduce people to their zero. He raises them to their zenith. He is not a strong man making men around Him weak. He is the Strong, creating the strong…. Life has come to its maximum in Him – it is not ‘nothing’; it is something, and something significant.” (E. Stanley Jones, The Way to Power and Poise)

Again there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them to present himself before the Lord. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil? And still he holds fast to his integrity, although you incited Me against him, to destroy him without cause.” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Skin for skin! Yes, all that a man has he will give for his life. But stretch out Your hand now, and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand, but spare his life.” (Job 2:1-6 NKJV)

Job 2:1-6 and 1:6-12 are almost identical. Nearly verbatim. But, the small difference between the two is hugely significant – “He holds fast to his integrity.”

Integrity can be defined as – an internal moral compass from a moral God in an immoral world.

Integrity is your moral compass. Before the days of GPS, knowing how to read a map, compass, sun and stars, or other signs of nature were essential if you wanted to travel beyond familiar places. That knowledge could get you from where you were to where you wanted to be.

There was a youth camp off I-68 near the West Virginia/Maryland line where I was scheduled to speak. I followed the map but couldn’t find the right road. Fortunately, there was a police station ahead. Pulling out my map and pointing to a road I asked an officer where it was. He replied, “That road doesn’t exist.” To get where you’re going in this life with integrity, a reliable map is essential.

Note that word “moral.” Morality, if it is to be a certain guide, depends on objective truth and a Lawgiver greater than oneself. If there is no truth, there is no morality. If there is no Lawgiver, then I can make laws to suit myself. To resist evil, I better know what it is. To actively do good, I must know what it looks like.

God’s moral standards are the foundation for integrity. Secular ethicists define integrity as an internal standard of values, beliefs, and principles you adhere to. If that is true, then by the end of 2022 there will be the potential for eight billion codes of behavior on earth. I think most people would agree that is a bit unmanageable.

Another flaw in that definition is the fact that many people have done a lot of evil while adhering to their own internal standard of values, beliefs, and principles. In the 20th century Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol-pot all lived consistently with their personal moral code. Around 150 million people are dead as a result.

No, integrity depends on a source outside oneself to which you are called to be loyal and accountable.
An adopted system of beliefs. Internalized and adhered to. Only God can be that source. My personal conscience is not good enough because it is neither infallible nor am I an unbiased judge of my own behavior.

We live in an immoral world. Personal wealth is stolen by people who think they have a right to take it. Property is wantonly destroyed in the name of someone’s agenda. Killings happen because someone has the wrong color of skin, uniform, or insignia on their jacket; or they’re from the wrong tribe, religion, or region of the world.

It was easy for Job to maintain his integrity when everything was promising. It is for you and me, too. After the disasters and tragic losses Job still held fast to his integrity. You can judge the mettle of a person by what they do when everything goes wrong. Doing the right thing even when it seems pointless is the test of integrity.

Faith in a moral God for today and hope in a just God for the future can keep your personal integrity firm.

Hope in God,

Jay  

Catastrophic Worship

A breathless, ashen faced employee rushes in. One-third of your wealth is gone. Before he is finished another employee smelling of smoke and colorless with fear appears. Two-thirds of your wealth is gone. Waiting in line, gasping for air and covered in dust a third employee delivers his harrowing tale. Three-thirds of your wealth is gone. Nothing of material value remains of the business you spent a life time building.

There is one more to be heard. With eyes red and swollen he draws near, his body slumps with the burden of his news. They’ve all perished. Seven of seven sons. Three of three daughters. Dead.

How do you respond? . . . Job worshiped.

“Then Job arose, tore his robe, and shaved his head; and he fell to the ground and worshiped. And he said: ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked shall I return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; Blessed be the name of the Lord.’
In all this Job did not sin nor charge God with wrong.” (Job 1:20-22)

I vividly remember the Sunday after May 15, 1991. On that day our world took a sudden and sharp turn onto a road that none of us had ever traveled and none of us knew how to navigate. As a family – Dad, Mom, my brother and his family, and my family and me – we decided to go to the eight o’clock service. There would be fewer people to face. Fewer questions to answer.

During the service Daddy, broken in spirit and weighted with grief, rose and said, “I have no sad luck stories to tell. Jesus is my Savior and God is good. I have no sad luck stories to tell.” I’m pretty sure that couldn’t have come out of my mouth. But Daddy was carried higher to a different realm that morning, a place of praise and worship.

Faith and hope are not based on blessings.

Those that serve God for the health and wealth are coming to a day of reckoning when neither will be available. When you follow God for the material benefits, you are going to be sorely shaken when the enemy of your soul troubles you.

If you are laying up a generous amount of treasure in heaven, you can withstand losing some earthly treasures. If you trust God and seek Him first; you don’t have to fear those who can wreak havoc in your world.

Faith and hope bows to God in submission.

As was the custom in the Ancient Near East (ANE) upon receiving such disastrous news, Job tore his garments and shaved his head as a sign of mourning. That wasn’t the end though, Job worshiped.

Job did not complain. He acknowledged that God gave it all to him and God had a right to take it away. God was good when He gave. God was still good when it all vanished.

My friend, God is good in health and He is good in affliction. God is good in wealth and He is good in poverty. God is good in success and He is good in failure.

Satan predicted that Job would curse God. That old snake was wrong. Job blessed the Lord. Thanks be to God.

Faith and hope acknowledge that God is in control.

His sovereignty is not capricious. His power is not arbitrary. The pitiful plans of man do not challenge His authority. The riotous rage of nature does not move His throne. The sorry schemes of Satan do not alter His design.

Faith and hope bring comfort and consolation.

In this life you and I will stare situations in the face where only the God of all comfort can sooth our torn spirit.

The author of Job does something subtle in Job’s pronouncement that drives home part of the reason for Job’s later agony. Did you catch it? “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.”

Wow! Such a heroic spirit. We admire it so much that we put it in our songs. Include it on our post cards. And use it in our counseling.

There’s one big problem – it’s bad theology. It wasn’t God that caused the Sabeans and Chaldeans to attack. It wasn’t the “fire of God” (Job 1:16) that fell from heaven. It wasn’t the wind of God that killed Job’s children. “Satan brought Job’s troubles upon him.” (Matthew Henry)

Trials, tribulations, and temptations that are designed to make you curse God do NOT come from God. They come from the enemy of your soul. And here is the reason why it is so important to get it right. Most of us will not have faith, find hope, or seek comfort in someone or something that just destroyed our livelihood and killed all our family. Admire Job’s spirit, emulate Job’s spirit, but don’t repeat his error.

Like my daddy, you can worship God in the midst of the cruelest of times if you have faith in God for the moment and hope in God for the future.

Hope in God,

Jay

GOD AND EVIL

“God is too good to be unkind and He is too wise to be mistaken. And when we cannot trace His hand, we must trust His heart.” (Charles Spurgeon)

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. And the Lord said to Satan, “From where do you come?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking back and forth on it.” Then the Lord said to Satan, “Have you considered My servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil?” So Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for nothing? 10 Have You not made a hedge around him, around his household, and around all that he has on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. 11 But now, stretch out Your hand and touch all that he has, and he will surely curse You to Your face!” 12 And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on his person.” So Satan went out from the presence of the Lord. (Job 1:6-12)

I’m sure these verses have been an occasion for pause and a cause of much consternation for many first time and casual readers. Does God call counsels to get advice or dole out duties? No. God is all wise and doesn’t need anyone or anything to offer Him suggestions. Does Satan (literally Adversary) get to go into God’s presence? No. When Satan was thrown out of heaven, he was banned for all time. Does God make bets with Satan to see how strong we are? No. Trials and tribulations come our way because we live in a fallen world and because the enemy of our soul – the Adversary – wants to defeat us.

The author of Job is using his imagination to set up the story he is about to tell. In verses 1-5, Job is described as a righteous man of character, wealth, and faith. Today’s verses give us a glimpse into the nature of God, who is for us, and the nature of the Adversary against us. They show us the source of suffering in this world and how God, in His divine wisdom, allows it to happen.

First, the Adversary . . .

                Devours. I Peter 5:8 alludes to verse 7 when it says, “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” The enemy of your soul doesn’t tiptoe through the tulips or dance among the roses. He roars. He hunts. He preys. Looking for the vulnerable, the weak, the careless, the alone, and the inattentive.

                Accuses. Revelation 12:10 called Satan “the accuser of the brethren.” He charges Job with following God for the benefits. Jesus said a similar thing about less than devout followers. “You seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate the loaves and were filled.” (John 6:26) These fair weathered folks abandoned Jesus when He didn’t say what they wanted to hear. Not so with Job. The accusations hurled at Job grew in severity, but he was God’s man for the long haul.

                Destroys. I stood at the graveside with first time parents of a baby carried to term, but was stillborn. I reminded the crowd gathered in that city of the dead that their loss was not the work of God. It was sin that entered the world through the enemy of our soul that caused suffering and death. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and comes down from the Father of lights.” (James 1:17) Evil, suffering, and destruction belong to Satan.

In contrast the LORD is . . .

                Sovereign. Nothing and no one can challenge the rule of God over the world and over the affairs of humankind. Evil and suffering happen not because God is sovereign, but because humankind is free to make choices. God knows what will happen when we make a choice, but He does not cause us to make that choice. God’s sovereignty is not challenged by our free will. To understand the story of Job, one must understand that evil begins in the mind of the Adversary, and although God allows it, He does not cause it.

                Providential. Providence means that God will work out things for the highest good and the least evil for those that love Him and cooperate with His grace. (See Romans 8:2) Providence rests in the wisdom of God – “For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:14) Charles Spurgeon, who suffered from disabling depression most of his life, wrote, “It would be a very sharp and trying experience to me to think that I have an affliction which God never sent me, that the bitter cup was never filled by His hand, that my trials were never measured out by Him, nor sent to me by His arrangement of their weight and quantity.” God knew Job’s capacity for suffering and He knows yours, too.

                Protector. God is the hedge builder. “So let the storms rage high, the dark clouds rise, they won’t worry me; for I’m sheltered safe within the arms of God. He walks with me, and naught on earth will harm me, for I’m sheltered in the arms of God.” (Dottie Rambo/Jimmie Davis)

The fundamental battle in this life is not between good and evil, it is between God and evil. And, my friend, it is an uneven conflict. God wins. God always wins. Like Job, you may experience great suffering, but God doesn’t let go of you. Hang on. There is hope.

 Hope in God,

Jay

FAITH TO ENDURE

On almost every list describing resilience, character and faith are prominent. 

And his sons would go and feast in their houses, each on his appointed day, and would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. So it was, when the days of feasting had run their course, that Job would send and sanctify them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my sons have sinned and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did regularly. Job 1:4-5 NKJV

This man called Job was a man of character – blameless and upright, feared God and shunned evil. The above verses highlight his serious faith, not only for himself, but also for his family.

To grasp how a mere human like you and me can survive the sudden and severe losses that Job was subjected to, the author points to the importance of faith.

I’ve ministered to and have friends who have lost a child or grandchild. In our day and age, it’s not natural for the older generation to bury the younger. When my Uncle Harry died, Grandpa refused to look at him in his casket. He resisted saying, “I don’t want to see any child of mine that died before I did.”

What gets you through it all? Faith in God for the moment. And hope in God for eternity.

I’ve observed a huge difference between the funerals of people who died in the faith and ones who didn’t. One of my first funerals, at the tender age of 20, a family without hope in Christ was burying their husband and father. There was wailing. Fainting. At the graveside, his daughter screamed, “Don’t put my daddy in that hole.”

A couple of years later, a dear man of God died suddenly. There were tears of sorrow. Grief over the loss. But there was confidence and assurance that Otis was with Jesus. The funeral service was like Sunday morning church. No despair. No outbursts. No mournful dirge. Hope filled the air.

Job could have hope that his children were with God because he was meticulously careful about his faith and theirs. He was . . .

  1. A shepherd for his family.

Some read the above verses and assume that Job’s children were involved in some sort of debasing orgy. It’s highly unlikely. In the Ancient Near East (ANE), birthdays were culturally important and celebrated for several days. The feasting and drinking most probably refers to that type of event. Furthermore, who invites their sisters to some kind of hedonistic marathon? Still, Job was careful to tend to the spiritual welfare of his children.

2. Scrupulous about his family’s piety.

                The words “sinned and cursed” in verse five denote outward and inward transgressions. Job was concerned both with his children doing wrong and thinking wrong – sins that everyone could see and sins that no one could see. Therefore, Job had a “come to Jesus” meeting with his children.

                This pious father sanctified and sacrificed for his children. The first denotes his vigilant intercession on their behalf. The second a recommitment of each one to their relationship with God. As they each laid their hands on the animal that was soon to die, they immediately understood and had a vivid example of the consequences of sin.

3. Sensitive to his family’s destiny.

                For the Christian, the question of eternity looms large. Job was determined that his children be ready to meet God. I can’t help but believe in the midst of Job’s catastrophic loss, there was a steady hope that his children died in the faith.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life, when the clouds unfold their wings of strife? When the strong tides lift, and the cables strain, will your anchor drift, or firm remain?

Refrain:

We have an anchor that keeps the soul steadfast and sure while the billows roll; fastened to the Rock which cannot move, grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love!

2. Will your anchor hold in the straits of fear, when the breakers roar and the reef is near? While the surges rage, and the wild winds blow, shall the angry waves then your bark o’erflow?

3. Will your anchor hold in the floods of death, when the waters cold chill your latest breath? On the rising tide you can never fail, while your anchor holds within the veil.4. Will your eyes behold through the morning light the city of gold and the harbor bright? Will you anchor safe by the heavenly shore, when life’s storms are past for evermore?

4. Will your eyes behold through the morning light the city of gold and the harbor bright? Will you anchor safe by the heavenly shore, when life’s storms are past for evermore?

words by Pricilla J. Owens

Hope in God,

Jay

HAVE MUCH, LOSE MUCH

“The more you have, the more you have to lose.”

Abraham Maslow identified basic human needs as food, water, clothing, sleep, and shelter. Air and reproduction are frequently added to this list. In a sense, everything you and I have above these is a blessing.

When the author of Job lists the children, wealth, and reputation of Job, he wants you to understand how much God had blessed this man.

And seven sons and three daughters were born to him. Also, his possessions were seven thousand sheep, three thousand camels, five hundred yoke of oxen, five hundred female donkeys, and a very large household, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the East. Job 1:2-3 NKJV

If Job were alive today, (aside from being very old) he would be among the 0.0003 percent of the richest people in the United States.

Job had 10 children. In the Ancient Near Eastern (ANE) culture, it was thought that one achieved eternity through his children. When a man died surrounded by two or three generations of offspring, he could be confident that he would live on through them.

Another part of the ANE culture was the idea that good was rewarded and evil was punished in your lifetime. Job’s abundance witnessed to his world how pleased God was with him.

The champion boxer, Muhammad Ali, let everyone know, “I’m not the greatest. I’m the double greatest.” That may or may not be true in the sweet science, but with Job we have no doubt. Along with his great wealth came great honor and great authority. He had a reputation of compassion for the needy and physically challenged. He cared for the dying and gave a home to orphans. Job was truly blessed and a blessing to others.

I think the author had another reason for listing all of Job’s blessings. It makes you feel the burden of his appalling loss as you read farther into the chapter. He lost it all . . .

                Posterity and its hope of eternal life.

                Prosperity representing his standing with God.

                Profession and the ability to help others.

                Position of power and reputation.

                Physical health.

                Partners and friends.

Although nothing compared to Job’s, I know what loss is. Nine years ago in the space of 48 hours I lost my family, friends, and church. My house, car, and money. Ministry, reputation, and freedom. BUT, LIKE JOB, I DID NOT LOSE MY FAITH AND HOPE IN GOD AND GOD DID NOT LOSE HIS LOVE FOR ME.

My friend,

Possessions do not define your worth. You have intrinsic value because you are made in the image and likeness of God.

What you do doesn’t define who you are. You are a child of God, bought with a price – the precious blood of Jesus Christ.

Who you know doesn’t define your importance. John 3:16 tells you the depth of your status. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (NKJV)

Hope in God,

Jay

FOUNDATION EVALUATION

Imagine it was the worst, most horrific, mind shattering, emotionally draining, faith challenging day of your life . . .
Your working animals were rustled and the oxmen and herders killed.
Your sheep and their shepherds were consumed in a wild fire.
Your camels were stolen and the camel drivers slaughtered.
Your seven sons and three daughters’ lives ended in an F-5 tornado.

A few days later . . .
Painful boils cover your body from the soles of your feet to the crown of your head.
Your wife, in the midst of her own crisis of anger, depression, and despair, screams at you to give up on your faith in God and just die.

As time passes . . .
Your friends call you a wanton sinner and accuse you of despicable things.

At a time like this how do you maintain any semblance of hope and confidence in a just God?

The ability to recover from the vicissitudes of life in a relatively healthy manner is called resilience. Two of the most common characteristics of resilience cited by mental health practitioners is . . .
Faith and
Character.
Both of these qualities can be found in the first verse of the first chapter of Job.

“There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was BLAMELESS and UPRIGHT, and one who FEARED GOD and SHUNNED EVIL.” (NKJV)

This verse, before you read any more of the book, tells you what kind of person can have a healthy recovery in the face of tragic disaster. The pain of loss, the holes left permanently empty, the scars of bad health, and the hurt of betrayal will always remain. Still . . .
Hope can be alive.
Living can resume.
The future can be worth living.

Job was blameless and upright. In short, he lived right and he acted right. Honesty. Integrity. Strong moral principles. Incorruptible. He could not be bought at any price. He was a man of character.

Job feared God and shunned evil. By willful and voluntary choice, he turned away from wrong, bad, and sin. Although fearing God can mean that one is afraid, in this context it means Job was a man that stood in reverence of God. In awe and devotion. Job so respected and honored God that he rejected all words, thoughts, and deeds that might break fellowship with God and grieve Him. Cautious, not reckless. Careful, not careless. He decided to avoid, turn and stay away from sin. He made a covenant to not knowingly put any evil before his eyes. (Job 31:1) Job was a man of substantive faith.

An old carpenter that I knew said that any home repair must begin with the foundation. Remodeling a house with a bad foundation is like putting lipstick on a pig. Life built on a resilient foundation of hope is firm. Solid. Stable. It is able to hold in the suffering that we all endure as a part of this fallen world. Arthur John Gossip reminds us, “It is a little too late to buy homeowners insurance when the house is on fire.”

On what kind of foundation are you living your life?

Hope in God,

Jay

THE SOLID ROCK

The book of Job has few answers for the questions scholars like to ask.

Who wrote it?

We don’t know. Tradition attributes it to Moses. Some say Isaiah. Still others an unknown writer some time after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.

When was it written?

We don’t know. There are many references to Job scattered throughout the Old Testament – Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Micah, and Zephaniah. This can point to an old Job from which several quoted. Or a newer Job that quoted from all of the above.

Who is Job?

We don’t know. Was he a real man or a character created by a poet? James 5:11 is the only definitive verse in the Bible that appears to refer to Job as a man of history.

When did Job live?

We don’t know. Job offered sacrifices on behalf of his children which suggests a time before the law of Moses. It could also mean a time during which the priesthood had collapsed. This assumes Job was a Jew. That, too, is unknown. Job lived in the land of Uz. The best a location can be narrowed to is east of the Jordan in the land of Edom (present day Jordan) or beyond the Euphrates River in what is today Syria. Both areas are outside the territory of Israel.

What is the message of Job?

This we know. Bad things happen to righteous people. Trials, tribulations, threats, troubles, toils, and travails in this life do not define your relationship with God.

“For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 NKJV

Like Job, when all else that makes life worth living is washed away, you too can find hope in Jesus Christ.

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ, the solid Rock, I stand;
All other ground is sinking sand,
All other ground is sinking sand.

When darkness veils His lovely face,
I rest on His unchanging grace;
In every high and stormy gale,
My anchor holds within the veil.

His oath, His covenant, His blood
Support me in the whelming flood;
When all around my soul gives way,
He then is all my hope and stay.

When He shall come with trumpet sound,
Oh, may I then in Him be found;
Dressed in His righteousness alone,
Faultless to stand before the throne.

The Lord be with you.

Jay

An Ancient Man Speaks to Modern Culture

“Life is suffering,” is frequently announced by Dr. Jordon Peterson, formerly of Harvard and the University of Toronto, in his lectures and interviews. The first noble truth of Buddhism states, “Existence is suffering.” Psalm 34:19 reads, “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” And Jesus reminded his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33)

Job is the Old Testament character most associated with suffering. He experienced a series of catastrophic events in rapid succession that ticks off four of the five most stressful life events:

  • Death of a loved one . . . check
  • Divorce (major marital crisis) . . . check
  • Major illness . . . check
  • Job loss (destruction of livelihood) . . . check

As a result, Job went hurling into a chaotic vortex of multiple crises. He had the worst case of “bacterium Staphylococcus aureus” – boils – his doctor had ever witnessed. Job’s psychiatrist prescribed a number of psychotropics (anti-depressants) for his severe depression aggravated by a profound case of complicated grief. His social worker assessed Job’s psychosocial and environmental problems:

  • Problems with primary support group: children killed and marital stress.
  • Problems with social environment: discord among friends.
  • Problems with occupation and economics: sudden and extreme poverty.
  • Problems with exposure to disasters – natural and man-made – and hostilities – war like conditions.

On the Global Assessment of Functioning scale – an assessment tool, Job scored a 41 out of 100 – serious symptoms. (Anything below 41 indicates suicidal and/or homicidal thoughts. An argument could be made that Job deserved a lower score because of his weighty expressions of death and wish that he had never been born.)

As if this were not enough, Job had a significant crisis of faith. His theology is totally upended. What he had been taught and believed all his life was suddenly incongruent with his life experience. He descends into despair, aggravating all his other symptoms, in a tsunami of lost hope.

But . . . I’m so thankful for the “but” stops. It is said there are over 30 “but God” statements in the Bible. (One of my favorites is Ephesians 2:4-10.) In the midst of Job’s despair, in the depths of his darkness, he found a pen light of hope. Small like a photon of nearly nonexistent light. Almost extinguished. But . . . a confidence that, though severely shaken, held firm.

A weak, raspy whisper comes from Job’s tortured lips, “I know my Redeemer lives.” (Job 19:25) A microscopic slither of hope that is never released.

“Hope in God.” Psalm 42:5

The LORD be with you.

Jay   

FEELING WORTHLESS?

Social distancing. Shelter in place. Furlough. All too familiar terms during this pandemic. Fear. Frustration. Helplessness. Loneliness. Feelings challenging our realities. Our sense of community and belonging are threatened. Our sense of self is upended. When will it end? It is the great unknown.
Ego is often connected to what we do or the role we play. When we lose those, our self-worth can really take a hit. What am I? I am . . . a hospitality worker without a resort. A manufacturer without an assembly line. A coach without a team. A leader with no one left to follow me. I am . . . a daughter who cannot visit her parent in the nursing home. A mother separated from her children because she is a health care worker. A parent or guardian feeling impotent against an unseen enemy that threatens his/her family.

If this crisis becomes prolonged with an indefinite ending, many of us may begin to feel worthless. Guilt ridden. Humbled. Shamed.
The sixth symptom of depression is “feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt nearly every day.”

Several months ago, I slipped into the office of the mental health director of the clinic where I go. He and I have developed a professional friendship over the years. He asked me how I was doing. “I feel like my life has been worthless and that I haven’t helped anyone.” He quickly said, “Well, you’ve helped me a lot.”

I was grateful for his comment, but it did little to allay the heavy burden I bore. Intellectually, I knew what I was saying wasn’t true. I’ve had a rewarding and mostly successful career. But mood is a different animal than brains. Feelings can often overwhelm and hide reality. Logical reasoning has its place; however, the siren call of unhealthy emotions can drown out all other sounds.

More than 20 years ago when my full-time pastoral ministry was ripped from my hands because of depression, I had a crisis of identity. Who was I apart from being a pastor? It wasn’t until I disconnected my “being” from my “doing” that I began to recover from the grief associated with the loss of that career.
Value and worth are above and beyond the jobs we do or the roles we play. We are someone because of who we are and not because of how we can perform. The fact that God made us in His own image and likeness gives us intrinsic importance. That “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,” died on our behalf, rose so that we may have victory, and ascended to be our Advocate is more than enough to show how truly significant you and I are.

Still, guilt for real or imagined wrongs of the past and shame that attacks the very core of our essence, threatens to obliterate the light of revelation. As this pandemic takes away more and more of our freedoms and impedes our ability to fulfill the function for which we feel we were born, “feelings of worthlessness” can haunt our days and nights.

There is a plethora of advice columns available on how to cope with this pandemic. Let me highlight three.

  • Take care of yourself. Eat healthy. Bathe. Dress in street clothes. Exercise. Keep a reasonable schedule. Take breaks from the news. Work on a hobby. Carve out some alone time.
  • Stay connected. Phone. Skype. Social media.
  • Help others. Take what you need at the store and leave the rest for others. Donate to front-line organizations. Show your appreciation for first responders and medical personnel. Say “thank you” to the store clerk and other essential workers.

If your feelings of worthlessness become overwhelming, contact your local mental health agency immediately. There is no shame in asking for help.

The LORD be with you. Stay safe.

Jay

HOPE: ANCHOR OF THE SOUL

Many things happen in this world that remain unreal to us until it becomes personal. The novel coronavirus became very personal for our church family this week. A 44-year-old husband, father of six, kindergarten Sunday school teacher, and contributing member of our community died this week from Covid-19.

It wasn’t supposed to happen to him. He was young. Strong. Active. Healthy. None of the high-risk categories that the experts tell us are most susceptible – the elderly, the infirm, those with compromised respiratory systems – fit him. Two days after being diagnosed, he was dead.
We are shocked. We wonder why. We are grieving and hurt. But we are not without hope. The Apostle Paul told the Thessalonians not to grieve for their dead in Christ like those who have no hope. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, said about those who had an assurance of eternal salvation, “Our people die well.”

Hebrews 6:13-20 gives us four sureties on which to rest our hope.

  • We have hope in the immutability of God (v. 17)

God does not change. He is the same “yesterday, today, and forever.” His holy nature does not change. “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty who was and is and is to come.” His unconditional love does not change. “God is love,” and you and I are the object of His redemptive purpose. God’s attributes do not change. He always has been and always will be wise, and just, and good.

There is nothing in this world that does not change. It is constantly recreating and reshaping itself. There is nothing in our lives that do not change. Change is constant. In such an uncertain and changing world, you and I can rest in the unchanging nature and purpose of God.

  • We have hope in the sure word of God (v. 18)

It is impossible for God to lie. God forbid that you or I should purposely, deliberately lie. But it is possible for us to unintentionally lie.

As a seminary student, I worked in the lady’s shoe department in a high-end department store. A customer came in and asked for a particular shoe in a certain color and size. Because I worked on commission, I was quite interested in making the sale. But despite my efforts, I had to tell the lady her shoe was out of stock.

A couple hours passed. As I waited on another customer, my gaze fell on the exact shoe the prior customer wanted. I said outload, “I lied to that lady.” Of course, it was not intentional. But nonetheless, I told her we didn’t have it when we did.

But God can’t even accidentally lie. It is beyond the realm of possibility for God to tell an untruth. You and I can wholly count on His word to be true and sure.

  • We have hope in the promises of God (vs. 13-15)

The Hebrew writer uses the story of Abraham and Sarah to illustrate the certain promise of God. To demonstrate the greatness of His power and the firmness of His word, God waited until it was naturally impossible for Abraham and Sarah to conceive.

Abraham, at 100, was well past the years where it was likely that he could impregnate Sarah. And Sarah, at 90, was well past the years where she could conceive. Yet, it happened. Isaac was born to an old man and woman well beyond their child-bearing years.

God said it would happen. He promised on His name it would happen. And it happened just as He said.

  • We have hope in the eternal priesthood of God in Christ Jesus (vs. 19-20)

The Apostle’s Creed states it succinctly. Jesus was born of a virgin. Lived. Suffered. Crucified. Died. Buried. Arose. Ascended into heaven to sit at the right hand of God the Father Almighty to make intercession for you and me.

Unlike the sinful priests of the Old Testament era, Christ did not need to make sacrifice for Himself. He was the sinless sacrifice that made a way for you and me to enter into the presence of God.

Unlike the temporal priests that lived and died, Jesus’ priesthood is eternal. It is without end. Never wavers. Never threatened. Always reliable.

We are living in uncertain times. The world’s economy is crashing. As many as 50% may become unemployed. An unprecedented number.

Our lives are in danger like no time in living memory. This virus is a killer of a teenager in Los Angeles. A young father in Texas. Thirty-five nursing home residents in Washington state. One-hundred-eighty-one nations of the world report the virus is in their territory.

How are we to live? How are we to survive?

The Psalmist expressed it well,

Why are you cast down, O my soul?And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God. (42:11)

In times like these, hope is the anchor of your soul.

The LORD be with you. Stay safe.

Jay

DO NOT BE AFRAID

It was 1999 and I was pastoring in Kokomo, Indiana. After one worship gathering a sweet lady approached me and said anxiously, “Pastor Jay, you’re going to have to preach on this Y2K!” She was afraid of the possibility that some computers were not programmed to recognize the year 2000. And the chaos that might ensue as a result. It was a legitimate concern.

“What text should I take?” I replied jestingly. But she was right. So, to the Bible and the newspapers I went searching for an unforced intersection. I found it in the multitude of commands to “Fear not,” – 62 times – and “Be not afraid,” – 60 times – found in the Bible.

The sermon introduction sounded something like this. . . “Let’s take the worst case

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scenario. Everything that has a computer chip fails. The electric grid collapses. Water stops running to homes. Gas shuts off. All vehicles with a computer – planes, trains, and automobiles – fall from the sky, stop, or won’t start. Electronic communications cease. Unable to produce, all production businesses shut down and workers are sent home. Warehouses quickly empty as no new supply is forthcoming. Retailers run out of goods. Food and safe drinking water become scarce. Homes become bitterly cold. Looting begins. Rioting. Armed conflict with police and military. Government becomes feckless. Martial law is declared.

“If all of this happens”, I paused for effect, “God will still be God.”

Of course, none of that happened. There were a few minor glitches that were quickly remedied. January 1, 2000 was an ordinary day in the history of humanity.
Enter the coronavirus and the resulting Covid19, and we are once again faced with the unknown. The uncertain. The unforeseen. And we are afraid.

outbreak-coronavirus-world-1024x506px

People are getting sick. The elderly and medically fragile are at highest risk of death. Households are tempted to hoard their favorite things – apparently toilet paper in the United States, go figure – and shortages are readily seen on our grocer’s shelves. Any unnecessary – and I’m finding that term is defined by region – business is closing. Gatherings greater than 10 people – including sports and churches – is moving toward being prohibited. Non-essential personnel are not to report to their government jobs. The educational system from pre-school to doctorate degree is shuttered. The economy is facing a catastrophic collapse on the scale of the Great Depression. Government is empowered to tell the manufacturer what to produce like was done in World War II. Social-distancing and self-quarantine may become law.
Do you know how many of our rights – guaranteed in the Constitution of the United States – have been restricted or denied? Freedom of religion. Freedom of assembly. Freedom of movement. There may be more. And yet, only the hedonistic, ill-informed, and unreasonably independent are insisting on their rights. The rest of us have freely given them up temporarily for the greater good.

As a lover of history, I tried to think of similar events in world history. World War II and the Great Depression quickly came to mind, but neither of them fit completely with this global crisis. The misnamed 1918 – 1920 Spanish Flu pandemic is the nearest recent parallel in scale and potential devastation.

The Plague of Justinian, 541 – 542, was the first epidemic to become cross-continental. The Black Death, 1331 – 1333 killed as many as 75% of Europe’s population making conditions right for the economic middle class to form and the beginnings of our current economic system. The first Cholera Pandemic of 1829 – 1851 is cited as the first worldwide pandemic. Within the last 20 years we have had two pandemics – the swine flu and Ebola.

Maslow's_Hierarchy_of_Needs

As a former counselor, I also thought about the psychological effect. I noticed how quickly Maslow’s hierarchy of need inverted itself in the mind of the average American citizen. Maslow contended that there were three human needs. Basic – physiological and safety. Psychological – belonging and love, and self-esteem. Self-fulfillment – self-actualization. Maslow suggested that the lowest need had to be mostly met before one could move up to the next level. Food and shelter needs had to be met before security issues were addressed. Later disciples of Maslow asserted that the urgency of a need determined its priority.

The United States is affluent enough that the vast majority of our citizenry live beyond concerns for basic needs. It was amazing to me to witness how swiftly the emergence of food, shelter, and security became the all-consuming priority. We went from a wants-based economy and culture to a needs-based one in a matter of a few days. We are living in the midst of a seminal event in human history.

As a Christian, I also think about the spiritual implications of all this. We are faced with so many unanswered questions. Full of anxiety. Fearful. Our ordinary resources – self, family, friends, greater connections, and private and public institutions and government – can’t give us the normal assurances we seek. It is like we are facing a thick and heavy darkness with a dimly lit flashlight.

I say the same thing I said in 1999, God is still God. He is powerful enough. God can do anything that is within His purpose to do. He is wise enough. God has all knowledge and understanding. He is involved enough. God is present and active in our world today. It is safe to put my trust in Him.

Our teenage granddaughter was crying yesterday. She was afraid about all that was going on in our world. Grammy was the first to find her and offer comfort. And then it was my turn. This is what I told her. Perhaps you can find comfort in these words too.

We have enough food in this house to last a couple of weeks. We may have to eat oatmeal – somehow we ended up with four boxes in our pantry – but we will not go hungry. We have electricity and water. A means to heat and cool our house. There is nothing wrong with our house.

We are safe. There have been no widespread reports of people being mugged in the grocery store parking lot. There is no looting going on. There are no riots. The police are still patrolling the streets and our government is functioning.

You are loved. You are loved by Grammy. You are loved by me. You are a part of our family. And we will do everything within our power to provide for your needs.

You are a member of a household of faith. We have a larger than earthly Presence with us. We are not alone.

We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair;
persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.” The Apostle Paul, II Corinthians 4:8 – 9

This great Nation will endure as it has endured, will revive and will prosper. So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself—nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.” Franklin Roosevelt, 1st inauguration speech, March 4, 1933

The LORD be with you. Stay safe.

Jay

I’M TOO TIRED

woman-feeling-exhaustedIt was the Christmas season of 2000. After more than a year of illness, I finally felt like going with my family shopping. We parked outside the J. C. Penney, one of the two anchor stores at our small-town mall, and headed in. As I browsed through the racks my energy started to leak out. Before I had made it a hundred yards, I was drained. Done. Exhausted. My family parked me on a bench in the common area where I stayed the rest of the evening.

Depression can rob you of your strength. The fifth symptom of depression is “fatigue or loss of energy nearly every day.” And it means exactly what it says.

There is a lot of stigma that accompanies fatigue.

  • “You’re just lazy.”
  • “You don’t want to work.”
  • “You’re just using this as an excuse.”
  • “You look healthy enough.”
  • “What you need to do is just get up and go.”

I’m sure some of the ones who say such things mean well. They are trying to motivate us or shame us into moving. But no amount of cajoling or coaxing or persuading is going to make any difference. It just adds to our guilt.

Do you know why that person you love and care for does not get out of bed? One reason is, they can’t. They want to, but don’t have the strength to lift the weight of their bodies out from between the sheets.

Don’t think that that person who hasn’t changed their clothes or attended to their hygiene needs for several days doesn’t know how bad they look and smell. They know. They can both see and smell themselves. They simply don’t have the fortitude it takes to accomplish the task.

We want to go for a walk with you. Sit down at a nice eatery. Enjoy a concert or a play. But we know that by the time we get ready and get to the car, we will have already exhausted our supply of fuel for the day.

A few years ago my son told me how hurt he was that I didn’t attend his games like I did his older brother’s. I tried to explain to him that by the time I came home from work, every ounce of energy I had had been expended. Even now at 27, I don’t think he fully comprehends or understands the effects of clinical depression.

To those who love we that have a depressive disorder I say,

  • Be kind.
  • Be patient.
  • Be understanding.

To those of us that have been neglecting to care for ourselves I say,

  • Don’t quit.
  • Fake it till you make it.
  • Keep reaching for the stars and perhaps you’ll touch the moon.

leader-mobile

The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING

( The final in the series – The Quest for Character: Love)

“No human can love unconditionally.” So said my mentor during one of our monthly supervision meetings. All we that worked in substance abuse treatment for this particular agency, gathered around the conference table heard him say, “No human can love unconditionally.”

I spoke out, “My dad did.” I explained how my father made no difference between my two brothers and me. He loved us equally. Praised us effusively. Bragged on us unrepentantly. One of us had strayed far, far away from the example our father showed us. But it made no difference. He demonstrated his love all the more.

After my description of my father, my mentor said, “I believe you, Jay.” I believed it because I saw my dad in action. His life testified to me that it was indeed possible for a human to love unconditionally.

The great Christian apologist of the 20th century, C.S. Lewis, wrote a book entitled, The Four Loves. In it he describes the Christian interpretation of the four first century Greek words for love.

  • 74c4fb7af7470c2f3b942ea2d4929203Storge. According to Lewis, this can be defined as natural affection. It is the feeling a mother has for her child. A desire to feed, shelter, protect, and nourish. It is the kind of love that is demonstrated in most of the animal kingdom between mother and offspring.

Jesus alluded to this kind of love in Matthew 7:9-11. 9“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 11 If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!”

  • friendshipPhileo. This is the root word for Philadelphia – The City of Brotherly Love. It refers to friendship love.

I remember the above mentor, Leo White, sharing the story of a man with an alcohol addiction bragging about how many friends he had. Leo challenged him to call his “friends” and ask them to take him to Lexington (about a 70-mile trip one way) for a doctor’s appointment.

Leo said he felt sorry for the man as he watched him call one so-called friend after another and be turned down. The man had several drinking buddies, but none of them were his friends.

Friendship is that rare bond between two people that is deeper than blood. S/he’s the one who remains after everyone else walks away.

John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”b3d22103-5eb4-4c3b-a54f-5b0c5c689931_rt_0-cr_0.11.2048.1035-rs_1024

  • Eros. The word “erotic” comes from this term. Unfortunately, eroticism is a perversion of the Christian understanding of this word. It does, however, refer to romantic love. The kind a spouse has for his/her mate.

God created this kind of love. The Song of Solomon in the Old Testament celebrates the pleasure of romantic love.

“Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled.” (Hebrew 13:4)

  • Agape. Often referred to as divine love. But I think that is unfortunate because it suggests that this kind of love is only obtainable by the gods. I prefer to think of it as unconditional love.

Of the four loves, Lewis said, only unconditional love cannot be turned to selfish use.

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. (I John 4:7-8)Quotes-On-Unconditional-Love-3-600x576

In my quest for godly Christian character, I want unconditional love to be at its beginning. Its middle. And its end.

I pray you feel the same way.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

 

LETTERS FROM JAIL #22

Depression, paranoia, and a dissociative episode resulted in me committing some crimes. I have little memory of what I did, but I took/take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence in county jail. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

letters from jail 6

Dear_____                                                                                                               August 12-14, 2013

Greetings,

I sent out five letters today. One to each of my lawyers. One to each of my brothers. And one to you. I received two. One from you and one from our friend in Nashville.

  • Growing in grace

I fell asleep during devotions this morning. That hasn’t happened in a very long time. I barely got through my reading in II John. Then I went back to bed. Sometimes the flesh wins. Is that okay? I’ll pick up again tomorrow.

I must keep reminding myself to keep my grudge box empty. I just got back from a pastoral visit and I found myself bringing up those burdens. May the LORD help me. Matthew 18 is a hard chapter to live, but it is harder to live without it active in our lives.

  • Future plans

Today, just today, I’m feeling like I can survive. Surely there are jobs out there for a man like me. It might be tough. I may earn minimum wage, but I’ve done it before. I’m fugal. I don’t need much. If I pastor or fill pulpit, that would be extra. The LORD being my helper, I can make it. Right now, I’m living on $40.00 a month. God will supply.

You know, if I ever get married again, I would have a unique proposal. Down on one knee with an arm full of plastic roses and a ring from a candy machine, I could say, “Name, I am $30,000 in debt, I have no prospects for a job, I’m sleeping in the back of my 1993 Ford Taurus, cleaning up at the local truck stop, and eating at the mission. I had to beg for gas money to get over here, but I love you and want to be with you for the rest of my life. Will you marry me?” Now what girl would refuse such a proposal?

  • As the cell turns

Bowie got sent to the hole. He has some deep emotional issues, I think. He definitely can’t handle conflict.

  • Contemplations

Ninety days today. One-fourth complete.

I really needed support during my depressive episodes. I strongly believe if I had acted quicker to get myself help and been supported better, things would not have lasted as long or the depression been as deep.

  • Trying to be a witness

Last night one of the guys, Kevin, wanted me to pray for him. I replied that I pray for all my cell mates. “No,” he said, “I want you to pray for me now.” Then Love, a new guy facing 20 years on drug charges, said, “Me too.”

Hogue testified to me that he just wants people to see Jesus in him.

  • Grateful

Wow! Thank you for reading my sermon. That is a high compliment.

Thank you for the encouraging Scripture.

I have fears and scars. Weak and vulnerable places. I try to protect them and am reluctant to leave them exposed. Thank you for allowing me to unburden myself with you.

I have 10 more push-ups to do. Brush my teeth. And wind down for the night. Sleep well.

 

Sincerely,

Jay

PERSPECTIVE

Guest post by Mary A. Sacra-King

Losing my birth mother last year was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to walk through. I’m still not on the other side of the dark, despairing grief that swallows me up and suffocates the very life out of me. Grief changes you at your core, guts you of everything you thought you knew about yourself and spits you out as an emotionally ravaged person you don’t recognize any more. That’s where I’ve been the last year and 29 days.

Let me give you some perspective though…I’ve been working so hard to get out of my own head, be intentional in the moments I have, and try operating outside of the smothering grief I find myself in.

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Last night the Hakuna Matata Children’s Choir from Kenya sang at our church. I didn’t feel like going. When I found out there was no special needs care, I was tempted to not try to get someone to watch Daniel and just stay home. He doesn’t function well at events like this. It’s stressful. But I had invited my momma and I decided I needed to go with her. Some friends graciously kept Daniel.

The Choir blessed my socks off!!! They sang with such energy, passion and pure joy!!! It was contagious and I was infected! I knew they were going to leave the next morning and I wanted to do something nice for them. I found a really good deal on fruit snacks at Sam’s Club and I thought I would drop a few boxes off for them to snack on while they were traveling to their next destination.

I arrived at the church office waiting for the rest of the kids to get there. Then I presented my meager boxes of fruit snacks to one of the adult leaders. I stuck around to fellowship with the kids before they left.
The longer I stayed with the kids the more I wanted to do something else for them. I started doing math in my head. How many $5 items times 15 kids could I afford? I asked the leader if it was ok, so I loaded up the first batch of kids and off we went. The seven girls with me got out and gave my Aunt June a quick impromptu concert! Aunt June is 99. She was unable to attend the concert, so it was really a blessing for the kids to sing for her.

Off to 5 Below to shop! I stood back and watched the kids chatter excitedly among themselves, oohing and awing over all the treasures! I fully expected them to buy stuffed animals, toys, coloring books, markers, trinkets…the same stuff my kids like to buy. But I was mistaken. The most popular items were: water bottles, shoes, and headphones or blue tooth speakers. One girl picked out perfume, because she wanted to smell good.

One little girl was carrying a wad of something. I asked her if she finished picking out her items. She opened her arms up for me to see t-shirts. I held them up and noticed that they were huge! Probably an XL. I said, “Sweetie, these are way too big for you! Maybe we should go back and look for your size.” She said something in Swahili. The lady with the team said, “She’s getting them for her mom”. Her mom is a struggling single parent back home in Kenya and her daughter just wanted to take Mom something back, at the expense of sacrificing her own wants. Talk about a lump in my throat! Wow! I took the t-shirts from her and told her to go pick out something for herself.
Perspective. I found it in doing something for someone else.

Whether you’re grieving or just stuck in a rut in life, run down, emotionally drained, exhausted…look outside yourself and you’ll find the perspective you need. That little girl’s unselfish, thoughtful heart touched mine. As I turned away, big tears formed in my eyes. I hope I can strive to be as unselfish and thoughtful as that angel is…While everyone around her was excited about what they were getting for themselves, she was thinking about her mom and put herself aside to create joy for someone else. We could all learn from her!

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After all the kids went to 5 Below there were two leaders who hadn’t gone yet. “We’re the leaders,” they said. “It is our job to make sure the kids are taken care of. If they’re happy, we’re happy. We don’t need anything.”
Perspective: true leaders lead by example, in humility and sacrifice!

We talked them into going anyway. On the last trip back to the church, they told me that this was the first time the kids had been given an opportunity to go shopping and pick out whatever they wanted! What little things we take for granted here in the U.S.

We are a blessed nation. We live lives others around the world can only dream of and yet we can be some of the most miserable, unhappy, ungrateful people on earth. How many children in America would be thrilled with a new water bottle??? Again…Perspective.

After hugs all the way around I said my goodbyes. After I hugged what I thought was about 15 kids I thought to myself, “I know I’ve hugged everyone at least once!” I noticed them getting back in line to hug again! By then I was bawling!!! Then they gave me a huge group hug. I think they hugged a few of my broken pieces back together again.

I went about my tasks the rest of the day with a spring in my step and a song in my heart, something I lost over a year ago… Today the Hakuna Matata Children’s Choir helped me find my song again.

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I think the song in my heart is in Swahili now…

…and get back in line to hug someone AGAIN!

Love,

Mary

P.S. If I go missing in the near future….might check Kenya.

ARE YOU MOVING?

26LargeI’ve moved more than a dozen times in my adult life. In everything from the largest moving van available to the renting public to a 2000 Ford Mustang convertible. The hardest move I ever made was to an apartment next door. It was quite discouraging when both places looked a mess. The easiest move was one of 700 miles.

It was the summer of 1991. I was moving my family from Jackson, Mississippi to Jackson, Kentucky in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky. Before I rented the van, I measured my furniture and boxes to see how much square footage I’d need. Then I diagramed where every piece would fit. Where every box would go. And the order in which they needed to be loaded. (I know, I know, I’m a nerd.)

We followed the plan and everything fit exactly where I’d designed it to. It was the easiest loading experience I ever had. Nothing had to be tied down because everything fit so snuggly.

But this article isn’t really about your next household move. It’s about how your brain moves. How your mouth moves. How your feet and hands move. How your body moves.

If you’ve ever had severe depression or observed it in another, you know the subject of movement is important.

The fifth symptom of depression is psychomotor agitation or retardation. It is the slowing down of your thoughts and physical movement. Nearly every day, all day. Observable by others.

imageDo you remember the sloth scene in the animated movie, Zootopia? In a hurry to follow up the next clue, the rabbit and fox head to the department of motor vehicles. Of course, the DMV is run by sloths. Everything slows down to a mind numbing, exhausting, and frustratingly perturbing speed. Enter in the day light. Exit in the dark.

Clinical depression is not so dissimilar. Speech. Facial expression. Eye movements. Posture. Speed and degree of movements can all slow down. It is agonizing for others. It is agonizing for the consumer.

  • “Observations of pause and speech times, volume, tone, inflection, articulation, and response length” are prevalent in the literature.
  • “Fixed gaze and poor eye contact.”
  • Slow “movement of hands, legs, torso, and head.”
  • “Slumped posture.” (See “Psychomotor Retardation in Depression: Biological Underpinnings, Measurement, and Treatment” by Jeylan S. Buyukdura, Shawn M. McClintock, and Paul E. Croarkin.)

In my 21-year journey with severe, recurrent major depression, I have experienced many of these symptoms.

My speech slows to the point of stuttering at times. It is so aggravating to have someone interrupt you in the middle of your sentence because they thought you were finished. It’s not their fault. I just can’t get my words out fast enough to make decent conversation.

I know there are times when my face is frozen in a perpetual look of sadness. After telling one psychiatrist that I was depressed, he said, “You look depressed.” My face and posture gave me away. We that struggle against depression know how to put on a public face. But sometimes the mask fails us and our true feelings are etched in the lines on our face, the droop of our eyes, and the curve of our lips.

Movement can be exasperatingly slow. The simplest chore can be an all-day agony. You want to move. You want to complete your to-do list. You want to keep up. But you just can’t. A couple of years ago I set out to paint our 1200 square foot house. There were natural obstacles that impeded my progress. But the greatest impediment was depression. What should have been a week with a roller and a brush took over a year.

Are you moving? If not, please find help through a psychiatrist or mental health counselor. You can start moving again.

 

The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

LOVE IS A VERB

(The seventh in a series on the quest for character.)

You gotta show, show, show me
Show, show, show me
Show, show, show me
That love is a verb.

Love ain’t a thing,
Love is a verb.

Songwriter: John Mayer

Love-is-a-Verb
Love is a verb. It is the action that takes over when the feelings are gone. It is the work that must be done when difficulty comes. It is the glue that holds us together when everything would pull us apart.

I’ve heard love proclaimed in a thousand ways. “I’m crazy about you.” “Have feelings for you.” “Care about you.” “Head over heels for you.” You’ve heard them too. But words are cheap without action.

I’ve tasted love. It was in my mother’s Thanksgiving and Christmas noodles. It was in my wife’s coconut cream pie with meringue that she fixed for me at Christmas. It was in the salty sweat on my father’s brow. But taste turns sour if it is not accompanied by action.

I’ve touched love and been touched by it. It came in an electric tingle that coursed through my body after an intimate hug. By a comforting and understanding hand on my shoulder. But a touch is hollow when there is no action behind it.

I’ve smelled love wafting from an aromatic bath given to a baby by his/her mother. From an antiseptic bed where lies a dying patient carefully attended. But smells turn odiferous when neglected for want of action.

I’ve seen love. It was in the gait of my father as he tramped to work through snow or rain or heat for 25 years. It was in the presence of my brothers and nephew when everyone else turned away from me. It was in a gift from my cousin when I had nothing.

Chuck Swindoll relates this story from antiquity. “One of the most profound comments made regarding the early Church came from the lips of a man named Aristides, sent by the Emperor Hadrian to spy out those strange creatures known as ‘Christians.’ Having seen them in action, Aristides returned with a mixed report. But his immortal words to the emperor have echoed down through history: ‘Behold! How they love one another.

The second century theologian and Christian apologist, Tertullian, wrote, “It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us.” Oh, to be condemned for love. What a glorious thought.

The Bible speaks of the Church in familial terms – children, fathers, brothers, sisters, and mothers. One of the essential character traits of the Christian family is “mutual affection.” We love one another.

What does “mutual affection” look like? There are some very descriptive words from holy writ that answer that question. Brother/sister love looks like . . .

  • Humility in action – preferring another above oneself.
  • Gentleness in action – compassionate toward the shortcomings and failures of others.
  • Patience in action – waiting for others to grow in grace and knowledge and wisdom on their timetable and not our own.
  • Kindness in action – sensitive to the needs of others.
  • Forgiveness in action – releasing grudges and not demanding justice.

These flow from a godly heart of sincere affection. O LORD, make it so in my life.
Love is a verb. Put it into action.

The LORD be with you,

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #21

Depression, paranoia, and a dissociative episode resulted in me committing some crimes. I have little memory of what I did, but I took/take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence in county jail. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

letters from jail 6

Dear_____ August 8-11, 2013

Greetings.

A new day, a new letter. Waiting. Trying to grow in grace.

  • Growing in grace

I don’t want to be the same person I was when I came to jail. I want the burdens gone – the uncertainties, the hurts, the grudges, the pain – all gone. If the LORD wills, I want to have a new peace and serenity, a new strength to properly respond to stressors, a new state of mental health, a smaller body, new disciplines. I want a new love for God to be poured over my soul, a new assurance that I am His and He is mine. I want to be an “altogether Christian” as John Wesley stated.

Reading a covenant prayer this morning reminded me of my need to submit to the safe arms of God. “LORD, I am no longer my own, but Yours. Put me to what You will, rank me with whom You will. Let me be employed by You or laid aside by You, exalted by You or brought low by You. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to Your pleasure and disposal.”

  • Court Requirements

Today was our next to last anger management class. It was on forgiveness and grief. I needed the emphasis on forgiveness. I was dwelling on the pain too much. Here’s one thought: Forgiveness is for my own sake, to keep my personal and mental accounts in order.

I thought of you when we talked about grief. Grief is for healing. Grief acknowledges your losses and related feelings. The focus is outward on God. Interaction with God. Grief communicates pain to self, friends, and God.

  • Future plans

What are my plans after I get out of jail? I don’t know, but I want it to be God’s plan. I’m a planner. I don’t deal with uncertainty well. I once planned a move including where everything was to go in the moving van. Keep reminding me about God’s plan. It’s not clear to me right now.

My brother, Jim, and I discussed my finances for when I get out of here. He thought I could break my retirement accounts in order to pay my lawyers and other debts. We also discussed disability benefits.

  • As the cell turns

Friday’s are boring in the cell. We’ve been waiting on “pop call.” He hasn’t been here since Monday. I need more paper. My brothers want me to write and I need to write my attorney and you, of course.

  • Contemplations

You mentioned an “unblessed” marriage in your last letter. I had never thought about my marriage as being “unblessed.” Mom had her reservations, especially because of my youth and worry over the stress level I could handle. She cried often leading up to our wedding. There was a clash of cultures from the beginning and a clash of willingness to whole-heartedly follow God without reserve. A clash of wills. But the concept of “unblessed” never occurred to me.

  • Trying to be a witness

Page pointed at his tattoo of Jesus and said, “This is you, preacher man.” I could only say I hoped I reflected Jesus in some small way. I have Mr. Houge joining me at 4:00 AM for devotions. He reads his Bible and has started praying. Page is beginning to face the consequences of his actions. One of the guys gave him a Bible and I encouraged him to find common ground with his wife. All they know is getting high together. Now she’s not sure she knows him at all. I thank God for the times He gives me to share Jesus and redemption. One other guy, Bowie, talked to me about a call to ministry and how to go about fulfilling that calling. He get’s out in about 10 days.

The chaplain let me start the service this morning. At least one employee is taking me as a serious, redeemable person and a Christian. We sang Blessed Assurance today.

  • Attempts at humor

Yes, I can eat fiber. Just not too many seeds. Two-by-fours are my favorite source of fiber. They’re best when seasoned with salt.

  • Grateful

Thank you for your kind words about my letters. I’m sure it’s my own insecurities and perfectionistic tendencies that make me feel they are inadequate. I always want to make you feel that you’ve been heard and understood.

Thank you for wanting to share my burdens. Right now, the greatest issue is financial. My lawyer’s fees are going unpaid and I have a hospital bill. It’s times like this I feel helpless. The last three years I worked hard to save money and build a reserve. It’s all gone now. Gone in 90 days. I will have to start over from scratch when I get out of jail.

Thank you for your letters. I love hearing from you.

Sincerely,

Jay

REMEMBERING AN IMPERFECT MOM

A guest post by Mary A. Sacra-King

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Molly Agnagvigak Ahkiviana Rosa.
June 6, 1948 – January 15, 2019.

One year ago, Mom was tragically taken from us. There hasn’t one day gone by that I haven’t thought of her this past year.

Growing up, my childhood was full of many dysfunctional, painful memories. But I want to remember Mom for who she was without drugs and alcohol.

Mom was a vibrant, independent woman. Before drugs devastated her physically, she was a strikingly beautiful and strong woman. Long before the wrinkles around her eyes appeared from age, her eyes crinkled at the corners from her huge smile that lit up her face and her deep, soulful brown eyes danced with mischief, energy and light.

Her smile took up her whole face. It wasn’t just a grin. She smiled with her mouth open, eyes crinkled at the corners, rosy, round Eskimo cheeks and laughter that came from her belly. If she was smiling, she was probably laughing at the same time.

Mom had a petite frame. I’ve never known her to have an ounce of fat on her body. Ever. She was always so small, trim and slender. But even though she was small, she was fierce. She didn’t back down from a fight and if she got into a fight, you’d better watch out, she might give you a beat down and win. Despite her tough side, she loved to work with her hands. Sewing, drawing, beading, fixing things.

Mom loved finding a good bargain. Things people were getting rid of because they were broken or discarded. She could always find a way to putter around and fix them to make them functional again. She took such delight in knowing she made something useful again and that she got the item for free! I’ve seen her do this with clothing, watches, shoes, jackets, purses. If something had a rip or was missing trim, buttons, a zipper – she would take it apart and remake it and add a native flair of fur, beadwork or leather. She was resourceful.

Mom was a wonderful artist. Her drawings looked like black and white photographs. She had such an eye for detail. Every little nuance of shading was so intricately incorporated into her drawings. She was a perfectionist when it came to her sketches. Every little detail had to be just right.

Mom had an innocent, child-like sense of humor. She could be so silly and animated and would tease and go on telling a story and then would end it with “I jokes!” followed with a hearty belly laugh. Mom could easily laugh at herself when she did something absent-minded or dumb. She loved to laugh. She couldn’t talk to you without laughing at something.

Mom never met a stranger. It didn’t matter where we went, she would strike up conversation with someone. Observing her, you would think she was talking to an old friend. She had a way of putting people at ease with her warm friendly way that she connected with people.

Mom loved to help people. She was humble enough to remember where she came from that if she saw someone in need she would do what she could to help them, even if it meant giving them the coat off her back.

Mom was “organic”. She loved nature: flowers, animals, trees, sunsets, stars at night, snow in winter. She loved natural remedies and teas. She loved our Inupiaq heritage. She loved the “native” way of doing things.

Mom was independent and a free spirit – very much a rebel and non-conformist. She never did settle down and marry again. She had too many things she wanted to do and she didn’t want a man telling her she couldn’t do them. She was proud of her independence. Even though she struggled financially at times, she was glad she didn’t have to rely on a man to make it.

Mom was often restless. She had so much energy wrapped up in her small frame. She always had to be busy doing something. She loved to socialize and visit with friends. She couldn’t stay home long, she always had to get out and about and see what was going on. She loved people, relationships, friends and most importantly – Family.

Mom was spiritual. Maybe not in the way Christian/Church people thought she ought to be, but despite her lack of religious practice, she had a conscience. One time she came to church to see me and it was cold outside – probably 0 or below. She stood outside, shivering. I told her to come inside and wait where it was warm, because church wasn’t over yet. She refused to because she said she wasn’t “dressed appropriately”. Another time she came to attend one of my school events at the church and she said she had to find a “dress with sleeves” because she wanted to be respectful in God’s House. There were certain lines she wouldn’t cross because she said it wasn’t right or she read a verse in the Bible that said you shouldn’t do this or that… She was always careful not to offend people of faith.

The last few years mom talked to me on the phone she said she was reading her Bible more and praying. She talked about making things right and asking God to forgive her for things she had done. I don’t know if she made her final peace with God, but I hope and pray in those final moments of her life she found peace.

Much of my early childhood is very painful. It’s taken me years to overcome some of the deep hurts and abuse that ravaged my first six years of life. I choose to forgive. Everyday. Some days that’s easy…some days it’s not. Today I choose to remember Mom at the core of her being, who God created her to be, not her bad choices or the addictions that slowly suffocated out her beauty.

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I love you, Mom…in all your beauty and brokenness. I know I carry within myself the best parts of you – in looks, genetics, personality, talents, strength, tenacity, fiery independence, free spirit and all. Thank you for the gift of life. Thank you for your second gift of making the choice to give me up. It’s been a painful decision I’ve had to live with, but I understand better now.
You are loved and missed. You will never be forgotten.
I’ll always be “baby girl” to you. Rest In Peace.

~~~~~ Baby girl,
Mary Alavine – “Kuupyuk”

FROM THE MOTHER OF A SPECIAL-NEEDS CHILD

A guest post by Mary A. Sacra-King

64319742_10156441528933100_4629053088055951360_nBeing the parent of a special-needs child hurts sometimes. (My son is moderate to severe on the autism spectrum.) This morning (Sunday November 10, 2019) when all the church kids and adults were up front, Daniel (my son) was already warming up to a good howl.

He was ushered off the stage before church even started. I was ready to get up. Walk out. And go home. It just hurt so bad that he isn’t able to participate. I had my keys in my hand. The tears were about to fall.

Scott (my husband) went to find Daniel and help him on stage. I wasn’t sure how that was going to work out, but Daniel surprised me. He was able to stay for the one song.

This is the first time he’s ever been able to do ANYTHING in big church. He’s come a long way. I’m so proud of my Danny!!

There are still so many painful things about having a special needs child. Milestones that other kids hit that Daniel never will. Daniel should have his license and be finishing up his senior year of high school. Taking his ACT. Applying for college.

Instead we’re trying to figure out what is going to happen to him when he ages out of the public school system when he’s 21. We have to navigate the process of applying for disability. Then there is trying to find something for him to do all day. We have to think of his future without us by setting up a trust fund for him.

I don’t know what Daniel’s future holds. It’s scary sometimes when I think about it. I’m not always going to be here to take care of him. And no one loves your kid the way Momma does. We birthed them and took care of them.

I’m trying to trust God, but honestly some days reality is just too real. I’m happy he’s as healthy and as happy as he is most of the time.

Counting my blessings today instead of my worries.

Love,

Mary

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TOO MUCH SLEEP TOO LITTLE

The fourth in a series on the clinical symptoms of major depression.

Sleep and depression is a two-edged sword. Depression can cause you to sleep too much (hypersomnia) or too little (insomnia). And not enough sleep can cause symptoms of depression. I have experienced both.

man-napping-in-carHypersomnia can be described as the endless nap. The 18-hour sleep. The lost Wednesday between Tuesday and Thursday.

As a young man I read about the missionary, David Brainard, who struggled with depression long before it was even rudimentarily understood. In his autobiography he reported losing days to sleep.

I’ve been there. Depression so sapped my energy to make it nearly impossible to wake up, let alone get up. Even in a conscious state, there was a fog that settled over my ability to think. Slow responses. Broken speech. Lost thoughts.

In my opinion, hopelessness – the inability to face another day – contributes to hypersomnia. If I don’t wake up, I don’t have to live with the implications of another day. Sleep and skip it. Perhaps it is a conscious or unconscious choice to not wake up.

1_SjnB-XxfeeGsD7WS0SQkdwThe flip side of that coin is insomnia. The movies or endless dribble watched through the night. Tossing and turning. Twisted blankets. Untucked sheets.

I’ve been there, too. The three days before New Year’s, I slept a total of six hours. Over the past two years my sleep pattern has been very irregular. Sometimes I go for several days with very little sleep if any at all. And then I sleep for most of a day. It’s a vicious cycle that does a number on my mood.

There are times that I would rather not sleep. Last night was one of those. I had three nightmares – kicking, yelling, crying.

Many of my nightmares are of unresolved conflicts and the struggle to save myself and/or others from the effect. Some of my dreams are great fears realized. Either way it does not make for a very restful night.

Because of a medical condition, I cannot take sleep medication. So I struggle alone. At times longing for sleep. At times desperately wanting to stay awake for fear of what sleep will bring.

Quite a while back I came to the conclusion that I wanted to be descriptive in this blog rather than prescriptive. Although I am a mental health professional, I think people are looking for understanding more than they are sterile remedies. I know I am.

If you are experiencing hypersomnia or insomnia, you are not alone. I have yet to find a solution for my insomnia, but I fight on. In the words of Winston Churchill, “Never give in. Never. Never. Never.”

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

CONFORMING TO GOD’S DESIGN

The Quest for Character: Godliness (6th in a series)

Godliness is costly. It takes perseverance. Supreme devotion. Total dependence. Wholly sacrificed. A. J. Gossip wrote, “You will not stroll into godliness with your hands in your

pockets, shoving the door open with a careless shoulder. This is no hobby for one’s leisure moments, taken up at intervals when we have nothing much to do, and put down and forgotten when our life grows full and interesting… It takes all one’s strength, and all one’s heart, and all one’s mind, and all one’s soul, given freely and recklessly and without restraint.”

The late Jerry Bridges of The Navigators defined godliness as . . .

  • The fear of God.
  • The love of God.
  • The desire for God.

0269c6fa4bfd6640e1c737d7f8a9b5b8The fear of God is not to be understood as dread. No, that kind of fear is gone when we receive Jesus Christ as our Savior. For the believer, the fear of God is to be understood as veneration, reverence, and awe.

“O come let us adore Him” is more than a phrase in a song, it is a willing and joyful activity of life. There is that sense of wonder and amazement about the holy nature of God. The prophet Isaiah experienced this level of worship when he saw “the LORD sitting on a throne, high and lifted up.” There is also that marvel and astonishment at the love of God.

The third commandment is stated in the negative, “You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain.” The positive side of the command is just as true and at the heart of the fear of God. You shall respect the name of LORD your God. Worship Him. Honor Him.

The love that godliness requires is whole. It encompasses “all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.” No reservations. No hidden treasures. No greater loves. A complete and total submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

The recipe for godliness demands copious amounts of desire. It is a willingness to sell all in order to possess the Pearl of Great Price. To give all to find true Treasure. “Godly

character is not the result of good intentions, wishful thinking, some mystical “zap,” or even sheer Bible knowledge. It’s developed through the self-disciplined application of God’s Word at a very basic level, enabled and empowered by God’s Spirit.” (John MacArthur)

Godliness is not proclaimed by oneself. I’ve been in the church all my life and I’ve never heard anyone say, “I am a godly man/woman.” Godliness is recognized in you by others. “That is a godly man/woman.” One of my seminary professors, Dr. Matt Friedeman, said that he does not call himself a Christian. He waits for others to identify him as such. The same is true with godliness.

Godliness is a pursuit. In this lifetime there is no finish line for godliness. The race is won only as we are ushered through death into the arms of Jesus. But there are glorious rewards along the way to keep our hearts in the quest.

“With all diligence add to your faith . . . godliness.”

The LORD be with you.

Jay

ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

timeless-time-quotes-2-638Time is very mysterious. It is linear – moving in a direction – but feels cyclical. It has a beginning and an ending, but it feels eternal. We can use it or lose it. Save it or waste it. Spend it or kill it.

Different cultures look at time very differently. In a very simplistic sense, it is said that Eastern cultures view time from the past while Western cultures view it from the future. In reality all time is present. Past time has already slipped through our fingers and future time is not yet in our grasp. Time is lived in the now. dec-26

1741979-Yasutaka-Tsutsui-Quote-Time-waits-for-no-oneAs we exit one year and enter another, we tend to contemplate the ending, meaning, and lasting significance of time. As the world passes from the 20-teens to the 20-twenties, I must accept the relentless march of time and take a personal accounting of my use of it.

In the New Testament, both Peter and Paul speak of “redeeming” time. The word redemption is a legal term which means to buy back. It is still used today especially in the area of property law.

How is time redeemed?

  • Time is redeemed by taking ownership.

As one takes ownership of a piece of property and possesses it, we too must possess the time we have. 8502d4fbd8cbf68985a61d49b622bfb0

  • Time is redeemed by exercising control.

Because time keeps ticking whether we use it wisely or not, time is best redeemed when it is used in a disciplined manner.

  • Time is redeemed by accepting responsibility.

45d461f48ac7838348857c0712a78d02When we become responsible for the use of our time, time becomes more meaningful and purposeful.

  • Time is redeemed by seizing opportunities.

I am thankful for the way time is counted. Every 24 hours bring a new day. Every seven days bring a new week. New weeks bring new months. Months, years. Years, decades. Decades, centuries. Centuries, millenniums. Each brings the opportunity for a new beginning.

How are you going to redeem your time in 2020?

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #20

Depression, paranoia, and a dissociative episode resulted in me committing some crimes. I have little memory of what I did, but I took/take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence in county jail. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

letters from jail 6Dear_____                                                                                                                    August 5-7, 2013

Greetings.

How are you? Well, I hope.

  • As the Cell Turns

It’s been another uneventful day here in Cell 815. Corn must be a sedative. The whole cell has been unusually quiet.

The only scent of shampoo they have here is apple blossom. I asked if they had any manly scents like dirt, sweat, motor oil, or gun smoke. Maybe I should start a “manly scents for detainees” business.

  • Sometimes it’s really inconvenient being in jail

When I started this letter, I was pretty blue. _____ has spent half of my medical savings account. I’m disappointed that _____ is grabbing for every dollar and violating court orders. I called my lawyer. I hope he takes care of it. Why does it continue to surprise me? I’m trying not to be judgmental. I just don’t understand that level of hate and entitlement. When does the hurt stop?

I just got off the phone with my brother. He’s in panic mode about the lawyer’s fees, the disappearance of my medical savings account, and fear that my retirement accounts are being raided. I’m helpless to do anything about it from jail. What will be, will be. I’m doing the right thing. Others will have to give account for their actions.

I wish I could talk to someone. I need somebody with a cool head to talk this out. I need someone to tell me this will pass. Sometimes it’s really inconvenient being in jail. I will be glad when this chapter of my life is over.

It’s late. I’ve been blue most of the day. All the debt I’m accumulating is getting me down. I feel like breaking my retirement accounts to pay everything off. When I get out of here, I will likely have to go on SSDI. I guess I’m worried. I can’t see a clean end to all of this. I need to commit it to the LORD. It’s too depressing.

  • Jail Food

We had corn-on-the-cob for lunch. Yum! Yum! The jail has a huge garden. We’ve had squash, zucchini, cantaloupe, green beans, corn, tomatoes, and cucumbers. They don’t know how to fix most of it, but some things are really good.

  • Staying Connected

My brother, John, sent a card. He writes two or three times a month. My brother, Jim, is coming to see me tomorrow. And I got another letter today, too. It’s a good start to the day.

  • Who do I admire?

That answer can take a variety of turns. Politically, I admire Ronald Reagan. He made it okay to be proud of America again. All classes did better economically. He exposed the weak underbelly of communism and exploited it.

Religiously, Dr. R. G. Flexon. He was a pastor, district superintendent, general superintendent, head of the missionary department, college president, and evangelist. He almost single handedly grew The Pilgrim Holiness Church’s world missions, opening several fields himself. He was very influential. Do you remember when he came to Central Wesleyan Church in Anderson for a winter revival?

My parents were the most influential on me. I quote them more than anyone else.

Currently, I admire Dr. Bill Ury the most.

  • My Weaknesses

You are very perceptive to pick up on my need for respect. Try as I might, it is one of my needs. The Bible appears to confirm the old adage – Women need love, men need respect. First Peter refers to Sarah calling Abraham “lord.” It was their cultural way of demonstrating tangible respect. I find it interesting that the Bible commands a husband to “love” his wife multiple times, but only says for a wife to “love” her husband once.

I need to control the urge to expect respect. Although I believe everyone deserves respect, I forget that not everyone will give it. That gets me into trouble. I’m getting better, but I still have a lot of room for growth.

Anger is another of my issues. I rarely lose my cool when someone else is losing theirs, though. Even when angry I don’t call names or fight unfair, but I do raise my voice. It is a sin that easily besets me and I’m seeking God’s control over my anger. I try to use an “assertive” approach when in the midst of conflict. I fail sometimes.

  • Spiritual Thoughts

Turn your worries into prayers. When you find yourself worrying, say, “Lord, I make what concerns me into a prayer and conversation with You.” “Pray without ceasing” put into practice. I confess I do the same thing, but with venting rather than worry. God is concerned with our daily thoughts.

Wondering thoughts are the bane of letter writing and devotions. Do you know how many times I have reread my devotionals and scriptures because my brain chased a rabbit down some trail?

Thank you for the sermon notes. I’m a teacher-preacher with lots of history and instruction. I’m hoping some denomination will want a “slightly” flawed minister when I get out of here.

Thank you for the book mark. It’s beautiful and I treasure it. I have it marking the Psalm I read each morning. I’ve read a Psalm for each day I’ve been in jail.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE MOST IMPORTANT CHRISTMAS TRADITION

1535474908-best-fake-christmas-trees-1-1535474886Christmas morning was our time for gathering around the tree and exchanging gifts. I recall one Christmas that I was the first to greet the morning. Quietly, I set myself in front of the tree and shared stares between the gifts and my parent’s bedroom door trying to wish them both open.

Collections seemed to be a theme of our giving. I received Hot Wheels, Matchbox, and Johnny Lightning cars. The family also added to my 1:32 scale slot car collection with a new racer, more track, and/or a new controller.

Mom’s collection of Lionel trains was added to annually, as well. She loved trains. I think my nephews still display them at Christmas.

For some reason unbeknownst to me, my parents exchanged underwear gifts with each other. You could count on Dad getting her bras, panties, girdles, or slips and Mom giving him tighty-whiteys and A-shirts every year.

Giving gifts, adding to collections, embarrassing moments, and special packages were part of our Christmas traditions.

The most important tradition of our annual Christmas festivities was started by Dad. Before the gift exchange could start, he opened his large black leather-bound Thompson Chain Reference Bible and turned it to the gospel of St. Luke chapter two. He read verses one through twenty from the beautiful Elizabethan/Shakespearean English of the King James Version. Then he prayed. If he was present at our family gatherings, no gifts were opened, no celebrations began without his reading and praying.

AWAAQAHQ-R897250-AEAAAAGADMAnd it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

It was the best, most sacred, and special tradition of all.

Of all the traditions I could have passed on to my children, the reading of the Christmas story followed by prayer is the only one I have faithfully kept. I read it to my children and they read it to theirs. I pray it never ceases from any generation to follow.

Christmas decorationsMerry Christmas

The LORD be with you.

Jay

ME TOO!

57852275_10156319838498100_7828710668814516224_nA guest post by Mary A. Sacra-King

I’ve been debating about whether or not to address this issue, but the more I see it in the media, the more heavily it weighs on me. When American film producer, Harvey Weinstein, was in the news for sexual harassment, sexual assault, and rape, I was not really that surprised. Doesn’t make it any less horrible for the women he is guilty of committing these crimes against, but this is Hollywood we’re talking about.

Then when I saw on the news that Charlie Rose, American television talk show host and journalist, was accused of sexual abuse…THAT one caught me by surprise.

I thought he had class. Education. Sophistication. But, sexual abusers, pedophiles, and rapists can be dressed up in a suit. Educated. Put in a classroom. Behind a pulpit. In an important looking uniform. In the same pew with you at church. Next door. They can even have their own children. Depravity can be disguised as a trusted upstanding citizen of any community. That doesn’t make it acceptable or normal. It just makes it harder to spot.

One of my abusers was a trusted elder of a church. I was 11 years old. I cannot even begin to tell you what that experience did to twist and skew my view of God and how it shattered my view of wholesome men in the church.

I was already very broken from earlier physical and sexual abuse during the first six years of my life before I was removed from that situation and adopted. I was starting to regain trust. To believe in myself again. To heal.

The abuse I endured was a repeated situation that occurred over a summer. I couldn’t get away. I was preyed on. Vulnerable. I was already so beat down that I thought I must have deserved it. I was already “damaged goods” in my own mind…I thought this was just what men did.

For years I tried to forget. Tried to punish it out of myself. I hated myself for being a girl. For being weak. For not being brave enough to say anything. For somehow believing I was worth much less than those around me because of what this evil man and others had done to me. When I finally did say something, I was in college and it was too late. My abuser had passed away.

Tort-Reform-Has-“Devastating-Consequences”-for-Survivors-of-Sexual-AssaultI have four daughters and a son. I pray protection over my children. That it never happens to them. That I educate them to be aware. My scars are deep and haven’t completely healed.

Parents, TALK to your young children. Boys and girls alike. You don’t have to talk in great descriptive detail, BUT

  • Talk to them about private body parts and healthy boundaries.
  • Talk to them about what is “appropriate touch” and what is off limits.
  • Tell them what to do if/when something ever happens that they need to tell you about.
  • Be approachable to your children. Be open. Be very clear. Work to build a relationship that they feel like they can tell you about ANYTHING.
  • Keep your eyes and ears open in family and social situations. Be aware of where your kids are at all times when they are very young and the most vulnerable.

It was difficult for me to send my children off to Vacation Bible School, church camp, and overnight school trips. For as long as I could, I went with them.

It was hard to put my Daniel on the bus, knowing he was non-verbal and if anything happened to him, he would be unable to tell me. Many times, I had a near meltdown with worry over not having my kids in my sight for every event, every moment. I wish I could say it gets easier…but I’m not sure it does. I take some rest in knowing that I have thoroughly talked to them and given them a heightened awareness to the potential evils in the world.

My (adopted) mother was hyper vigilant and I always felt like I could talk to her about anything … but this. It causes such shame and guilt that should never be shouldered by a child.

I thank God for healing. I’m not going to be trite and say it never bothers me and I never think about that experience ever, because “God healed me”. He makes the pain bearable and reassures me that I am His and that I was not the cause for the abuse. It was NOT my fault.

I still have scars. I always will. But I’m stronger today because of them. I have compassion for others who have been through similar situations. I deeply empathize with their pain and their journey. I am always so very humbled when someone is brave enough to confide in me and share their private struggle. I have talked, prayed, counseled and cried with hurt individuals who wanted to commit suicide because of sexual abuse they endured.

I’ve had valley moments when a present situation takes me back to the horrible guilt and shame I felt. I know my experiences of great hurt can be used to help give others hope when I keep my life surrendered to God and allow Him to keep pouring His healing into my life.

Vulnerability is not easy. Transparency is humbling. Telling my story gives my experiences and pain a higher purpose. Encouraging another struggling survivor gives hope.

78665747_10156900987093100_1774766158419853312_nI’m not a victim of abuse anymore and never will be again. I’m a survivor and I’m not ashamed anymore. I’m not hiding, hanging my head or hoping no one knows. I will always advocate for those who cannot carry their burden alone. Some days it doesn’t take much to take me back to a very dark place…But I walk out of the dark, with my head held high…knowing God sees and knows all. One day He will right every wrong!

Keep the Faith,
Mary

HOW’S YOUR APPETITE?

(The fourth in a series on the clinical symptoms of major depression.)

Top 50 Most Appetizing Designs for Food WebsitesThe old adage goes, “Feed a cold, starve a fever.” I don’t know if food has anything to do with colds or fevers, but it is such an important ingredient in diagnosing major depression that it’s classified as a symptom.

I started pastoring my first full-time church at 20 years of age. Yes, I was young, inexperienced, idealistic, unqualified; a babe in grown-up clothes, but the church more than doubled in two years. It was not the only thing to double.

When I started at the church my weight was 150 lbs. The first year I gained 15 lbs. The second, 45 lbs. The third, 20 lbs. After a round with stomach ulcers and blood pressure rising, my doctor sat me down for a talk. She said that if I didn’t get control of my eating habits, my health could be negatively affected. I rejected her prescription with a tart reply and thus fixed my course for obesity over the next 31 years.

However, weight gain or loss alone is not enough to suggest depression. Although my weight gain was significant in those early years and eventually topped out at 280 lbs. three decades later, it lacked rapidity. To be considered as one of the nine symptoms of major depression, weight is limited in both time and amount.  It must be both rapid – within a single month – and significant – plus or minus five percent of your body weight – without conscious effort. During my seven episodes of depression since 1999, weight was a factor twice. In the spring of 2014, I lost 20 lbs. in a single month – eight percent of my body weight, and in 2017 I gained approximately eight percent.

download (1)In 2014 I could care less about food. It didn’t matter whether I ate or not. Nothing smelled good. Nothing tasted good. Food held no interest for me. I ate because I had to not because I wanted to.

In 2017 my appetite became like a growling grizzly that had to be satisfied. I raided the children’s left-over Halloween candy. Ate two bowls of ice-cream a day. Lunch consisted of cookies, candy, or any other sweets I could find. Thanksgiving was indulgent. My appetite was insatiable. I hated myself for doing it, but regardless of the every-morning-promises I made to myself; I couldn’t stop. It was a primeval scream for gratification. An urge. A drive. A hunger that had to be satisfied.

Mood and food have long been related. Research has discovered what feelings we are likely to feed and what ones we starve. “Many people with depression lose both energy and interest. This can include a loss of interest in eating” or cooking, or lacking the energy to prepare meals, says Dr. Gary Kennedy, of Montefiore Medical Center in New York. (Major Depression Resource Center)

Sadness, worthlessness, guilt, anger, frustration, excessive and prolonged stress, and other negative emotions appear to be connected with eating. Some may eat to avoid feeling or thinking. “Depression can also result in emotional eating, a common event in which the need to eat is not associated with physical hunger,” notes Debra J. Johnston, RD, of Remuda Ranch in Wickenburg, Arizona. (ibid.) (Depression’s Effect on Your Appetite by Chris Iliades, MD)

The literature says to make “wise nutritional choices” in response to weight gain or loss. However, that assumes you are still capable of rational thought. Wise decisions are easier to come by if your depressive symptoms are mild. (Please don’t misunderstand my words as discounting or belittling the seriousness of depression at any stage.)

With severe depression it’s different. For the woman who can’t get out of bed regardless of her best effort, making “wise nutritional choices” is not on the radar. The man who every day exhausts the resources he has in a desperate attempt to stay alive does not think about “wise nutritional choices.”

If you have gained or lost five percent of your body weight in the past 30 days, forget the nutritionist; go see a family practitioner/psychiatrist and mental health counselor. If you can get your depression under control, your weight issues will be easier to address.

ilustration_faith-based-and-pastoral-counselors

The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

STICK TO IT!

The Quest for Character: Perseverance

ready mealsMy generation and beyond have grown up in an instant world. Instant money at the ATM. Instant approval on a home or auto loan. Instant meals. Television shows solve complex problems in 30 or 60 minutes. What it took our grandparents a lifetime to achieve we can have in an instant.

Is it any wonder that it is hard for us to wait on anything? We want what we want and we want it now. We have little endurance and stamina to wait for something better. Our appetite must be satisfied now.

I often have cravings. When I do, I graze until I find that one thing that my taste buds are longing for. But in the meantime, I consume an awful lot of junk looking for the right thing. My body mass increases without true satisfaction. My appetite is spoiled for what I truly needed because I satiated it with what was unsatisfactory.

The physicist, Albert Einstein, is often quoted as saying, “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” The inventor, Thomas Edison, said something similar, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.” There are many geniuses who underperform and many average people who overperform precisely because of perseverance.

1_whNB257yy-sQJ0VjBesgqwPerseverance may be defined as persistence and tenacity in the face of obstacles or adversity. For many, perseverance is a foreign concept or a degrading characteristic. Why wait? Live for today! If it’s too hard, do something else. However, just as inventors and scientists discovered long ago, good things come to those who know how to both wait and doggedly pursue.

It takes self-control to persevere. Newt Gingrich, former Speaker of the House of Representatives, observed, “Perseverance is the hard work you do after you get tired of doing the hard work you already did.” It is doing despite the difficulty and waiting despite the delay.

The New Testament affirms perseverance in two way by stating: 1) you need it and 2) here’s what happens when you have it. You need it to face hard trials. To persist in good works. To endure persecution and suffering. The result is a more Christ-like character. Greater joy. Spiritual glory, honor, and immortality.

Jesus is our model of perseverance. “He endured the cross, scorning the shame.” Make this cup of humiliation and pain pass from me, He prayed. But without the cross there would be no resulting forgiveness and salvation.

In the house where I grew up, we had a half-basement. The wall separating the two halves did not go all the way up, thus giving us access to the other half. My brother suggested Dad and I dig it out. He said we could remove one five-gallon bucket of dirt each day until the job was accomplished. Confucius made the same observation, “The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones.”

persevereIn our quest for character, perseverance is not conquered in one sitting or with a single effort. No. Perseverance comes with successfully facing the challenge you have in front of you. As they say in Alcoholics Anonymous, “One day at a time.” “It works if you work it.”

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #19

Depression, paranoia, and a dissociative episode resulted in me committing some crimes. I have little memory of what I did, but I took/take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence in county jail. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

letters from jail 6

Dear _____ August 1-4, 2013

It’s a new day and a new month. I hope all is well.

  • As the Cell Turns

My Anger Management class was today. That class makes me so mad. 😊 We were looking for alternatives to the word “lonely.” I remembered a high school vocabulary word and said, “ostracized.” The class laughed and told me they were country boys not Louisville lawyers.
Our AC is back on. I think they’re trying to make up for the three weeks it was down. Now we’re all wearing thermals and pulling our blankets up around our heads.

It’s amazing as I listen to the vulgar talk of these young pups in the cell. They have no true concept of love and romance. Love for them is an event without either foreplay or after-play. They know nothing of the woo and the chase. Love making for them is little more than animal heat without the tenderness. Faithfulness is a foreign concept.

To me romance is a process that can be an end in itself. It is fulfilling to end an evening with a deep gaze in the eyes and fingers intertwined. To end with a hug held just a little longer and perhaps a little tighter. With laughter and the contentment of being near one another. It is the portrait of love that is happy with companionship and doesn’t need the icing to know you’ve been eating cake. Give me love over lust any day and twice on Sunday.
Several of us exercised tonight. The guys like to see the old man try. I did some squats tonight. One youngster, 19, fell out while doing his. The old “preacher” man did it ‘til it burned before calling it quits. They were surprised I could do so many. As I say, my legs are my best feature.

We had a tournament last night in the cell. I made a miss-play and caused my team to lose. I was pretty disappointed in myself.

It’s amazing to me that all anger is viewed as violent by these guys. Anyone who is angry must be ready to hit someone or destroy something. I don’t think they believed me when I told them that didn’t even enter my mind.

“Be angry and sin not.” I have much room to improve, but violence almost never enters my mind.
I’m always telling these guys that if they lived a clean life like I have they wouldn’t end up in a place like this. They don’t believe me for some reason. It baffles me. 😊

The “old men” won tonight. Mr. Hogue and I schooled those young pups. I asked one, “Is it okay to cry in jail?” He said, “Yes!” “Get ready to cry,” I replied. Another’s nickname is “Smoke.” I told him he was going to get smoked tonight. Oh, the trash talk.

  • Doing Time

It’s been an uneventful day as are most days. You would think after three months of this it would get easier. But the last several days have been rough. One of the guys called it “hard time” – not much to do but look at four walls.

I went out for recreation today. It wasn’t too hot, the sky was partly cloudy, and there was a nice breeze blowing. I walked and soaked up the daylight. It was a beautiful day.

It’s later in the evening now. Several of the guys went out to the library. I already have two books I’m reading through and one waiting in the wings. I thought I would just spend some alone time rather than make a purposeless trip to the library.
I don’t have a date for my shock probation hearing. But I think it will be the week of the 18th. I find myself having hope – which is dangerous. But I don’t want to pray without faith.

  • I Get Letters

I got two letters today. I devour each one and then go back through them again in order to savor each part.
Okay, I’m starting on my seventh golf pencil. I use them down to an inch long. But oh, how I enjoy sending and receiving letters.

  • Broken Relationships

I think my children will come around, but it may take a while. They need to be removed from the event for a time. There are some who feel it’s their responsibility to destroy me with my children and with as many people who will listen. Although they may not recognize it, it is fighting dirty. But, they feel justified.
Today is A______’s 30th birthday. She was such a bright and creative child. Nothing got past her. She was good and caring with her brother. I was proud of her. But she started rebelling. Up and down. Rebel and obey. Things have been difficult for her in adulthood. I love her. She’s still my baby girl. I miss her and pray for her daily.

  • Jailhouse Chapel

Today was church. I used a couple of choruses and a hymn to lead the guys in song. It added to the service and oh did they sing. We had communion today, too.

  • Time Alone with God

In my devotions this morning there were some comforting words. Because of the experience of your trials you can help someone else down the road. We are comforted by a Savior who knows suffering. We do not suffer alone.
I got up to take my meds this morning at 4:00 AM. Normally that is my devotional time, but today I went back to bed. I laid there and thought, “I should get up.” And then, “One day, just one day.” All of a sudden, a guard came in and said, “Mr. Shuck, medical.”
Okay, I wasn’t expecting this. Apparently one of the meds I take can make your sugar go up. They stuck my finger – it was fine. I checked my weight – six lbs. lost. Then I came back to the cell. I didn’t even walk toward the bed. I grabbed my Bible and said, “Yes, LORD,” and had my devotions.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE HOMELESS ARE PEOPLE, TOO*

6f4d0ba3aded60dc7a5ca7dbfdc64a07In October I went back home to Alaska to take care of some legal matters. While there I was able to visit my older brother, Charlie. He’s living in a dumpy motel on the south side of town (Fairbanks), paying rent week to week. I wouldn’t let my dog sleep there. Charlie lived homeless for years in Las Vegas and San Diego. Later he was in a homeless shelter apartment fire. We thought he wasn’t going to make it.

Why do I even bring any of this up? Well, I live with the guilt that I made it out. Was given a better chance at life. He didn’t. Both of my brothers have lived lives of addiction to both drugs and alcohol. Many people judge that type of lifestyle as “undesirable and stupid.” Like the priest and the Levite in the story of the Good Samaritan, they walk on the other side to avoid such people.

However, did you ever stop to think about why that person is the way s/he is? I know. Both of my brothers have lived some deep, dark and painful experiences. They feel the need to medicate the dysfunction they’ve endured. I know. I was not rescued soon enough to escape the physical, mental, and sexual abuse. To witness violence in our home. The uncertainty of what I would eat – often only saltines, graham crackers, or a slice of bread.  My clothes were inadequate to protect me from the brutal Alaska winters.

But for the grace of God, that could have been me. My “Mother” and “Aunt” June saved my sister and me from more of what my brothers experienced in full measure. I don’t always understand how “God’s will” could save me and not my brothers. They didn’t have the same chances and opportunities I had. I grieve that loss for them. They had great potential to be something far more than what people see in either of them today.

If my oldest brother, Charlie, approached you on the street asking for money, you very possibly would be disgusted. Ignore him. Avoid him. Keep walking. He’s lost most of his teeth and his clothes are always tattered and worn. He doesn’t always shower and take care of himself. But he is my grandmother’s grandson. My mom’s son. My cousin’s cousin. My brother. My children’s uncle.

downloadThe Apostle Paul wrote, “As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. (Colossians 3:12) If you see my brother on the street, please be kind to him. Don’t judge him. Please don’t dismiss him as lost and hopeless. There are millions of “Charlies” in this world. You don’t know the great pain and loss that drove him to not love himself. To self-medicate. To sabotage himself. To self-destruct.

The LORD being my helper, I always help homeless people. I know what it’s like to be hungry. To be alone. Hopeless. I help homeless people because I can’t always be there for my brother. While I am helping another, I pray someone is helping him when he desperately needs it the most.

I bought him groceries and gave him some cash for a meal while I was in Alaska. Even though he drinks and drugs most of the money he gets. I need to give him something. I made it out. He didn’t.

I live with the fear that someday I’m going to get a phone call from the police, a social worker, or a pastor saying that Charlie died. I don’t want to live with any regrets – that I didn’t love well, without conditions or judgment. I don’t want to wish for one more opportunity to show love or to speak it.

I tell my brother “I love you” whenever I leave or talk to him on the phone. I may never hear it in return. It may be awkward for him to hear. But I always want Charlie to know I loved unconditionally. Regardless of the bad choices he’s made. How he lives. His dysfunction. I want him to know that he is worthy of being loved.

All of us are worthy of being loved. Rich. Poor. Mansioned. Homeless. Beautiful. Scarred. People who need love the most often ask for it in the most unloving ways.

It’s getting colder out here in the mid-south. I’m asking you all to be kind and show compassion to homeless people you see out. Carry an extra bottle of water in your car, an extra blanket, gloves, socks, hat, non-perishable food items, and most importantly . . . a ready smile and a kind word.

*This week’s piece is written by my friend and former student, Mary A. Sacra-King.36453776_1580666648729185_8639594159222554624_o (2)

The LORD be with you,

Jay

WHEN PLEASURE DIES

181207 depression

Pleasure is one of those abstract and subjective concepts that escapes a wholly accurate definition. What is pleasurable can vary from one culture to another and from one individual to another. I know what my teenage grandchildren find exceedingly pleasurable is exceedingly annoying to me. However, there is one common universal experience – You know when you feel it. You know when you don’t.

The second criteria listed in the DSM-V for a major depressive disorder is the loss or contraction of pleasure. It reads, a “Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities most of the day, nearly every day.” This is called “anhedonia” in the professional jargon. It is not necessarily the total loss of pleasure. It can be a reduction or shrinkage of it.

Jennifer Purdie, writing for Healthline.com (“What is Anhedonia?”) provides a useful outline to describe the “markedly diminished interest” in pleasure.

  • A lack of relationships or withdrawal from previous relationships:

Relationships with customers, contacts, co-workers, friends, family, and spouse become a struggle. The expenditure of energy is greater than the reward. The prospect of attending a concert, party, or meeting someone for a meal is daunting.

Business suffers. Friends become more distant or leave the picture altogether. Children or grandchildren perceive you as uncaring and uninvolved. Your marriage, like mine, may not survive.

  • Reduced emotional abilities, including having less verbal or nonverbal expressions.

I am already exasperatingly slow to express my thoughts. People interrupt me all the time before I complete a sentence. They tell me, “Oh, I thought you were done.” Add clinical depression to that mix and I can, no doubt, be nearly intolerable to the listener.

We who are depressed show it on our face. It’s called “flat affect.” It is the lack of facial expression. A sad sameness to our countenance.

  • A tendency toward showing fake emotions.

This is the mask. The appearance of normalcy. We remove this public face only with those with whom we are most intimate. Sometimes we wear it then, too.

It is the polite laugh at a joke we find humorless. The social smile we use when we meet a friend or acquaintance. The synthetic excitement or pleasure that is necessary to make another feel good.

  • Social withdrawal.

Isolation. The need to be alone. Not the social butterfly or party animal you once were.

While in my current depressive episode my life pretty well consists of the four walls of my house. I go where I absolutely have to go – psychiatrist, counseling appointments, pharmacy, an occasional run to the store, and to fulfill parental obligations. Life becomes very narrow in scope.

  • Difficulty adjusting to social situations.

Unlike social withdrawal described above, this is that “must attend” social function. A school play. Graduation. Wedding. Holiday family gathering. When in these situations, I find myself feeling quite anxious and claustrophobic. As soon as I enter a room I scope it out to see where the exits are.

  • Negative feelings toward yourself and others.

The person who was merely bothersome before becomes a fierce protagonist. That problem you normally handle with poise and patience is now unsettling and unreasonably emotional. Confidence in yourself wanes. Those annoying personal characteristics become exceedingly magnified.

  • A loss of libido or a lack of interest in physical intimacy.

Diminished interest or pleasure is not only social but also physical. Fewer hugs and kisses. Less conversation. Stale or non-existent romance.

  • Persistent physical problems, such as being sick often.

In my own experience I have had ulcers, cluster headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and back pain. My physical symptoms are real and necessitate medical intervention, but the root cause is depression.


To be clinically significant, the loss of pleasure or interest is taken to its limits. Enjoyment is gone. Excitement escapes us.494485553-e1404382352147-700x245

There is help. Yesterday (Tuesday) I went to my psychiatrist and we agreed to add another medication to my regiment. Every Monday I see my counselor for talk therapy. Group sessions are available in my community everyday Monday through Friday.

It takes a lot of effort and I expend a great deal of energy to make these appointments and attend group. But it is what is necessary if I want to get better. Either I learn to win over my depression or my depression will win over me. And, by God’s grace, I refuse to lose.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

CONTROL OR BE CONTROLED

Image result for baseball football basketballSports were not my strong suit. I couldn’t hit or field a baseball. Couldn’t catch a football. And couldn’t shoot a basketball. But I loved to play.

In an effort to be good at something, I started practicing dribbling. If I can’t put the ball in the basket, my reasoning went, at least I could learn to handle the ball. So, I practiced. And practiced. Every day after school. On the weekends. For hours on end. I put to good application the words of the Apostle Paul, “Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training.”

I got good. I could put that ball behind my back and between my legs while going at full speed. No one else in the neighborhood could dribble as well as I. Put the ball in my hands and it was razzle-dazzle time.

It took sacrifice to reach that level of proficiency. Without a high level of dedication to the craft, I could never showboat. (Remember, I was a young teen.)

The call to discipline is as ancient as words.

No man is free who is not master of himself.

Epictetus

What lies in our power to do, it lies in our power not to do.

Aristotle

Most powerful is he who has himself in his own power.

Seneca

He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.

Confucius

To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others.

Buddha

Better a patient person than a warrior,
one with self-control than one who takes a city.

The Bible, Proverbs 16:32

In our quest for character, self-control (restraint, self-rule, self-government, moderation, self-mastery, limits, temperance) is essential.

The Bible identifies several areas in our lives that need controlled.

  • Tongue

“The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body.” James 3:5-6

  • Eyes

“The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.  But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.” Matthew 6:22-23

  • Passions

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28

  • Appetite

“Do not join those who drink too much wine or gorge themselves on meat, for drunkards and gluttons become poor, and drowsiness clothes them in rags.” Proverbs 23:20-21

  • Temper

“Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19

  • Body

“I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave.” I Corinthians 9:27

  • Time

Be very careful, then, how you live . . . making the most of every opportunity . . .” Ephesians 5:15-16

  • Effort (labor)

“All hard work brings a profit, but mere talk leads only to poverty. Proverbs 14:23

  • Contentment

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” I Timothy 6:6-10

  • Mind

“Whatever is true, … noble, … right, … pure, … lovely, … admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8

Discipline follows knowledge. It is not enough to know better; we must choose better. We can know the difference between good and evil, and elect to do good.

Oh, how I long for a better testimony regarding self-control. I struggled with weight most of my life. Started more projects than I finished. Slept more than I should. And was too quick to get angry.

Yet, here I am still walking the path of better discipline. As a frustrated perfectionist, I have to remind myself that progress is just as important as arrival. The journey is what makes the destination worth it at the end.

The purpose of discipline is not to take away our pleasures. It is to channel our energies in order to reach a goal. Paul wrote, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14

Image result for ankle weightsMy daddy ran track in school. In preparation for the race he wore weights around his ankles. Not until his race was ready to start did he take them off. How fleet he must have felt as he competed.

In our quest for character we too have to rid ourselves of the hindrances and reach for the ribbon.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #18

Depression, paranoia, and a dissociative episode resulted in me committing some crimes. I have little memory of what I did, but I took/take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence in county jail. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

letters from jail 6

Dear_____                                                                                                                  July 28 – 31, 2013

I trust you are doing well, my friend.

Joni Eareckson Tada wrote, “Our friendship is no coincidence . . . Of all the millions of people with whom I could be friends, the LORD chose (you) for me.”

C. S. Lewis said, “Christ . . . can say to every group of Christian friends, ‘You have not chosen one another, but I have chosen you for each other.’”

  • As the Cell Turns

We’ve been watching “Sunday Best” (a gospel singing show) on BET. Last night they had some familiar songs I could sing along with. It was great. There were three or four of us singing.

The clippers came in, so I availed myself of them. I haven’t trimmed my goatee for a while. It was getting thick.

I waited until I could buy some shampoo before taking my shower. It’s Apple Blossom Sauvé – ooh, aw. My hair smells good. It was taking too much soap to wash my hair and my bar soap was costing too much. Anything to save a dime.

Page and I had a good conversation about addiction and treatment. He has three young children. We talked about the impact it had on his children, marriage, etc.

When the AA Big Book says one must “change people, places, and things,” it means a total transformation of life. The lure of pleasure and profit surely bites in the end. That which we thought to conquer ends in enslaving us.

I bought my first set of playing cards ever in my life-time today. According to some, I’m doomed to hell. The deck the guys were using was pretty worn out. They play spades, hearts, king’s corner, solitaire, and a couple of other games. Nothing serious. I don’t believe in gambling, but some of these games are harmless.

(Oh, did you hear how marriage is like a card game? At first it’s all hearts and diamonds, but then you’re looking for clubs and spades.)

The guys fixed a “chili” tonight. It’s so hot they are sweating and crying.

Stay tuned for the next episode of “As the Cell Turns.” 

  • Doing Time

Two full months have passed. Nearly three in terms of days from the incident. I prayed a difficult prayer this morning, “LORD, if I haven’t learned what I’m supposed to learn and grown where I should grow, help me to accept staying in jail.”

John Wesley wrote, “We should not avoid the furnace of affliction as much as we should try to improve ourselves when it comes. Not until we have increased our faith, confirmed our hope, purged away our unholy tempers, and perfected our love has the purpose of the furnace of affliction been accomplished.”

Oh, that I can accept such a declaration.

Please pray for me that I will use my time wisely. My reading has lessened. Good books are hard to come by. Someone brought “The Shack” for me to read. I’ve heard about it, but have never read it.

  • Memories of Normalcy 

For Christmas one year Dad, Mom, my two brothers and I, and our families decided to go to Florida. We went to Disney World, Epcot Center, Sea World, Silver Springs, Hobe Sound, and a few other places. We also visited Grandma Bright (my maternal grandmother) and Aunt Mae (Grandma’s sister) in Stuart, FL.

A___ was six months old. I carried him in a chest carrier the whole time. Talk about bonding. (You said your son carried baby T___ like that on their recent vacation.)

On the way back, the stomach flu went through the family. It was not a pleasant (or sweet smelling) trip home. When we all get together, we talk more about that trip home than anything else we did. How sick is that? (No pun intended.)

  • Visitors

I received two visits today. The first was from three men from one of the churches I pastored. The other was from a local pastor who comes to see me weekly. They encouraged me in the LORD. I needed that. I’ve been a little blue.

F___, every single person from the two-church circuit I pastored have voluntarily said that they do not blame me. They feel I was set up and pushed beyond reason.

I’m not justifying my actions. But people who know me and the situation want to excuse me. It feels good to have understanding and support.

I did try, F___. I tried really hard. How did things turn out so badly when I was trying to do the right thing? (Okay, Jay, enough pity. Snap out of it.)

  • Jailhouse Chapel

Church tonight was okay. The Bible lesson included a section on divorce.

Will it ever stop making me uncomfortable? When does the shame go away? All those years that I was hard on people with broken marriages comes back to bite me. (Actually, I changed my views two years out of Bible college. But still!)

Well, I want to put this in the mail. Praying for you and your family.

 

Sincerely,

Jay

 

The LORD be with you.

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON DEPRESSION AND MENTAL HEALTH

photo-1471107340929-a87cd0f5b5f3

I shut down my Twitter account yesterday (Tuesday). It was too much burden and not enough joy for me to justify its continuance. However, before I shut it down, I copied many of the things I posted. Here are some thoughts from my two-year relationship with Twitter.


THOUGHTS ON DEPRESSION AND MENTAL HEALTH

I feel this way sometimes when I’m severely depressed. “I don’t want to die, but I don’t have the energy to live.” Reach out to someone today. Tell them you love and care for them. It may give them enough hope to carry on.

I know most of the things depression tells me is a lie. But it can tell those lies in a very persuasive way.

Depression hurts.

Depression causes one to question the value of his/her life. Have I done anything worthwhile? Will anyone miss me? Will anyone remember me?

This is depression for me. I don’t want to: See anyone or be seen. Talk to anyone or have to listen to anyone. Make decisions. Go anywhere. Do anything. Answer any questions. Just let me soak in my misery for a few days. I’ll get tired of the pity party straightway.

Depression has really knocked me down for the past few months. But the round is not over and the bell has not rung. I may be dazed, but I can still punch.

I’ve learned compassion through multiple life experiences, but none more so than living with clinical depression.

There are no Lone Rangers in mental health recovery. I need you and you need me.

When I gave up trying to run from depression and embraced it, it became my teacher.

You are not your mental illness. Do not define yourself or let others define you by your diagnosis.

The greater the obstacle, problem, and pain; the greater the breakthrough, discovery, and joy on the other side. Stay involved in the struggle in order to share in the victory.

When you have emerged from the deep wilderness canyon of depression, help show someone else the way out.

The way depression feels to me: What I want to do, I cannot. I hate doing nothing, but that is what I do. I have the desire to do what is good and healthy, but I cannot. Great guilt follows because I do not do the good I want to do.

Dreams live when you are depressed, but there is no energy to pursue them. Unrealized goals turn into guilt. Outside there is evidence of life, but inside is the stench of death and decay. Can these dry bones live again? I will dare to hope.

depression-hurts

Someone who has struggled with depression reached out to me this week. He shared his journey and prayed for me. We who walk through depression are a fellowship of survivors. I was helped by others. I have helped others. Doing this we all make it through another day.

I’ve entered another episode of depression. Sleepless, troubling and turbulent dreams, motivationless, and feelings of worthlessness. Pressing on by God’s grace.

It’s been a very bad day. Angry. Hurt. Emotionally depressed. Isolating. It’s true what they say, the ones you love the most inflict the severest pain. Thank God for a supportive and understanding spouse. I’ll be glad to worship tomorrow and be with friends.

Depression and introspection add tremendous weight to an already troubled soul.

Whatever your mental health status, expend energy on relationships. The payback will be greater than you give.

IBS and depression are related. IBS can be severe enough to cause depression and depression can be severe enough to cause IBS.

Dilemma: One medication controls my IBS. Another controls my depression. I can’t take them together. I pray the IBS is temporary so I can get back on my depression meds. Sometimes you really can’t have your cake and eat it, too. Sometimes there are no good choices available.

Me in excruciating pain from IBS severe depression. Dr: “I’ve seen worse.” Me thinking: WELL I’VE NEVER FELT WORSE. Med schools need classes in bedside manner, compassion, empathy and emotional care for patients. That was 20 years ago and I still hear him dismiss my experience as trivial.

You ever have one of those “bad mood” days? You’re not quite sure how you got into such a bad mood and you’re not quite sure how to get out of it. Well, that’s the kind of day I’ve had. Thankfully, a new day dawns in just a few hours.


THOUGHTS ON PAIN AND COMPASSION

Believing, even when you can’t see past the struggle, pays off!

Although great pain causes great sadness and great sorrow, it also gives us an opportunity for great growth, great compassion, and great victory.

When people are hurting and in emotional pain, they don’t need to hear our pious prose; they need to hear our poetry of silent empathy and compassion.

“Sudden loss . . . is a startling reminder of our total dependence on God. When we experience the fiery furnace of suffering . . . God’s loving purpose is to make us pure and strong.” Unknown author

empathy-4181896_960_720

The Apostle Paul decided he would rather be weak with God’s presence than be strong without it. Regardless the trial. The suffering. The loss. The pain. The humiliation we may go through, to emerge nearer to God and stronger in Him is worth the experience.

For me, dreams used to be unimportant. They were more a reflection of what I had to eat the night before than having any correspondence to reality. I’m not so sure anymore. Dreams can be a window into the desires of the heart. And the conflicts of the soul.

If you need empathy, find someone who has known pain and learned from it. The bitter cannot help because they cannot see beyond their own pain. Those who have never experienced pain cannot help because they have no basis for understanding.

We learn far more from those who struggle and overcome than we do from those who have not trials.

Don’t tell me you’re praying for me if I’m hungry and you can feed me. Naked and you can clothe me. Lonely and you can sit with me. In prison and you can visit me. Mourning and you can cry with me. Hurting and you can help me. Don’t tell me you’re praying for me if you can be the answer to my prayers.


I don’t want to leave this life saying, “I used to be . . .” I want to go proclaiming, “I am . . .” I would rather wear out then rust, be used up then mold or spoil.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

MOODY, MOODIER, MOODIEST

“I just feel sad.” Those were the words that stumbled out of my mouth as I sat across from my therapist last week. It was a confession. Assessment. Resignation.

Although I didn’t consciously do so, I had uttered the words describing the first symptom of clinical depression. A “Depressed mood most of the day, nearly every day.” (DSM V)

Major depression is classified among the mood disorders. The others include bipolar, cyclothymic, disruptive mood dysregulation, dysthymia, and premenstrual dysphoric. Any one of these can cause significant distress or interrupt normal functioning.

shutterstock_1060449161A mood can be defined as a “state of mind or feeling.” It is the predominant emotion. Prevailing attitude. Affective state.

Words that describe a depressed mood include: Gloomy. Melancholy. Hopeless. Miserable. Sad. Blue. Unhappy. Lifeless. Down. It is feeling sad even when you have reasons to feel happy.

One woman described her depression as feeling “something close to nothing.” She wasn’t excited about anything. Everything was “meh” to her. A recent trip to New Zealand – “meh.” A new puppy – “meh.” Life was just “meh!”

Clinical depression is more than the occasional blue day. It is persistent sadness. Tenacious hopelessness. Determined emptiness. Inconvenient tearfulness.

Tiredness, irritability, and anger may be symptomatic of a depressed mood in a man. While women may exude sadness, express worthlessness, or feel guilt. There is often pessimism about the future. Distorted thinking. And impressions inconsistent with the circumstances.

A common piece of advice given to a person with depression is, “Well, you need to pull yourself up by your bootstraps.” Besides being an impossible task for a healthy person, for a depressed person the energy required to attempt such a trick is simply nonexistent.

Depression is a mood that interferes with your work. Relationships. Social activities. It is like the man who came to dinner who refuses to leave. He gets needier and more demanding until your day is consumed with his care.

Grief or loss has its similarities with depression, but they are not the same. Grief and loss are natural. The sadness of grief is often interrupted by moments of happy memories and laughter. And, unlike depression, grief does not wreak havoc with your self-perception.

With major depression sadness envelopes one like a wrapping machine around a pallet of boxes refusing to let go. Worthlessness dominates. Self-loathing is common.

As I sat down with my new psychiatrist, I mumbled, “I’m depressed.” “You look depressed,” was his immediate retort.

Depression has a look about it that is observable.

Slumping posture. Disheveled dress. Hapless grooming. Furtive eye contact. Retarded psychomotor activity. Shoveling gait. Slow, muted, halting speech. Flat, emotionless affect.

Hostility, anger, helplessness, or pessimism may be present.

In the presence of one with depression you may begin to feel uneasy. At a loss what to say or do.

I have struggled with major depression for the past 21 years. Although not continuously, nine of those years included severe clinical depression. The intervening times have been marked by dysthymia. There were times when my mood was very, very dark.

My survival through it all, then and now, is based on three pillars:

  • A belief in the providential grace of the LORD God Almighty,
  • An active faith, and
  • Hope.Patience-3-400x400

“Hope,” the ancient theologian, Tertullian, once said, “is patience with the lamp lit.” With every fiber of your being look toward the light. However dim it may become, the light of hope will lead you through to another day. One day at a time.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE WISDOM OF KNOWLEDGE

“Ignorance is bliss.”GettyImages_587169617.0

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you.”

“Knowledge hurts.”

If you have lived long enough and experienced the vicissitudes of life, you know the above statements, on their face, are absurd.

There is no virtue, no reward in oblivion.  Ben Franklin thought, “An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest.”

Knowledge is power. To willfully remain ignorant is to welcome exploitation. What you don’t know may not only hurt you, but it may also kill you.

Admittedly there is a certain pain in knowing. But we cannot know happiness without sadness. Beauty without dread. Hope without despair. Health without suffering.

The subject of knowledge is broad.

  • There is educational knowledge – the accumulation of facts. A good education does not give you answers to all of life’s mysteries, but it does help you to ask better questions.
  • There is philosophical knowledge – what can be known and to what extent. Awareness. The processes of arriving at conclusions.
  • My interest lies in ethical or moral knowledge. It is the ability to distinguish between right and wrong. Good and evil. Justice and injustice. Fair and unfair. Equal and unequal. Better and best.

 

Moral knowledge assumes two things. There is a giver. And there is an agreed upon code.

Dr._James_NaismithA crude example is the game of basketball. The giver was Dr. James Naismith. He created basketball in December of 1891 in Springfield, Massachusetts. The rule book he wrote is the code by which the game is played. Both the giver and the code are known.

Without a giver, there would be no basketball. Without a code, there could be no game. If each player determined his/her own rules, chaos would result.

For me, the Giver of moral knowledge is an omniscient God who is holy. In other words, God knows everything and is always right and good and just. The code book is God’s word. Both God and God’s word is knowable.

Without a Giver, there is no such thing as ethics or morality. Without a code, life in this world is untenable. If there are no agreed upon rules, then each of us are a rule unto ourselves. Anarchy is the result.

Knowledge is greater than riches.

With it comes stability. Humility. Understanding. Prudence. Discretion. Discernment. Judgement. Albert Einstein held, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” Wisdom is a product of knowledge. Although you can have knowledge without wisdom, you cannot have wisdom without knowledge.

Geeta S. Lyengar said, “Knowledge has a beginning but no end.” To grow in moral or ethical knowledge is to serve justice. Reject arrogance. Love truth. Seek instruction. Accept correction. To not talk before understanding. To not take a position before knowing the facts. To lead without lording over others.

In the quest for character one seeks to know how to live well and puts it into everyday practice.

Maya Angelou penned, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” There is no condemnation in not knowing. But willful ignorance is no excuse. And knowledge without moral and ethical performance is indefensible.

At the beginning of his reign, King Solomon prayed, “I am as a little child who doesn’t know his way around. . . Give me an understanding mind so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between what is right and what is wrong.” (The Living Bible)

I make that my prayer too. Will you join me?

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE TEETER-TOTTER EFFECT

Seesaw-aaIt is called a teeter-totter in my home town. To others it is known as a seesaw. Whatever the name of this once ubiquitous playground toy, it reminds me of the emotional ride of my mood disorder. And how vulnerable I am to the intentional or unintentional designs of others.

The purpose of a teeter-tooter is to find balance. Level. The closer the weight of each participant the greater the enjoyment. This way the beam and fulcrum operate most smoothly as riders take turns lifting their mate into the air.

However, if there is an imbalance between the players or one has a sadistic streak the results can be disastrous. If one person hits the ground too hard it can cause the other to tumble forward off the ride in a lunging motion. Or if an individual suddenly exits at the bottom the other falls swiftly and dramatically to the ground. Either way injury may result.

It is an apt illustration of my precarious emotional state as I walk through my current depressive episode. The goal is emotional stability. Balanced mood. But there are often uncontrollable outside forces that can contribute to an abrupt crash.

I’ve known both the supportive and injurious player in the past couple of weeks.

The feelings of worthlessness, aimlessness, and uselessness are common to we who experience depression. Such is my lot.

To combat this frame of mind my counselor suggested I keep a record of my activities for a week.

Made bed daily. Loaded dishwasher. Did dinner dishes. Kept appointment withmaxresdefault psychiatrist and counselor. Attended group. Did the laundry. Shopped at Walmart. Washed truck. Wrote and published an article for my blog. Called the Department of Motor Vehicles about our new-to-us car. Picked up prescriptions. Straightened out a bill with my cell phone carrier. Dropped our grandchildren off at church. Vacuumed carpet. Set up an account for our college-bound granddaughter. Attended church.

It was a helpful and encouraging exercise. I was more active than I thought. Useful. Perhaps thoughtful. My teeter-totter was ascending and descending in a controlled manner.

And then the phone rang.

It was one of those conversations that, by the end of it, cause you to feel like you are responsible for all the ills of the world from the time of your birth.

It is my fault that John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated.

I am responsible for the Vietnam War, Watergate, and the fall of a presidency.

Runaway inflation, high unemployment, and Iran-Contra all happened because of me.

Bill Clinton’s affair, O. J. Simpson’s crime, Princess Di’s accident – that was all me.

9/11, the second Gulf War, political gridlock, and Donald Trump can all be laid at my feet.

Or so I’m told.

No amount of reason can persuade my antagonist otherwise. Clarence Darrow, F. Lee Bailey, Mary Jo White, Alan Dershowitz, and Johnnie Cochran combined could not get me a merciful judgement, let alone an acquittal. I am guilty and the truth cannot set me free.

wciGykXsPfOBULY-800x450-noPadMy teeter-totter crashed.

Every speech, every piece of writing, every communication has to answer the “so what?” question. So, what is the purpose of this article?

  • First, even in a state of severe depression you are of far more worth and value than your brain is telling you at the moment.
  • Second, the people who get on the teeter-totter with you can bring you increasing joy or great sorrow. As much as you are able, protect yourself from toxic playmates. Remember, most likely, you are not anything like who they say you are.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #17

Depression, paranoia, and a dissociative episode resulted in me committing some crimes. I very little memory of what I did, but I took/take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence in a county jail in Kentucky. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

letters from jail 6

Dear_____ July 25 – 28, 2013

  • As the Cell Turns

Good morning. I’ve been up since 4:00 AM. My shower is finished. My whites have been sent to the laundry. And my devotions are done.

Last night Page and I were writing letters. I encouraged him to bear his heart to his wife. (She’s in jail, too.) We compared excerpts from our writing. It was a fun exercise in helping him to expand his thinking beyond “sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll.”

I’ve been weight training and walking since coming to jail . I’ve been doing various strength building exercises for my arms and chest. These younger pups love to see the old man exercise.

  • Jailhouse Chapel

We got to sing in church today. It was fun. It’s disappointing that the old songs of the past are fading. Maybe we need to put new tunes to them and update the language. If they pass out of use much will be lost. (I’m sure someone said the same thing about the Ambrosian chant.)

The sermon was good. The focus was, “Be Still and Know that I am God.” Good service.

The chaplain gave me some music. I’m looking forward to singing more. I don’t have a strong ear, but I love to sing. Mr. Houge and I often sing together in the cell .

  • Court Orders

I just got back from anger management class. We discussed some, but it’s mostly rereading what we’ve read in our homework assignment. There’s not a lot of new information for me since I used to teach anger management classes.

  • Humor in Tragedy

You said that you were fine with me being in jail. Could you tell me why I’m in jail so I can be fine with it, too?

  • Reconnecting with God

John Wesley wrote that to restrain sin in our homes we must lead “by example” and “by persuasion.” He said we must restrain evil from our children “by advice, persuasion, reproof, and correction.” Correction to be used last “after all others have been tried and found ineffectual.”

It’s past noon. I stayed up late last night because I couldn’t sleep. It was 2:30 AM before I went to sleep. Then I was back up at 4:00 AM for med call and devotions. I like the quiet hours of the morning for my devotions. It’s before the TV is on and people are moving about.

This song came to mind today. “If I never had a problem, I wouldn’t know that God could solve them. I wouldn’t know what faith in God could do.” Character is built through trials.

  • Dealing with Depression

Stress makes my depression worse. It has to be severe and overwhelming or uncontrollable though. A single source of stress is not generally a problem. Last year my work started getting heavier and heavier. I got further and further behind. It was more than a double work load. But I managed it with some help from others at work. I did get depressed, but it was mild.

Then in January my marriage fell apart and C_____ and A_____ put so much pressure on me that I broke. It was more than I could handle. There was no relief. No getting away from it.

Several of my depressive episodes have been family related. Generally, with C_____ and A_____ ganging up on me. I can handle stress if it is not overwhelming and I can get relief or find refuge.

Absent a support network and with overwhelming stress, my depression deepens.

Before C_____ came back to live with me I was up by 5:30 AM on weekdays, 7:00 AM on Saturday, and 6:00 AM on Sunday. When tension started mounting, I would isolate more and more. By February I was only sleeping two hours a night. Some nights not at all.

I’m like a well-read book when I’m depressed. You know what’s coming next. Sleep can become an escape mechanism for me. Right now, I’m sleeping more because sleep is easy time.

  • Remnants of a 34-Year Marriage

I sent off my property settlement agreement to my lawyer today. It included only minor changes and I urged him to settle the matter very amicably. Although I’m glad the process is moving along, I’m sad that another marriage has failed – mine.

C_____ would agree to something that we discussed and then take it back. She blamed my powers of persuasion for her retractions. Oh, the baggage we carry from the past. How we protect ourselves without realizing we may hurt another. Do you know what I mean?

I supported C_____ when we separated, but she still went over $25,000 in debt. She can’t manage money, but always insisted on doing it.
I never expected to be divorced. I look back over the past 14 years and say, “What a waste.” But I would never have been satisfied with my decision to divorce if I had not put so much effort into trying to fulfill my vows.

One of the leaders on Wednesday night said things change. My full-blown depression changed everything. C_____ just couldn’t handle it. Perhaps it was too much insecurity. I don’t think she ever realized how much she contributed to and aggravated my depression. Enough said.

  • Salutations

Thank you for your words of care and concern. Thank you for sharing the lessons you learned through your pain in order that my pain may be eased. Thank you for being there.

Sincerely,

Jay

The LORD be with you.

FOR GOODNESS SAKE

Goodness – Moral excellence – Virtue – is typical of upright character. The Apostle Paul included it among the fruit of the Spirit. And the Apostle Peter said we were to add it to our faith.

But what is goodness?

Aristotle_Altemps_Inv8575

“Virtue means doing the right thing, in relation to the right person, at the right time, to the right extent, in the right manner, and for the right purpose.” That is the definition given by the Greek philosopher, Aristotle. With all deference to the classic thinker’s logic, he leaves a big hole.
What is right?

  • Doing the most good for the most people?
  • It depends on the situation?
  • Community or cultural norms?
  • Duty? Responsibility? Obligation?
  • It is unknowable because there are no moral absolutes?

If these conclusions are correct, then there is no standard for goodness. It is fluid.
I judge whether a pizza is good or not by comparing it to Art’s Pizza in my home town, Anderson, Indiana. Thin crust. Is it as good as Art’s? Thick crust. How does it match up against Art’s? Toppings? Sauce? Cheese? Taste? Art’s. Whether it is cardboard pizza from the frozen food section at the grocery store. Some franchise pizza from one of the many chains. Pizza from a local eatery. Or homemade. The goodness or badness of pizza,

ls

for me, has to pass the Art’s test.
Art’s is my objective pizza standard.

If I had no example of how good a pizza could be, then all the pizzas I’ve tried in three countries. Thirty-three states. Countless cities, towns, and villages would all be good, so-so, or bad based solely on my subjective opinion. By measuring all pizza by the quality of Art’s, I can know a good pie.

  1. God is good. Therefore, goodness is defined by the character and nature of God.
  • “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good.” (Psalm 107:1)
  • “No one is good – except God alone.” (Mark 10:18)
  • “Taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:8)

The goodness, – virtue, – moral excellence of God – is the aspirational goal of every person who wants to add to their faith and mature in the fruit of the Spirit. He is the objective standard.

His goodness is the example of the most good in every situation. The best in every community and culture. The responsibility of all citizens. His truth is the norm by which we judge truth. His justice informs our concept of justice. His character of holy love is the definition of righteousness.
We know what is good because we know God is good.

2. Goodness is active.
It is not enough that we “cease to do evil.” Murder. Perjury. Adultery. Theft. Covetousness.
We must “learn to do good. Seek justice. Rebuke the oppressor. Defend the fatherless. Plead for the widow.” (See Isaiah 1:10-17)

  • Why-doing-Good-deedPursue peace. (Hebrew 12:14)
  • Fight prejudice. (See James 2:1-7)
  • Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Clothe the naked. House the homeless. Be generous to the poor.
  • Practice hospitality.
  • Visit and protect the orphan.
  • Welcome the stranger.

If you want to be a person of character, for goodness sake add goodness.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

DEPRESSION’S DECREE

(Trigger Warning)

When we are young we ask, “What am I going to do with my life?” As we grow old wedepression-gq-7aug18_istock_b ask, “What have I done with my life?”

Over the summer my depression has gone from mild to moderate to severe. It’s a downward spiral I feel helpless to stop. Unlike other depressive episodes that were accompanied by significant stress and/or loss, this one presents with a harsh judgement of my life. Given time most of us can recover from overwhelming pressure and substantial setbacks. But how do you recuperate from life?

Perhaps, at my age, it is normal to review one’s life and wonder if it has been worthwhile. As I think about my own mortality it is easy to conclude that I have fewer days ahead of me than I had behind. On the one hand that thought gives me a sense of mission – to beat the last tick of time with meaningful purpose. On the other hand, the presence of depression nurtures a feeling of failure.

d5768a95520139d7ef460e8d625bebe0Winston Churchill, the leader of the British Empire during World War II, experienced several bouts of depression during his lifetime. Here was a man that successfully stared down the despotism of Hitler and the tyranny of Stalin, but at the end of his life he reflected, “I’ve worked very hard and achieved a great deal only to achieve nothing at the end.” I’m no Churchill, but I understand the feeling of nothingness. Worthlessness. Insignificance. Uselessness.

As my depression deepens, I sit around mindlessly watching TV with little energy or motivation to do much of anything else. As a result I feel worse. It is a vicious cycle. Aimlessness breeds lethargy. Lethargy breeds aimlessness. Cold, flat emotions. Endless seeking without finding. Pleasure missing.

Another aspect of my depression appeared early Sunday morning. As I watched a video of a couple of my peers recounting the beginnings of their very successful careers, it was like a mirror reflecting my own failures. They have yet to reach the pinnacle of their profession. And I am at the nadir of mine. It is not a very pretty picture.

Intellectually, I know that most of the above is rubbish. It is the defeatist feelings of a man in deep despair.

Marlin disheartedly slumped down in the chair across from mine. Discouraged, he spewed out how spiritually empty he felt. I looked straight into his eyes and asked how long it had been since he slept. He confessed that it had been more than 24 hours. Working non-stop. “When you are tired is the worse time for self-evaluation,” I said. “Sometimes the most spiritual thing you can do is take a nap.”

The fog of severe depression is no time to shine a light onto one’s existence. The brighter the illumination the greater the haze. But, unfortunately, such things accompany the dragon. It is the nature of the beast.

I’m not looking for platitudes of praise or tales of importance. After 21 years of recurrent severe depression, I know my own resilience.

The Christian comedian and singer, Mark Lowry, said, “I’ve got a great scripture for you,phpThumb_generated_thumbnail

if your heart ever gets broken. This is my favorite scripture, it’s my life verse. I love this verse. It says this: ‘And it came to pass.’ I love that verse, don’t you? ‘And it came to pass.’ It didn’t come to stay. It came to pass! No matter where you are on that experience it will pass. . . No matter where you are in your life, it will pass. Did you have a bad year last year? Hold on, it will pass. . . No matter what you are going through, this too shall pass.”

I have hope this too shall pass.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #16

letters from jail 6Depression, paranoia, and a dissociative episode resulted in me committing some crimes. I don’t remember much of what I did, but I took/take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence in a county jail in Kentucky.  These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually with only minor editing. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

Dear _____                                                                                                                         July 22, 2013

I’m doing laundry today, actually just my towel. I send it out twice a week to the laundry, but it’s just not clean enough. So, I’m doing it by hand. A couple of the guys do all their clothes by hand.

We have three racks open. One got shipped and another went to work. Three new people could change the dynamic of the cell. It is quiet right now and I hope it stays that way.

P_____ is mad at God. I’ve talked to him about good and evil and how that is a proof of God. I’ve also discussed with him how living a sinful life perpetuates the presence of evil in the world.

K_____ is discouraged that God does not answer his prayer on his timetable. After nearly two years in jail with no end near, I guess a person can become impatient. We talked about waiting on God’s timing.

Thank you for sharing your pastor’s sermon with me. I long for the rich treasures of God. Spirituality is a strong pillar on which to build a life. I pray I never get to the point where spiritual insights and longing become secondary. “Seek first the kingdom of God” is my mantra. God indeed is my comfort. His grace is made perfect in my weakness.

It’s been quiet. Too quiet. I spent some time complaining to God today. Pouring out my heart about the possibility of probation. I let God see my heart and bared my soul to His gaze.

I really don’t know how I’m going to support myself when I get out of here. Applying for disability is an option. With wanton endangerment and assault charges, it is unlikely I could pass a background check.

It aggravates me that these guys with multiple drug charges can leave here and startNot-Hiring work the next day at some construction site. I’m a white-collar worker and my whole career is lost. I can keep my counseling license because I have no felonies. But I can’t see anyone hiring me. Perhaps I’m being too pessimistic. Maybe I don’t have faith to believe in this area.

I think my record could be expunged. But I don’t know how many years I have to wait.

My children have not contacted any of my side of the family. I fear the middle child is being isolated.

Oh, I’m reading Heaven by Joni Ericson Tada.

July 23, 2013

I received a proposed divorce settlement today. The offer looks mostly fair.

We got three new guys today. We’ll see what happens.

I just talked to my criminal lawyer. He said I could apply for expungement five years after the completion of my sentence. Jobs are going to be hard to come by with my charges. I don’t expect to be able to work in my field without some kind of intervention.

You wanted to know how I got charged with wanton endangerment. My guess, although I’m not positive, is when I went outside the house, “in public,” with a weapon. That complicated things and enhanced the charges. I know it added three charges that I would not otherwise have had.

July 24, 2013

Our AC is fixed and now I’m wearing my long johns. It’s cool here for July. 81 is the high and 59 for the low.anger-300x225

Depression causes anger.

Anger causes depression.

I finished my homework for my Anger Management class. It talked a lot about anger being a result of depression. I know I’m always going to have depressive symptoms, but I firmly believe a lack of support and understanding made my symptoms much worse and more severe. Knowledge promotes understanding. No knowledge was sought, therefore no understanding was gained or given. It’s good to see someone discuss depression as causation for anger rather than anger being a causation of depression.

After looking over the settlement, I think I’m pretty satisfied with it. There are some minor changes to be made. It looks like a fair and just conclusion.

During my pastoral visit today, the minister said I should pray for a dissolution of a union the Lord did not bless. I don’t know how to feel about that statement. I hate to think I lived 34 years in an unblessed marriage. Although looking back on it, there were several years that weren’t very blessed.

I don’t believe in divorce, but I’m getting one. I don’t believe in separation, but C_____ and I were separated five times. (Not by my choice.) I never used divorce or separation as a threat. They were not a part of my vocabulary. But when she left me for the fifth time with no hope of reconciliation, refusing to go to marital counseling, and refusing to make our marriage a priority, I felt like I had no choice. I just could not bear the prospects of another four-year separation. My marriage was a lie and I was tired of living a lie.

Thank you for your closing words in your last letter.

May the Lord be with you.

Jay

THE COST OF CHARACTER

Dr. William (Bill) Ury was one of the best professors I ever sat under. But he wasury_-_staff_photo TOUGH!

He came straight to the seminary I was attending from receiving his PhD. His vocabulary was none like I’d heard before. I thought I knew my theological jargon, but he used terms that were beyond my experience. Or any frame of reference. You learned pretty quickly to have a pen in one hand and a dictionary in the other.

And oh, did he talk fast. He had so much in that brilliant mind of his. It was as if he had to flood us with it all in one session before Jesus came back to earth again. By the end of a three-hour class your hand would ache from grasping that pen and writing nonstop. Good luck reading your penmanship, too. (This was before lap-tops became ubiquitous.)

He was quick to correct your improper use of terms or mispronunciations. As a small-town boy from Indiana, I was used to colloquialized pronunciations. I made the mistake of saying Cicero with a “C” in class. He was quick to say that “C’s” in Latin are pronounced with a hard “K.” I told him he better never ask where “Kicero” Lake Reservoir was in Central Indiana if he wanted anyone to understand what he was trying to find.

When the time came to take his first test, I had no idea what to expect. He gave us no hints.

I studied my notes. Read my books. The hour I had at work for lunch was spent studying. Any down time between classes found me in the library with my notes. At home before dinner. As soon as everyone was asleep. Before anyone woke up. I probably reviewed at stop lights. Forty hours later, I still didn’t feel prepared.

When that test was handed to me and I saw those compound questions, I thought my educational aspirations had ended.

I wrote down everything I knew and didn’t know. All I could remember and some things I couldn’t. Filled in with historical references. (He later told me he enjoyed reading my answers for all the history I included.) Used quotes I heard him say whether it was relevant or not. (I think I scored some points on that.) At last, I turned it in with very little confidence in my abilities.

“So, what is the point of your story, Jay?”

It is this.

I gave everything I had to achieve a good score on that test.

It worked.

“What does that have to do with ‘The Cost of Character,’ Jay?”

Character does not come cheap.

It takes diligence.

I use the term “character” here as a set of universal traits that make for a good person and citizen. It is more than personality. More than peculiarities that set you apart from everyone else. More than group or community standards.

It is a certain high moral quality that stands above the current of the moment. Or the flow of the age. It is principled. Ethical. Decent. Admirable qualities most of us appreciate, admire, and aspire to.

  • Loveql-character-matters
  • Patience
  • Kindness
  • Self-control
  • Faithfulness
  • Goodness
  • Knowledge
  • Godliness

This kind of “being” does not happen accidentally or naturally.

It requires effort.

2019-08-20-bolt-featured2Like an athlete training for the Olympics. Full time. Conscious determination. Strenuous resolve. Total commitment. Nothing left in reserve.

I received a good grade on that test because I left nothing on the table.

If you and I desire to be people of good character, we must be willing to pay the price.

Both the journey and the end result are worth it.

“Make every effort to add to your faith . . .”     II Peter 1:5

The LORD be with you.

Jay

DEPRESSION CHANGES YOU

“Well, of course depression changes you,” you might say knowingly.

1hypocriteMoodiness. Loss of interests in things once enjoyed. Weight loss or gain. Slowness of thought and physical movement. Fatigue. Insomnia or hypersomnia. Feelings of worthlessness. Inability to concentrate. Thoughts of death.

Depression changes relationships. Spirituality. Careers. Physical well-being. Economic circumstances.

That’s a list of negative changes. I have found there are positive changes, too.

  • Depression changed the way I identified myself. At one time I introduced myself by my job title. Depression taught me that my true worth is intrinsic and given by God. Nothing that I do or cannot do can take that away.
  • Depression changed the people I reach. Put-together-people are less a part of my life. They have been replaced with the hurting and ostracized. It is where I’m needed and where I feel the most useful.
  • Depression changed my marriage. I used to think of myself as having a wife. Now I think of myself as being a husband. It is a subtle difference with major consequences. The focus is not on what kind of wife I need. It is on what kind of husband I am. I don’t think of how much she should respect me, but how much I should love her. Not of what I expect of her, but what I can give her. Not what she should do for me, but how I can out serve her.
  • Depression changed my haughtiness. I learned humility. Dependence upon God. Interdependence on others. Being a lone ranger is a certain road to disaster. I tried it on my own and nearly died. I need God. I need others.
  • Depression changed by empathy level. I learned compassion through multiple experiences in my life. But none more so than living with clinical depression. A hurting person can take one of two roads. The road to bitterness. Or the road to identification with the pain of others. The former is where we get the saying, “Hurt people hurt people.” The latter are people of understanding. They can sit beside a hurting person and send volumes of comforting words without ever making a sound.
  • Depression changed my spiritual intensity. Between my third and fourth hospitalizations, I sought God like never before. Consuming the word and Christian writings. Drawing near to God. Growing in grace.

Depression disables. Destroys. Kills.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Lean Into the PainA counselor once told me I needed to “lean” into my pain. I didn’t know what he meant and couldn’t do what he asked.

I think I get it now, though. Except, I would change his word “lean” into “embrace.” It is when I embraced my depression that it became my teacher.

I’m still learning.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LEAST FAVORED STATUS

I am prejudiced.

DON’T STOP READING.Teacher-Favoritism-in-the-Virtual-Classroom-1024x383-1024x585

It’s one of the things that I like least about myself. And something I’ve tried to suppress with varying degrees of success.

My daughter is married to an African American man. I don’t care. He’s a good husband. My step-son is married to a Filipino woman and I have a Filipino sister-in-law. I don’t care. My step-granddaughter is half Hispanic. I don’t care. It doesn’t bother me.

I tried my best to raise my children color blind. They were reared in a community that included Africans from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, and Rwanda. Central Americans from Honduras and Mexico. Asians from Thailand, Japan, and South Korea. People from Haiti and the Islands of the Caribbean. Mixed race individuals. And Native Americans and Inuits from Arizona and Alaska.25289198_10156136316617867_7084262518135118264_n - Copy

They were all welcome in our home. Many graced our table. Stayed in our home. For some, we were their adoptive family for Christmas, winter and summer breaks. To my knowledge, I never treated one of them any different than the white students in our high school and college.

But there are three areas in which I struggle.

  • I see the color of a person’s skin before I see them.
  • I evaluate a person by the clothes s/he wears.
  • And I judge a person by his/her education.

One of the pastors of our church, Brett Mosher, spoke about prejudice and favoritism from James 2:1-9 a few Sundays back. He defined favoritism (prejudice) as

“judging inner worth by outward appearance.”

Ouch! Guilty. I still have work to do.

I’ve experienced prejudice.

When I transitioned from church to secular work, I confronted a host of obstacles. Employers saw my MDiv. degree and instantly assumed that I only knew about the Bible. It got so bad that I deleted it from my resume for some job interviews.

During my foster care years, I received all kinds of blow-back for being a man. One of my interview questions was, “Can you relate to teenage girls?” Several female social workers refused to let me counsel their female clients. Before they met me or knew my name. “You’re a man. You’re out!”

I can guarantee you with 100% certainty that no female interviewee was asked, “Can you relate to teenage boys?” And no female social worker ever objected to a female counselor for their male clients.

It used to bug me to death that I was being judged on my gender alone. I complained to my boss. He said it was the nature of the business. If you are a male in social work, you are suspect.

What hurts the most, though, is the prejudice I experience because of my mental illness.

I was promoted to supervisor over four programs. Separated and expanded two of them. And turned a profit for the agency in those departments. The first in several years.

Then I had my second major depressive episode and my first hospitalization. I was off work for about six weeks. Upon my return, they demoted me because, “We need supervisors on whom we can depend.”

Baloney! If I had had open heart surgery, there would be no question that my job would have been waiting. Parental leave after the birth of a child. Job waiting. Medical leave to care for my dying parents. Job waiting. Military family leave. Job waiting.

My mental illness cost me my supervisory position.

My continuing worth was judged by my major depressive disorder.

If you have a mental illness, you know my story is not unique.

I will continue the strugglemental-illness-stigma-quotes-on-mental-illness-stigma-that-speak-directly-to-D00d7c6b398bc5e9de3379262bb226eeb

  1. To conquer my own shortcomings.
  2. To advocate for respectful and equal treatment of people with a mental illness.
  3. To be a place of refuge for the hurting and a friend to the broken.

Fighting the good fight.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

MEMORIES HAVE THEIR PLACE

Memories are made up of people, places, and things. They are delightful and painful. Special and common. Heroic and fearful. Honorable and ignoble.

This past weekend my wife and I made a quick trip to Indiana from our home in Texas. We went to a place that is very special to both of us, the Frankfort Conference Center in Frankfort, Indiana.

It was there that we met. We stood in the spot where our mutual friend, Robin Grey, introduced us. Walked hand-in-hand around the tabernacle like we did 45 years ago. Tramped through the camping area. Strolled near “lovers lane” where we shared our first kiss. Stood in front of the camp bell for a picture.66495820_2150254671770377_1495413788906618880_n The camp is far more modern – air conditioning and padded chairs – than we ever enjoyed in the 1960’s and 1970’s. The single dorm rooms are suites now. The cabins modernized. Flower beds flourish. The playground updated.

Sadly, though, the attendance is a shadow of its former glory. The thousand or so pilgrims who journeyed annually to those hollowed grounds has dwindled to a couple hundred.

Still my heart leaps for joy when I step onto those grounds. The memories are not erased. I can hear myself singing, “If You’re Happy and You Know It,” with the other children in the tent set up for that purpose. Waiting in line as we descended the steps into the old basement dinning room. Sleeping in the pink dorms during junior and teen camp. (Thankfully they sided them in a different color.) Sitting on the old slatted pews as the services went on for an hour-and-a-half or more. Singing as we did the dinner dishes.

What makes places and things special, really, are the people we associate with them. Most of the ones I remember with fondness are but ghosts now. Their voices I hear. Their spirits I feel. But their bodies left long ago.

It’s good to remember. Rediscover your roots. Revisit your experiences. Renew your zeal. Reacquaint yourself with old friends. But, you cannot live there. You cannot, must not, rob yourself of today by clinging onto yesterday. 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

 

IN SEARCH OF IDENITY

“Who am I?” Everyone grapples with this question at some point in their life. The search for identity is one of our most defining moments and enduring quests.

You can find the answer to that question through your job description, “I am a carpenter.” Or by a relationship role, “I am a mother.” Belief system. Political conviction. Some allow others to identify them, “S/he is . . .”

A few weeks back our pastor read II Kings 5:1 from the Christian Old Testament.

002-moody-naaman

Now Naaman was commander of the army of the king of Aram. He was a great man in the sight of his master and highly regarded, because through him the Lord had given victory to Aram. He was a valiant soldier, but he had leprosy.” (NIV)

Notice the identifiers. He was known for what he did – “commander.” His notoriety – “great man.” His character – “highly regarded.” His accomplishments – victorious in battle. And his courage – “valiant.” Although he had a dreadful disease, “leprosy,” that was NOT who he was. Leprosy was NOT his identifying characteristic.

My mind raced to other historical figures that had significant challenges, but were not defined by them.

260px-FDR-Wheelchair-February-1941Franklin Delano Roosevelt was a state senator, governor of New York, vice-presidential candidate, and 32nd president of the United States. He guided the nation through two great crises – the Great Depression and World War II. He signed into law the social security act, established a federal minimum wage, and a 40-hour work week. Under his administration the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) was founded. His legacy includes hundreds of parks and other infrastructure projects built by the Civilian Conservation Corps. Yet, after contracting polio in 1921, he spent the rest of his life in a wheelchair.    

Abraham Lincoln was a lawyer, both a state and US representative, senatorial candidate,5a81cbc2d030729f008b457d-750-563 and 16th president of the United States. He signed into law the Homestead Act, land grant universities, and laws authorizing a transcontinental railroad. He issued the Emancipation Proclamation and guided the nation through the Civil War to save the Union. But Lincoln had two major depressive episodes as a result of complicated grief and melancholia that dogged him most of his adult life.  

As a person with a severe recurrent major depressive disorder it would be easy for me to let my mental illness define me. But that is not who I am. I am a husband, father, grandfather, brother, uncle, cousin, friend. Pastor. Counselor. Writer. Blogger. Follower of Jesus Christ.

On Twitter I follow several organizations and individuals who identify with the mental health community. Some people talk only about their mental illness. Unfortunately, it has become their primary identifying characteristic.

This is often reflected in our culture, too, by the labels assigned to people with a mental illness. “He is a schizophrenic.” “She is bi-polar.” “He is autistic.” “She is an alcoholic.” “He is a drug addict.”

STOP IT! You are more than your diagnosis. People are NOT their disease, addiction, or disorder.

Who are you? You are the things you do. The relationships you have. The values you possess. The beliefs you enjoin. The dreams you imagine. The goals you pursue.

Leprosy did not define Naaman. Polio did not define FDR. Depression did not define A. Lincoln. Don’t let what you have define who you are.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay