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

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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.

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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

THREE YEARS ON WORDPRESS

Yesterday, July 5, I celebrated three years on WordPress. Three years for my blog, DEPRESSION and RESTORATION. In that time I have written over 150 articles. Nearly 200,000 words. Enough to fill an 800-page book.

Not everything has been great or even good. But there have been moments when I exceeded my own expectations. Occasionally, after completing a sentence or paragraph, I will ask myself, “Did I just write that? It’s not bad. Pretty good, maybe.” There is something to be said for that sense of satisfaction one gets from a job well done.
Why Did I Start Writing?
The primary reason I started writing was therapeutic. Writing, for me, is release. It is

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sharing with a screen and an unseen audience my innermost thoughts and feelings. Strong emotions find voice with my pen. Pain screams at the touch of the keys. Failure. Defeat. Hurt. Abandonment. Depression. PTSD. Brokenness. Loss. Jail. They all find expression on paper.
I had a story to tell. Like the picture at the top of my blog, my life was a burned-out shell. Ugly. Scarred. But, by the grace of God, I was determined to overcome. Rebuild. Restore. Most antique dealers will tell you that you ruin the value of a piece if you make it look like it’s new. The bite marks on the rail of a crib tell a story. Restoring my life did not and does not mean taking the gray out of my beard. The wrinkles from my brow. Or the sag out from under my eyes. No, those things are a part of me. A part of me that I wanted to share.

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I had a message to proclaim. Perhaps, I believed, there is someone who can relate with my experience. Understand my struggles. Identify with my pain. In that moment, that someone is no longer alone. No longer isolated. Maybe I could speak for the person struggling to live with a mental illness. Give voice to the minister who was defrocked. Express the feelings of a career ended long before you thought it should be over.

Together we could commiserate. Release unfulfilled dreams. Learn to forgive and be forgiven. Seek understanding. Gain wisdom. Empathize. Give love and compassion. Revive and renew. Live.
Why Do I Keep Writing?

I still need therapy. I still have a story to tell. I still have a message to share. I must still face “the agony of defeat.” I still want to share “the thrill of victory.”

However, beyond all of the above, the pastor and counselor inside of me wants to walk with you in your darkness and help you discover the light. Although I try to be more descriptive than prescriptive, I want you to know faith, hope, and love. To find a way out. To cope. To survive. To thrive. AA Step 12 reminds us, with our spiritual awakening and practicing the principles for a life worth living, we now carry that message to others.

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The song written by David Whittley and the version sung by Mahalia Jackson expresses my purpose well.

If I can help somebody as I go along
If I can cheer somebody with a word or a song
If I can show somebody that is traveling wrong
Then my living shall not be in vain

Chorus
Then my living shall not be in vain
Then my living shall not be in vain
If I can help somebody as I go along
Then my living shall not be in vain
Then my living shall not be in vain

If I can do my duty as a good man ought
If I can bring back beauty to a world that’s so wrought
If I can spread love’s message as the Master taught
Then my living shall not be in vain

Thank you for reading.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #15

Depression, paranoia, and a dissociative episode resulted in me committing some crimes. I don’t remember much of what I did, but I 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.

Started July 18, 2013

Today is A…’s birthday (my son). He’s 28. He made me a better father and a more compassionate man. No one’s heard from (my wife and children). They’ve cut (themselves) off from my side of the family. A… may be working at Wal-Mart now. I hope he can handle it. He can’t take criticism. He doesn’t understand. How I love this boy.

My brother (J…) sent me a card today. He’s faithful about writing.

I got turned down again for work. (One day’s work knocks off one day from your sentence.) But they weren’t so final about it this time. “At this point you won’t be allowed to work,” it said. If I’m still here, I’ll try again in September.

I still have so much growth to go. Tonight, I almost got thrown in the hole. A supervisor07UVm9543X63BRd689Ob2leqGv3fvDSfUMu0yAzHEm4 came in to spray for bugs. Because the AC is out there is a fan blowing in what little air we get. He sprayed right into the fan. It went all over me and several other guys. We all jumped and pointed out what he did. He treated us like cattle and took no responsibility.

I told him my skin was sensitive and it had sprayed in my eyes. He and I traded words. He threatened to throw me in the hole if I didn’t shut up. I shut up.

That level of disrespect and rudeness brings out my angry side. If he had accepted responsibility, I wouldn’t have had a problem with it. But arrogant behavior brings out my bad side.

Oh, will I ever learn to ignore disrespectful behavior of no significant consequence? It’s my most persistent and troubling weakness. “O wretched man that I am. Who will deliver me from this body of death?”

July 21, 2013

We had church today. There was a young man baptized.

There’s no music so I asked for a song book. The chaplain was really receptive.

A couple of the guys and me are sharing devotional thoughts for the day. In John 17 Jesus prays for us. He said, “I pray for them.” Think of it. Jesus prayed and prays for you and me. What an awesome God.

This morning I was reading from (John) Wesley. He said we can say “Lord, Lord,” and do good works and still miss the light. I want that true religion that is “pure and undefiled.”

It’s hot here. 103 degrees. We have been getting regular showers though. There must be some flooding in the area today from what the chaplain said.

GreenBeans225We had fresh green beans from the jail garden last night.

I play cards with the guys. During the Civil War men would burn their cards before a battle so their mothers wouldn’t know they had been gambling. I don’t like to play with face cards. But this is jail.

How I long to be free of these chains.

 

The LORD be with you,

Jay

IF I HAD IT TO DO OVER AGAIN

Image result for shirley templeShirley Temple Black, a legendary child actor and later an ambassador to Ghana and the Czech Republic, said, “If I had it to do all over again, I wouldn’t change anything. I probably would have paid for the pleasure of working.” Really? No regrets? No sorrow through which you wished you had not walked? No pain you would have rather avoided? Change nothing?

Well, I envy such contentment with one’s life, but I’m not party to that kind of perfection. When being disciplined my granddaughter often says, “I want a do- over.” There are places, people, things, words, and actions for which I would like a do-over, too.

If I had it to do over again there are three things (at least) I would change. I would:

  1. Listen more and Speak less.

When I think back upon my youth, I cringe. Sometimes I bow my head and cry from my heart, “O Lord forgive me.” Someone should have told me to “shut-up and sit down.” Image result for arroganceBut I was proud of the knowledge I had accumulated and the opinions I had formulated. Surely, others would see the reasonableness of my position and submit to the power of my persuasiveness. Ha! How arrogant.

Since then I have learned that you have to earn the right to speak. People are not interested in the things you have to say until you have impacted their lives and proven your strengths. Upon graduation from a military academy you do not begin as a general. You begin as a second lieutenant. And nobody much listens to second lieutenants. For a while they’re even lower than sergeants and corporals.

You have to wait until you have the authority to speak, have earned the voluntary attention of your audience, and have a worthwhile contribution to make.

You also have to wait until you have the wisdom to speak. I was full of knowledge and ideas. But the accumulation of facts does not equal the ability to apply those facts. The best idea given out of season or in a wrong manner is lost upon its hearers.

Wisdom comes with age and experience. Rex Bullock, a very respected minister and speaker, once told me that great pastors do not get that way until they have been through the dungeons of despair and the agony of affliction.

With wisdom you learn when and how to share your knowledge and ideas. 

  1. Keep my head in the clouds but my feet firmly planted on the ground.Image result for head in the clouds feet on the ground

There have been times in my life when I was painfully idealistic without an awareness of how things really were. In the first church I pastored I had an extremely rude awakening that sent me spiraling into doubt and confusion. When idealism crashes into reality, it can leave a severely injured heart and soul.

Even so, I still want to be idealistic. Committed. Principled. Uncompromising. However, you must realize and acknowledge all of humankind is flawed. Not everyone who professes to have the same principles you have will live up to them. Perfection is for another world. Until then growth is the optimum standard.

  1. Catch others being good rather than bad.Image result for wanted for good behavior

Every society must have law and order, or it descends into anarchy. With law, however, there must be grace. I fear I have been far too much law with far too little grace. Both are necessary, but they must be kept in balance.

If we praise our children for the good deeds they do as much or more than correcting them for the bad, what kind of home would we have? What would you think if a police officer gave you a ticket for being good accompanied by a free meal? I wonder.

Many of us, I suppose, have dreams of going back to make things right. Alas, we can’t. What we can do is press toward the goal and make the days ahead what we wish they would have been. Image result for press toward the mark

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

FATHER’S DAY FOR THE HURTING

From the time I was 18 or 19 I was keenly aware that holidays, although celebrated by468739_480p_thumbnails1 most, can be difficult for some. New Year’s can mean more of the same failure as last year. Memorial Day may bring painful memories. Thanksgiving can find one searching for something to be thankful about. Christmas can be grim when the space around the tree is empty.

Mother’s Day and Father’s Day can be very troubling for some. Women cry for the children they never had. Men slip away into silence and dream about what never was. Mothers grieve for the baby born too soon to survive. Fathers mourn alone with the hurt they hide.

During my years of ministry, I have attended to sorrowing families at many funerals. Openly weeping. Wailing. Screaming. Fainting. But the ones that I thought were the saddest were the ones at which no one showed any emotion. During one such service it was only the heart wrenching tones of taps playing in the distance that jerked a tear from anyone’s eye. At another I heard a daughter tell her concerned sons that she was okay because “he (her father) killed my love a long time ago.”

As a foster care therapist, I saw children who had been burned by a parent. Caged like an animal. Locked in closets. Beaten. Sexually molested. Neglected. Abandoned. Children like these do not grow up to celebrate Mother’s or Father’s Day. The filthy dregs of humanity’s worse putrefy in their minds. Kill their spirits. And threaten their souls. Days like this when most of us are filled with happy thoughts, they feel the chill of innocence lost far too soon.

Often the way we were treated by our parents, especially our fathers, corrupts our view of God. Uninterested parents may have offspring that think God is indifferent. Untrustworthy parents can leave the impression that God is unreliable. Abusive parents scar the minds of their children so that they may think God is cruel. Judgmental parents may lead children to believe in a “gotcha” God. Overindulgent parents can have children thinking God is permissive.

These warped views of God may take years to correct. And they may never fully be set aside. It can leave a seeking soul wandering. A lost soul hopeless. Directionless.

This may seem like a heavy subject for Father’s Day. But I know the burden of a father estranged from his children. Arms open wide with no one to be embraced by them. I’ve observed the agony of a child who wants so desperately to love and be loved. But the adults in their lives are not capable to give them what they need.

There is hope. One of the foster parents I worked with told me he received about 17 calls on Father’s Day from children who saw him as their father figure. Adoption. Mentoring programs. Grandparents and other family members stepping up to fill the role of mother or father as best they can.

There is hope. As a little boy my father would belly up to the bar and drink grape Nehis purchased for him by men who frequented the place. Over in the corner at another table, he watched his father gamble and drink his paycheck away. It was there, in that den of debauchery, that my father determined he would never get addicted to either alcohol or gambling. And he never did.

There is hope. Joel Hemphill wrote, “We have a Heavenly Father above with eyes full of mercy and a heart full of love. He really cares when Your head is bowed low. . . (And) He’s not too busy to care about you.”

The Lord be with you.

 

Jay

CATCHING UP

As Gene Autry sang, “I’m back in the saddle again.”gene-autry-red-portrait-circa-1960-billboard-1548

My class went really well. I started off very nervous and speaking rapidly, but I settled down. After getting home from each class I felt exhausted. But it was a good feeling. Although it was planned that I teach through the Pentateuch, I barely completed Genesis. Next spring I get to finish the study picking up with Exodus. God is good.

Depression has followed me for several months now. It’s not severe but I know it’s there. Moodiness. Voracious appetite. Isolation. Shutting down. Irregular sleep. Feelings of uselessness, worthlessness, and aimlessness.

“I don’t know how I get into such moods and I most assuredly do not know how to get out of them. It’s like being in a funnel. Once you are caught in its vortex there is no escaping until you are flushed out the bottom.” (April 1, 2019) No fooling!Image result for dropping out of a funnel

I wrote this in my journal on April 8, 2019. “It was a good week. It was a bad week. (Thanks to A Tale of Two Cities for that line.) Depression dogged me at both the beginning and ending of the week. . . I am a man of big dreams with little to no chance of seeing them come to fruition. I know my worth in Christ Jesus, but my value to the Kingdom of God, the brotherhood of man, and my family is questionable.” Such are the musings of the depressed. 

PTSD continues to disturb my sleep with dreams, fights, talking, yelling, kicking, crying, and etc. Do people really know and understand the pain of memories? The dread of sleep? I’m sure many do.

When you are estranged from family, although every effort has been made to reconcile, feelings can be pretty raw on certain days. Holidays. Birthdays. Special events. I missed a high school graduation this year. Rites of passage are particularly difficult.

Not all things have been so gloomy. Our grandson joined the band and chose to play the trombone. He scored a 100% on his ear test. Image result for happiness

My wife’s stepdaughter got married. It was a delightful event. Even the children enjoyed themselves.

My granddaughter won first place in a music contest and received a $1000.00 college scholarship. One proud Papa, here.

My wife came through surgery successfully and is recovering quite nicely. She was a good patient. Easy to care for. Because of my depression we both worried if I was up to the task of caring for both her and the children full time. With God’s help I was equal to the challenge. 

I was reading in the Christian Old Testament book of Joshua yesterday. There is a recurring phrase, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you.” It reminded me that God was the same only the leader had changed. Although the task or circumstances or illness may seem daunting, remember God is constant in the midst of change.

The LORD be with you,

Jay

 

A SOLDIER’S STORY

According to our family historian there has been a member of our family in every major war in which the United States has been involved since the Revolutionary War. The following is the story of my uncle, William Earl Shuck, who answered the call of his country during World War II.

When the United States entered the War after Pearl Harbor, Uncle William was first given a deferral because his job was essential to the war effort. But by 1944 the need for men was so great that he was mustered in on March 25 at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indianapolis, IN. After boot camp at Fort Hood in Killen, TX, he was assigned to the Rolling W of the 89th Infantry at Camp Butner in Durham, NC. From there he left his pregnant wife and shipped out to Lattarve, France from Boston, MA. and on to the war zone on the Rhine River preparing to cross over into Germany.

Uncle William’s first taste of combat was a baptism by fire. One historian of the 89th described the crossing of the Rhine on March 26, 1945. “[The] first wave attacked across the river from St. Goar at 0200, directly at the town of St. Goarshausen, a natural fortification. The river is about 300 yards wide there. On the trip across they met point–blank, grazing fire just above the water from machine guns and 20 mm anti-aircraft weapons. The defenders had ignited a number of river barges on the St. Goarshausen side, thus lighting up the river clearly and the vulnerable assault boats on it. Also, German artillery, mortar, and 88 mm fire fell on the west shore. There were no friendly artillery preparations for the attack because it was planned as a surprise. The surprise was that so many men made it – getting ashore with their helmets, rifles and ammunition.
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“Assault boats were smashed and sank, and numbers of men were killed, wounded, or missing. More than a few were lost in the turbulent current. Survivors were fortunate: many swam ashore or were picked up by other boats. Troops waiting to cross were driven behind walls and houses at St. Goar by the fire as they tried to deploy on the riverbank. Radio communications failed with the first wave on the east side, and only restored about 0430 that morning. The first wave of 2nd Battalion was cut off until well into the morning. To this day, survivors recall this scene as one from hell.”

From there the 89th set about clearing the province of Gotha. On April 4, 1945 they liberated the Ohrdruf concentration camp. “It was the first Nazi concentration camp to be liberated by the U.S. Army.”

Four days later while crossing a valley the Germans let loose with rifles, machine guns, mortars, 88 mm canons, tanks, and six anti-aircraft guns. The anti-aircraft gun was aimed just above its intended target. Upon explosion hundreds of metal fragments would go tumbling through the air ripping apart whatever was hit. Unlike a bullet that make a hole, shrapnel tore into and burned the flesh. Uncle William was hit in the back between his spine and hip leaving a six-inch gash an inch wide.

Because the Germans were zeroed in on that position, Uncle William refused to allow anyone to try to rescue him. He laid there from 4:15 to 8:30 PM before it was dark enough for help to get him to an aid station. There were so many wounded and killed strewn about the battle field that there were not enough litter bearers to tend to them all. A squad leader and his buddy Paul carried Uncle William three quarters of a mile to the nearest aid station. While lying there wounded another piece of shrapnel creased his helmet and put a big dent in it. An aid worker told him that the helmet saved his life, but Uncle William insisted it was God.

Once stabilized Uncle William was moved 90 miles behind the battle line to an evacuation hospital. He had to lay on his stomach and every bump in the road sent excruciating pain through his back. Two days after being wounded a surgeon removed two pieces of shrapnel, but he could not remove a third because of its proximity to the spine. With an open wound Uncle William was moved to a Paris hospital where the doctors finally closed his wound with 15 stitches.

The war ended while Uncle William was in the hospital. Upon release he rejoined his company as a part of the Army of Occupation with duty on the Enns River in Austria. His little girl was eight months old before he got to hold her.

Uncle William said of his service, “I was proud to serve my country, but I don’t wish to relive it, even in my memories. I’ve tried to block out as much of the war as possible. I never watch war movies because it brings back too many memories and nightmares.”

To all the Uncle William’s out there on this Memorial Day 2019, thank you for your service. Thank you for purchasing our freedom with your blood.

WHEN A FRIEND DIES

My friend died this past Friday. He had just turned 58. It was sudden and unexpected. I am crushed. I am hurt. I am shocked.

Image result for john neihofJohn and I met in 1991. He and I were beginning our teaching careers at a college in the Appalachian Mountains of Eastern Kentucky at the same time. We became fast friends. My children called him “Uncle John” and his children called me “Uncle Jay.” He was like a father to my youngest son when illness prevented me from filling that role.

John was very familiar with the college where we were teaching. He had been born there and completed an AA degree from there. It was all brand new to me. As the youngsters on the faculty, I guess we had less appreciation for tradition and staid propriety then those who had served there for decades. To others, I’m sure, it appeared irreverent.

All meals were served family style with a faculty or staff member as the host. It was a time to learn proper etiquette and table conversation. John and I set a new standard – laughter. Either his table or mine would interrupt the quiet and respectful tone in the dining room with uproarious laughter. And, to make a confession, we were mostly to blame for starting it. His was an infectious laugh and loud – oh so loud. Many times we received correcting stares from other faculty and staff, but it didn’t stop us. Finally, they grew used to our hilarity and occasionally led the way.

We both were dedicated to pouring our lives into our students. John was a master teacher – many testified that he was the best they’d ever had. He also cared. We often cried with our students, prayed with them, guided them, grieved over their failures, and celebrated their successes. He became the Vice President of Student Affairs and he appointed me as Dean of Men. Later, I got a burden for starting pre-marital counseling for couples who were planning to marry over the summer. He jumped right on board and was involved in the first couples to take advantage of the service. The program continues.  He also supported me fully in my efforts to get started accountability discipleship groups for spiritual growth. This continues, too.

During the summers we tag-teamed traveling with singing groups to raise funds, friends, and recruit. I was in charge of the music for the annual campmeeting. He was there to help me with the load alternating services. John loved music. Taught himself to play the guitar. Wrote songs (some of them quite unusual) and sang wholeheartedly. Even though my name was on the flyer as the song leader, he was much better than me. He would extend his arms as high and as broad as they could reach and use his body as exclamation as he led. He didn’t do things half-way. He was all in or all out. We both became campmeeting speakers and singers. But he took it to a whole other level. He became widely known and sought after within the broader Wesleyan Methodist churches.

We shared deep thoughts with one another and weren’t afraid to call each other out when necessary. I remember him telling me about some pain a family member had caused his dear wife. The emotion flowing from his mouth was raw as if it had happened yesterday rather than several years prior. Raising my head to look him in the eye, I said, “You have to forgive him.” “Oh, Jay,” he cried, “I thought I had.” He thanked me many times for helping him through that struggle. Another time we cried and prayed together over the pain and unnecessary grief caused by someone against his father. It hurt him deeply.

John loved his Kentucky Wildcats basketball. He was forever bragging on them. Being a Hoosier, I was an Indiana fan. He always wanted me to come up to his house and watch the annual UK/IU game. Kentucky almost always won, but one year I got bragging rights. He told me, “I wouldn’t have invited you up here to watch the game with me if I thought we were going to lose.” The year Christian Laettner tipped in a last-minute basket to make Duke NCAA Champions over Kentucky, I called him. He answered the phone crying. He was passionate about his Wildcats.

After my melancholia gave way to full-blown severe depression, I could count on John. In the middle of the night he would come and help me. He intervened when I scared my children. He was there when I had a gun in my hand ready to take my life.

Regrettably, we drifted apart. Five episodes of depression, four hospitalizations, two lost careers, and chronic instability will try the wherewithal of the most dedicated soul. I think he just didn’t know what to do anymore.

In recent years, I reached out to John again. When his sister was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer, I wrote him several times. He always responded with a gracious note thanking me for my prayers and concern. When she lost her battle with cancer less than four months ago, I kept in touch. In one of his last notes to me he said, “Love and appreciate you.”

I love and appreciate you too, John. Until we meet again.

THAT’S NOT FAIR

A Thought for the Beginning of Lent

Image result for that's not fair“No fair,” I can hear my grandson say while objecting to one thing or another. Most of the time I tell him, “Well, life’s not fair.” Sometimes I will ask him, “What’s not fair about it?” Either way, to him, he is getting robbed or taken advantage of.

I doubt the feeling of “fairness” goes away with maturity and adulthood. We long and work for a just world. We demand justice for the poor and the stranger among us. We insist that our rights be respected and we are quick to shout it out to the mountain tops if we perceive we’ve been shortchanged.

But when it comes to our relationship with God, we don’t want justice. We don’t want a fair deal. We don’t insist on what’s coming to us. We want mercy, grace, understanding, and forgiveness.

Psalm 103:10-13: “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him.”
God does not treat us as we deserve. Rebellion must be put down. Transgression negates reward. The ungodly nature must die. Sin requires crucifixion. This is fair. This is just. This is deserving.

Aren’t you thankful that God has not treated you fairly? Rather, God loved this world of humanity so much that He sent Jesus to be made sin for us. 2 Corinthians 5:21 states, “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” The sinless One became sin. God became flesh. He who had all things emptied Himself. The King became a servant. The exalted One came down. The One who we praise humbled Himself to die on a cross. (See Philippians 2:6-8)
We deserve punishment. God in Christ Jesus says, “Give them a reward.” We should die, God gives us life. We have sinned enough to earn our way to hell, God says, “Give them heaven.”

If we repent, we are transformed. When we believe, we become the children of God. If we confess our sins, we are forgiven and cleansed. When we reach out to receive, the door of our life is opened for Jesus to come in.

Wow! What a deal! The love of God is the moving cause for our rescue. The songwriters put it this way.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell
It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell . . .

Could we with ink the ocean fill
And were the skies of parchment made
Were every stalk on earth a quill
And every man a scribe by trade

To write the love of God above
Would drain the ocean dry
Nor could the scroll contain the whole
Though stretched from sky to sky

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song

 As Lent begins, thank God that He was not fair with you.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

BURN BARREL THERAPY

She answered her phone to the voice of her cousin telling her that her biological mother52412017_10156185112938100_4635508342297460736_o had been murdered . . . at the hands of her brother. Heart broken and shattered, floods of happy memories of better days, and sad and tragic recollections of a broken childhood began to vie for space in her mind taking her on a roller coaster ride of emotions. Years of hurt that had been safely tucked away crashed from out of the closets in which they hid.

Martha was six years old when her mother abandoned her and her sister to a couple of lady missionaries. She professed to relinquish her parental rights on a scrap piece of paper that read, “find them a good home.” Although challenged later, it stood up in court.

The result of a one-night stand, Martha lived for six years with a drug addicted, alcohol dependent mother. Heartache, disappointment, dysfunction, and abuse – physical, mental, emotional, and sexual – was her lot. Both her birth mother and the revolving door of boyfriends that came through her home took their turns stamping pain into her psyche.

52397785_10156185112858100_7969593133790920704_oWhen Martha was summarily given away, she felt rejected and gutted. Labels of “not good enough,” “discarded trash,” “worthless Eskimo,” “disposable,” and “a mistake” imprinted on her soul. The missionary ladies, one of whom she called Mom and the other Aunt, reared her with ample amounts of love. Although it helped and set her on a healthier path, it could not erase the indelible scars of inflicted injuries.

 

Martha’s mom and aunt were her legal guardians, but they allowed her biological mom to still have contact. Martha loved her birth mother despite all the instability. And she felt that her mother loved her in whatever twisted and broken way she was capable of doing so. With permission her mother visited from time to time.

Her guardians were careful to never talk evil of her mother. Rather, they ministered to her, facilitated healing, assisted her with necessities, and gave her a place to wash her clothes, take a shower, and eat a hot meal when she had none of these things readily available. Whenever she came to their home, she was treated with dignity, respect, kindness, patience, and love. Martha’s mom and aunt patterned forgiveness and grace in very tangible and demonstrable ways.

Martha never hated her birth mother for the abuse that came from her own hands or what she allowed to happen to her at the hands of her boyfriends. After she became an adult, Martha, like her guardians, helped her mother with groceries, rides, cleaning, and companionship. Whenever she had the means she took her out to nice restaurants, shopping for clothes, and sent her care packages. She was her biological mother regardless of the dysfunction, alcohol, drugs, and hurt.

Publicly, Martha would put on a mask. Most people would have never guessed the pain she bore, the sorrow she felt, and the sadness she experienced. Like a vinyl record stuck in a repeating loop, Martha would hear the voices of abandonment, unimportance, emotional starvation, unprotected, deprivation, derision, and angry beatings.

Outwardly, she was successful. College graduate. Happily married. Good mother. Beautiful children. Hard worker. Caring friend. Inside was darkness, shame, and depression.

Although years had passed, Martha was only now beginning to believe that she was enough. Then the phone call came. Memories. Nightmares. Day of reckoning. She hurt so bad. She loved this woman who gave her life far more than she realized. And the pain of her past threatened to drown her.

With one brother in jail, the other brother living on the streets, Martha and her sister took responsibility for their mother’s funeral and burial. With all the mistakes, shortcomings, dysfunction, addiction and more that her mother had, Martha wanted to lay her to rest with dignity, respect, kindness, love, grace, and forgiveness. She was a person made in the image and likeness of God with value and worth regardless of her failures. Martha decided that every detail of her funeral would honor her decision to give her and her sister an opportunity at life.

Even with all the painful feelings that dogged her daily existence, Martha had come to50699255_10156137605728100_7429061964761923584_o the point of reconciliation with her mother’s love – however flawed it may have been. Her mother gave her up out of love. She gave her, Martha realized, both the gift of life at birth and the gift of a chance by letting her go.

Loss, sudden loss wrenches the heart, racks the brain, and lays bare the soul. In all of this Martha chose the path of forgiveness. She had forgiven her mother many times before, but now as the memories were fresh and raw, she chose to forgive again.

Martha gathered up all the wounds and injuries, all the hurt and pain, all the emotional, mental, and physical scars and burned them in her burn barrel. It was an act of faith. Letting go of what she cannot and could not change. Choosing to take authority over her life and not let the power of the past bind her. Recognizing that she has intrinsic value and worth apart from what others may say or do, or how she may feel on a given day. Martha struck anew out on the high path of love with more determination and commitment.

She may have to do it again next month, but until then she is basking in the purging that a good fire brings.

 

The Lord be with you.

 

Jay

 

*Thank you, Martha, for allowing me to tell your story.

S/HE BROKE HIS/HER VOWS

When you read this title what is the first thing that pops into your head? . . . Adultery! But what about the other vows? Are they not as important?Image result for marriage vows

A vow is a pledge or promise to do something. We make them or follow through with them every day. Loans. Mortgages. Contracts. Laws. Marriage. Breaking any of these come with consequences. Repossession. Foreclosure. Sued. Ticket. Charge. Divorce.

Failure to rightly discharge a vow can be very stressful. According to the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory a ticket or other minor violation rates 11 stress points out of 100. Repossession or foreclosure rates 30 stress points. Major business adjustment, 39. Fired, 47. Detention in jail, prison, or other facility, 63. Marital separation, 65. Divorce, 73.

In the Christian Old Testament and lesser in the New Testament, the making of vows was common. They were to be made freely, voluntarily, deliberately, with forethought to God. Solemnly, never lightly.

Vows among religious orders are still practiced today. Roman Catholic nuns vow poverty, chastity, and obedience. Buddhist monastics pledge to follow the rules of the Pratimoksa. Some Islamic Sufis take vows of poverty and worship, renouncing relations and possessions.

Still, the most common vow is the wedding vow most often taken “before God and these witnesses.” They express a couple’s intent and meaning about their marriage. Love. Commitment. Fidelity. As I alluded above, too often our vows become single focused on sexual faithfulness to the neglect of the others. But there is more to it.

For any relationship to succeed there must be commitment.

  • “For better, for worse.” “In joy and in sorrow.” In laughter and in tears. “Through the difficult and the easy.” “Whatever may come, I will always be there.” Dedicated completely to each other in body, soul, and mind. As Lynn Anderson sang, “I never promised you a rose garden. Along with the sunshine there’s going to be a little rain sometime.”
  • “For richer, for poorer.” “In plenty and in want.” To increase in wealth beyond the monetary rewards and material possessions. Financial pressure is one of the leading causes of failed marriages. In the January 31, 2018 edition of Forbes, Liz Ryan notes that some lessons can only be learned through failure. The ability to survive. Resilience. “You learn who your true friends are.” Strength comes by overcoming obstacles. You learn what not to do. Life is more than “winning and losing.” And you learn what kind of ethics and governing principles you possess. Adversity is the greatest teacher.
  • “In sickness and in health.” Like failure, illness is a growth opportunity. Compassion is learned through suffering. Chronic physical and/or mental illness requires the healthy partner to “step it up.” Unfortunately, some are not capable of doing so. Studies have discovered a direct correlation between sickness and divorce. According to a 2011 study of the effects of 18 different mental illnesses, it found that 20 to 80 percent of relationships ended, with addiction and depression being at the highest risk.

 

For any relationship to succeed one must love, honor, and cherish.

  • “To love …” “Acquire knowledge, happiness, and harmony by mutual love.” “I will cherish our friendship and love you today, tomorrow, and forever.” “Forsaking all others.” “Remain true companions and lifelong partners.” One of my students asked me, “Were you in love when you got married?” My reply was not what he expected. Love grows. Preserves. Enriches. Radiates. Sees the inner beauty and potential of the other. Love is faithful.
  • “… honor …” “I will trust you and honor you.” Respect. It is said that a woman wants love from her husband and a man wants respect from his wife. The Christian Bible reflects this dichotomy. “However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33 NIV) Honor involves trust. Security in the relationship. Understanding.
  • “… and cherish.” Lovingly protect and care for one another. Hold dear. I told one young man that healthy relationships are the result of one whole person being with another whole person. He said, “You know how to hit below the belt, don’t you?” Too often relationships are like a tick on a dog. Or worse, a tick on a tick. Serve your spouse. Edify. Build up. Promote. Encourage. Forgive. Help him/her awaken to his/her potential.

My marriage of 34 years ended not as a result of infidelity. It ended because neither of us were faithful to or nourished the other vows. My suspicion is that many marriages end for the same reason.

Today, February 3, 2019, is my third anniversary being married to my high school12920307_830156840446840_654221435112743040_n sweetheart. I approached this marriage completely different than I did my first. The vows I wrote and said to her are framed and in a prominent place in our room for me to read regularly. Often in my daily devotions, I pray that I will treat her with value, dignity, and respect. Love her as Christ loved the Church. Edify, encourage, and build her up. Serve her without expecting anything in return. And count her always as a gift from God.

Relationships are about more than fidelity. Make sure you keep the other vows, too.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTER FROM JAIL #14

Suffering from severe depression, experiencing extreme paranoia, and during a dissociative episode I committed some crimes. Although I don’t remember much of what I did, I took and take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence served in the Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. They are offered to you as written with only minor editing. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

Started July 15, 2013

Dear _____

letters from jail 6It’s Monday, the AC is out and the cell is alive. Normally people sleep until about 4:00 PM, but today was haircut and nail trim day. With the AC out, it’s been alive in here since 7:00 AM.

The guys talk about all the prisons and jails they’ve been in. For some this is a way of life. They compare attributes of jails and prisons like a realtor would list a house. Freedom of movement and commissary are keys for honorable mention.

With the AC out, it gets hot in a closed, windowless room pretty quick. Guys are going about the cell in various stages of undress. Normally we have to have stripes – black and white uniforms – on, but the guards are letting it go under the circumstances. I bought a pair of shorts. (Maybe I could wear my stripes prison-issue shorts the first time I meet some of your friends and family.) My rack is the coolest in the cell, but even it was stuffy today.

Kevin – I spoke about him in an earlier letter – is a new Christian. He still carries the baggage of the world with him. He wants a pen-pal and suggested I find him one. I was very non-committal. He’s a nice guy who appears to care about people, but he can be quite a flirt – smooth operator.

The state guys need a level to work (I’m county). Some have been here over seven months without a level. They get time off and earn money for working. The state has a 20% plan. A detainee only has to serve 20% of their time before they are eligible for parole. With the county, work is the only means of earning time off. Because my case is personal to the police department and political with the prosecutor’s office, they won’t let me work.

Oh, funny story. As I’ve mentioned, I talk in my sleep. On Sunday they announced church at 9:00 AM. I said, “Thank you.” A few seconds later I got up, checked the clock, and asked if they had announced church yet. Steward told me I had just replied to the announcement. I was asleep, talking back to the announcer. Well, at least I didn’t miss church.

It’s loud today. A little tense. The guys are talking about deals. I don’t make deals – that way no one has any reason to be mad at me. No deals. No sales. No trades.

How do you pray about a divorce? The Bible upholds marriage. It says, “God hates divorce.” Divorce is allowed for only very narrow reasons. How do I pray? I don’t know how to pray. I’ve been praying for fairness.

I was in bed, but I can’t sleep. I’ll try again soon. It’s been noisy in the cell. I’ve been troubled tonight and could use some comfort. Thank you for being there.

July 16, 2013

My routine has been disrupted. I didn’t get to sleep last night until midnight. It’s hard to stay awake for devotions when you’re functioning on four hours sleep. But I will adjust. My time alone with God is too important for my spiritual and mental health.

The guys were talking about me again last night. All are starting to call me “preacher man” now. One said, “And he doesn’t even cuss in his sleep.” Thank God for a civil tongue.

Here’s a note from my devotional. “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.”

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. Oh, that we could learn without tribulation, but great heat and intense pressure is required to make diamonds. Growth without effort would make us very weak Christians.

July 17, 2013

We had a guy announce last night for everyone to be quiet because he was going to sleep. He may as well spit in the wind. Oh, he was mad. Forgive me, but I thought it was funny. I wanted to make noise just because he was trying to be some cell boss or something, but I didn’t.

My oldest brother and his wife came by to see me today. He took his grandson to New York city, Niagara Falls, and Gettysburg. Gettysburg is commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battle this year. There were over 50,000 reenactors present. Awesome! The next big event will be the reenactment of the Gettysburg Address. Oo! Aw!

His wife took the other grandsons to the Smoky Mountains. There were lots of water and rides, I imagine. The saw three bears at Cade’s Cove. That place is always good for viewing wildlife. There’s a lot of history there, too. Yea!

My brother hasn’t heard anything from my divorce attorney. I sure wish I could get that millstone out from around my neck.

The pastor that comes to visit me said he can’t get a hold of my lawyer either. He did tell me the judge in my case recommended me for the work program. Now I know it was either the jailer, prosecutor, or chief of police that is preventing me from working. I hope they change their minds.

Church was interesting tonight. I don’t know what sources they use, but it is definitely not mainstream.

There will be a baptism Sunday.

Thank you for listening to me and being there for me. I hope you know how much I appreciate it. Hope you and your family are well.

Sincerely,

Jay

The LORD be with you.

A CULTURE WITHOUT MEANINGFUL WORDS

Allow me to rant about one of my pet peeves – overused or meaningless words. As an aspiring writer words are my craft. They are the conveyances of ideas, instruction, narratives, information, debate and persuasion, and entertainment. The Bible says, “For if the trumpet gives an uncertain sound, who shall prepare himself for the battle?” (I Corinthians 14:8 KJV) If the words we use do not carry the message we intend, then understanding is lost. The response we desire is unrealized. The action we wish to invoke is left undone.

Words get overused.Image result for meaningless words

Admittedly, this is my opinion, but I think the word “hero” is used far too often. In my high school freshman English class, we were assigned to write a poem. The only part I remember is the last line, “heroes don’t come home.” Now that is a very narrow definition. Yet Jesus said, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13 KJV)

If a parent takes care of his/her child, is s/he a hero? Haven’t they simply met their obligation and performed their duty? If a person gives a homeless person a meal, is that being heroic? Isn’t that the humane and kind thing to do? If an organization supplies Christmas gifts for families in need, do we call them heroes? Compassionate. Giving. Sacrificial. Yes! But heroes?

When I was a young teenager, I heard the story of a man who attended a sister church. If I remember the story correctly, he was driving along a street when a screaming woman and a house on fire caught his attention. Immediately he stopped to help. Upon learning that there were children still in the house he rushed into the burning structure without regard for his own life. He brought one child out safely and went in to get another. A second child was rescued. As the flames grew greater and the smoke thickened, he braved a third entrance into the house. This time, though, he did not return. Firemen found him with the third child wrapped in his arms sitting in a closet. Neither survived.

They were not his friends or relatives. He was not a first responder. They were strangers in need. He risked his life to help. He imperiled it all to save another. He’s the definition of a genuine hero.

Words can be made meaningless by making them too inclusive.

In one of my master’s classes I mentioned something about dysfunctional families. The professor replied, “All families are dysfunctional.” Really? If all families are dysfunctional, wouldn’t that be the norm. The word “dysfunction” would have no meaning. The designation becomes useless. All families have elements of dysfunction, but not all families are dysfunctional.

When I was working in a FEMA funded program to assess the mental health needs of natural disaster survivors, we were told to label everyone as “hypervigilant.” (Hypervigilance is increased sensory perceptions and exaggerated intensity most often accompanied by high anxiety.) Everyone? If all survivors are hypervigilant, don’t we have to invent another term to describe those who are extra-hypervigilant? I instructed my team to stick with the clinical definition of the word.

Words change meaning or lose widespread usage.

There are thousands of words that are no longer a part of our everyday language.  “Ambuscade” – an ambush. “Baseborn” – someone of low social standing. “Darbies” – handcuffs.

“Awful” in the common use of the term means bad, objectionable, disagreeable. But if you use it in reference to deity it means great, awe inspiring, respectful and reverential. Confusing isn’t it?

A language historian, Anne Curzan, notes that the word “myriad” used to mean exactly 10,000, but now means simply “a lot.” “Egregious” had both a good and bad meaning. But eventually, the negative meaning won out.

Word usage can become lazy or routine.

I hear this phrase far too often – “the first time since . . .” If a team wins unexpectedly, we hear, “it’s the first time since 2001 that . . .” Or if the Democrats take over the House of Representatives, “it’s the first time since 2006 . . .” I scream every time I hear it. It is lazy writing. Unimaginative reporting.

There are so many other ways it could be said. “Not since 2006 . . .” “The last time this happened was in . . .” There is an old saying, “Don’t do the same thing always.” When I was a worship leader, I tried not to repeat a song for a year. I wasn’t always successful, but the congregation I led had a healthy taste of variety.

The program, Verbal Advantage, has popularized the slogan, “People judge you by the words you use.” That may or may not be true. But words have energy. Words convey meaning. Words transport message. Words matter. Use them to say what you mean and mean what you say. Employ them to be understood.

Here’s a toast to words!

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

WHAT NOT TO SAY

Image result for what not to sayI should have known better. I was the supervisor of a residential substance abuse treatment program, a residential mental health crisis unit, a mental health crisis line, and the on-call crisis evaluation team. Furthermore, I had experience with my own major depressive disorder. I really should have known better.

A young nurse was working in our programs dispensing meds, seeing to the wellness of our residents, consulting with our psychiatry team, and leading small groups in both our residential programs, among other things. It was her first job out of nursing school. She was intelligent, gifted, dedicated, and a hard worker.

One day as I walked into our central office, she was sitting there with my assistant. As I walked through the door it was very obvious that there was some serious talking going on. The nurse’s face was wet with tears and her general appearance reflected deep sadness. “What’s going on,” I said. My assistant replied, “She’s depressed.” And then I said it, “You’re too young to be depressed.” It was the stupidest, uncaring, and un-factual thing I could have said at the moment.

We all say dumb things from time to time. We are incapable of being perfect. Most of the time, our thoughtless statements merely cause annoyance with others or embarrassment to ourselves. But there are a few times in life when our response to a situation is of critical importance. On the day above, I was not up to the task. I failed miserably.

A couple of years later I had a crisis of my own. My wife of 29 years had told me to leave. When I asked how long, she replied, “weeks.” (Those “weeks” turned into four years.) Several weeks had passed and I was miserable. I was in the midst of my third major depressive episode. Lonely. Missing my children and grandchildren. Desperately wanting to reconcile with my wife. I loaded my car and started for home.

Traveling toward home on Western Kentucky Parkway, my wife let me know that I was not welcome. Despondency gripped my soul. I turned around and started crying heavily. Unwanted suicidal thoughts rushed through my mind. In desperation I called 911.

The operator patched me through to a state trooper. We talked. I sobbed. Soon into the conversation, he asked me where I was and where I was going. I told him. He immediately asked, “Why are you going that way?” And proceeded to tell me which way I should have gone.

Really! That’s what you’re troubled about in this situation? I interrupted him, “I’m in crisis here and you’re concerned about which direction I chose (to get to my destination).” Thankfully, a counselor soon came on and after talking a while I was able to get an appointment for the next morning.

Here are a few things you should NOT say to a person in crisis.

  • It must be God’s will.
  • You made your bed now lie in it.
  • You need to . . . (fill in the blank with your lamest advice).
  • It could be worse.
  • Let me tell you about . . . (fill in the blank with your lamest story).
  • You’ll feel better about it in the morning.

A person in crisis doesn’t need their experience spiritualized in the moment. Maybe later, but not now. S/he doesn’t need castigated. She doesn’t need to hear what she “should,” “ought,” or “could” do. He doesn’t need his situation compared to another’s. She doesn’t need to hear your story or the story of your aunt, sister, mom, or friend. He doesn’t need to be dismissed or have his circumstance trivialized.

When I’m in crisis, here’s what I need:

  • A good listener that lets me talk. One who doesn’t force me to talk, but will sit with me in silence if that’s what I want to do.
  • An understanding, supportive, dependable person.
  • Someone who will say, “What can I do to help you?” Or, “Help me to understand what you need.”

If you don’t know what to say, it’s best that you express your care with an appropriateImage result for what not to say touch or a reassuring smile. Avoid with all diligence the asinine things that I have said and been told.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

WORDS MATTER

Sticks and stones

May break my bones

But words will never harm me.

I never taught my children this little ditty, because it’s not true. Words can cut deep.Image result for sticks and stones may break my bones They go far beyond the tearing of flesh and the shedding of blood. Past the fracturing of bones and damaging internal organs and systems. Words lodge in the mind as a memory that rarely fades. Words wound the soul and attack the very essence of our being. There have been times in my life when I’d rather have taken a physical beating than the bitter and malicious tongue-lashing I received.

Words especially matter to we who war with a mental illness. Disturbed. Nuts. Psycho. Crazy. Loony. Mad. Loose screw. Insane. Mental. Demented. These words cut. Stigmatize. Label. Demean. Unfortunately, characterizations like this are not limited to the uneducated and uninformed. From time to time we encounter people who are supposed to be trained and professional who act in a lesser way.

I’ve written about some of my experiences before. My first counselor told me, “Maybe God is done with you.” That struck me so hard that I paced her office and loudly objected for several minutes.

The first time I was hospitalized the treatment team ushered me into this large room. There was a chair in the middle of the room for me. Across the back wall sat a half-dozen chairs in a row occupied by doctors, nurses, and interns. I looked at them and said, “Is this supposed to intimidate me?” They didn’t say anything, but their body language spoke volumes. “We’re the expects so you be quiet.” “Don’t tell us anything, we will tell you.” “We’re better than you.”

Perhaps my most troubling incident was in an ER while trying to check into a mental health hospital for the third time. I was broken after spending a long, lonely night in jail. Suicidal thoughts raced through my troubled mind. The day before I had had a dissociative episode. It was scary to blackout like that and not know what you did during that time. I was extremely paranoid, highly agitated, and severely depressed. To say the least, I was in a bad way.

Apparently, my pacing back and forth in the treatment room disturbed the person doing the intake. Soon after she left, a hospital guard showed up. He positioned himself in the doorway with his hips to one side of the door jam and an arm on the other side. He announced, “You’re going to have to stop that.”

My agitation increased. I said, “You’re not trained in how to deal with mental health patients, are you?” He defended himself by saying that he was. I decided to educate him some more, “Well,” I said, “you need to get retrained. You never approach a mental health patient like you just did. And you don’t say what you just said.” The conversation preceded down that line for quite a while. Me educating him and he continuing to make dumb statements, threatening gestures, and taking an authoritarian stance.

When I got up to the mental health floor, I let them know in clear and plain language that their security guard was a jerk. The nurse taking my vitals did not disagree with me.

It was so different a year later at a different hospital when I presented myself at the ER. I had many of the same symptoms I had before. I was agitated. Pacing. I heard the doctor ask my brother, who had brought me to the hospital, “How long has he been like this?” Instantly, I knew I was in good hands. Here was a man with compassion and understanding.

Words matter. The words your body says are believed more than the words your mouth says. Respect. An easy tone. A comfortable setting. Relaxed and calm demeanor. Empathy. These go a long way to helping a person feel safe.

 

Words matter. “How can I help you today?” “Please help me understand what you’re experiencing today?”

Choose yours carefully.Image result for sticks and stones may break my bones

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

 

2019 REMINDERS

The rapper India.Arie sings:

                “I am not my hair,
                I am not my skin,
                I am not your expectations.
                I am not my hair,
                I am not my skin,
                I am the soul that lives within.”

There are a few more things that you are not in 2019 . . .

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You are not your failures.

The greatest president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, lost five of his seven electoral efforts. Henry Ford, founder of the Ford Motor Company, went broke five times before he succeeded. Thomas Edison attempted around 1000 different ways to invent the lightbulb before he discovered the right formula.

The well-known Chinese philosopher, Confucius, reportedly said, “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” People who get up again and again are remembered for their successes and tenacity. We forget their failures.

You are not your pain.

Recently I became aware of an old friend that suddenly lost his two oldest sons three months apart. Both were 41. It is said that the death of a child is the worst thing a parent can experience.

I can’t imagine that kind of pain. The loss of a pre-born child has had a lasting effect on me, but to lose my daughter and sons is beyond my ability to comprehend.

But as tragic an event as that may be, my friend is not his grief. He is much more than his pain.

You are not your family.

While working as a counselor to foster-care children, one of the greatest challenges they had, especially as they got older, was rising above their family history. It is possible.

My precious parents came from broken homes with alcoholic parents. Neither ever repeated the sins of their parents. They reached 60 years of marriage before Mom died. Both are beloved by hundreds of people they helped.

You are not your mistakes.

Poor, misguided, or wrong acts and judgements have their consequences, but they don’t have to define you. Things we do cannot be undone, but they can be redone. Things we say cannot be unsaid, but they can be corrected. Things we think cannot be unthought, but we can learn a better way. Old dogs CAN learn new tricks.

You are not your past.

Oprah Winfrey was physically and sexually abused as a child and was pregnant at 14. Jay Leno and actor Jim Carrey were homeless. The comedian, Tim Allen, spent over two years in federal prison for drug trafficking. All overcame and have become wildly popular.

You are not your mental illness.

You are not a manic-depressive. Or a schizophrenic. Or anorexic. Or autistic. I have a major depressive disorder. Although it is a part of me, it is no where near the whole of who I am. Depression is what I have. It does not define me.

You are not your physical illness.

You are not a diabetic. You have diabetes. You are not a hemophiliac. You have hemophilia. You are not your cancer or any other disease or illness. You may have an illness, but it is not predetermined to have you.

You are not your addiction.

Alcoholic? Drug addict? My dear step-son went through many rehab programs and spent many days in jail before he got clean. His blessed mother never lost faith in him. Today he is a captain in the Salvation Army.

When depression ended my ministerial career, I lost my purpose for living. My identity was wrapped up in what I could DO. And I couldn’t pastor anymore. It was not until I redefined myself by my being, the “soul that lives within,” that I finally found peace.

I appreciate how the Bible identifies me: I am a person made in the image and likeness of God. Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. Known. Chosen. Accepted. A new creation.

“You are not your hair.”

Image result for 2019

Have a blessed 2019.

 

The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

THE PERFECT GIFT

Sometimes Christmas day is simply the most perfect day. You receive the gifts you wanted and you give the gifts that brightened the face of the recipient. Then there are those Christmases that go all wrong. I had one of those let-down holidays several years ago.

My dad loved music boxes. He also loved carrousel horses. What a better gift to get him than a carrousel horse above a music box. Right? Not exactly.Image result for a carousel music box

It was during my seminary years and money was tight. I worked at a high-end department store that offered a generous employee discount. In the household décor section was what I thought would be the perfect gift for dad. It was a very colorful horse attached to a carrousel poll that set above a wind-up music box. It was very nicely done in glass on top and wood as the base encasing the mechanisms. I was excited to give it to him.

As presents were being presented on Christmas day, somehow my gift for dad kept getting pushed aside. It was not by intent, but, regrettably, it built a certain amount of anticipation. When it came time for Dad to open the gift it was the last one to be opened. All eyes were on him as he carefully unwrapped the fragile treasure. The paper came off, the box was opened, and the packing material was removed for the reveal.

I will never forget the look on his face. What had been glee turned to flat affect. Anticipation gave way to disappointment. Hype failed to live up to reality. It was such an underwhelming moment that it was almost audible.

That carrousel horse music box joined Mom and Dad’s other knickknacks on display. Every time I went into their home and saw it, it brought back memories of the look on his dear face. What I thought was the perfect gift became a haunting mistake. What he thought was something extra special became something extra disappointing.

We have times like that. We get it wrong. Terribly wrong. Our best intentions and most thoughtful plans fall far short.

In ancient times there was a man that had great anticipation for a very special gift. Although advanced in years, he had been promised that he would see this gift before he died.

I wonder, did his faith ever waver during all of those years of waiting? Did he know what he was looking for or would it just suddenly be made known when it appeared? Did he look into the eyes of every new baby that passed his way expecting to catch a glimpse of his promise? Did he chase rumors from city to town to village searching? Or did he stay near home in quiet contemplation? Whatever his personal disposition may have been, we do know that he waited.

And then it happened. All the waiting. All the anticipation. All of it came together and faith became sight. Simeon marched forward and beheld the gift so long desired. He gathered it into his aging arms and held it close to his breast. Before him was the gift that he was promised. The gift that he wanted. The most precious gift ever given. The gift of God to all humankind – Jesus.

This Gift was so satisfying to Simeon that he announced that he was ready to die.

“For my eyes have seen Your salvation . . . A light to the Gentiles, and the glory of Israel.”

Nothing conceived by any other could top both the significance and importance of this Gift – The division of time between “before” and “during.” – The turning of history. – The founding of a new kingdom unlimited by borders. – Wonderful! Mighty! Everlasting! Princely! – Salvation for all. Not one family, one clan, one tribe, or one nation – but the world!

Unlike my gift to my precious father, to receive this Gift is never a disappointment. Never underwhelming. Never a mistake.

Whether you were satisfied or disappointed with the gifts you gave and received yesterday is unimportant in the larger scheme of things. What you feel today will most likely pass in the near future.

What you do about the Gift that has already been given is of eternal importance.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

DEPRESSION AND ADVENT

Holidays come with their own set of expectations. But, for the person battling depression, the demands can be daunting.Image result for advent wreath

A list of favorite holiday music expresses the anticipated emotional response to the season.

  • Silent night . . . all is calm all is bright.
  • Winter Wonderland . . . a beautiful sight we’re happy tonight.
  • Joy to the World . . . and heaven and nature sing.
  • Jingle Bell Rock . . . snowing and blowing up bushels of fun.
  • Hark! The Herald Angels Sing . . . joyful all ye nations rise, join the triumph in the skies.
  • Jingle Bells . . . laughing all the way.
  • God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen . . . oh tidings of comfort and joy, comfort and joy.
  • A Holly Jolly Christmas . . . it’s the best time of the year.

A glimpse of the festivities around the world assumes we will feel magical and merrier.

  • The Giant Lantern Festival in the Philippines celebrates light in an elaborate style.
  • The Yule Lads of Iceland leave gifts in children’s shoes for 13 days prior to Christmas.
  • Saint Nicholas’ Day in the Bavarian region of German is on December 6. Children get sweets and gifts from the great ol’ saint.
  • Communities on The Day of the Little Candles in Colombia sometime compete for the best and most brilliant display of paper lanterns.
  • North Americans hang lights from their houses and trees. Some places attract people from quite a distance to see the colored lights and holiday scenes.

Our traditional holiday greetings include:

  • Merry Christmas
  • Happy Holidays
  • Happy Hanukkah
  • Happy New Year

As a Christian I celebrate Advent – beginning four Sundays before Christmas. Each Sunday gets a designation.

  • Hope
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace

For a person with depression all this happiness and merriment is a stretch at best and utterly oppressive on a bad day.

Look at the four Sundays of Advent.

Hope can be hard to come by for a person mired in the darkness of despair.

Love does not go well with isolation and moodiness.

Joy is a past experience that one no longer recalls how to experience.

Peace is burned away by the internal flames of turmoil.

It can be an extremely trying time.

How can you help a loved-one or friend this holiday season? There is one all-important thing you can do . . . BE THERE.

Don’t walk away. Don’t run away. Don’t let yourself be pushed away. BE THERE.

You don’t have to say anything. Nothing you can say will likely make it better anyhow. You just have to . . . BE THERE.

Expect nothing from your depressed friend. Don’t put any pressure on them. Support them. Love them unconditionally. And . . . BE THERE.

It will likely make a big difference in the outcome of your loved-one’s illness.

Thank you, Faith, for being there for me during the dark night of my soul.

Image result for advent greetings

The LORD be with you.

Jay

Advent Expectations

When I arrived to pastor Trinity Wesleyan Church in Kokomo, IN I discovered there was a small group of people who were praying for “a pastor from God’s Bible School & College.” Well, they got what they prayed for, but not what they expected.Trinity Wesleyan (2)

One from this group became somewhat critical. He regularly challenged me during Bible studies and offered suggestions on sermons for me to preach. (Hell, fire, and brimstone was his favorite recommendation.) His “testimonies” were frequently grip sessions about how the people in the church were failing. He had to be rebuked often and I was left trying to rebuild what he had torn down. Finally, it all came to a head one Wednesday night when he was offended by something I said. He made quite a show of walking out. He never came back.

Another of that group was enthusiastic at first. They wanted to be a part of growing the Church of God and were faithful to come. But, they, too, began to wane. The interest that was first present gave way to indifference and then resistance. When asked to fill a role in the church they refused. Slowly, they began to miss services and soon they were gone for good.

God answered their prayers – I was a graduate of God’s Bible School & College – but, I was not what they wanted. They had a definite preconception of what a person from that blessed college should be and I did not fit that mold. At the end, I concluded, God gave them what they asked for and they did not want it.

Two thousand twenty-four years ago, (or there about) Jesus “was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him.  He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him.” (St. John 1:10-11) Jesus was not who they expected Him to be.

From the first utterance of Eve after giving birth to Cain, “I have acquired a man from the Lord,” there was an expectation of a Redeemer. One of the early prayers for the Messiah was, “Speedily cause the offspring of Your servant David to flourish, and let Him be exalted by Your saving power, for we wait all day long for Your salvation. Blessed are You, O Lord, who causes salvation to flourish.” Expectantly they waited, but when God answered their prayers for the Messiah they rejected Him.

Jesus did not fit the image of what was expected. He was born in a stable rather than a palace. Humble shepherds from the nearby hills and unknown Magi from the far east attended His birth and early life. An old man and woman recognized who He was when His parents brought Him to the temple, but no one else. He was poor, not rich. He was from Nazareth, not Jerusalem. Although He attracted tens of thousands to hear Him teach, only about 120 truly followed Him. That small number had two swords among them and never marched in columns or practiced war games. Rejected by the religious and political elite, Jesus was proclaimed King of the Jews on one day and crucified a week later.

Like those three or four people I encountered at Kokomo, God answered their prayers, but they did not like His answer. I have often wondered if Jesus came to pastor my church, would I leave because I did not like His call to and definition of discipleship? Would I cast my vote against Him in the next pastoral election or request the superintendent to replace Him, saying, “He is just not working out for our church?” Surely, I would not, but . . . am I all that different from the first century peoples who encountered Jesus in the flesh?

From the beginning of time the world longed for a Redeemer and when He came theyImage result for Advent missed Him. The reason, they were looking for a certain kind of messiah and he did not come. Jesus was the Messiah the world needed (and needs), but He was not the One they desired. Is the same true for you today? Is Jesus the Redeemer you long for and will follow with absolute devotion? There is no question that Jesus is the One you need. The only question left to answer is, is He the Redeemer you desire?

Have a bless Advent season.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THANKFUL FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE

An early mentor once told me that people are essentially the same from year to year except for the books they read and the people they meet. This year I want to express thanks for the people I have met. This is not an exhaustive list. Rather it is a survey of the multitude of people who have come into my life along the way.Image result for Thanksgiving

I am thankful for my family. My parents, James and Virginia Shuck, were great parents. They were not perfect, but they were well above average. My brothers, James Allen Shuck and John Shuck, have always been there for me and I hope they feel that I have been there for them. Doug Shuck is one of those kinds of cousins that everyone wishes they had.

I am thankful for my children. My eldest, Alissa is beautiful, talented, persistent. Then Adam, who is one of the godliest men I have ever known. And finally, Austin. Talented, dedicated, and following in his grandpa’s and father’s footsteps by accepting a church appointment beginning in December. My grandchildren, step-children, and step-grandchildren bring immense joy to me.

I am thankful for my wife. If you open a Bible to the Old Testament book of Proverbs 31:10-31, you will find a picture of her. She is clothed in wisdom and grace, and one of the most faithful followers of Jesus I have ever met. I often tell her if she was a Roman Catholic she would be known as Saint Faith.

I am thankful for my friends. I have many lifelong friends like N. Keith Hinton, Tim Cole Sr., Donna Romine, Robin Gray, and Faith Shuck (who is now my wife). College friends: Wes Humble and Jim Stroup. Seminary friends: Edgar Bryan and Michelle Tipton. Work friends: Bill Watkins, Dr. Walter David Mathews. And Roger Hicks, a man could not ask for a better friend. Church friends: Nancy Cummings Olson, Dee Hinkle, Melody Pyle, and Marsha Hausman. I enjoy following their careers, reading their posts, and watching their families grow.

I am thankful for the people who had a spiritual influence on me, especially in my early years. Mickey and Barbara Hilton, Paul and Patty Trent, Robert VanCise, Bob and Marcia Pavey, and Keith Drury. Mickey took a special interest in me and was one of the people I put as a reference on my college application. Paul showed the redemptive and restorative love of Jesus to me and payed me the highest compliment my having enough confidence in me to allow me to preach from his pulpit. Barbara and Marcia are like the sisters I never had and they both loved my mother. Keith challenged me to mine the spiritual depths of God’s love and relationship with Him.

I am thankful for influential teachers. Mr. Smith in high school taught me to think. In college I had a very good theology teacher, Bob England, and an exceptional pastoral ministries teacher in R. G. Humble. Garen Wolf befriended and supported me in so many ways. In seminary Dr. Matt Friedeman was and is an outstanding example of a disciple of Jesus Christ, how to be a pastor, and especially how to be a husband and father. Dr. Bill Ury was the toughest professor I ever had. And I am so grateful because I learned so very much.

I am thankful for my former students. Mary King has my back and I love her for it. Brad and Marie Angus, Eric Toby Allen, and Doug Kraft make me proud to have had them in class as they pursue the ministries to which God has called them.

I am thankful for the 825 plus people from 45 plus countries who read my writings, encourage me, and keep me on my toes.

Most of all, “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!”

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The LORD be with you.

Jay

DEPRESSION AND THE HOLIDAYS*

Christmas decorationsIt was the year 2000, the first full year since I had become clinically depressed. I was so severely ill that my job had forced me to take a leave of absence. My brother invited me to come and stay with him for a few days. I accepted. My dad and a family friend took me the 200 miles south, southwest to his house where they planned to go fishing. I was supposed to go home after the fishing trip, but I stayed, and a few days turned into a few weeks.

During the day my brother and his wife were away at work and I had the house to myself. There were no responsibilities to be a husband and parent, no pressure from work to finish reports or perform daily tasks, no meetings to attend, speeches to give, or places to go. I was free to toddle around the house, watch TV, do some light housekeeping, play on the computer, or take a nap. Reformation of spirit and body was easy to claim in this environment. But, . . . Thanksgiving was coming.

I have always loved the Thanksgiving/Advent/Christmas season.      Gatherings of family and friends.      Feasts that included my mother’s special egg noodles.      Music from long known church hymns to carolers on the streets and other holiday songs.           Performances by school children, high school students, the local theatre troupe, and church plays.      Shopping for special and thoughtful gifts to give to my wife, children, parents, brothers, and the rest of our family.      Putting up the Christmas tree and decorations.      Being part of a caravan that went through town looking at the lights and seeking the best holiday display.      Giving and receiving gifts.      It was all great fun and I looked forward to it every year . . . except this year.

My wife and children, parents, niece and nephews gathered in to celebrate. The house suddenly became smaller and the opportunities for alone time fewer. Feasting, conversation, and playing games were expected. I could hear myself protesting silently, “I’ll take my meals in the bedroom, thank you.” And, my only contribution to the conversation was, “I would like to die now, please.” Games and conversation required concentration which was in quite limited supply at the moment. The worst was yet to come. When the festivities were over I was expected to return home and resume my role as a husband and parent, and prepare to go back to work.

Upon my return I tried to go shopping at the local mall with my family. It was unexpected how exhausted I became after walking through the first department store. One store . . . and all my strength for that trip was wasted and I had no reserves. My family deposited me in the courtyard for the remainder of the outing. I sat quietly alone, anxious for their return in order that I may go home and back to bed. It was the only attempt I made to go anywhere that season.

It was a miserable holiday season. I did not want to be around people because I fatigued too rapidly. It was nearly impossible to smile and laugh. There was no enjoyment to be found in the lines my children were learning for their school and church programs or the new songs my wife was using that year as she directed the annual Christmas cantata. I stayed home from church all but one Sunday during the season. If a genie had given me a wish, I would have wished to skip the holidays. It was too hard.

There have been other holiday seasons in which I was experiencing depression, but that first one was the worst.  I did not know how to cope or compensate. Where was a Rip Van Winkle when you needed him?

The subsequent holidays have not been as difficult for the following reasons:

I pick and choose the public things I can do and inform my family about my decisions. When I am in the midst of a depressive episode I find it especially difficult to be around crowds. Therefore, it can be very intimidating to go to a play or program in a small venue. Last year our grandson was in a play at his school. The performance was planned for the school gym, if you can call it that. I have played on backyard courts that were bigger. Well, not exactly, but you get the picture. All six grades, faculty, staff, parents, older and younger siblings, grandparents, godparents, and the rest were all jockeying for position, sitting shoulder to shoulder, and standing about, leaving only a single-person-wide aisle to the exits. The press of people was suffocating and there was no place to go to make it any better. I was stuck for the duration without a means of escape. If I had been in a moderately or severely depressed state at the time I most likely would have ended the musical in the fetal position.

One shopping trip in a crowded mall may be all you can abide. One program. One church event. One community affair.  And, that is alright. You know your limits and it is to your own personal hurt that you press beyond them. Explain yourself to those who need to know, offer your regrets, and do not allow yourself to be guilted by anyone, including yourself. You are your own most competent advocate and you know best your boundaries.

I pick and choose the people I want to be around. Large family, church, work, or club gatherings can be nerve-racking, unpredictable, and ruinous to one’s already fragile health. Expectations to be festive, joyful, and participatory can feel overwhelming. A game face can only last so long. And, after that there are the ones who love and care about us, but always seem to say the wrong thing. “Snap out of it.” “Have you tried . . .?” “I have a friend who is just like you. . .” We have heard all the “help lines” before. We smile because we know they mean well, but on the inside we want to scream.

Then there is that person who belongs to your group, but is toxic to you. You know the one that makes your teeth grind and your stomach churn. The one you love and would do anything for so long as you did not have to be around them. That one! It may be that a more intimate setting and an invitation only gathering is necessary this year.  The key is control. The more you can manage and arrange the less likely you are to find yourself in a detrimental environment.

I do what I can and leave the rest. My mother made a table top ceramic Christmas tree back in the 1970’s that I inherited. For about three years it was the extent of my decorating. Although it is becoming common to shop online, I have done it for about ten years as a means to escape the daunting crowds.  As you become more aware and in tune with your personal needs and constraints, you will better be able to rightly judge what is best for you during the holidays.

This year I am in a pretty healthy state. I can enjoy the events and happenings with more spirit than in previous years. Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s will bring added happiness for me. I await joyous times with family and friends. The festivities of the season are anticipated with excitement. It has not always been so and may not be in some future holiday, but for now I will revel in the moment.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS

The Lord be with you.

Thank you for reading.

Jay

*This article was first published in Nov. of 2017.

 

THOUGHTS ON THE U.S.A. MIDTERM ELECTIONS

By the time you read this the polls will have closed and most of the results will have been announced. But, as of this writing it remains a mystery.Image result for 2018 elections

As I cast my ballot today for the candidates of my choice, I must confess this was the least excited I have ever been about an election. The first time I had an opportunity to vote in a national election was when President Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were on the ballot. I have not failed to vote in a national election since. But, this year, I just wanted to stay home.

The reason? There was no one on the ballot that represents me. If you are a Trump-nation Republican, you had plenty of candidates from which to choose. The same goes for you who are progressive Democrats. But, for we people who rest in the middle, it was slim pickings.

Although my father was active in Democratic politics and registered as a Democrat all his life, I identified with the Republican Party from the age of 12. I am still a registered Republican, but I feel less and less that it truly represents my values and concerns. Ronald Reagan famously said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party, the party left me.” That is exactly my sentiment about the Republican Party over the past two years.

I have not always been content with whom the Republicans put on the ballot. And sometimes I held my nose and voted for them anyway. Two years ago, I couldn’t hold my nose long enough to vote for a person with whom I had so many differences. Therefore, I voted third party.

I’m a values voter. And neither of the major parties – Republican or Democrat – represent my values. Oh, each one represents a portion of my values. But neither one represents them to the point where I could conscientiously, let alone enthusiastically, support them. Hence, my two-year-long malaise with national politics.

Along with my dissatisfaction has come a profound sense of disappointment, especially in my Christian Evangelical and Wesleyan Methodist friends. Even as a child I was aware that my father was an anomaly among our circle of church friends. Most of them, way back when, identified with the Republican Party. But it was not until 1979 and the advent of the Moral Majority founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell that the more conservative and orthodox branch of Christianity became a reliable voting block for Republican candidates. (The media often identifies this group as Evangelicals and/or Fundamentalist although the terms are neither interchangeable nor all-encompassing.)

For a time I could readily identify with this group. (Even though I didn’t agree with everything.) 2016 changed that. I saw this Christian block make a deal with the devil and it sickened me. It was “all about the Supreme Court,” they said. But at what cost?

The poor. The Christian Bible, both Old Testament and New, speaks strongly to the just and equitable treatment of the poor, the orphan, and the widow. “Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.” (Proverbs 31:8-9) This is my greatest objection to the platform of the Republican Party.  God ensconced in the laws of the nation of Israel consideration for the poor and needy. “When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.” (Leviticus 23:24) No less is expected of us and our government today.

Oneness. We are not to be “Jew nor Greek…slave nor free…for we are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) European nor African. Asian nor South American. Australian nor North American. Islander nor Indigenous. The way our Hispanic/Latino citizens have been represented is especially egregious. According to James 2, “partiality” is a sin. All people on this earth bear the “image” and “likeness” of God and therefore have intrinsic value. (Genesis 1:26)

Truth. Truth appears to be for sale to the highest bidder. The purview of the loudest voice. Subject to interpretation by one’s position. Lost in an endless swamp. When the Church identifies itself with such recklessness with the truth, we compromise our message of Jesus as “the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

The moral high ground. If the Church becomes known for taking the Republican or Democrat line, the American line, the President Trump line or any other line but the Jesus line, it loses its voice of moral certitude.

The dignity of women. Jesus treated women with honor, respect, value, and dignity. The objectification and misogynous treatment of women have no place among Jesus followers.

Kindness and civility. Paul’s call to be “kind to one another” (Ephesians 4:32) is ignored for name calling, personal attacks, and vitriol.

From the time when the Roman Emperor Constantine legalized Christianity in 313 and arbitrated a theological dispute between factions within the Church at the Council of Nicaea in 325, the Church has never truly benefited from a marriage with the State. The union of Republicans and conservative Christians is not one made in heaven. The Church is to be the conscience of the world, the prophets that call us to repentance, the siren call that sounds a clear warning. We cannot do that while entangled with a secular party or State.

I don’t know where I belong politically, but I do know where I belong spiritually. Whenever the two come into conflict, my choice is already made. “But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:15)

Thank you for reading.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #13

Suffering from severe depression, experiencing extreme paranoia, and during a dissociative episode I committed some crimes. Although I don’t remember much of what I did, I took and take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence served in the Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. They are offered to you as written with only minor editing. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

Started July 11, 2013letters from jail 6

Dear _____

It’s been an interesting day.

Mr. Hogue is an African-American gentleman. He’s just a few months younger than me. Apparently, he’s been watching me and gave me some words of admonishment. He invited me to share with him a “word from the Lord.”

One of the fellas, Paige, is a bad drug addict. He drinks cough medicine by the bottle for the buzz and crushes and snorts allergy pills for a quick high. He was reared in church but his whole family got caught dealing drugs. He claims to be really mad at God for “taking” his two little sisters in a house fire and not providing for his parents causing them to turn to dealing drugs. We had a really good talk last night. He appears open. He carries a lot of pain.

The two new guys are loud young pups interested only in themselves. Because of drugs their maturity level is that of a 12-year-old. We are under discipline because of one of them. He is snorting allergy pills. Lord, help me to see them as people who need Jesus. My patience is low.

Today’s devotional was on the providence of God. “Life is a winding and troubled road. . . God is not just showing up after the trouble and cleaning it up. He is plotting the course and managing the troubles with far-reaching purposes for our good.” Regardless of our perils and problems, if we cooperate with the grace of God He will bring about the highest good and the least evil for us and for His glory.

I got a card from my nephew. It was signed by nine of my family members. Nice!

July 12, 2013

It was quiet last night. I slept till 3:00 am and cat-napped till 10:30 am.

Thank you for asking about my depression. It is related to a childhood illness from 1968. Although I can’t prove it I think it was the Hong Kong flu. My temperature went high enough to cause brain damage. As a result, my mood changed and I had seizures for about seven years. Stress exacerbates my symptoms. I can handle stress from a single source. Add a second source and I start exhibiting more symptoms. I haven’t been totally symptom free in 15 years. But it’s manageable as long as I can manage my stress.

I still had seizures and took medicine into my high school years. Mother was very protective of me, overly so. All I’ve had are stressful jobs, but I’ve managed if no other stressors appeared. I don’t have seizures anymore.

I hope I don’t talk too much about this issue of forgiveness. I just don’t want it haunting me. The other night during Bible study I shared my experience. I felt drained afterwards because the doubts and pains were relived. I know what you mean by feeling the anger and pain all over again.

Although I don’t enjoy the pain, the person I am and I am becoming as a result of my experiences is worth it. I’m a much better person, but I certainly don’t want to see others hurt in order that I may grow.

I think our insecurities about forgiveness come from our legalistic backgrounds. We think we need to do more to earn God’s love. I struggle there, too. My weakness is transferring ideal beliefs into perfect actions. Or, at least, that’s what trips me up sometimes.

I’m losing more weight. I’m not sure what I’m down to, around 240 lbs. My weight is my most besetting sin. Food is my friend when I’m under stress. I like eating healthy, but sugar and chocolate are my downfall. I really want to take it off for good this time. If I can get down to 210, I’d be a happy camper.

Don’t apologize for sharing your burdens with me. Helping others is good therapy. And my circumstances are not worse than yours, just different.

July 13, 2013

Today is my 34th wedding anniversary. I’ve been blue all week – sleeping more, not going to outdoor recreation, and not going to the library. I never expected nor wanted a divorce. Not until she was leaving me for the fifth time and refusing to put our marriage first did I finally give up.

It’s hard to act like I do not feel. To love romantically that which I do not love. To be loyal to that which is dead. To be faithful to a hopeless union. Of course, I have remained loyal and faithful to my vows.

I meant my vows. I believed the Bible. But one person cannot a marriage make. Now, I want to heal. The heart to mend. Peace at last.

On disagreements. I like what Keith Drury said about groups, “Where two people always agree one is unnecessary.” I felt emasculated in my marriage. The home and family were run as though I didn’t exist. Decisions were based on feelings and emotions without rational support. It drove me nuts – literally.

It’s Sunday afternoon. We had three speakers this morning for church. One was prepared and did a good job.

Adam’s birthday is Thursday, 18th. I’ve never missed his birthday. I wonder if he thinks I abandoned him. If I wrote I wouldn’t know where to send it.

We’re getting zucchini, squash, and cucumbers from the jail garden.

Well, I must close this letter.

Sincerely,

Jay

THE LANGUAGE OF DESPAIR

There is a character in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible that understands me. He experienced deep grief, severe depression, dark despair, and a crisis of faith. My loss has no comparison to his, but he uses the language of my pain.

This past two weeks I have been identifying with the Christian Old Testament book of Job (pronounced “joe-b”). From circa 3000 years ago this man speaks the language that anyone who has experienced grief, depression, and despair can readily understand. My first article was entitled, The Language of Grief. The second, The Language of Depression. Today, I will attempt to tackle despair.Image result for job in the bible

Nando Pelusi, PhD., defined despair as “depressed about being depressed.” (Psychology Today, September 5, 2003) I can think of no better description.

It is a prolonged “dark night of the soul.” (Steven A. Diamond, Ph.D., Psychology Today, March 4, 2011) It is characterized by “hopelessness, helplessness, powerlessness, and pessimism.” Frozen. Inactive. Passive or aggressive. Avoidance. Feeling unloved and rejected. An inability to find “meaning, fulfillment, and happiness.”

Job would well understand Dr. Diamond’s comment, despair is “suffering without meaning.” As I thought about these descriptions I concluded that despair is a spiritual crisis in the intangibles. By that I mean: Love. Happiness. Purpose. Fulfillment. Meaning.

Job despairs of life. “Why did I not perish at birth, and die as I came from the womb.” For him death would bring peace, a cessation of turmoil, rest from a weary world, misery, bitterness. Job is not suicidal. However, he does have recurrent thoughts of death.

Crying heavily, I pulled off the side of the road and called my pastor. I had one request. One thing that I wanted him to intercede to God on my behalf for. One thought that seemed the most reasonable solution to my pain. “I want you to pray that I would die,” I asked him. He refused.

Job speaks the language of one who longs “for death that does not come.” “I wish I had died before any eye saw me.” “If only I had never come into being.” He speaks my language.

For Job God had rejected him. His friends have withdrawn their support. He feels unloved by the community he once loved. “Oh, that…God would be willing to crush me, to let loose His hand and cut off my life.”

Viktor E. Frankl wrote, “Suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning.” For Job the meaning of his suffering was elusive.

When I was going through my first clinical depressive episode I felt that God was so far away. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” was my “favorite” verse. It defined how I felt. Where was God? Why was I suffering so at the pinnacle of my ministry? I was being brought low and for what reason? It was destroying me and I knew not what for.

Job speaks the language of the one feeling rejected, powerless, unloved, and suffering meaninglessly. “Bitterness of my soul,” he cried. He speaks my language.  

Not only did Job feel that his suffering was meaningless, but he also came to believe that his life was meaningless. “I loathe my very life,” he exclaims. Despair stripped life of meaning and purpose. Personal fulfillment was no where to be found. Helplessness settled in and robbed him of any energy – or desire – to struggle forward.

Depression can cause an existential crisis. Why do I exist? What am I supposed to do?

I was speaking to a therapist before I had given up hope of forever being a full-time pastor again. At one point she said, “Maybe God is finished with you.” I became quite animated. As I paced back and forth across her office I said with exasperation that this was all I prepared to do since I was 14 years old. I had a Bible college and seminary education. There was nothing else that I was equipped to do. Pastor/Teacher was my calling. It was what I was supposed to do for all my life. The thought that “God is finished with you,” rocked my soul to its very core.

Job speaks the language of the one who has lost sight of why they are alive and what they’re supposed to do with that life. The meaning of life was slipping away from Job as he painfully cried, “I have no concern for myself; I despise my life.” He speaks my language.

Perhaps the greatest challenge for Job was his sense of hopelessness. Although he rises above his circumstances with expressions of hope, the majority of his words drip with the poison of bleakness.

When one dies, hope dies. There is no longer a need for hope. But for the severely depressed hope dies before life ebbs away. Someone has said, “There is nothing left to do but bury a man when all hope is gone.” Despair is living on after you have died inside.

 Job speaks the language of the hopeless. “Where then is my hope – who can see any hope for me?” He speaks my language.

Out of his pain. Out of his despair. Job resolutely speaks, “Though He slay me, yet will I hope in Him.”

I don’t agree with Job’s theology, but I admire him for his devotion and resolve.

Job speaks the language of hope. Despair has washed away almost all of his hope. But, there is still an ember burning. He speaks my language.

(Next week will be on The Language of Faith in Crisis.)

The LORD be with you.

Thank you for reading.

Jay

THE LANGUAGE OF DEPRESSION

There is a character in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible that understands me. He experienced deep grief, severe depression, dark despair, and a crisis of faith. My loss has no comparison to his, but he uses the language of my pain.

Last week I wrote about Job’s (pronounced “Joe-b”) grief. Today I want to focus on his language of what is now called “complicated grief” and severe depression.Image result for job in the bible

First, let me highlight the similarities of and differences between grief and depression. Both include intense sadness, insomnia, poor appetite, and weight loss. Complicated grief often includes anger, irritability, difficulty with acceptance of the loss, and excessive focus on or complete avoidance of the object of their pain.

Depression, however, differs in that it does not dissipate with time and is not relieved when surrounded by friends and family. Depression is persistent. Grief occurs in cycles of intensity and is often triggered by memories and reminders. Depression is constant. Pervasive.

Depression also includes guilt not associated with grief. Suicidal ideations apart from thoughts of wanting to join the deceased. Feelings of worthlessness. Interruptions in or difficulties with activities of daily living.

Job had both the characteristics of complicated grief and severe depression. Hear him speak.

“May the day of my birth perish, and the night that said, ‘A boy is conceived.’” Job’s mood was so depressed that he wished he had not been born. He goes on to say he wished the day of his birth would turn to “darkness” and “no light shine on it.” He doesn’t want his birthday celebrated. He would rather it be wiped off the calendar never to come again.

In his depression he wishes his days could be shortened because they “end without hope.” He feels like his “eyes will never see happiness again.”

Severe depression robs the light, the sparkle from your eyes. Recently, my son bemoaned the fact that I was not there for him during his growing years. He is right. My body was there, but my spirit was, at best, on life support. I spent all my energy going to work and trying to stay alive. When I got home I had nothing left to give.

More than once Job’s testy mood is demonstrated by lashing out at his friends with sarcasm. “Doubtless you are the only people who matter, and wisdom will die with you!” he says. Sadness, emptiness, hopelessness dogged his days.

Job speaks the words of a depressed mood: gloom, clouds, blackness, barren, cursed, vain, trouble. He speaks my language.

“I despise my life; I would not live forever. Let me alone; my days have no meaning,” Job utters. All interest in life is gone. Pleasure is but an allusion to him. His days are spent with pain in body and spirit. His days go by, “without a glimpse of joy.” For Job, life has become a withering flower and a passing shadow. What time remains will be “full of trouble.”

There is no purpose in living. All is sorrow. What joy, what pleasure, what happiness may be present is hidden beneath the anguish of his pain.

My father shattered his left hand and forearm and broke his back in an accident in 1981. He was 55. His injuries were so severe that he was forced to retire on disability. It broke him. For the next year he sat in a chair thinking that life was over. He eventually recovered his spirit. But from time to time he would say, “Son, do you know how much money I’d be making if I was still working?” Part of the life he loved was dead. And years later he still mourned its passing.

Job speaks the language of a man who has lost interest or pleasure in life and in life’s activities. He speaks my language.    

For Job the days are long and his nights are longer, “How long before I get up? The night drags on and I toss and turn until dawn.” Insomnia robs him of the rest he needs to cope and recover. There is no comfort to be found in his bed. What little sleep he gets is troubled by frightening dreams and terrifying visions.

I suppose I have expressed about every emotion in my sleep – fear, anger, sadness, joy . . . I have cried. Laughed. Kicked. Punched. Preached. Screamed. Pled for help. Defended. Been aggressive. Just this past week my wife had to wake me because I was fighting in my sleep. At times my family can be quite entertained by my night-time antics. At other times it is frightening and dangerous.

Job speaks the language of a man with insomnia. “My face is red with weeping; dark shadows ring my eyes.” He speaks my language.

“I am guilty – woe is me! . . . I cannot lift my head, for I am full of shame.” Feelings of worthlessness and guilt burden the spirit of Job. “When I hoped for good, evil came; when I looked for light, then came darkness. The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me.”

Guilt can actually be a good thing. But this is not the beneficial kind of guilt. It is excessive. Inappropriate. Self-loathing.

Job speaks the language of a man tortured by the pangs of guilt and the sting of shame. “My days are past; my plans are shattered.” He speaks my language. 

Fatigue and loss of energy have taken their toll on Job. “What strength do I have, that I should still hope?”

Job speaks the language of a man robbed of his vigor and struggling in the morass of exhaustion. “My life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest.” He speaks my language. 

“Yet the desires of my heart turn night into day; in the face of the darkness light is near.” Somewhere in the depths of complicated grief and severe depression, a candle of hope is still burning in the soul of Job.

If it were not for hope, I could never walk in my shoes through the many precipices of recurring clinical depression. Hope keeps me alive.

Job speaks the language of a man with hope. However dim. However small. Hope shines. He speaks my language.

(Next week I will write about The Language of Despair.)

Thank you for reading

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE LANGUAGE OF THE GRIEVING

There is a character in the Old Testament of the Christian Bible that understands me. He experienced deep grief, severe depression, dark despair, and a crisis of faith. My loss has no comparison to his, but he uses the language of my pain.

I know I have read the book of Job (pronounced “Joe-b”) multiple times during the 44 years I have been a Jesus follower. And I am certain that I have read it several more times as a whole since my depression went clinical in 1999. But, my most recent reading that ended a few weeks ago left the most profound influence on me.

I was struck by the deep grief he experienced at the loss of his children, possessions, and prestige.Image result for Job in the bible

One day a servant breathlessly ran toward Job and announced that all his oxen and donkeys were stolen and the farmers attending them killed. While he was yet speaking another servant rushed in with a declaration that all Job’s sheep and shepherds were destroyed in a fire. Standing in line was a third servant proclaiming that his camels were taken and his camelestrians slain. Finally, a fourth came and announced the worst news of all. Job’s five children were dead as a result of the collapsed structure they were in. A mighty wind off the desert was the cause.

In the time it took for four men to report their tragic tales to Job, he went from being the wealthiest man in his community to the poorest. The most respected citizen to the most ridiculed. And from a happy father to a one in great mourning.

In this pathetic state Job was further afflicted “with painful sores from the soles of his feet to the crown of his head.” Our minds can barely fathom the catastrophic emotional, mental, spiritual, and physical crisis such events would cause. Job describes the events as “dreadful” and expresses his “anguish of spirit” and “bitterness of soul.”

Although most of us have never and will never experience this kind of tragic devastation, we have all lost. Loved ones have died. Careers have ended. Marriages have dissolved. Dreams have been crushed. Health has ebbed away.

Personally, I went from respect to disdain. A comfortable living to abject poverty. A healthy savings to literally, not figuratively, literally not having two pennies to rub together. A house full of possessions to fitting everything that was left into a 2000 Ford Mustang convertible.  My marriage dissolved. I went to jail. Gone! It was all gone.

Job speaks the language of the grieving. Dreadful. Anguish of spirit. Bitterness of soul. He spoke my language.

Beyond this, Job lost his standing in the community. He cried, “People open their mouths to jeer at me.” He was treated with “scorn.” Citizens used to “step aside” when they saw him. They “rose to their feet” when he passed. Listened when he spoke. Commended him for his gracious work among the poor. But now he is “mocked.” “Disdained.” He has become a “byword.” Residents “keep their distance” and “spit” in his face. Society has decided “no one can help him.”

Do you know how embarrassing it is for an educated man with two master’s degrees to have to ask for food stamps and shop at a food bank? How humiliating it is to need medical assistance with no means to pay? How devastating it is to beg for a job at minimum wage? How degrading it is to have to take a driving test because you have been hospitalized in a psychiatric unit? How lonely you are? Hiding your illness because people do not understand mental health.

Job mourns for the loss of what he was. His verbs become past tense as he recounts the loss of dreams, peace, influence, authority, reputation, and standing. “I was.” “I thought.” “I had.”  We that have experienced the loss of reputation as a result of our mental illness grieve. Like Job we fear that we will never be at peace again. We will never be the people we were. Listen to our cry for understanding when we join in chorus with Job, “Have pity on me, my friends, have pity.”

Job speaks the language of the grieving. Tormented. Crushed. Reproached. Attacked. Humiliated. Alienated. Estranged. Forgotten. Scorned. Ridiculed. Detested. Loathed. He spoke my language.

Job groaned within at the loss of his children, possessions, and prestige. Then he lost his friends. I noticed the narrative of Job’s “comforters” went from identification – they sat in silence with him for seven days and nights. To gentle persuasion and reason. Then increasingly hostile until their speech is filled with personal attacks. Job is accused of pride, godlessness, ill-gotten gain, oppression of the poor, covetousness, wickedness, thievery, and selfishness.

The quickest way to silence someone is to attack their integrity. Going personal destroys. Like an exploding bomb filled with deadly shrapnel it maims, cripples, and kills. Rarely is there an effective way to defend against it. Job begs his accusers to “reconsider, for my integrity is at stake.” Undeterred they press on.

Tell me, how do you repent for an illness? How do you ask forgiveness for a disease? How do you confess something over which you had no control?

Job speaks the language of the grieving. “You are miserable comforters.” “Those who are at ease have contempt for misfortune.” “How can you console me with your nonsense?” “Mock on.” He spoke my language.

Sprinkled throughout Job’s tears of profound grief are glimmers of hope. Faith is still present as he declares, “Even now my witness is in heaven; my advocate is on high.” Hope revives in the midst of his pain as he shouts, “I know that my redeemer lives . . . and in my flesh I will see God.”

Job speaks the language of hope. Faith and hope live on. He spoke my language.

(Next week I will write about The Language of the Depressed.)

Thank you for reading.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE KAVANAUGH SAGA: SOME OBSERVATIONS

This first paragraph is a disclaimer. If you expect me to be partisan. Take one side or the other. Castigate either Judge Kavanaugh, Dr. Ford, or any of the other players. Or draw a conclusion. You will be sorely disappointed. With that, I will proceed.

I’m a political junky. My first remembrance of being involved in politics is when my dad took me to watch the returns come in at the Democratic election headquarters at the YWCA in my home town. I was about six or seven. I’ve been hooked ever since.

I watched the entire testimonies of Dr. Ford and Judge Kavanaugh. Read and listened to the news. Read Facebook posts and Tweeter feeds. The following are my observations.

Image result for kavanaugh ford

  • THE TRUTH DOESN’T MATTER

Neither the Republicans nor the Democrats were interested in hearing the truth or getting at the truth.

The Republicans spent their allotted time trying to punch holes in Dr. Ford’s testimony. Does taking a plane ride and then not taking a plane ride really determine a person’s credibility? Is a 15-year-old really expected to know dates, addresses, names, and how to get from one place to another in metropolitan Washington D.C.? None of the questions were meant to discover truth. They were meant to trip up Dr. Ford.

The Democrats spent their time asking for an FBI investigation. They didn’t seem to care that Judge Kavanaugh had a detailed calendar of events for the summer of 1982. They dismissed that no one mentioned by Dr. Ford could collaborate the details of her story. The script was clear – hammer the FBI investigation into the ground.

No one appeared to care a whip-stitch about the truth. What a pity!

TRUTH IS DEAD.

  • DR. FORD WAS CLEARLY TRAUMATIZED BY SOMEONE SOMEWHERE

My impression of Dr. Ford was that she was a trauma survivor. She showed the signs of a person that had been threatened or harmed with death or serious injury. Her demeanor was one of fear. Two front doors on her house was evidence enough for me that she experiences serious anxiety issues. The effort it takes for her to get on a plane was another sign.

Dr. Ford is a trauma survivor.

TRAUMA IS REAL.

  • PEOPLE ARE VERY IGNORANT ABOUT TRAUMA

“Is the woman still traumatized after 35 years? I’m sure she isn’t,” wrote one of my Facebook friends. It demonstrates his lack of understanding of the nature of trauma.

Ask a World War II, Korean War, or Vietnam combat veteran if they still have nightmares after more than 35 years. Jump at certain sounds. Get edgy if someone walks up on them suddenly and unexpectedly.

Ask a rape survivor if they are still cautious after 35 years.

Ask someone who has had a near death experience at the hands of a violent person if they still break out in sweats at night after 35 years.

I am well acquainted with a woman who was molested as a child. It happened nearly 50 years ago. To this day she is apprehensive when she’s around men, especially if they are unknown to her. She continues to have an exaggerated startle reflex. Yes, after more than 35 years, she is still traumatized.

You don’t “just get over” trauma. For some it is a lifetime journey.

THE EFFECTS OF TRAUMA LAST A LONG TIME

  • PEOPLE ARE VERY IGNORANT ABOUT BLACKOUTS

According to the Student Health Services website (Accredited by Accreditation Association for Ambulatory Health Care, INC.) a person can slur their words. Stagger. And be belligerent and aggressive. Without having a blackout from alcohol consumption.

According to their alcohol consumption calculator. A 200-pound man would have to consume. Eight 12-ounce beers with 4.5% alcohol content. In a one-hour period. Before getting into danger of a blackout.

This would give him a blood alcohol level of 0.14 to 0.17 (The legal limit for drunk driving is 0.08.) At this point a person “may experience a blackout.”

Judge Kavanaugh drank too much as a teen and young adult. But it is plausible that he did not consume enough alcohol to have a blackout.

Slurred words. Staggering. And hostility. Do not equal a blackout.

DRUNK ≠ BLACKOUT.

  • PEOPLE HAVE CHOSEN SIDES WITH VERY LITTLE EVIDENCE

One post came across my Facebook page saying, “Please pray for Judge Kavanaugh and his family!” I responded by saying we should pray for Dr. Ford as well and gave a few reasons why. The originator of the post took it down. Apparently, there is no compassion for people who threaten to topple your champion.

I have been very disappointed with my conservative and evangelical friends for their lack of empathy toward Dr. Ford and their ready willingness to tear her down in order to advance their agenda. I think I read somewhere that someone said, “Love your enemies.”

The left is no better. They are willing to judge a man on an accusation. Not because he is clearly guilty, but because he doesn’t represent their point of view.

Slay anyone who gets in your way. And to hell with my Christian faith and the evidence.

MY AGENDA IS ALL IMPORTANT AND PEOPLE BE DAMNED.

Oh, my friend, we need desperately to REPENT. And return to CIVILITY.

 

Thank you for reading.

The Lord be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #12

Suffering from severe depression, experiencing extreme paranoia, and during a dissociative episode I committed some crimes. Although I don’t remember much of what I did, I took and take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence served in the Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. They are offered to you as written with only minor editing. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.letters from jail 6

Started July 8, 2013

Dear _____

It’s my birthday. ♪ It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to . . . ♫

I trust you are doing well.

Because of the holiday our mail is backed up in the front office. They check all our mail coming in. It will all be back to normal by Wednesday, I guess.

The guys have settled down. There have been no incidents the past couple of days. The whole thing reminded me of what I used to tell the teenage foster kids I counseled, “Temper tantrums were cute when you were two. But they have ceased to be funny a long time ago. Now. They’re just pathetic.”

I guess you’re not supposed to intervene or comment. But I said I hoped the 4:00 AM drama was over. I was angry. They disturbed my morning routine. Hey, if they’re all afraid of the “crazy dude,” (what they call me) I may as well use it for some good. LOL!

K____n is an African-American man that’s been here for 22 months. He’s spiritually minded. (Although he flirts with all the females.) He showed me his baptismal certificate last night. He was baptized in jail. I also noticed he took a Bible study correspondence course. He asks me questions from time to time about spiritual things. He appears to really care.

One of the guys wanted me to preach the other night. I’m not sure I am ready for a “sermon-on-demand.” (“Now, let us look to the word of God today. It is like an artesian well ever flowing with words of comfort for this occasion.” That used to be the introduction to my funeral sermon. But I had so many funerals in that small town that I had to get another funeral sermon or two. Everyone in town had heard the first one.) But, K____h has shown some interest.

We watched the “Walking Dead” marathon on AMC over the weekend. It can be an interesting series. But gory. The guys watch movies, sports, BET, and anything that has sexy women on it. I take off my glasses, turn my back, and pray or think. K____h likes wrestling. They also watched the four “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies. And flip. Flip. Flip during commercials.

During pop call I bought chocolate milk for myself and a bag of corn chips to pass around. That was my birthday party.

I wrote my brother. He sends a card about every 10 days. When he was in prison he was really faithful about sending cards and letters. He compares my time to his – although 20 years to one is no real comparison.

There are always a few short timers that come and go.

I imagine you had a lot of clashing feelings on your birthday yesterday. Celebrating with your friends. Mourning the loss of a unique birthday tradition because of your loss. Trying to help a friend that’s shut-in (How’s that for a euphemism?) on his birthday. Remembering your loss on this day of the week several months ago. I’m sure you handle it all with grace on the outside. Although you feel the conflict between joy and pain on the inside. You are in my thoughts. I appreciate you being strong for others and me. But, you need to take time to cry. It’s okay.

July 9, 2013

I received your cards and letters today. I love the funny card. Laugh or cry. You’ve got to laugh or cry. I prefer to laugh.

I’ve been thinking about my divorce proceedings. It reminded me of my mother. She was estranged from her father the last 25 years of his life (not on her part). When he died I made sure Mom was okay, as did my brothers. At one point she looked at us and said, “Sons, I’m okay. He killed my love long ago.” I feel that way about my marriage.

Thank you for the note in the birthday card. I choose to have a good day. I choose to grow in the grace of God this year.

I’ve been thinking about the video of me that is circulating in the news. It’s the “if-only” game. If I hadn’t gone outside into the yard I wouldn’t have had those five wanton endangerment charges. By going outside, I broke the law.

You can tell by the video that the person taunting me was not scared at all. Just agitating and revengeful. S/he kept coming in and out of the house taunting me and mocking me the whole time. S/he knew I wouldn’t hurt him/her. Although s/he meant evil toward me, I love him/her. In January s/he told me s/he would turn on me and gave me the reason. It had nothing to do with me personally.

Thank you for the reference to Psalm 40. You probably know the song, “He brought me out of the miry clay . . .” is based on this Psalm.

There are two new guys in the cell. They are young. Brash. Vulgar. I like the older cons. They do their time quietly.

Goodbye for now. I want to get this in the mail before I go to bed.

 

Thank you for reading.

The Lord be with you.

Jay

REMISSION AT LAST

I have discovered the secret. To a vitally important question. The answer has eluded me for twenty years. But, it is now within my grasp. It may make me a very rich man. It’s very simple really. I’ll tell you more in a moment. But, first . . .

How do you know when you have emerged from clinical depression?Image result for depression recovery

My first episode of clinical depression began in October of 1999. For the next four-and-a-half years I walked down a very dark path. Suicidal thoughts dogged me daily.

But, I know the exact day when it was over.

It was after a Friday night concert given by some former classmates of mine. They were on the road to fame and success in the world of Southern Gospel music. In contrast, I had lost nearly everything. My life’s purpose – the reason I lived – lay in tattered rags beneath my feet. I left the concert early. Their success and my failure could no longer abide in the same room.

At home I retrieved the pistol that I kept in the top draw of my chest-of-drawers. Got out a loaded magazine clip. And jammed it into the grip.

I had put the pistol to my head before, but had never loaded it. It was loaded now and I put it to my head with every intention of pulling the trigger. Except fear, and a glimmer of hope however dull it was, intervened. I called a friend.

He came. My wife followed him in. We talked. The pistol was still in my hand, but now loosely held between my legs below my knees.

That day in April 2004 marked the beginning of my recovery. For the next three years I was free of depression.

My next clinical depressive episode started in March 2007. It lasted about four months.  I was hospitalized for the first time. Remission from that chapter was more vaguely defined. The suicidal thoughts and severe depression were gone. What remained was not recovery. It was more dysthymic. I didn’t feel bad, but I didn’t feel good either. It was like living with a rainy, cloudy day every day.

By April of 2008 I had slipped back into severe depression. The week after coming home from my second hospital visit, my wife asked me to leave. I called my Dad. He was living in a grandparent apartment attached to my brother’s house. While there, my brother did not give me time to feel sorry for myself. I mowed his yard. Cleaned his pontoon boat. Scrubbed down his wrap around deck. He kept me too busy to think about how bad I felt.

At the end of the summer I took a ministry position in a small church that had gone through some rough times. On my first Sunday there I told them, “You are hurting and I am hurting. Let’s heal together.” And we did.

Four years passed. In August 2012 I found myself overwhelmed with a far-too-large counseling load. A two-church circuit. And desperately trying to save my 33-year marriage. It was too much. I collapsed under the weight of it all into yet another depressive episode.

During the next two-and-a-half years I lost it all. Was hospitalized twice. Landed in jail for a year. And only after some very hard work spiritually and mentally did I slowly escape from the abyss. Individual and group therapy. Medication adjustments. Personal dedication. A supportive friend, family, and church. At last in January 2015 I could say I was in remission.

Although the dysthymia persisted, I was free from the most crippling aspects of my mental illness.

This last depressive episode began in August 2017 and ended June 30, 2018.

How can I be so precise?

It was the day we left for a traveling vacation.

And that, my friend, is the secret for defeating depression. It is the sure cure. The enemaImage result for cartoon enema that will flush you clean of the bile of melancholia. (How’s that for an impactful word picture?)

I jest, of course.

But, it worked for me. It was the commitments made to be at a certain place at a certain time. The routine of travel. The tight schedule. Days filled with activity. Visiting friends and family. Talking. Listening. Comforting. Storytelling. Making memories.

You know by now that I have no secret solution to overcoming clinical depression. Each of my episodes have had both commonalities and peculiarities. It takes time. Effort. Commitment. Support. Planning your recovery and working your plan. Hope.

I can tell you one thing with certainty. You will emerge stronger.

Here’s to the journey. The discovery. The recovery. The remission.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

SEPTEMBER 11, 2001 AND PTSD

Where were you when . . . ?

I guess we could go back through history and discover our ancestors asked the same question.

“Where were you when the British fired on the American Minutemen at the Lexington green?”

“Where were you when the Charleston cannonade exploded on Fort Sumter?”

“Where were you when the Lusitania was torpedoed in the Atlantic?”

For my parents’ generation, it was, “Where were you when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor?”

My generation asks, “Where were you when John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr., or Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated?”

Image result for FIRST responder 9-11My children remember where they were on September 11, 2001.

Only two months before we had moved and were just settling in to our new home and place. I was on my way to get a drug test for the new job I was about to begin. The Human Resources Department found a little 12-inch TV and had it blaring. No one really knew what was happening and the situation there was one of concerned calm.

By the evening hours we all knew we had been attacked and were at war. My daughter was five months pregnant and clearly anxious. She asked me, “Dad, are we in any danger here?” I smiled. Not because I thought it was a humorous question, but because of where we lived. Our home was very rural with nothing of military or terroristic value for 75 to 100 miles. I reassuringly said, “Honey, there’s nothing here that anyone wants. We’re in one of the safest places in the United States right now.”

The immediate impact on the mental health of the first responders and their families was immense. The stress on our government was obvious as they struggled to formulate a response. Our military had few delusions about their new responsibility.

Others were affected, too. I went out and bought a flag. It was the last one they had. We proudly displayed it on our front porch. Some ran off to a military recruiting office. A blood bank. A Red Cross volunteer station. A donation depot. Most of us were glued to our TV’s. At one of the residential mental health facilities in our area they had to turn off the 24-7 news stories. The residents were showing signs of PTSD.

Waving goodbye to a local army reserve or national guard unit became common. As did the parades that welcomed them home again. Very few of us that had any understanding of what was going on in those days were unaffected.

One of the results of 17 years of war is a mental health crisis. It is not unique to our times, but there is more coverage of it and more help available for it than in times past.

I listened as a World War II veteran told about forty years of continuous nightmares. Running to an imaginary machine gun on the front porch of his home in Eastern Tennessee as unreal planes dropped their illusionary bombs. Sometimes in the middle of the night he would wake his wife and children and gather them into an unseen front porch bomb shelter until the raid had ceased.

A wife talked to me about her Vietnam veteran husband and the violent screams and shakes he still had after a dozen years. Then president Richard Nixon pinned a Distinguished Service Metal to his chest. But the recognition did little to relieve the trauma.

Today the emotionally wounded and traumatized walk among us. Most of them go about their day with little notice. They don’t talk about it. They don’t let you see their worst moments. They suffer in silence. Nightmares are only one of their symptoms. Exaggerated startle reflex. Social anxiety. Flashbacks. And more.

If you know a first responder, a veteran, or a civilian who was in a war zone remember the coming of September 11 each year may mean something quite different to them then it does to you and me. Be sensitive to their moods. Be understanding of their needs. Give them your full support.

 

The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #11-B

Suffering from severe depression, experiencing extreme paranoia, and during a dissociative episode I committed some crimes. Although I don’t remember much of what I did, I took and take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence served in the Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. They are offered to you as written with only minor editing. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.

Began July 3, 2013

Dear __________ (continued from last week)letters from jail 6

July 5, 2013

The tension in the cell just went up as two guys argued over lunch. It was over a deal gone bad. I don’t make deals or trades. There are too many misunderstandings.

By God’s grace I don’t plan on making a big deal over possessions ever again. People? That is a different matter, but “things” can be replaced. (I’m expecting to be really tested on this resolve soon.)

One of the guys came to me and said God wasn’t helping him or talking to him. I spoke with him about the way God speaks to us – primarily through the Scriptures. He said he was praying for wisdom. I asked him if he was the same man he was 22 months ago when he came to jail. “No,” he replied, “I’ve changed a lot. I used to be a very angry man.” “And you don’t think the Lord is helping you or speaking to you,” I asked. “Oh,” he said, “I can see now.” So often we look for God in a presupposed way and miss Him in all the obvious ways.

Another guy told me I was the nicest guy he has ever met in jail. I took that as a compliment since he’s been in and out of jail for the past 35 years.

My brother sent me a card and deposited some money on my account. My other brother left some money on account for me during his last visit. And some people from the church I pastored did the same after they visited. That’s my letter writing money. Well, I also get toiletries and a chocolate milk now and then. I try not to spend much. One fellow spent $300.00 dollars in 10 days. He liked to throw his money around. My worth in not in my pocketbook.

Do you have any pictures of us during our high school years? Mom and Dad kept some pictures of people I used to run with back then. You know, when some of your old flames stay close to your parents after you break up, it can be a problem. I know Mom and Dad kept track of you until they left Anderson in 2001 after their health broke. They both liked you very much.

The guys say I talk so proper when I’m asleep. “Now, we won’t tolerate that kind of behavior.” “Let’s stop the cussing now.” And, “Don’t say that word in front of the kids.” LOL! I’m glad what I say in my sleep does not contradict what I say and live when I am awake.

July 6, 2013

The guys are messing with my sleep schedule. Some stay up until 4:00 AM and don’t get up until 4:00 PM. They start getting noisy around midnight. I still wake up at 3:00 AM and begin my devotions at 5:30 or 6:00 AM. But, I’ve started sleeping in the mornings some after breakfast. I can’t seem to sleep at any other time now. Yea!

In my devotions this morning the Psalmist talked about putting your trust in the Lord. As I prayed I began each petition with, “Lord, I trust you for . . .” It was a special time.

On being wronged. I’ve been very anxious about my other legal problems. I’ve played different scenarios over and over in my head. It really troubles my spirit to think on these things. None of my scenarios end well. I’m having a hard time accepting that things that belonged to my employer, the church, and my inheritance from my parents have been taken. The hurt that continues to be inflicted . . . I will trust in the Lord. He knows all. I’m not there yet, but I try to turn each hurt, each pain, each troubling scenario, each thought over to the Lord. How long does it take to become a distant memory instead of a festering wound?

Oh, how I want to be free. Jail is bad enough, but the bondage of my other legal issues and the prison of troubling memories make this experience worse. Oh, the regrets. The “what ifs” that stir the contentious waters of the soul.

Mostly I hide the pain behind a laugh, except for in the still of the night, or on the pages I write to you, or in the pleas I cry out before our God. Oh, to be free. Oh, to be free. Oh, to be able to live again instead of standing still in the quicksand that threatens to engulf me today.

Well, enough complaining. I would love to put in an audacious laugh line here, but I don’t have one.

Happy birthday. I bless your mother and father for rearing such a beautiful person.

There was trouble in paradise last night (not me). Lots of yelling and threats. No action.

Church was okay. I wish they had music.

Oh, I’ve been given another nickname, “Preacher.” It beats “Chainsaw” and “Shotgun.”

Take care of yourself. Trust your family is well.

Sincerely,

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #11-A*

Suffering from severe depression, experiencing extreme paranoia, and during a dissociative episode I committed some crimes. Although I don’t remember much of what I did, I took and take full responsibility for my actions. I accepted a plea deal that resulted in a 360-day sentence served in the Hopkins County Jail in Kentucky. These letters are a record of my journey and recovery both mentally and spiritually. They are offered to you as written with only minor editing. It is my prayer that through my experience you may find hope and help.letters from jail 6

 

Began July 3, 2013

Dear F_____

 

I trust you are doing well. I think of you often in my prayers.

Did you notice I quit numbering my “tomes?” I lost count. It is one of my joys to be able to write each day. By now I suppose you have noticed that I hold your letter in one hand while writing with the other. In between paragraphs of response to what you have written, I insert the main and exciting events of my day. (If you did not notice that last phrase was sarcasm.)

The chaplain’s wife, Peggy, did Bible study tonight. She’s good! Her lesson was on Gideon. Before beginning she asked the 40 men in the room who had heard of Gideon. F_____, I was the only one to raise my hand. The generation Xers and beyond are ignorant of the simplest Biblical knowledge. How can they hear without a preacher?

One of the guys got a 180-day sentence today. He cried. I tried to share with him in his grief. I think his dad was behind the harsher sentence. Tough love. I try to walk through each door God opens.

July 4, 2013

It’s the fourth of July. I’m sitting in the yard. Alone. Celebrating. I spent time exercising and singing loudly. Walking and doing push-ups. Then I read a chapter of a book called, “Unchained.”

I had some troubling dreams last night. They’re signs of unresolved conflict, I think. I woke up praying that God would help me forgive and put to rest the thoughts that trouble me. For a while I’d stopped talking in my sleep. Now I’m doing it almost every night. Putting to rest my disappointments and tribulations is one of my main goals. I don’t want to continue walking through the nights acting out in my sleep.

I’m sorry you’re feeling overwhelmed. There’s nothing quite so frustrating as having work piling up and no means of doing it all. Well, if you get through this crisis you’ll be a veteran.

A new computer should be fun – all the latest gadgets. Others in the office will become envious. Tell them the old computer wouldn’t work for a political conservative.

Yes, you have to do the traditional “man” things – mowing, fixing the AC, trimming trees, etc. I loved your scissors comment about the way you trim the bushes. I suggest you get some week killer or gasoline. Pull the weeds the mower can’t get and pour on the weed killer and forget about it until next year. Perhaps your daughter and granddaughter can help. My dad didn’t mow a yard for 18 years – children – boys. By that time grandchildren came along to help. I imagine, with your high humidity, you have to mow a couple of times a week. When I lived in Mississippi I mowed early mornings – before 7:00 – or late evenings – after 7:00 – so I could skip the hottest parts of the day. I found out the mower will cut wet grass, too.

Your reference to the “tree in the car” was classic. Just tell others you don’t have AC in your car so you were trying to travel with your own shade.

The “pipe” coming from your AC is the drain. All that moisture the AC takes out of the air has to go somewhere. Keep it clear or your AC won’t work properly. Sometimes spiders will weave webs on the inside of the tube. That can be enough to clog it up, too. Just take it off and blow through it to destroy the web. Fun! Fun!

It’s crowded here in the jail. Most cells have someone on the floor and they have some in the gym. I imagine the drunk tank will be full tonight. I love your use of the word “confined.” Yes, ma’am, we have a “lock” on this holiday.

Does your town have a parade? Fireworks? Other activities? on Independence Day? I’m not a big one for large crowds either. I get claustrophobic. I like my privacy bubble to be about two-arms-length in circumference. I only let family in closer than that. And no one touches my head. Now, how did I get there from the fourth of July celebrations?

Do you remember the midnight parade in our hometown? It got so rowdy that they had to discontinue it. I remember going out to Killbuck Park for the fireworks. Several times we would have a picnic and fish before the main show. Sometimes they had a comedian or magician. It was a whole evening of events. Later we went to the fireworks in Chesterfield and had a cookout at home or at Mounds State Park. We always tried to watch fireworks. What did/do you do?

In your hunt for stationery you may find some at a card shop or a business store. But, whatever you write on is fine with me. White paper, blue. Stationery, notebook – whatever the vehicle of transfer is is fine with me. I’m enjoying writing and receiving letters, although I question my ability to write. Maybe, I could get my hands on a yellow legal pad to add some variety.

I quit reading the “chick book.” It was moving too slowly. I’m reading “John Wesley on Prayer,” Hannah Whitall Smith’s book, “The Christian’s Secret to a Happy Life,” and “Unchained” by Mac Gober. The library isn’t organized and everything is old, but I keep finding decent titles to read. The chaplain got me a Bible and the “Our Daily Bread” monthly devotional series. I’m reading from Psalms and Proverbs daily and I’m reading through the New Testament. I’m currently in the Gospel of John. I also use the book by Wesley in the morning and the one by Smith in the afternoon. I get up before the TV comes on for my main devotional time. I also spend some time each morning, afternoon, and evening writing.

*The second half of the letter will be posted next week.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

BETRAYED

(What I will share at the end of this article I have disclosed to only one person and that only about four years ago. Because of this week’s news stories, I felt it was time to go public.)

One Thousand Plus Reports of Sexual Abuse by Catholic Priests in Pennsylvania

read one headline as a grand jury report was released to the public last week. It was shocking. Disheartening. Disappointing. Painful. Although I am not a Roman Catholic, I understand some of the sense of betrayal and disbelief that many of them feel. You see, I have been there, too.

As a pastor’s son and a former pastor myself, I have watched clergy fail and leadership cover it up. I have seen the pain in people’s eyes. Watched as they slipped away from the Church and away from God. Witnessed their tears of anguish as they tried to process what had happened. And, from my own personal experience, I know the questioning it has caused. The inability to process or even believe what they and I have experienced. The shaking of one’s faith in the clergy and leadership of the Church.

As a boy I remember well when a beloved, respected, and well-known pastor was removed from his church because of an affair. When his soon-to-be-ex-wife and their son, who was my age, stepped onto the grounds of our annual campmeeting, I heard the whispers. Looked at faces filled with both compassion and doubt. Saw them stand alone in the midst of a crowd. If I recall correctly, it was the last time they attended a district function.

Unfortunately, this was not an isolated incident. I could write about a beloved teacher and personal friend of my father being removed from ministry when a multitude of women came forth with accusations of abuse. Another one of my teachers was forced from his/her position because of an unfaithful spouse. A few months after hearing a camp evangelist preach, he, a district superintendent, was indicted and imprisoned on a sexual related charge. I knew the father and brother of another church leader who went to prison under similar circumstances. After abusing under-age girls, two ministers that I knew personally were defrocked and faced possible charges.

My heart broke as I read this headline,

Sex abuse report lists a beloved Pittsburgh priest, and a church reels.

I had a similar experience. I was hired on staff at a church about a month before the pastor was to leave. People wept with grief in losing their beloved pastor. Unbeknownst to me, others wept in anguish. A couple of months later I found out that this pastor had been arrested for sexual solicitation of an undercover officer in a city park in a large Mid-Western city. The local church covered it up. In the process they learned that soliciting for sex was a regular, albeit infrequent, occurrence of their pastor. It had been going on all during his ministry. But, the local church leadership was afraid that if such a thing became public it would destroy their church. In spite of their careful silence, or perhaps because of it, several people left the church and some lost their faith.

But, that wasn’t the worst of it. The man was allowed to go to a different church to pastor. When his former district superintendent found out he informed his present superintendent. The two of them went to the highest leadership in our church, general superintendent, to tell their story. Because of the fear of being sued by this immoral pastor, the three of them agreed to continue covering it up. I heard, and it was later confirmed, that his behavior continued in that church. It was a travesty of unconscionable proportions. As a brand-new member of the clergy it shook my faith in the leadership of my church.

I listened to several interviews from the victims of sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church of Pennsylvania. Two women interviewed were raped, one by six different priests, and impregnated. Three men told of being raped, fondled, and photographed. There were six people in one interview, all of whom left the Church. One angrily expressed the loss of her Church, her faith, and her God.

It was during my freshman year of college. I was 17. A beloved missionary who had grown close to my family, especially to my parents, was in the area. He called and asked me to come see him and spend the night. I readily agreed. The host pastor was not expecting me, of course, therefore I shared a bed with my missionary friend. I had no reason to be apprehensive about this arrangement.

In the morning as I awoke I could feel his hand near my crotch. He was trying to “tickle” me. Or so he said. With each “tickle” attempt he moved his hand closer and closer to my private parts. It was very apparent what his goal was. When he finally reached his destination and touched me, he immediately withdrew his hand. As if it were an accident.

During this entire time, I was frozen. Unable to move. Unable to speak. Unable to believe what this “man of God” was doing and did. It really rocked me.

My faith was not shaken. My belief in God did not waver. My confidence in my church and in the professional clergy was not altered. But, my trust in him was forever changed.

The guilt I carry for not stopping it comes to the fore from time to time. Shame has caused me to hide it for 41 years. Disbelief that this actually happened has made it difficult to process. Suspicions of other victims both before and after me crowd my thoughts. Even now, although I’m sure he has long since died, I protect his identity. Fortunately, it was the last time I ever saw him.

When I hear of the horrific abuse and sexual violence some people have experienced, I know I have no comparable story. There is no way, in my estimation, that I could even sit at the same table or in the same auditorium as they. But, in a very small way, I understand the trauma of trust betrayed.

National Sexual Assault Hotline

Call 1-800-656-4673

The LORD be with you.

Jay

A PRAYER

Our Father and our God, as I read Your word may I hear Your voice speaking to me. May I understand Your word more fully and completely in order that I may more perfectly serve and worship You. May I not only be a willing hearer of Your word, but may I also seek to put it into daily practice as a doer of Your word. And, LORD, help me to hide Your word in my heart that I may not sin against You and memorize Your word that I may have a ready defense for the hope that is within me.

Father, in Jesus name, and through the Holy Spirit may I worship You in Your character of holiness and divine love. Sovereign LORD, let me know You, to gain a true and accurate understanding and knowledge of Your character and Your ways. As much as I am capable, let me know You in the manner You have revealed Yourself in Your word. Help me to recognize and praise You for Your absolute attributes of spirituality,18620974_10155412045859198_1985248405556161235_o infinity, eternity, immensity, immutability, and perfection; Your relative attributes of omnipresence, omniscience, omnipotence, wisdom, and goodness; and Your moral attributes of truth, justice, and righteousness. I praise You too, for Your works of creation and redemption.

Father, I desire a vital relationship with You. Help me to abide in You by depending upon You and getting my spiritual nourishment and life through Jesus Christ my Lord and Savior. I submit myself to Your Lordship: all of my dreams, all of my plans, all of my desires, all I am and have is Yours. Blessed Trinity, I love You and I want to love You more perfectly with all of my heart, all of my soul, all of my mind, and all of my strength. Help me to love others as Jesus has loved me and put that into visible practice wherever I may be.

Father, You know my needs before I ask, yet You invite me to come boldly and make my requests known to You.

  • I desire wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. I need Your guidance. Let me be prudent and discreet in all my actions.
  • As a parent, I pray for wisdom. Help me to be more grace than law, more understanding and less condemning, sweeter, more affectionate, and more involved. Help me to focus more on the positive and less on the negative. Help me catch my children and grandchildren being good more than I look for what they may do wrong.
  • Lead me safely as I navigate through trials, tests, and temptations. Help me to grow in grace and add to my faith goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, mutual affection, and love. May I grow in holiness, purity, and righteousness. Give me a keen sense of when sin is at the door and help me to hate sin in all of its forms.
  • LORD, never let me become so arrogant that I fail to confess and ask forgiveness for my known and unknown sins. I acknowledge my faults and shortcomings. For my sins that were unintended, unwitting, and thoughtless I ask for Your forgiveness. I confess and repent before You of the times when I have been unfaithful, unintendedly deceptive, or committed sins of omission.
  • Help me to be a humble man and to be real before You and others. Let me recognize my personal poverty and unworthiness. Help me to lean fully upon Jesus. Whatever accolades I may receive or successes I may enjoy, let me recognize that Your hand was there to help me. I owe all the glory, praise, and thanksgiving to You.
  • I pray that the Holy Spirit will be my control over my anger. Cleanse me of unrighteous anger. Let me not deceive myself by calling carnal anger “righteous indignation.” Rather, let my anger be an instrument to motivate me to righteous action.
  • Give me the grace to forgive and purge me from any grudge I may harbor.
  • Help me to discern clearly the difference between manipulation for personal or selfish gain and instruction in righteousness. Let me not be afraid to do the latter even when I am accused of the former while doing it. Convict the hearers of Your word in truth, righteousness, and judgement.
  • Be my healer. Stabilize my depression and help me to do my part to achieve remission. I pray for my counselor and the counseling process that it may be rewarding for my counselor and beneficial for me.
  • Be the inspiration of my writings and help me to garner the discipline necessary to write, do ministry, and the other tasks that lay before me.
  • Prompt me to be diligent and take delight in prayer.
  • For my relationship with my wife, I pray, oh God, that I would always treat her with value, dignity, and respect as a person made in the image and likeness of God. May I strive to love her as Christ loved the Church and willingly give my life for her. Help me to edify, encourage, and build up her spirit and self-esteem. Let me be found serving her while expecting nothing of her. May I always count her a gift from You.

Father, it is not Your desire that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. Jesus died that these may have abundant life and live eternally. Jesus rose that they may have victory over sin, death, hell, and the grave. I pray for family and friends to be convicted, repent, confess, believe, and receive Your salvation and walk in that newness of life.

Father, I pray for our pastoral staff as they lead our church and break to us the words of life. Our children, family, and friends who are involved in ministry. Our children, family, and friends who are in other cultures and other countries ministering. May my worship be alive and my service acceptable in Your sight. May I live Christ-centered and other-focused. Help me to be an example of a disciple and spiritual leader and be a discipler in my home.

Father, I pray for the God-appointed authorities over us that they would promote morality, hold truth sacred, protect our nation and communities in order that we may live in peace and security, implement justice, pass just laws, act in just ways, help and protect the poor, and be kind and helpful to the strangers among us. 

Father, I pray for my family. For physical and mental health, education, submission to authority, parenting, finances, safety, work, spiritual growth, ministry, marriages, emotional pain, and purity. May they be devoted to You and to Your will. May those that influence them do so for righteousness and draw them nearer to Jesus.

Father, I give you thinks for my daily provisions and temporal blessings. Thank You for my heritage through my parents, church, college, and seminary. Thank You for bringing me out of darkness into light; from death to life; from sin to righteousness. Thank You for all that You give me in the way of talents, abilities, and spiritual blessings. I give them all to You and assign to You all the glory and praise for anything and everything right I may do.

In the strong name of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

 

DETERMINED TO BE A SURVIVOR

*After 22 years of continuous service, I had to leave the ministry. No, neither my wife nor I were unfaithful. Pornography is not an issue. All of my financial obligations are current. None of the salacious and sensational applies. I had to leave the ministry due to a severe recurrent major depressive disorder (MDD).

Depression is more than just “the blues.” To have a clinical diagnosis of depression youImage result for a survivor not a victim must have five of the following symptoms most of the day, nearly every day for at least two weeks: 1) A depressed mood. 2) Markedly diminished interest or pleasure in all, or almost all, activities. 3) Significant weight loss when not dieting or weight gain; or decrease or increase in appetite. 4) Insomnia or hypersomnia. 5) Psychomotor agitation or retardation. 6) Fatigue or loss of energy. 7) Feelings of worthlessness or excessive or inappropriate guilt. 8) Diminished ability to think or concentrate, or indecisiveness. 9) Recurrent thoughts of death, recurrent suicidal ideation without a specific plan, or a suicide attempt or a specific plan for committing suicide. (DSM IV) To be designated severe requires eight or all nine symptoms be present, and recurrent means you have had more than one episode of clinical depression.

According to the Mayo Clinic web site, contributing factors to depression include: heredity, stress, medications, illnesses, personality, alcohol, nicotine, drug abuse, diet, and loss. Other factors include hostility, anger, poor social networks, a lack of control over one’s circumstances, and perfectionistic thinking.

In the past those of us with depression were often suspect. “Sin is the cause,” said Job’s comforters. “You lack faith,” is the second stanza. Songs about being happy all the time and never being discouraged only add to our anguish. We suffer in silence. Often question our spiritual standing. Frequent the altar during revivals, camp meetings, and penetrating sermons. Many are yet to learn that depression is an illness. It is no different than diabetes or cancer or any other persistent affliction. It is NOT always attributable to a spiritual lapse.

In my fight to overcome depression I am learning several important lessons.

First – Challenge haunting self-talk. You must. You ought. You should. Always. Never. Irrational beliefs and what Albert Ellis calls “demandingness” cause stress and frustration.

Second – Accept God’s grace. Trying to please God through works is a direct route to depression. The Galatians were entangled in a yoke of bondage (Galatians 5:1) because of “works righteousness.” The only way to please God is in and through Jesus Christ.

Third – Acknowledge limitations. In my perfectionistic thinking (what I call “internal legalism) I felt I had to work 60 hours a week, be on time every time, rarely make grammatical errors, never allow the congregation to see me discouraged, and always be a tower of strength on which everyone could rely. “I can do all things,” was my motto. (Obviously I left out the most important part, “through Christ who gives me strength.”) I failed to acknowledge that even Jesus took breaks from ministry, grew weary, and needed rest.

Fourth – Get help early and as often as needed. For each of the above symptoms and causes of depression there is treatment available. It is CRITICAL to seek help if depression persists. Suicide is a leading cause of death among the depressed.

Despair is also a great temptation for the Christian with depression. Despair is not only dangerous physically, but devastating spiritually. Without hope we are lost. Indeed, “hope is an anchor for the soul.” (Hebrews 6:19)

Fifth – You are not alone.  Job was depressed after his tragic losses. Elijah experienced depression from exhaustion and disappointment. He even prayed to die. You cannot read some Psalms without recognizing the author was struggling with depression.

The great Baptist pastor and teacher, Charles Spurgeon, wrote about personal depression. David Brainerd, an early missionary to Native Americans, woke up from depressed-induced sleep not knowing what day it was.

I do not take comfort in their misery; I take courage that people of God have found a way to minister and endure despite personal mental health issues. They also heard God’s “still, small voice” through the gloom and desperation of severe depression.

Although I am currently limited in what I can do in the ministry, the call of God still burns on my soul. Sermons come that I hope to deliver. The desire to pastor and minister is very much alive. Someday, with God’s help, I will again return to full-time ministerial service and answer “aye” to the ministerial roll call.

*I wrote this article for the February 2004 edition of The Wesleyan Advocate. By God’s grace I stayed very active in ministry up until May of 2013. After that I had to retire, but I still look for opportunities to minister. The call still burns.

The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

 

WILL YOU TALK TO ME IN HEAVEN?

“I have to forgive him, but I don’t have to reconcile with him,” was the statement I heard through the phone line. The caller and I were discussing a situation in her family where a daughter would not speak to her father. The daughter had cause to be upset. Her father had put her and her children in a very dangerous circumstance. However, he had repented, confessed, and attempted to make amends, but she would have none of it. Forgive? Yes. Reconcile? No!Image result for reconciliation

From the time of that conversation I have become aware of several Christian families who are estranged from one another. Daughters won’t speak to their mothers. Sons won’t speak to their fathers. Brothers and sisters carry irreconcilable grievances against one another. Spouses will not step foot in the homes of their in-laws. I have written about family members and former friends that will not speak to me because of my offense in May of 2013. Oh, each one would profess to have forgiven – after all that is commanded by God – but reconciliation is illusive.

In some of my past writings I have struggled with this question of forgiveness and reconciliation. God both forgives and reconciles with the repentant sinner at the same time in the same action, but I will concede that for we humans it is often a two-step procedure. The process of forgiveness is often worked through between the offended and God long before the offender ever asks for it, if they ever do. However, the process of reconciliation requires a whole other level of commitment. It requires intimate, one-on-one interaction. You can forgive from afar. Reconciliation is up close. Personal.

The thing that bothers me the most is that this is occurring between those professing to be followers of Christ. I am not talking about the offenses perpetrated by a sinner upon a saint. Criminal upon Christian. Reprobate upon the righteous. NO! It is saint upon saint. Christian upon Christian. One follower of Jesus upon another follower of Jesus. Is this the way it is supposed to be? In exasperation I asked my wife a few weeks back, “Do you think they will talk to me in heaven?”

So, does the Bible say that we do not have to reconcile with our brother and sister in Christ? You be the judge. (All references are from the New International Version [NIV].)


John 13:34, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”

Matthew 5:23-24, “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” 

Romans 14:19, “Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.”

I Corinthians 3:3, “You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere humans?”

I Corinthians 10:24, “No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

I Corinthians 13:4-7, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

II Corinthians 2:5-8, “But if any has caused sorrow, he has caused sorrow not to me, but in some degree—in order not to say too much—to all of you. Sufficient for such a one is this punishment which was inflicted by the majority, so that on the contrary you should rather forgive and comfort him, otherwise such a one might be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Wherefore I urge you to reaffirm your love for him.”

II Corinthians 5:17-18, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation.”

II Corinthians 7:8-12, “For though I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it; though I did regret it—for I see that that letter caused you sorrow, though only for a while— I now rejoice, not that you were made sorrowful, but that you were made sorrowful to the point of repentance; for you were made sorrowful according to the will of God, so that you might not suffer loss in anything through us. For the sorrow that is according to the will of God produces a repentance without regret, leading to salvation, but the sorrow of the world produces death. For behold what earnestness this very thing, this godly sorrow, has produced in you: what vindication of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what avenging of wrong! In everything you demonstrated yourselves to be innocent in the matter. So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the offender nor for the sake of the one offended, but that your earnestness on our behalf might be made known to you in the sight of God.

II Corinthians 13:11, “Finally, brethren, rejoice, be made complete, be comforted, be like-minded, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.”

Galatians 5:14-15, “For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, ‘YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.’ But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.”

Galatians 6:1, “If anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.”

Galatians 6:10, “So then, while we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith.”

Ephesians 4:1-3, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord, implore you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing tolerance for one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Ephesians 4:32, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.”

Philippians 1:9-10, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.”

Philippians 1:27, “Only conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or remain absent, I will hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel.”

Philippians 2:14-15, “Do all things without grumbling or disputing; so that you will prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you appear as lights in the world.”

Philippians 4:5, “Let your gentle spirit be known to all.”

Colossians 1:19-20, “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Colossians 3:12-15, “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful.”

Colossians 4:5-6, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”

(I stop here because I have not finished my survey of the New Testament as of this writing.)


I want to challenge anyone to produce one verse of scripture – Old Testament or New Testament – that clearly states we need NOT reconcile with our fellow believer.

Oh, Lord, bring peace to your children.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

VACATION LESSONS

Twelve days, 2950.03 miles, and eight states. That was our vacation. But, it was so much more than that.

We were able to see wildlife in their natural habitat. Elk. Bison. Turkey.

And we saw some majestic animals in captivity, but nonetheless beautiful. Lions. Tigers. Bears.

As a history buff, I had to stop at any venue that my family would indulge me. The Hermitage, home of Andrew Jackson. A view of the John Roebling bridge in Cincinnati. This was a model for the one he designed for New York – the Brooklyn Bridge.

We enjoyed a night among the music venues of Nashville and a tour of Cincinnati. It was especially nice to show my family the scenic visages of The Land Between the Lakes in Western Kentucky.

While in Northern Kentucky, we took in the Ark Encounter. It is the largest wood structure in the world. Enormous. Although, I did not agree with all their conclusions and the resulting displays, (I am not a young earther.) what they presented was plausible. And in the realm of science or history that you cannot reproduce, plausible is about the best standard you can hope for. It was worth the visit.

As a final treat on the way home, we stopped at Lambert’s Cafe in Sikeston, MO. It was fun for all.

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But this vacation was about so much more than place and things. It was primarily about people. I had the privilege of having supper in Memphis with one of my former students. I wasn’t sure what to expect from her and her husband, but I need not have worried. She was accepting, edifying, and encouraging.

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We stopped by to see a dear friend along the way. She was/is my wife’s best friend and she and I went to school together from 7th grade to graduation. The three of us shared many youth camping experiences at our church campgrounds. She also wrote to me and prayed for me while I was in jail.

We did not come at a happy time. She had just suffered a devastating loss. But we had the opportunity to minister grace to her, hear her strong testimony, and sing together of our love for Jesus as she played the piano.

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Both my wife and I immersed ourselves in as much family as we could.

I visited my parent’s grave site. It never fails to move me to tears. Perhaps its the pain that could have been avoided had I listened to their advice. Perhaps, I miss my talks with Mom and the wisdom of my dad.

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There was a first on this vacation. Although I have shared my story with my readers and a couple of friends and family, it was the first time anyone has asked me to share my story with them. Five years, two months to the day someone said, “Jay, tell me what happened.” Thank you for asking. Thank you for listening.

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I learned a few things on this vacation.

  • I still need to work on being patient and my OCD tendencies.
  • I still need to work on that “respect button” triggering anger.
  • If my wife were a Roman Catholic, she would be a candidate for sainthood.
  • Unconditional love and kindness do not depend upon the recipient, but upon the giver.
  • Don’t take history haters to a historical site.

Some lessons were reaffirmed.

  • Misery loves company.
  • Hurt people hurt people.
  • Keep Jesus as the center of your life.
  • Make people your focus. People are far more important than anything else on this earth.
  • You need air-conditioning for a 1,200 mile trip into the southwest.

Oh, I brought home a sweet little 1998 S10. The most important thing about it? It was the last vehicle my wife’s mother owned.

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The LORD be with you.

Jay

ELUSIVE REMISSION

I am in my fifth clinical depressive episode since 1999 and have been for more than 10 months. There are a few things different about this experience than the others.

It is not as severe. The lines between mild, moderate, and severe depression are blurry atImage result for yo-yo best. For example, in the DSM moderate depression is defined as somewhere between mild and severe. Dah! Like that really helps. For me, the line that defines severe depression is consistent thoughts of death and/or suicidal ideations. Thankfully, I have not traversed that boundary this time.

A second difference is that it is up and down. Not in a bi-polar sense of extreme highs and lows, but in the sense of better and worse days. My journal is full of yo-yo like recordings. In one entry my mood is improving, three days later it is depressed. Stable. Down. Lifting. Dark.

Another difference is the fixation with what might have been and what ought to be. In previous episodes I have been occupied with staying alive and putting one foot in front of the other. Now, however, my mind spins with credentials lost, relationships broken, spiritual abandonment, and incongruous Christian walk. Although the former is far more frightening, it is also much simpler. You have one thing to think about – staying alive.

These thoughts are filled with neglect, regret, failure, unimportance, anger. It is the unrewarded effort. The untouchable soul. The rejected logic. The dismissed rebuke. The futility of revelation. When the house is quiet and everyone is asleep or gone, it the roar that screams against my peace.

Just this evening (June 19, 2018) I was telling my counselor that there was this persistent feeling that my life was a mistake. Oh no, not that I should not have lived, but that I should not have done with my life what I did. From the time I was 14 years old, I sensed that I was called to be a pastor/teacher. Now, however, with the way things have turned out and my inability to handle stress, I wonder if the “call” came from God or was it me wanting to walk in the footsteps of my father and brother. Perhaps I should have focused on the teaching part of ministry rather than the pastoral side. Can a series of mistakes made at 14 derail his life for the next 40 plus years? Leaving him to wonder in the desert? Uncertain? Detoured? Lost?

This episode has had its physical dimension. Sleep has eluded me night after night until I am so exhausted that I sleep for 12 or 14 hours straight. Nightmares are abundant. For 10 months this cycle has not abated and little has helped. “There is no long-term remission without sound sleep,” one entry in my journal states. Physical exhaustion results in mental and emotional depression.

I have gained weight and although it is currently stable I seem incapable of losing. I’ve had three cancer scares. Diagnosed with second stage kidney disease. Gall bladder surgery. A bad case of the flu. And a knee and a back that just won’t heal.

Please! Please. I’m not complaining. It’s the old warning about the straw that broke the camel’s back. Most people can handle one thing or two things or even three things. But, even a healthy person will eventually break if enough pressure is applied.

Hence, remission has been elusive. On May 31 I wrote, “I think I’m in remission.” On June 3, “depression.” It’s almost humorous. Remission is stalled. Short-lived.

Letting go is the key to my recovery, but it is so very painful and difficult. I asked my wife tonight, “Do you think I am less than the husband and father that I could be because of my inability to let go of the hurts of my past?” It was an unfair question, but I could see the answer on her face. My past is robbing me of my present joy and my future happiness. This cannot, must not, continue.

I have a challenge before me. The way is unclear. I’m not sure how to proceed. But I am determined to face it. Defeat it. Be victorious. By the grace of God.

 

The LORD be with you.

HE VOTED FOR ME

I wrote this piece some years ago during one of the presidential election cycles. With all the primaries and run-off elections occurring, I thought I would share it with you.


 

Long before I met Jesus, He voted for me. Before the foundation of the world, He voted for me. As a babe born in a manger, He voted for me. Tempted in the midst of great weakness He overcame and voted for me. As Jesus taught His generation and healed them of their diseases, He voted for me. When He prayed in the garden, “Not My will, butImage result for i vote for Jesus Thine be done,” He voted for me. As one disciple betrayed Him with a kiss and another denied Him with an oath and the others fled into the night, He voted for me. While Jesus was tried before a kangaroo court, before religious leaders, a King, and a Governor, He voted for me. With each indignity He bore from the slaps, spittle, and stripes, He voted for me. As He walked down the Via Del A Rosa carrying His own death instrument, He voted for me. When the crowds jeered at the LORD with cruel mocking and laughter, He voted for me.  Even as three nails pierced His hands and feet, a crown of thorns pressed upon His brow, and a spear punctured His side, He voted for me. Forsaken by the Father He trusted still, commended His spirit to God and voted for me. In the darkness of the tomb, He voted for me. Up from the grave He arose victorious over sin, death, hell, and the grave and He voted for me. Ascending into heaven, He voted for me. Sitting at the right hand of the Father making intercession on my behalf, Jesus votes for me. And if I go by the way of the vale with Him or meet Him in the air I know He votes for me. I voted for Him because He first voted for me.