FEELING WORTHLESS?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LORD be with you. Stay safe.

Jay

HOPE: ANCHOR OF THE SOUL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Psalmist expressed it well,

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

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

The LORD be with you. Stay safe.

Jay

DO NOT BE AFRAID

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LORD be with you. Stay safe.

Jay

I’M TOO TIRED

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

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

There is a lot of stigma that accompanies fatigue.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

LOVE IS A MANY SPLENDORED THING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I pray you feel the same way.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

 

LETTERS FROM JAIL #22

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

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Dear_____                                                                                                               August 12-14, 2013

Greetings,

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

  • Growing in grace

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

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

  • Future plans

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

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

  • As the cell turns

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

  • Contemplations

Ninety days today. One-fourth complete.

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

  • Trying to be a witness

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

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

  • Grateful

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

Thank you for the encouraging Scripture.

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

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

 

Sincerely,

Jay

PERSPECTIVE

Guest post by Mary A. Sacra-King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…and get back in line to hug someone AGAIN!

Love,

Mary

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

ARE YOU MOVING?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

LOVE IS A VERB

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

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

Love ain’t a thing,
Love is a verb.

Songwriter: John Mayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LORD be with you,

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #21

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

letters from jail 6

Dear_____ August 8-11, 2013

Greetings.

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

  • Growing in grace

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

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

  • Court Requirements

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

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

  • Future plans

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

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

  • As the cell turns

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

  • Contemplations

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

  • Trying to be a witness

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

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

  • Attempts at humor

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

  • Grateful

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

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

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

Sincerely,

Jay

REMEMBERING AN IMPERFECT MOM

A guest post by Mary A. Sacra-King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FROM THE MOTHER OF A SPECIAL-NEEDS CHILD

A guest post by Mary A. Sacra-King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counting my blessings today instead of my worries.

Love,

Mary

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TOO MUCH SLEEP TOO LITTLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

CONFORMING TO GOD’S DESIGN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LORD be with you.

Jay

ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD

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

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

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

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

How is time redeemed?

  • Time is redeemed by taking ownership.

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

  • Time is redeemed by exercising control.

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

  • Time is redeemed by accepting responsibility.

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

  • Time is redeemed by seizing opportunities.

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

How are you going to redeem your time in 2020?

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #20

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

letters from jail 6Dear_____                                                                                                                    August 5-7, 2013

Greetings.

How are you? Well, I hope.

  • As the Cell Turns

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

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

  • Sometimes it’s really inconvenient being in jail

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

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

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

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

  • Jail Food

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

  • Staying Connected

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

  • Who do I admire?

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

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

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

Currently, I admire Dr. Bill Ury the most.

  • My Weaknesses

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

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

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

  • Spiritual Thoughts

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

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

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE MOST IMPORTANT CHRISTMAS TRADITION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christmas decorationsMerry Christmas

The LORD be with you.

Jay

ME TOO!

57852275_10156319838498100_7828710668814516224_nA guest post by Mary A. Sacra-King

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keep the Faith,
Mary

HOW’S YOUR APPETITE?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ilustration_faith-based-and-pastoral-counselors

The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

STICK TO IT!

The Quest for Character: Perseverance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #19

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

letters from jail 6

Dear _____ August 1-4, 2013

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

  • As the Cell Turns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Doing Time

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

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

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

  • I Get Letters

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

  • Broken Relationships

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

  • Jailhouse Chapel

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

  • Time Alone with God

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

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE HOMELESS ARE PEOPLE, TOO*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LORD be with you,

Jay

WHEN PLEASURE DIES

181207 depression

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

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

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

  • A lack of relationships or withdrawal from previous relationships:

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

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

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

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

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

  • A tendency toward showing fake emotions.

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

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

  • Social withdrawal.

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

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

  • Difficulty adjusting to social situations.

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

  • Negative feelings toward yourself and others.

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

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

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

  • Persistent physical problems, such as being sick often.

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


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

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

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

The LORD be with you.

Jay

CONTROL OR BE CONTROLED

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

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

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

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

The call to discipline is as ancient as words.

No man is free who is not master of himself.

Epictetus

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

Aristotle

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

Seneca

He who conquers himself is the mightiest warrior.

Confucius

To conquer oneself is a greater task than conquering others.

Buddha

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

The Bible, Proverbs 16:32

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

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

  • Tongue

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

  • Eyes

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

  • Passions

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

  • Appetite

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

  • Temper

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

  • Body

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

  • Time

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

  • Effort (labor)

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

  • Contentment

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

  • Mind

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #18

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

letters from jail 6

Dear_____                                                                                                                  July 28 – 31, 2013

I trust you are doing well, my friend.

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

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

  • As the Cell Turns

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Doing Time

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

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

Oh, that I can accept such a declaration.

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

  • Memories of Normalcy 

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

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

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

  • Visitors

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

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

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

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

  • Jailhouse Chapel

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

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

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

 

Sincerely,

Jay

 

The LORD be with you.

RANDOM THOUGHTS ON DEPRESSION AND MENTAL HEALTH

photo-1471107340929-a87cd0f5b5f3

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


THOUGHTS ON DEPRESSION AND MENTAL HEALTH

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

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

Depression hurts.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

depression-hurts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


THOUGHTS ON PAIN AND COMPASSION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

The LORD be with you.

Jay

MOODY, MOODIER, MOODIEST

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Depression has a look about it that is observable.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE WISDOM OF KNOWLEDGE

“Ignorance is bliss.”GettyImages_587169617.0

“What you don’t know won’t hurt you.”

“Knowledge hurts.”

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

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

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

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

The subject of knowledge is broad.

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Knowledge is greater than riches.

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

THE TEETER-TOTTER EFFECT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the phone rang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Or so I’m told.

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

wciGykXsPfOBULY-800x450-noPadMy teeter-totter crashed.

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #17

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

letters from jail 6

Dear_____ July 25 – 28, 2013

  • As the Cell Turns

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

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

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

  • Jailhouse Chapel

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

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

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

  • Court Orders

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

  • Humor in Tragedy

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

  • Reconnecting with God

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

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

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

  • Dealing with Depression

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

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

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

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

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

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

  • Remnants of a 34-Year Marriage

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

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

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

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

  • Salutations

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

Sincerely,

Jay

The LORD be with you.

FOR GOODNESS SAKE

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

But what is goodness?

Aristotle_Altemps_Inv8575

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

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

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

ls

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LORD be with you.

Jay

DEPRESSION’S DECREE

(Trigger Warning)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have hope this too shall pass.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LETTERS FROM JAIL #16

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

Dear _____                                                                                                                         July 22, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 23, 2013

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

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

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

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

July 24, 2013

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

Depression causes anger.

Anger causes depression.

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

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

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

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

Thank you for your closing words in your last letter.

May the Lord be with you.

Jay

THE COST OF CHARACTER

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is this.

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

It worked.

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

Character does not come cheap.

It takes diligence.

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

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

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

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

It requires effort.

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

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

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

Both the journey and the end result are worth it.

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

The LORD be with you.

Jay

DEPRESSION CHANGES YOU

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

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

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

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

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

Depression disables. Destroys. Kills.

But it doesn’t have to be that way.

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

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

I’m still learning.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

LEAST FAVORED STATUS

I am prejudiced.

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

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

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

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

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

But there are three areas in which I struggle.

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

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

“judging inner worth by outward appearance.”

Ouch! Guilty. I still have work to do.

I’ve experienced prejudice.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mental illness cost me my supervisory position.

My continuing worth was judged by my major depressive disorder.

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

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

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

Fighting the good fight.

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

MEMORIES HAVE THEIR PLACE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LORD be with you.

Jay

 

IN SEARCH OF IDENITY

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

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

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

002-moody-naaman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

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

write-800-593333_960_720

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.

mahalia-jackson-9351242-1-402

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

THE MOST LOVING THING TO DO

Many of us are concerned that our civil rights have been trampled. We are anxious to make our patriotic voices known. Ready to reclaim our rights and exercise the same.

However, we that follow Jesus must consider a higher law: Love one another.

What does that look like? Insisting on our rights and privileges? Ignoring stay-at-home and social distancing orders in the name of freedom? Caring more for ourselves and what we are missing than worrying about others?

Obviously, that is not loving others as Jesus loved us. No, if exercising my patriotic rights harms my neighbor than the most loving thing to do is consider the needs of my fellow human above my own.

A 44 year old man from our church in perfect health died as a result of Covid-19. Two nights ago my cousin lost his battle with Covid-19.

Perhaps it was no one’s fault. Perhaps it just happened. But, if by my insistence on exercising my rights during or too soon after a pandemic results in another being harmed, that would be both unconscionable and a sin against my neighbor.

As a follower of Jesus, I am first and foremost a citizen of the Kingdom of God. I pray you believe the same and act accordingly.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

HOME SCHOOLING

guest post by Mary A. Sacra-King

As a mom, I’ve thrown my hands up in despair throughout my children’s lives…I’ve felt like such a failure. I didn’t parent them enough, teach them responsibility, teach them to help each other, (If you’re a mom, fill in the blank…you’ve probably done it too).

But I have to take a moment to give a shout out to the King kids and how they’ve been doing with online school.

This was such a curve ball thrown at them – ALL of them. We have 1 in middle school, 1 in high school, 1 in Special Ed, and 2 in college. I have every age group except elementary school!!! It’s been disheartening, discouraging, overwhelming, complicated, difficult…and on and on. The first day online we hit so many obstacles: computers not cooperating, internet down (at the college) Zoom wouldn’t work, stuff not downloading fast enough, trying to find all the platforms their teachers were using to communicate and accept work – that alone was enough to drive me over the edge. 🤪

At some point we ALL cried, freaked out, slammed things around, had to go vent or cool off, stomped off, freaked out some more, more tears, more fuming, stressing, lots of frustration. It was a rough 2 days or so…

But what I watched unfold over the next few days, was everyone working to help each other out. College girls communicating with their teachers/professors like responsible adults and making schedules and timelines for their assignment deadlines & mapping out their academic week. Bre got up several mornings before all of us were even up and went to the church to practice piano for a few hours. Kayla tutored her younger sisters in Algebra. The 2 younger King ladies have been on a tight school schedule. Phones up at 9:30. In bed by 10pm. Up by 7:00am. Breakfast over with and ready to work and study by 8:00am. No phones until work is done. They barely take lunch break and often study through lunch just to go ahead and get done for the day. This isn’t a “vacation”. It’s “social distancing”, but we still have work to do.

The college girls have stayed up late and worked up to midnight – 1:00am getting projects done and work turned in.

The biggest lesson they’ve all practiced has been “Work First. Then Play.” And I couldn’t be more proud of them. That has been my mantra since the kids were little bitty. I’ve told them they could play hard when their work was done and the sooner they got it done, the more time they had to play…but their responsibilities come first.

It hasn’t been perfect by any means around here…but what I’ve seen has so encouraged my Mommy heart. They do listen and absorb the things I’ve even been teaching, reminding, sometimes nagging all these years. It does soak in after awhile. Don’t get discouraged, Moms & Dads of little ones. Hold steady! Don’t give up! Be consistent. Don’t be afraid to be the “mean mom” or “the bad guy”. I tell my children often that I can be their friend when they’re 40. Right now I have to be the parent.

Go with God and be safe.

Mary

COVID-19 AND FAMILY TIME

by Mary A. Sacra-King

Yesterday was such a perfect day. Scott let me sleep in and prepared a roast for lunch and put it in the oven! (I taught him well!). Then we worshipped with our Longview family online.

We took some indoor Easter pics (our yearly family tradition). We sat down all together and had yummy roast and potatoes for lunch. We watched “I Still Believe” the movie about Christian singer/songwriter, Jeremy Camp. It was so good! Better have some kleenex handy if you watch it! Then we just relaxed!

All this Corona stuff has been a huge inconvenience to “normal” life and all its chaos and craziness, but one thing I’ve been so very thankful for is all the time together as a family.

We’ve laughed and cried together more these last four weeks than any other time as a family. We’ve grown stronger together and we’ve learned to help and serve each other better. We’ve made each other laugh until we’re delirious.

We struggled and encouraged each other. We’ve worked through our problems. We pray together more.

I hope you are finding some positives in all of this extra time at home. Some days I wanna run headlong into a speeding train…other times I’m humbled to tears by the beauty of these little people we created and this chaos, noise and busyness we call FAMILY. ❤️

Go with God

Mary

THOUGHTS ON BLACK (HOLY) SATURDAY

“On Holy Saturday I do my best to live in that place, that wax-crayon place of trust and waiting. Of accepting what I cannot know. Of mourning what needs to be mourned. Of accepting what needs to be accepted. Of hoping for what seems impossible.”
― Jerusalem Jackson Greer, A Homemade Year: The Blessings of Cooking, Crafting, and Coming Together

Holy Saturday acknowledges those struggling between post-traumatic defeat and pre-resurrection hope.
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Holy Saturday: a celebration of the sacrament of honest, raw doubt that precedes the resurrection and reigniting of faith.
Unknown

The clock ticks slowly on Holy Saturday, pressing reactionaries beyond their capacities. It was a day fashioned for handwringing.
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“Just as when we were children, we were afraid to be alone in the dark and could only be assured by the presence of someone who loved us. Well this is exactly what happened on Holy Saturday, the voice of God resounded in the realm of death. The unimaginable occurred; namely, love penetrated Hell.”
― Robert Cardinal Sarah

The Holy Saturday moment: when all seems dark & grim and the only thing left to do is wait…on the Lord for tomorrow morning’s hope is risen.
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“Every Holy Saturday, the Church waits as it were beside the tomb, meditating on Christ’s death while awaiting the announcement of his resurrection. Like John, we can take Mary into our homes and ponder with her the last words of Christ. Like her, we can rest in a place between anguish and joy, waiting in quiet hope. We can pray the Divine Office, which parts the veil to show us Christ defeating death and releasing sinners from captivity. The King is not dead; he rests from his work. A new day will come. His Cross is not defeat; it is victory!”
― Sarah Christmyer, Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ’s Passion through the Eyes of Women

Holy Saturday: the darkest day. ‘There in the ground His body lay. Light of the world by darkness slain.’ Feel it. Tomorrow will be sweeter.
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Holy Saturday: Rest well, indeed. For tomorrow there is work to be done and a grave to be conquered.
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Merciful God, release us from the time of trial and oppression, that we may witness to the eternal hope of grief becoming joy and life rising from death. Amen.
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The LORD be with you. Stay safe.

Jay

Fear

A few months back someone on one of the theology pages I follow suggested that Christians should have no fear at all. He used I John, “Perfect love casts out fear,” as his proof-text.

If one were not educated in the writings of John, one might assume he is right. But context is everything. And such an interpretation reveals ignorance of the verses before and after.

John is not addressing ordinary, day to day fear. He is talking about the fear of God’s judgement. His wrath. Hell, if you please.

Perfect love brings peace to the soul that was at war with God. That state of reconciliation with God gives the believer assurance of eternal life. Hence, there is no more reason to fear God’s divine punishment.

But what about those ordinary fears?

I have a fear of heights. My wife has a fear of creepy-crawly things. Are we without faith?

The presence of a pandemic has introduced fear into our lives. My wife works at the front desk of a nursing home. She is the gatekeeper.

No one but employees or medical personnel are allowed to enter. She must take the temperature of every person entering and leaving.

Mail and deliveries are dropped outside the main entrance. Residents cannot receive a package until after it’s been quarantined for three days.

An extensive questionnaire is required to be filled out by all who come into the facility. My wife disinfects the pen after each use.

Some of her co-workers undress. Wash their work clothes. And shower before entering their homes.

Fear? Yes. Reasonable? Yes. Wise? Yes. God never expects us to check our intellect at the door. Knowledge and experience give us a healthy dose of caution. And God does not expect you or me to abandon it.

Fear becomes problematic when it exposes a lack of trust in God. A lack of fear is foolishness when we “laugh in the face of death.” It might even be called psychotic. It is wrongly presuming on the guardianship of God over His children.

If you are being challenged to throw caution to the wind and ignore reason and experience, it is a very high probability that it is NOT the voice of God.

We ought to be reasonably afraid of this coronavirus and its potential to destroy life. We ought to take sensible precautions.

Trust in the Lord. And embrace healthy fear. Stay safe.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

Returning to Normal

By Charles Satterwhite

For weeks I have heard people saying “ I just can’t wait for things to be back to normal.” I remember even saying that a few times myself. But as I’ve thought about our current situation I have realized how much I don’t want things to go back to the way they were. Here are a few of my thoughts…

  1. I pray that the next time a friend grabs me and pulls me in for a hug, I actually take the time to appreciate the gift of their embrace.
  2. I pray that when school resumes and I’m dropping my kids off, I take the time to thank the staff for the amazing gift that they give to our family.
  3. I pray that the next time I’m sitting in a crowded restaurant I take the time to look around at the smiling faces, loud voices and thank God for the gift of community.
  4. I pray that the next time I’m standing in church listening to the voices of praise and taking communion that I take a moment to thank God for the gift of congregation.
  5. I pray that the next time I see a person or situation that needs prayer, I hope I pray as passionately and fervently as I have these past few weeks.
  6. I pray that when I am at the grocery store that I take a moment to thank God that He provides us with the necessities of life and the amazing people who work so hard to keep us supplied.
  7. I pray that I never again take for granted the ability to hop in the car and visit a friend, go to the mall, take my kids to a movie, etc.

So, truth is, I don’t want things to return to the way they once were. I pray that we take the lessons and challenges of the past few weeks and create a new normal. My goal is to pray more, love harder, and truly appreciate the daily abundance of blessings that were so easily overlooked just a mere few weeks ago.

The LORD be with you

Jay

RECOVERING STILL

Due to my continuing recovery from the H1N1 influenza and subsequent pneumonia, I will not be writing my usual fare.

A dear friend of mine is lovingly pestering me to get checked for Covid-19. But, here in Texas it requires a doctor’s order. I doubt at my point of recovery they are going to want to use valuable resources to diagnose a patient who is mending.

If Covid-19 is as severe as I went through, it is a terrible and frightening illness. My temperature spiked above 105 F. Chills from which I could not get warm and then heat from which I could get no relief. It’s been a miserable three weeks.

I’m confident that if I had an underlying respiratory illness, I would not be writing this. After my experience, I am starkly aware of the danger Covid-19 presents to the elderly and infirm.

The past three days have found me sleeping most of the day through. Coughing is more infrequent and my temperature is mostly normal or low grade.

My friend, take care to guard yourself and your loved ones from this coronavirus. If my experience is any kind of template for what may and can happen, it is beyond serious.

The LORD be with you.

Jay