Mother’s Holiday Table

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Mom was an amazing cook and the holidays were an opportunity for her skills to shine. As a child of the Great Depression she was efficient without being stingy, simple but not drab, and traditional while willing to try new dishes.

Her Thanksgiving and Christmas table always included succulent turkey and glazed ham. Fresh, never instant, mashed white Idaho potatoes and white gravy. But the real treat was the Indiana German egg noodles she made to perfection. In Indiana the absence of egg noodles on a holiday table is grounds for banishment. Thick, wide, yellow noodles boiled in the broth of a freshly cooked chicken and the addition of some Swanson’s chicken broth if needed.

After being away from Indiana for 12 years, I returned to interview for a pastoral position in Kokomo. The meal after our first visit with the church included several samplings of egg noodles. I looked at my wife and said, “Honey, I feel called.”

I asked Mom where her recipe for egg noodles came from. She told me it was an old family recipe that was passed from generation to generation and dates from the “old country.” For many years I accepted and repeated her story, which I’m sure was the one she was told many years before. But, there is a problem with that version of the tale.

My maternal grandmother was from a Scotch-Irish clan whose American roots were in Appalachia, specifically Huntington, West Virginia. Grandma’s father was a glass blower that came to Gas City, Indiana for work. That had to be sometime after my grandmother’s birth, but before 1910 when the natural gas field in Indiana went dry.

Grandpa’s side was native American either from the Cherokee or Choctaw tribes. Their roots in Indiana date back to the early 1820’s, only 20 years after Indiana was opened for settlement. They passed themselves off as white and avoided the removal of the eastern tribes to Oklahoma in 1838 and 1830 respectively.

Neither the Scotch-Irish nor Native Americans have a tradition of making egg noodles. Historically, that tradition came to Indiana after a large German migration settled there. Perhaps her father’s family picked up the recipe from their German neighbors. Whatever the origin, Mom’s egg noodles were the best.

Early Thanksgiving or Christmas morning she would get up to start the chicken to boiling and preparing the dough. After letting it sit for a time while she worked on the turkey and ham and other dishes for the table, she would begin the rolling process. Plenty of Pillsbury flour was spread across that antique oak round table we ate at in the kitchen. My earliest memories are of a wooden rolling pen, but she later traded it for a good size marble one that could’ve passed for a medieval weapon.

Image result for golden yellow german egg noodlesTearing off a workable amount from the giant ball of dough resting in a large bowl, she rolled it on one side than the other until it achieved the thickness and look she was after. She then cut the whole in quarters and to acceptable lengths and put them in a stack. Bringing her knife through the whole mound, she divided them into the width of a noodle. I always enjoyed watching her do this – slice, push aside with the blade, and slice again. There was a rhythm to it that almost looked like a choreographed noodle dance. This was done over and over again until the bowl of dough was empty. Again, she let them dry in the air of the kitchen.

It was during this time that I’d sneak an uncooked noodle or two until Mom chased me out of the kitchen. Oh, I know you’re not supposed to eat raw eggs, but that dough was almost as good as the finished product. Mom dropped her noodles gently through her fingers into the boiling broth. They were never put in a mess at a time, but almost separately one by one. The noodles were finished when they reached a golden yellow. Served over mashed potatoes, the way they are eaten in Indiana, each bite was savory and just what your taste buds expected from its memory of them during the last holiday they were served.

Mom’s egg noodles survive her. My nephew, Brian, is the new guardian of her recipe and the cook that carries on the tradition. Something’s different now. I can only conclude that it’s the one ingredient she sprinkled every meal with that none of us can replicate – her love.

Happy Thanksgiving

The LORD be with you.

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The Flash – A Thought for Thanksgiving

It was a sweet ride. A 1981 fifth generation Pontiac Lemans, the last year for the old storied name that first appeared in 1962. It became a popular model with NASCAR and won the Daytona 500 and Pocono 500 in 1983.

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Mine was two-tone blue, wire wheels, and two too many doors – I was a family man after all. I bought it used in 1982 from a car dealer in North Vernon, Indiana who gave full-time ministers good deals. It cost me $4,500 at 18 percent interest for three years. It was the first loan I had taken out under my own name. The lack of credit and my age, 22, gave the bank an opportunity to make a handsome profit.

District conference had ended early in June 1985; therefore, I took advantage of the opportunity to spend the evening and morning with my parents. They conveniently lived on the way home. My wife, who was nearly eight months pregnant, and our 22-month-old daughter were with me.

After lunch at a restaurant in an industrial zoned park on the west side of Seymour, Indiana, we made our way home. On the east side edge of town, Interstate 75 intersected with the famous US 50 highway that stretches 3000 miles across rural America from Ocean City, Maryland to West Sacramento, California. It was there that it happened.

A couple traveling from Florida to Chicago to celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary had stopped at the Marathon station for gas. Misjudging the speed of vehicles traveling on that heavily used road, the older gentleman attempted to dart across four lanes. He didn’t make it. I hit him doing nearly 50 mph, the speed limit for that area.

It was no contest really. The 600 to 800 pounds General Motors had siphoned off that model of Lemans and the Buick 231 V6 engine it traded for the previously standard 350 or 400 V8 was no match for that all-steel-bodied late 1970’s full size Cadillac. My Pontiac hit the proverbial immoveable object and crumbled up to the firewall. Although the force of the impact caused the Cady to do a 180 and broke the rear axle, they left Seymour the next day headed once again toward Chicago.

It’s amazing how fast your brain can compute information in a crisis. In an instant of time I saw two things: a big yellow vehicle fill up my windshield and my past and future flash before me. If you had asked me if such things happen, I’d have politely discounted the notion. But, sure enough, like a movie trailer, my life up to that time blared past my eyes and I also envisioned my pregnant wife and baby girl lying dead on the highway. As you might imagine, when everything came to a stop, I panicked.

Turning around, I grabbed my sleeping daughter out of her car seat to check her condition. She started crying, not because she was hurt, but because I woke her up from her nap so abruptly. She wasn’t even aware what had happened. My little princess was a victim of the old adage – If I’m in a panic, no one is sleeping. (That’s not really an old adage, I made it up.) Afterwards, I checked on my wife and quickly assessed that no one was injured, or so I thought. (Unknown to us at the time, my wife was injured and suffered the aftereffects for several weeks.)

Shoving open the now jammed door, I intended to look after the couple in the other car. At first you don’t realize how much force you exert braking nor how hard you struggle against the recoil. But, as soon as I put pressure on my right foot, no one had to tell me it was severely sprained. Being the “he-man” that I am, I hobbled on over to the Cadillac. Police and an ambulance arrived quickly and the process of collecting information and assessing damage to body and property began. I watched helplessly as a wrecker towed away my beautiful Lemans to a salvage yard.

After the initial panic, I functioned with calm and control. Then my mother walked through the doors of the restaurant where we had taken temporary refuge. I fell apart. The dark vision of my wife and daughter dead, my “only one payment left” car totaled, and the unknown future found me seeking solace and safety in my mother’s arms.

Life happens, they say. It did that day. I gave myself a moment to cry and be comforted before resuming my roles as a grown son, husband, father, and pastor. At the end of it all, I received enough in my settlement to pay cash for my next car, pay off the loan for our travel trailer, and put some money in the bank. My wife gave birth to a healthy baby boy about five weeks later. Normalcy reigned once again.

That baby girl I so rudely awakened grew up to give her father more joy than he deserves. She is the mother of my three darling grandchildren. The boy in utero has grown into a godly young man that loves his dad and would make any man proud to call “son.” Several years later another son was born, he serves God faithfully and with skill. I am a blessed man. “In (above) everything give thanks.” (I Thessalonians 5:18)

I still miss my Pontiac.

The LORD be with you.

One Day’s Struggle Against the Dragon of Depression

July 15, 2017

Today is starting well. It is 5:30 and I’m ready to get up and start my day. But for the sakeImage result for dim light in darkness of Charity (my wife), I will read the news and check out the posts on Facebook until 8:00. Although my night was short, it was five hours of sound slumber without any PTSD dreams to disturb my sleep.

9:30 finds me in the shower getting reading for the day and anticipating brunch.

10:00. On the weekend, Charity almost always fixes a nice brunch on Saturdays. Today it’s pancakes and bacon. While I’m eating my breakfast a cloud of darkness descends and engulfs me in its blackness. I finish the meal with my head in my hands. My plans of putting baseboard down will have to wait.

Why am I suddenly sad? Every reserve of energy has evaporated like the morning mist does when introduced to the sun. My strength is failing as an abyss of sorrow overpowers me. Any will I had mustered for the task ahead, any determination and resolution, and any excitement and joy is being replaced with paralyzing fear and disabling weakness. Why is this happening? Is my tendency toward perfectionism causing me to question my ability? I have been undaunted about taking on projects that I previously had no experience doing. Why has my confidence left me now?

10:30 The night of restful sleep is consumed by my dragon of gloom until I am left chained to the desire for isolation and helpless against my eyelids forcing out the light.

2:00 Nearly four hours have passed. As I slump in my chair in various stages of sleep and wakefulness, my sleep is not deep enough to escape from Saturday’s normal house noises – our grandchildren playing, and Charity coming in to check on me and ask a question or two. Yet, my wakefulness is not enough to move beyond my four-legged dungeon. Only the call of nature makes the foreboding door open, but freedom is not within reach. A tether of sadness does not let me stray far.

2:30 Trying to chase away my dragon with numbing noise, I turn on the T.V. For a few moments as a story unfolds I climb upward, but with each commercial or the end of a story I fall off my ladder of escape. This repeats itself for the next eight hours.

4:00 Charity comes in again as she has done throughout the day. She comforts me with an engulfing hug, a tender and empathetic kiss, and a reassuring, “I love you.” Her kindness and supportive gestures are appreciated far beyond my ability to reciprocate. The bars of the dungeon are too strong and I remain trapped in the dragon’s lair.

Could it be a crisis of confidence? I wonder, looking for answers where there seems to be none. Has my fear of failure reduced me to inaction? Are my perfectionistic tendencies crippling my mind with a fog of mistakes? Bedtime releases me from the dungeon to walk two steps to my bed where the sense of gloom and sadness has me ensconced still.

10:00 As I prepare for the unknown night, the 25th day of my battle with the dragon comes to an end. It has won the day and gained ground. What will tomorrow bring – more defeat, a draw, or a little victory?

As I settle into the bed and pillow my head, I see a ray of light. It is the same Light that has always been there through nearly two decades of battle with the dragon.  It is sometimes so dull and faint the darkness threatens to shut Him out; sometimes bright, shining rays of hope into my despair.

Hebrews 6:18 reads, “This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast . . .” Hope is the best medicine for despair. If all of the things I treasure are suddenly gone and I still have a dose of hope, I can survive. I can thrive. Someone said, “There is nothing left but to bury a man when all hope is gone.” But, for the Light, however dim, I would be that man. Hope has kept me alive. It is when hope is fed that the shadow of death must give way.

A second thought entered my mind before I went to sleep. What can I learn from this depression episode? Here I confess my independence and the efforts to conquer my dragon by my own power. I need help – the help of God, my family, and my support network. When I humble myself and admit my weakness, that is when I grow in strength. May the lessons I learn be put to good use to help family, others, and myself.

11:00 Sleep joins my hope and willingness to learn, which together provides a peaceful slumber.  My last thought of the night is that tomorrow will be a better day.

May the LORD be with you.

WITHOUT DEPRESSION, I WOULD . . .

A person sent me a note last week that read in part, “I am so sorry you have to suffer from the illness of depression.” Immediately I responded with a “Don’t be sorry for me.”

The 19th century pastor, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, had a mega-church before that phrase was coined. By age 22 he hadImage result for charles haddon spurgeon crowds that surpassed the 10,000-seat capacity of the largest auditorium in London. Yet, he was plagued with disabling depression. However, he credited his depression with making him a better minister.  “The way to stronger faith usually lies along the rough pathway of sorrow,” he said.

“I am afraid that all the grace that I have got out of my comfortable and easy times and happy hours, might almost lie on a penny. But the good that I have received from my sorrows, and pains, and griefs, is altogether incalculable.… Affliction is the best bit of furniture in my house. It is the best book in a minister’s library.”

At another time he wrote, “I would go into the deeps a hundred times to cheer a downcast spirit. It is good for me to have been afflicted, that I might know how to speak a word in season to one that is weary.”

Since I received that note, I have thought about what I would have lost without depression.

Without depression, I would not have the understanding or insight I possess today. The food of despair, the drink of hopelessness, the bitter cup of feeling forsaken by God, the acrimonious prayers to die, and the dish of suicidal ideations have plagued my soul. I can sit with people who lounge in the cellar of darkness and understand the depth of their agony. I have more authority than most to speak to them in their misery, because I sat where they sit.

Without depression, I would not have discovered my capacity for empathy and compassion. Because of the losses I have experienced I can sit at the table of sorrow with others and weep with those who weep. It brings a modicum of comfort and mollifies the feeling of aloneness when someone who has hazarded the treacherous waters before you enfolds you with arms of mercy.

Without depression, I would not be able to effectively advocate for those hidden and forgotten by society. I was homeless four times, penniless – without a cent to my name – for seven months, without transportation, unable to get housing or employment because of my criminal record, prevented from being near my fiance’s grandchildren, slandered, shunned, and denied a path to ministerial restoration without a hearing. Many doors were bolted against me because governments erected hundreds of barriers for the criminally convicted that prevent housing, employment, and stability. The floor attachment of a vacuum is being used to clean the fine furniture. As a result the beautiful upholstery is being sucked in along with the intended dust. The resulting damage far outweighs the harm the dust could ever have done. Federal, state, and local governments demand science based outcomes, but they are guilty of ignoring that same science when it comes to making laws and regulations. I have experienced the injustice and can now give voice to righteous causes.

Without depression, I would not know the need to fight against the stigma of mental illness. I become angry when I hear others define the life and character of an individual with a mental illness diagnosis, “He is schizophrenic” or “She is autistic.” In every other health discipline stigmatic vocabulary has been eliminated. “He is a dwarf,” thankfully has passed from formal usage. To say, “She is retarded,” is considered cruel. There would be a rousing chorus of fervent criticism against any hospital staff that referred to its patients as “the heart attack at the end of the hall,” or “the cancer in room 303.” The purveyors of kindness in our society have overlooked the labeling, prejudice, discrimination, and separation experienced by the mental health community. This needs to change.

Without depression, I would not have experienced the freedom that came inside a jail cell. Imprisonment was the only thing that stopped me cold on the path of personal destruction. A year of confinement gave my mind and body the rest it desperately needed after nearly forty years of abuse. Most importantly, it gave me an opportunity to renew my relationship with God.

Without depression, I would not be on the path to becoming the man I always thought God wanted me to be. Gone is the uncontrolled anger and yelling. In its place has come a capacity and ability to love others unconditionally, forgive, humble myself, and grow as a husband, father, and grandfather. What I had aspired to be all my life is becoming a reality and the boundaries of who I can become are being moved higher.

Without depression, I would not know the joy of being in right relationship with Jesus Christ. Beyond elevated emotions, beyond a rule book and a uniform, beyond correct dogma and doctrine, and beyond creeds and rituals; I have come to know that abiding place in Jesus where I as a branch receive nourishment from Him as the Vine, submission of myself and the desires and plans I may have to the Lordship of Christ, and a desire to know God in His revealed character and attributes, the splendor of His creation, and the grace of His redemptive work.

Spurgeon professed, “This depression comes over me whenever the Lord is preparing

a larger blessing for my ministry; the cloud is black before it breaks, and overshadows before it yields its deluge of mercy. Depression has now become to me as a prophet in rough clothing, a John the Baptist, heralding the nearer coming of my Lord’s richer benison (blessing).”

Do not be sorry for me. Without depression, I would not have the experience, knowledge, and wisdom I have today. Several years ago I quit praying for healing. My prayer now is to learn the lessons God is trying to teach me through each depressive episode.

May the LORD be with you.

 

Can We Still Call It a Sanctuary?

He burst through the side entrance from the parking lot, slammed opened the double doors into our worship center, and plopped down breathlessly on the front pew. It was a Wednesday night. The little wood framed, clapboard and brick sided, white church on Purdum St. in Kokomo, Indiana was abuzz with activity. Our children were in Kids Klub huddled around tables with their leaders. The teens gathered with the youth sponsor in their activity room. The remaining adults were assembled in the worship center for singing, sharing, Bible study, and prayer. Needless to say, the young man’s rude entrance gravely interrupted the serenity of our routine.

Trinity Wesleyan (2)
Trinity Wesleyan Church      Kokomo, Indiana

He appeared to be in his late teens, six feet in height, blonde hair, fair skin, slender on a slight frame. He was unknow to me and no one else gave any hint of recognition. Excitedly he uttered, “They’re after me! They’re going to kill me!” Normally, I am not quick on my feet. It takes me time to access, study, and evaluate before I respond. But, not on that night. “Son,” I immediately replied, “They don’t call this a sanctuary for nothing.”

Nearly 20 years later, I wonder if I could confidently respond with the same certainty.

Sunday afternoon November 5, 2017 we came home from church to be greeted by breaking news filling social media forums and local news outlets of a church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas, 35 miles away. The shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, lived in New Braunfels, Texas. My home. Twenty-six people are dead, 19 or 20 more are injured. As of this writing 11 remain hospitalized.

The perpetrator had attended the First Baptist Church on occasion with his estranged wife. It was her family’s home church. He was familiar with the setting and knew the congregation as he walked up and down the aisle shooting an estimated 450 times. The mother-in-law, who was his likely target, was not there, but the grandmother-in-law was. She did not survive.

Almost from the time that church edifices were built, they were known as “sanctuaries.” So much so that the word has become synonymous with houses of worship or a specific place within a building used for worship. During the Middle Ages, the church house also became a place of refuge for people fleeing persecution or prosecution. This practice dates back to the Old Testament, although with mixed results. Generally speaking, however, places of worship have been respected by civil authorities as places of refuge. Safety and sanctuary are identical twins, aren’t they? Dallas Drake, a criminologist from Minneapolis says, “It’s very safe to go to church on Sunday.” (Quoted from an article by Daniel Burke, CNN, Nov. 6, 2017.)

Is this critical assumption the reason we are so shocked and disturbed when a house of worship becomes a killing field? It runs counter to our understanding of “church.” Church buildings have always been targets for thieves, vandals, bombers, and burners. But, generally, it doesn’t happen when congregants are present.

When it does it is shocking and moving. Danielle Cadets notes, “In a bittersweet irony, the [September 15, 1963 16th St. Baptist Church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama] catapulted the Civil Rights Movement to a new stage, and ultimately helped influence the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.” (Black Voices, September 13, 2013, italics mine) Four young girls ages 11 to 14 were mutilated and killed by the blast. Freeman Alphonsa Hrabowski III, president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, was a 12-year-old boy at the time of the bombing. At the funeral for three of the girls, he recalled seeing white people in his church for the first time. They were ministers from the city’s white churches. He said about them, “I saw men of God from different faiths in our church, and I looked into their faces, and I saw tears and devastation . . . white men of God who were as grief–stricken as the rest of us. . . .”

I have no documentation to support my next statement, but I wonder, if beside the gruesome death of four innocent children, an attack upon a church on a Sunday morning, the most important day in the life of a church, did not disquiet many people of faith. Children there to worship God were destroyed in a sanctuary by a hate filled bomb on the most celebrated day of the Christian week. How could the collective conscience of a “Christian” nation not be pricked?

It happened again in June 17, 2015 at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina when a white racists gun downed several worshipers. The discussion about the legacy of government sanctioned Confederate symbols has been one of the results. Then South Carolina Governor, Nikki Haley said, in a much more concise statement, the point I’m trying to make when she said, “While we do not yet know all of the details, we do know that we’ll never understand what motivates anyone to enter one of our places of worship and take the life of another.”

I left my wife in charge for the remainder of the adult Bible study and prayer meeting and took the young man to my office. The police were called to his strong objection. When they arrived, he confessed that it was a drug deal gone bad. The people involved in that aborted transaction had no apparent respect for the law, and may not have had any respect for the young man’s life, but evidently, they respected our church sanctuary since they did not pursue him inside.

It is very sad that such respect no longer exists. Deadly attacks inside churches and on church owned property have escalated since 2012. As of August, 2017 has already passed the last two years for deadly violence in churches (Carl Chinn, Deadly Force Statistics). Our comfort with being safe in our “sanctuaries” is shattered. Today, our security in place is gone, but our security in God remains. Perhaps that is where it should have been all along.

Please pray for our neighbors in Sutherland Springs.

The LORD be with you.

Stages of Depression

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There are no recognized “stages of depression.” But as I reflect upon my life with depression, I think it falls into a predictable pattern. The following is my effort to categorize that pattern.

 

 

I. Pre-depression

There is no real agreement as to what causes depression. There are, however, three categories that most can agree upon.

A. Genetics

This is a predisposition to depression that results from a family history of the disease. It is much like heart disease, cancer, or diabetes that also run in families.

B. Biochemical

Postpartum depression, seasonal affective disorder, substance abuse, brain injuries, serious illnesses, and certain medications that can alter the chemistry of the brain fall under this heading.

C. Situational

This depends on happenings. Abuse, social isolation, conflict, death, loss, trauma, medical problems, and other such stressful life events are included.

Although sudden onset can occur with any number of the above; there are several where a “gestation” period is evident. During this state of incubation telltale signs appear.

My own story reveals numerous days of sadness and feelings of failure. Internal conflict and the quest for perfection. A sense of worthlessness. During college, missing classes and work became far too frequent. Days were lost to hypersomnia. Although I rarely missed more than two or three days at a time, it was frequent enough to portend things to come. This pattern repeated itself for 25 years before the onset of my first clinical episode.

II. Onset

The onset of depression begins with:

A. An escalation of symptoms

For me, the feelings of inadequateness and the weight of stress squeezed tightly. My tendency toward hypersomnia worsened. I isolated. I didn’t understand what was happening to me.

B. Clinical depression

Still unaware of my condition, I visited my family doctor for cluster headaches. Then it was for chest tightening and a vague feeling of things not being right. Tests on my gallbladder, stomach, blood, etc. resulted in negative results. Everything appeared normal, but inside I screamed, “Abnormal!” The doctor gave me a diagnosis of last resort, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).

IBS was what I had, therefore IBS was what I fought. I got worse. Life was severely disrupted. Suicidal ideations came on strongly. I would never be able to function at full capacity again.

C. Medical Intervention

After a year, I was referred to a specialist who successfully treated the IBS. The real enemy, however, surfaced. I awakened to the fact that I was depressed. Although not trained in mental health at that time, it became crystal clear. I tried one pill after another through the years; the right combination eluded the doctor and me.

I failed to learn that my family doctor was not equipped to help me with my depression. I stayed with him/her for the next 13 years. Occasionally, I saw a psychiatrist, but I always returned to my family practitioner. It took five major episodes and 14 years before I started using a psychiatrist exclusively.

D. Attempts at self-healing

One counselor told me I was a slow learner. He was right. I thought depression was a weakness that could be overcome with strength. A spiritual issue needing prayer. An environmental problem that required a geographical relocation. A marital matter that counseling and reconciliation could cure. Exercise. Diet. Education. I fought to free myself from the morass that held me. Sometimes I got better; other times I got worse, but I never won.

E. Despair

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me,” became the cry of my heart. Suicide was a great temptation that my faith prevented. I prayed to die. The thread that held me to this world was thin as silk and frayed like a heavily used rope. Only by the grace of God am I alive today.

F. Surrender to Assistance

At last I surrendered. After five severe depressive episodes and four hospitalizations, I asked for help.

III. Seek professional mental health experts and programs

At last I found a psychiatrist who specialized in mental health, stayed current with new medications and changes in the field, and was willing to experiment until he found a formula that worked. Before, I wouldn’t stay with a counselor. This time I determined to find a professional mental health counselor who would listen well, challenge my “stinkin’ thinkin’,” and with whom I felt comfortable. I welcomed the peer support, too.

A. Participation in healing

Ready to be guided and become a full participant in my stability, I built a support team around me that included the above and some key individuals from my family and church. I’ve worked this plan for three years six months successfully.

B. Full or Partial remission

Fifty percent of people with depression will recover fully and never have another episode. That leaves the other 50% of us who will have a second, fourth, or sixth. Some will achieve full remission between episodes. Others of us learn to live with partial remission.

C. Recurrence

Estimates are that a person with a severe recurrent major depressive disorder can expect two to nine episodes during their lifetime. With each recurrence comes more awareness of the signs and symptoms. After 19 years, I know when I’m slipping and when to cry for help.

D. Resistance to permanent condition

This may not be your experience, but I became aware that I repeated most of the steps with each new episode. It was a failure on my part to realize and accept that depression was going to be a part of the remainder of my life. Four times I started with onset and went through each step ending at resistance. With my fifth episode I jumped directly to stage III.

IV. Acceptance

I am convinced that we that have recurring depression must come to a place of acceptance. The fifth stage of grief is acceptance. Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) teaches radical acceptance. The closing prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) is, “God grant us the serenity to accept . . . .” Acceptance is not resignation. Rather, it is the peace that comes with the end of resistance and the knowledge and wisdom we gain from being a willing participant during the journey.

Gratefulness follows acceptance. No, I am not grateful “for” depression. I am, however, thankful for the things I have learned, the compassion I have gained, and the opportunities I have received to tell my story.

V. Giving to others

An edited 12th step reads, “Having had an awakening, we try to carry a message of hope to others and practice the life lessons we have learned.” That is my prayer.

The LORD be with you.

Letters from Jail # 4

The following are excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in county lock-up. I have edited and arranged the material for readability. Headings have been added to make it easier to transition from one thought to another.

Began: June 4, 2013

My Quest for Spiritual Renewal:      I finished the book, The Jesus I Never Knew, by Phillip Yancy today. In it was a quote from J. Moltman (from Germany) I thought was helpful. “God weeps with us so that we may someday laugh with Him.”

Yancy wrote in another of his books that pain is a gift. Through pain we grow. Without it there would be no invention, no discovery, no adventure, no growth. If managed correctly, stress is actually healthy. But, I know what you mean. We want our needs satisfied and room enough to make a mistake now and then. We want our children to follow God, make good choices, and be physically sound. Keep on dreaming; that’s good, too.

I found a small book by John Wesley in the library. It’s on prayer. I’m also reading The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel. The truth I grabbed onto is, there’s always someone worse off than you are. It is helping me to quit feeling sorry for myself and start the healing process.

My brother wrote me. He said he hoped this could be a time of healing. Perhaps. When I can rest without the intrusion of yesterday’s problems, I will know I am healed. I feel no bitterness, but I know when I talk about it there is still lingering pain. Maybe healing isn’t the absence of pain as much as it is the absence of gull. There are a lot of things I wish I could forget.

In another chapter of The Case for Faith, Strobel deals with faith and doubt co-existing. I’ve struggled with this. He says this is common among melancholy personalities. It goes on to say we must make a decision to believe. “The decision to follow the best light you have about God and not quit.” I choose God. I choose to believe. I choose faith.

 In Search of Meaning:     Today, I’m having a hard time believing in myself. My faith is weak. The storms are beating against my house. With such a severe storm, I know I will not go unharmed, but the foundation holds.

Sometimes I think I over analyze things and then end up doubting. Such is the case today. With some difficult news and uncomfortable reading, I find myself in a funk. I waver between faith and worry about the “what ifs.”

I struggle to accept that the man I was for 10 minutes has so dramatically changed the man I am. I must rehab the reputation, spirit and soul of the man I was for 10 minutes in order to save the reputation, spirit, and soul of the man I am. Does that make sense?

How many times have we heard, “I’m a bigger and better person for having endured it and persevered?” I know I’ve said it. I pray that this experience will teach me compassion toward the helpless and hopeless. To borrow from the 12 Steps: “Having experienced God at my point of need” I will emerge a changed person enabled to bring the message of Jesus to others with more compassion and insight. Others hearts may be healed because I have been broken.

Attempts to Make Amends:     The temptation to bitterness is strong. The desire to hurt is present. But I exercise my will to forgive and I refuse to nurse a grudge. Victory is within reach, but it is the finality of resignation, the death of revenge, the defeat of willfulness that wins.

Some people from one of the churches I pastored came by to see me today. They said they wanted me back as their pastor as soon as I got out of jail. Such nice people.

My brother sent a letter to A_____, as did I. May his heart be tender and responsive.

Thoughts about my Failed Marriage:     It’s 3:00 AM and I’m wide awake. I feel stronger today although I had a rough dream last night. It was one of those “if only” dreams that creates doubts and questions commitments. Dream analysis is not one of my things, but one interpretation of my dream could be the utter hopelessness of a lost cause. Why do we keep on fighting when the bell has rung?

I wanted a marriage. I worked for it, fought for it, prayed for it, but it was doomed. The foundation was flawed and could not be fixed without help. A person is just on a hike without followers. I wanted to grow old with one spouse in one marriage “till death us do part.” But, such was not to be.

Divorce will bring some sense of finality. However, I don’t want to delude myself into believing there will be no more personal struggle.

Legal Issues:     My official charges came today. Five charges of 2nd degree wanton endangerment. Two charges of 4th degree assault. One charge of resisting arrest and one charge of disorderly conduct. The first seven charges carry 360 days each, the next 180 days, and the last 90 days – all to be served concurrently. Oh, how could I/did I let myself get sucked in to a point of losing control? I was 11 years old the last time I got physical with anyone.

The Judge is requiring that I take anger management. I don’t need it; I need mood management. I know it’s much easier when you’re stable. Also, it’s much better when you can identify your mood.

Institutional Behavior:     The cell was loud today. The guys watch sci-fi movies, food shows, car shows, and the occasional soap-drama to spice things up. I’m not much interested except when the news comes on between 7:00 and 8:00 PM.

The food here is of poor standard, poor quality, poor quantity, and poorly prepared. We have elbow macaroni with mac and cheese, mac and spaghetti, mac and alfredo sauce, and mac and goulash. When I get out of here I don’t want to see elbow macaroni on my plate ever again.

I was coming out of the shower yesterday with nothing on but my boxers, and there stood a female guard. I didn’t even look twice. I just went about my business. Normally, I would have dived for cover, but then this isn’t normal.

Some of these guys have been in and out of jail so many times that their families have given up on them. Some don’t even have anyone to call. It’s sad.

When my depression sets in I feel helpless, worthless. You can’t cry openly in jail, but I cry silently inside.

May the LORD be with you,

Jay

*Known as the Wesleyan Quadrilateral

The Reconciler

Junior wouldn’t claim title to being a reconciler. In fact, he might give you a blank stare, a look of incomprehension, if you suggested to him that he was. I’m not even sure he was conscious of what he was doing. It seemed to come natural to him. He did it because it needed to be done. He did it because it was the right thing to do. He did it because he loved people. He did it because he was a peacemaker.

The word reconcile has at least three meanings: it can refer to Christian theology, court approved arbitration, or a function of financial bookkeeping. Reconciliation, as used in the Christian Bible, shares some of the same characteristics as an arbitrator. Like reconciliation, arbitration settles differences, but unlike reconciliation it doesn’t bring concord. In the 1990’s some courts attempted to use what they called “reconcilers.” This person went beyond arbitration to not only settle disputes, but also work with the parties at variance to see how they could cooperate with one another for the benefit of both. That’s what reconciliation means.

As I reflect upon the life of our protagonist, Junior had the characteristics that every reconciler must have.

He cared about people. One evening I called him about a problem involving a family that I feared I had offended. His profound advice, “You have to love people.” It was one of his principle philosophies of life. When Junior was involved, both sides of the adversarial situation knew he cared for them. He would call them by name, and name their children and grandchildren, too. He knew where they worked and what hobbies they enjoyed. Very likely, he had been a guest in their homes or broke bread with them somewhere. Neither party of a dispute in which he was involved doubted he cared.

It is said that the four critical components of a reconciler are truth, justice, mercy, and peace (John Paul Lederach). Junior demonstrated these. People had confidence in him. He was reliable. He did not favor one party over the other, not even a son. One of his daughters-in-law told me that she loved him because he often took her side in a disagreement. He was a man of character.

Although he did not fear calling out right and wrong, most often he stayed neutral and allowed people to discover the right thing to do for themselves. The old proverb, “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still,” is appropriate here. Junior did not force decisions on others, but laid hold of a latent desire deep within the feuding parties that wanted to forgive and be forgiven. He knew reconciliation could not be forced, it had to be welcomed.

He was not a warrior; he was a peacemaker. That doesn’t mean he was afraid. I’ve watched him wade in where angels feared to trod. I don’t know if it was his booming voice of authority, the justice of his cause, or because he was a big man with large features, strong arms, and big hands, but he always came out unscathed. In 1978, I remember the newspaper headlines blazing, “Blessed are the peacemakers,” after President Jimmy Carter helped Egypt and Israel come to a lasting agreement known as the Camp David Accords. Such was Junior. No, his face did not grace grand marquees and he wasn’t wildly celebrated. Quietly, he sifted through the hurt and pain to recover peace where hot or cold wars once waged.

Today, the political atmosphere in Washington D.C. is one of winners and losers. The art of compromise appears dead; destruction reigns. Truth is lost in rhetoric. “I want it my way,” tantrums replace reason. As a reconciler, Junior sought the win/win. His goal was for rivals to become partners. Enemies become friends. Enmity become fellowship. For attitudes of intransience to become cooperation. Fragmentation become harmony. I know of people that Junior helped to resolve differences who are now fishing buddies, vacation partners, and regular house guests.

In Christian theology the word reconciliation is mostly used in regard to God and humankind. Jesus came and died to bridge the gulf between the justly offended LORD GOD and the justly condemned, willfully offending sinner. With confession comes instant forgiveness and reconciliation. The relationship between God and humanity is changed forever. When the Christian Bible refers to reconciliation, this is its meaning.

However, there are two or three references that use the term for individuals. There are, of course, multiple passages about forgiving and living at peace with one another that allude to reconciliation. In The Cost of Forgiveness and Reconciliation, I wrote, “In Christian teaching, God both forgives and reconciles us to Himself at the same time when we seek Him. But, with we mortal and finite humans this is sometimes a two-step process.” Junior gently and wisely helped people make this second step.

I don’t know where he got his abilities. He was not an educated man, barely finishing the 8th grade. To my knowledge he never received any formal training in the ministry of reconciliation. Perhaps it was instinct. His childhood was difficult, conflict was common. As a child he vowed to be a different kind of man than the father who raised him. Could it have been a gift from God? If it was, he exercised his gift to help others, never for self-aggrandizement. Junior was a man of wisdom who knew how to lead people. I’ve heard stories about him planting ideas in people’s minds that came to fruition later. When it did they owned the project as if it were their idea all along. I don’t know how he did it. Unfortunately, I never learned to be a reconciler like him.

291858_2366417846546_5943061_nHe was known as Junior in his youth. His birth name was James Junior Shuck. Most people called him “Jim.” I called him “Dad.”

The People Disposers

On my blog last week, I wrote about disposable people. Today, I want to draw attention to those who dispose of people.

Image result for person in trash canLooking upon people as disposable is not limited to race, ethnic group or color, religion or creed, sex or sexual orientation, youthfulness or old age. People who are among the most impoverished and the ones who live in exquisite splendor as the richest of the rich can be a disposer. It is perpetrated by the ill upon the well and the well upon the ill. The prisoner upon the free, and the free upon the prisoner. The physically challenged upon the physically perfect and the physically perfect upon the physically challenged. No one is immune from the temptation to dispose of others.

What follows is my list of five disposers.

The Meerkat(s): The first disposers are meerkats. The meerkat lives in a colony ruled by an alpha male and alpha female. If any female, other than the alpha, delivers pups, the alpha pair will kill the young and evict the offending mother.

Meerkats dispose of others through unforgiveness and ostracization. Have you ever crossed a meerkat? Perhaps you intentionally did something wrong, or it could have been an unintentional consequence of a set of uncontrollable coincidences. It really doesn’t matter how you offended the meerkat. No manner of explaining, apologizing, or asking forgiveness will do. Mr. Meerkat is finished with you.

With a meerkat, once you are out, you can never get back in.

The Elephant(s): Another kind of disposer is the elephant. It almost seems a shame to cast these majestic animals in a negative light, however elephants have long memories. A caregiver observed two elephants, who had a brief encounter several years before, greet each other as if they were old friends. During prolonged droughts, park rangers say an older matriarch has been observed leading her herd to a watering hole she has not visited for over 30 years. The fact is, it is a compliment to be told you have a memory like an elephant.

But, just as sure as an elephant can remember the good you have done; it can remember the bad, too.  Elephants are the grudge holders that can’t seem to let it go. Long memories of real or perceived wrongs are retained for a lifetime. No matter how many years have passed since the original event, the elephant remembers it like it happened yesterday. They are the stamp collectors who carefully slide each offence into a plastic sleeve to be kept and treasured for years. From time to time, they like to share their collection of grudges with others. Once you have offended an elephant, you are going to hear about it for a very, very long time.

Elephants will not no allowance for a mistake or forget a wrongdoing.

The Honey Badger(s): One more disposer is the honey badger. This small animal is stubborn and savage. It will not walk away from a fight. This little member of the weasel family has been known to chase away lions and kill predators many times its size.

Honey badgers are uncooperative and stubborn. They hold on to their story regardless of the facts. Anyone who presumes to challenge their version of events will get a savage response. Ms. Honey Badger cannot be wrong, she is never mistaken.

Anyone who wants to reconcile with a honey badger must accept his/her version of things before the conversation can begin.

The Chicken’s Pecking Order: The fourth disposer is the chicken hierarchy. Those who observe chicken behavior notice that there are higher, middle, and lower classes of chickens and the lowliest is the henpecked bird. Chickens can be fierce about their position in the flock and will fight to protect their status or to advance. The older quickly put the younger in place. Established birds violently show a new comer its place. Some flocks have bullies who deny others access to food. Sick or injured chickens are killed or driven away. And then, there is the henpecked bird – last to eat or drink, at the end of the line for a spot to roost – this bird tries to be unseen. It keeps its distance from others. By being submissive, perhaps, just perhaps, it may not get any unwanted attention.

The pecking order is toxic for those at the bottom. The top and middle chickens are abusive and manipulative. They have active contempt for those beneath them. If you stay around the higher chickens long enough your self-esteem will be destroyed, your accomplishments dismissed, and your pain and suffering invalidated. You will be fed regular doses of shame, blame, and hatred. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warned not against those who could kill the body, but against those who can kill the soul.

The toxic chickens who lord over you will never let you rise. They will always push you down in order to maintain their own position.

The Chimpanzee(s): The last disposer is the chimp. Far from being the adorable creature we see on TV and film, Chimpanzees have been known to be murderers in the wild. In 2013 some observers with a video camera filmed a chimp that was out of favor with the community attempting to get back into the social group. The male chimp was attacked mercilessly, his body torn apart, and parts of him cannibalized.

Chimps are the haters. To hate someone is to wish that person would die and go to hell. Chimps actively try to destroy you. They make false accusations against you that cause others to be suspicious. They can make it difficult for you to do your job and problematic for your employer to keep you on the payroll. Every piece of mud and dirt they can dig up is publicly splattered asunder to see what sticks. Associations with the tainted are exploited and used to implicate you. They paste you with unflattering and harmful labels. After Raymond Donovan was cleared of fraud in 1987, he famously asked, “Which office do I go to to get my reputation back?” You may run, you may hide, but it is difficult to escape a chimp bent on a vendetta.

The chimp will never allow you to live outside the box they have painted for you.

This is my declaration: Unlike the meerkat, I will strive to be a reconciler who welcomes and forgives the offender. Unlike the elephant, I will release the grudges and bury the trespasses made against me. Unlike the honey badger, I will choose to be a peacemaker. Unlike the lordly chicken, I will be a servant to help and encourage others. Unlike the chimp, I will give hope, I will give life.

With all that is within me, I resolve to never actively or passively dispose of others. Their hearts are too precious, their minds too aware, their souls too valuable, and their spirits too alive to be dumped, discarded, or destroyed.

Disposable People

Image result for person in a dumpsterWe Americans live in a disposable society. Landfills, salvage yards, and recycling plants are evidence of that. Every era has had its disposables, among them were and are disposable people. Every culture from the beginning of humankind has killed, suppressed, ostracized, hidden, ignored, and/or marginalized people that did not meet their standards of “normal.” And no matter how enlightened we think we are in the twenty-first century, we are guilty, too.

Today, in the United States of America, people who are poor are pushed to inferior housing in crime ridden neighborhoods where there is little prospect of making things better for themselves. People released from prison or jail are legally discriminated against for housing and jobs. People who don’t meet society’s standards of beauty are ruthlessly tormented, intimidated, and maligned. In 2006, Lizzie Velasquez was voted the “Ugliest Woman in the World” at the age of 17. It nearly destroyed her life. She said she felt like “dirt.” The so-called ugly, scarred, and physically misshapen are often denied employment, relegated to menial jobs, or hidden in some back room somewhere away from the public eye. My list of society’s disposable people could go on and on, but I want to focus on we who have a mental health diagnosis.

The stigma of labels still exists. People with a mental health diagnosis are often called names. According to one study at Cornell University – nuts, screw loose, psycho, crazy, weird, mad, insane, loony bin, brain dead, and mental were among the most popular monikers. Personally, I have been called “crazy” and “sick” too many times to count, and told to “try harder,” “pick myself up by my own bootstraps,” and that it was “all in my head.”

Last year I wrote a piece for my blog called, Depression: Sin, Demon Possession, or Disease. In the 21st century people with a mental illness are still labeled as: sinners, possessed, weak, lazy, and flawed characters. In 2013 I was accused of “faking” my depression. Wow, I must be one great actor worthy of international fame. I must love hospitals, psychiatrists, counselors, support groups, nightmares, job losses, demotions, abandonment, separations, divorce, homelessness, pennilessness, and alienation from loved ones. All to support my fakery. GET REAL!

The stigma of violence is alive and well. Some people are hypothesizing that Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas shooter, had a mental illness. One of his neighbors called him “weird.” A police spokesman said, “We cannot rule out mental illness or some form of brain damage.” President Trump described him as “a very, very sick individual.” The local Sheriff said he may be a “distraught person.” And an Alabama news headline read, “Las Vegas mass shooting prompts questions about mental health.” The same old clichés and untruths about mental health continue to perpetuate. The formula is: a violent person equals a mental illness.

The myth of violence has been debunked multiple times, but the media, politicians, police, and neighbors keep repeating it. It has been well established by numerous studies that, “The vast majority of people with mental health problems are no more likely to be violent than anyone else. Most people with mental illness are not violent and only three to five percent (3%-5%) of violent acts can be attributed to individuals living with a serious mental illness. In fact, people with severe mental illnesses are over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population.” (source: MentalHealth.gov) This stigma attached to us with a mental illness is ingrained in society and repeated so often that many, if not most, believe it.

Stigmas are codified in our laws. After the Las Vegas shooting, Hillary Clinton said there ought to be a law prohibiting people with a mental illness from owning guns. In other words, she wants to legalize the stigma.

The state I moved to requires by law that I disclose on the driver’s license application any mental health issues, medications prescribed, and hospitalizations. As a result of being honest, the law required me to take a driver’s test. I wanted to scream! But, I calmly complied with the regulation. After the test, I wanted to ask, “What did you learn about my mental illness in relation to my driving?” The answer was obvious, “ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.” I was in partial remission at the time, was not suicidal, and did not have any desires to injure myself or harm others.

I wonder what they expected from my driver’s test? Perhaps they wanted to see if I would play chicken with a semi-tractor on a two-lane road, speed recklessly in and out of traffic on the interstate during rush hour, or deliberately put my car into a ditch or tree to emphasize my need for mental health services? Don’t they know that most people can hold it together long enough to get or renew their license? APPARENTLY NOT! I considered it a complete waste of my time and the time and resources of the state.

Stigmas are institutionalized.  Although laws were passed against inequities between physical and mental health insurance in 2008 and again through the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) in 2010, the National Association for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) reported, “High rates of denials for mental health care by insurers.” The NAMI report also said there are “barriers to accessing psychiatric medications in health plans, high out of pocket costs for prescription drugs, high co-pays, deductibles, and co-insurance rates, and serious deficiencies in access to information necessary to enable consumers to make informed decisions about the health plans that are best for them.” Another NAMI article stated,  “We know that people with mental health problems are among the least likely of any group with a long-term health condition or disability to: find work, be in a steady, long-term relationship, and live in decent housing.”

“Stigma reflects prejudice, dehumanizes people with mental illness, trivializes their legitimate concerns, and is a significant barrier to effective delivery of mental health services.” (source: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) In 2015 (the last year statistics are available), there were an estimated 9.8 million adults, 4% of the USA adult population, aged 18 or older, who had a severe mental illness within the past year. Twenty-one and four tenths percent of adolescents, aged 13 to 18, had a severe mental health disorder during their young lifetime. (source: National Institute of Mental Health) However, 40% percent of us with a mental illness never seek treatment. Could it be the prejudice, shame, laws, and other stigmas are a significant part of the reason?

Although I have used the verbiage in this piece, one writer has called for mental health advocates to stop calling them “stigmas” and call them for what they are, “discrimination.” As a person with a severe mental illness, I join with others shouting: STOP discrimination in social settings and let us belong. STOP discrimination in health care and make our coverage equitable to physical health insurance. STOP discrimination in the law and give us some common-sense laws based on science, not emotion. STOP making us feel like we are flawed citizens and become our boosters. STOP treating us as disposable people and recognize our worth.

 

May the LORD bless you and comfort and help those most affected by the Las Vegas carnage.

Letters from Jail # 3

Image result for spirituality in jail*The following are excerpts from letters I wrote while serving a 360-day sentence in county lock-up. I have edited and arranged the material for readability.

 

 

 

 

Began:  May 29, 2013

It has been a rough day. My mood is mildly depressed. Incredibly, my moods have been exceptionally stable considering where I find myself. This is not how I planned spending 2013. My brother said he thought I would emerge stronger. More compassion, experience, and wisdom perhaps, but stronger? I don’t know.

A quadriplegic man once told me I was the most compassionate man he’d ever met. I guess when you have gone through the losses and pain I have experienced you either become cynical or more humane. I’ve chosen the later.

God has used the difficult circumstances in my life to make me more understanding. This experience is definitely a teaching moment, but it is hard to imagine overcoming the criminal element (label). How can I speak with authority? How can Christ be glorified when I’ve made such a mess of things?

It’s hard to know how to feel about being in jail. How can God use this experience? What do I have to learn?

Providence can be defined as cooperating with the grace of God to bring about the highest good and the least evil. I’m not finished cooperating with His grace. I want God to “make something beautiful out of my (messed-up, flawed, imperfect) life.”

I’m rereading The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancy. He talks about blessed mourners. They are blessed because they are comforted. Thank God for those who have come along and helped. They are blessed because they have hope. We weep not as those who have no hope. They are blessed because they help others. “Wounded healers” know how to help others heal. Those who are comforted know how to comfort others.

The Bible study was poor again. They’re into numerology and sensationalism. It’s tough to go, but I fear my witness will be damaged if I don’t.

One of the men just told me that if I started a church he would attend. I took that as a great compliment. Another man and I talked for some time about loss and the impression negative comments have on our self-image. A new, young guy came in wanting to change his life. I pointed him toward Jesus. Two of these men went to church with me today.

I gave my brother Power-of-Attorney (POA). I signed the papers yesterday. He will pay my bills. I have legal and hospital bills to pay. I hate debt, but somehow, I will crawl out from under it. When I get out I hope to have enough left to get started again.

I’m not staying in Kentucky any longer than necessary. My future is elsewhere. I may go back to Anderson for a while. My brother, J____, is there and a lot of other family.

As I laid in my rack waiting for 4:00 AM med call, my mind turned to my son, A____. I thought, “I could write him.” Please pray with me that I will say the right things and he will receive it. I miss my children and long to reconnect with them.

W____, I’m sure you don’t have a corner on wavering. We all go from mountain movers to doubters, often in the same day. Perseverance is the key.

Tomorrow I will get my hair cut, beard trimmed, and nails clipped. Since I wasn’t allowed to have long hair as a teen I thought I would let it grow until I get out. But, it’s too hard to take care of so I’m cutting it really short. I’m ready to quit shaving. We’re only allowed to shave twice a week with an electric razor that everyone has to use. My nails are longer than they’ve ever been. I hate ‘em. I can’t stand long nails on men. It’s been almost three weeks; I can hardly wait to cut them off.

I’m falling into a routine. I call us “Pavlov’s dogs” because every time the lights come on we know it’s time for a neat trick. lol.

One of our group was released today. Several of the guys stood at the door throwing his things into the hall. Some of the long termers appear depressed. It was an interesting experience to observe. The sad part is the guy will be back. He’s a 12-year-old boy in a 56-year-old body. He has no clue how to live that does not involve drugs, alcohol, sex, and partying.

Reframing is the process of seeing a problem or situation from a different angle. I’m not in jail, I live in a $10 million-dollar home with my own personal security system and detail. My food is prepared in my own kitchen and delivered to my room. I have laundry service, an indoor and outdoor recreation area, nursing staff, and a chaplain that comes twice a week. So many things are provided I never have to leave my home. (Laugh or cry. You’ve got to laugh or cry.)

Only 48 weeks to go. Club Madisonville appears to be working, I have lost 12 pounds. I may come out of here with six-pack abs. : )

Sincerely,

Jay

The LORD be with you.

In Search of an Answer

Image result for whyWhy?

Why me?

I have been asking that question for several weeks now. It’s a search to which I may never have a satisfactory answer. No records exist. No old journal or diary to consult. What information I have comes from my memory and that is not always reliable.

Why do I have depression?

The year was 1968. It was during the school year and I was in third grade. Although my oldest brother had taught me how to swim, Mom insisted that I take a course at the YMCA. Everyone was confined to the shallow end until you could swim under water from one side of the pool to the next. I accepted the challenge and gained my freedom to explore the deep. But, I couldn’t take advantage of it.

I got sick. It would take two weeks before I was well enough to go back to the YMCA. However, the course had ended and my opportunity had passed. The sickness came on suddenly. A high fever, spinning rooms, hallucinations, and paranoia gripped me. There were several days I couldn’t get out of bed.

My mother took me to three different doctors. We left their offices with three different diagnoses. As an adult I thought it may have been the Hong Kong flu epidemic, but with more study I found out that it didn’t reach the United States until 1969. No further clues and therefore answers are to be found.

It has been observed that people with the flu often become depressed, but it appears not to last much beyond the illness. I have focused on the high fever and that it caused some brain damage. However, fever with the flu (if that is what I had) rarely is high enough to cause brain damage.

The reason I focus on the fever is because of a long term after effect that troubled me for the next eight years. For lack of a better term, I will call them “seizures,” but they don’t strictly fit the definition. On occasion, I would wake up suddenly drenched in sweat, shaking, disoriented, the room spinning, and crying profusely without a reason. Always, I managed to awaken my mother and she gave me sweet hot tea and stayed with me until I was calm enough to go back to bed. A doctor suggested to her that I was just trying to get attention.  When the next one came on, I didn’t wake her and went through it alone.

At first, they were not frequent enough to rouse any concern, but the older I got the more frequent they became. My mother thought it might be related to my older brothers leaving home and beginning new lives with spouses and children of their own. But, when I had about three in a two week period of time, my mother took me to the doctor mentioned above. This time he referred me to a neurologist.

That doctor ordered a brain wave test. After the test results came back, he informed us that I had a blockage in my brain and put me on medication. I took those pills for two years – they were simply awful. Finally, I told my mother I had had enough and I was not taking them anymore. Mother didn’t object, but she prayed earnestly for me. I have not had another “seizure” from that time to this. The only residual effect I have is the room begins to spin if I have a slightly high temperature.

As I look back on those events, I can see a mood change. I was a happy kid, afterwards I was far too serious. Fear replaced courage. I became melancholy. Thirty years later melancholia turned into recurrent, severe depression.

That is all I know. Was that childhood illness the cause? If so, what was it? I can eliminate heredity as a cause – no one on either side of the family ever had long-term depression. No, I still think that prolonged fever caused a biological or chemical change in my brain. But, if that is true, is it reversible? I don’t have an answer.

The neurologist told Mom that I would never be able to handle much stress. I chose to be a pastor and a counselor – among the highest stress jobs you can take. The doctor was right. I have paid a heavy toll  both physically and mentally because of stress.

Although, I know all of the above information, there are questions still. What illness did I have in 1968? Was the water of the YMCA pool a contributing factor? What do I call those “seizures?” Is this the actual source of my depression, or should I look elsewhere?

I don’t know! So, I am still searching for an answer to the “Why?” question. I can only hope that the search is worth it.