WHAT NOT TO SAY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

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WORDS MATTER

Sticks and stones

May break my bones

But words will never harm me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

The LORD be with you.

Jay

 

2019 REMINDERS

The rapper India.Arie sings:

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

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

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You are not your failures.

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

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

You are not your pain.

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

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

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

You are not your family.

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

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

You are not your mistakes.

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

You are not your past.

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

You are not your mental illness.

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

You are not your physical illness.

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

You are not your addiction.

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

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

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

“You are not your hair.”

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Have a blessed 2019.

 

The LORD be with you.

 

Jay

THE PERFECT GIFT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The LORD be with you.

Jay

Christmas Traditions

Image result for christmas traditionsChristmas preparations came early around our house every year. In November Dad opened a Christmas Club savings account at the Anderson Banking Company for the next year’s celebration. Before I started earning my own money, he saved $50.00 dollars in an account with my name on it. That was quite a lot of money for a little boy in the 1960s and I was always ever so careful to spend it right. Ten dollars for each of my brothers and $15 dollars each for Mom and Dad. It was so much fun. Dad didn’t interfere with my purchases but let me choose what gifts I wanted to give. Helpful teaching moments. Good memories.

That Christmas Club account was one of our family traditions.

Another tradition was going to Grandma’s on Christmas eve. She lived in a tiny four room house on the side of a steep hill a few hundred yards from White River. An old-fashioned picket fence stretched across the front of her tidy yard filled with flower beds prepared for spring. Even as a child I remembered it being crowded when Mom’s brother, two sisters, Dad’s brother (who was partly raised by Grandma), and Jimmy (who Grandma raised after he was abandoned) and their families gathered in – perhaps 15 to 20 of us. The food was great. There was this squash dish that Grandma made one year that has left my taste buds yearning ever since. The preferred gift to give Grandma was clowns. Glass sculptures to add to her collection. They looked like expensive works of art to a little boy’s mind.

Coming home from Grandmas one year, my brothers and I begged our parents to let us open one gift before bedtime. One reveal, one gift unwrapped on Christmas eve.

And thus, a tradition was born.

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.Image result for Luke 2

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.

Image result for merry christmas manger

The LORD be with you.

Jay

DEPRESSION AND ADVENT

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

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

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

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

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

Our traditional holiday greetings include:

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

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

  • Hope
  • Love
  • Joy
  • Peace

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

Look at the four Sundays of Advent.

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

Love does not go well with isolation and moodiness.

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

Peace is burned away by the internal flames of turmoil.

It can be an extremely trying time.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The LORD be with you.

Jay

DEPRESSION, RELATIONSHIPS AND THE HOLIDAYS

Relationships can be difficult under normal circumstances. They take energy – physical, mental, and emotional. Diplomacy. Mental acuity. Affection. Empathy. Humor. Add to that the stress and expectations of the holidays and the vitality required to maneuver them. And you have a recipe for disaster for the person with depression or any other Image result for OFFICE PARTYmood disorder.

Depression and relationships, for some, are antithetical. Conversation is essential for a relationship. For the depressed it is often hard to concentrate and remember details. Energy is required when fatigue is present. A positive attitude versus pessimism and hopelessness. Confidence versus guilt, worthlessness, and helplessness. Pleasant versus irritable. Calm versus restless. Engaged versus loss of interest. Joy versus sadness, anxiety, and empty feelings. Life versus the desire to die.

We that have a mental illness are not ignorant to the effects our disorder has on those around us. We know that “without regular connection and intimacy, it becomes even harder to generate trust and appreciation for each other.”* We all can tell stories of relationships lost because of our depression. My own story includes a 34-year marriage ended, estrangement from two of my children, and years-long friends who walked away. After more than six years I still mourn those losses.

Holidays and relationships go hand in glove. What is a body to do when everything within screams NO!?

Permit me a moment of sarcasm. I just love the professional mental health writers sometimes. They are good at telling us what is wrong with us. They are good at telling us the dangers of our illness – e.g. relationships. They are good at prescribing a solution, but that is where the fly is in the ointment. In order to put their recommendations into practice YOU CAN’T BE DEPRESSED.

Well, you are depressed. The holidays are upon you. You don’t know what to do. From a person who’s been there allow me to make some observations.

There have been times during a depressive episode that I expended every ounce of energy I had just to stay alive. If you are there, perhaps you should bow out of holiday celebrations with anyone except for your most intimate relationships. But if you have energy for a little bit more, IT IS WELL WORTH THE EFFORT TO SPEND THAT ENERGY ON RELATIONSHIPS.

  • Make an effort to be positive. That can be hard when everything looks black and gray, but it is worth the investment required. Look for nice things to say. Pretty things to compliment. Traits in others to commend. You don’t have to be gushy. Just try to make the few words you say kind ones.
  • Be grateful and show appreciation for the nice things people do for you. A sincere “thank you” can go a long way and build a lot of bridges.
  • Clearly and directly tell others what you can do and what they can expect from you. Two office parties, school play, church pageant, three family get-to-gathers, and a party with friends can be overwhelming for anyone let alone those of us who manage a mental illness. Do what you can and excuse yourself from the rest. Respect your limits.
  • Control expectations. This is probably the best thing you can do for yourself. But it may be the hardest, too. We that have mental health issues are not always good about being assertive, protecting ourselves, and being our own best advocate. During the holidays it is essential that you step up and speak up. Tell others what they can expect of you before they have an opportunity to overload your plate.

Whatever your mental health status this year, EXPEND ENERGY ON RELATIONSHIPS. The payback will be greater than you give.

Image result for happy holidays

The LORD be with you.

Jay

 

*Severe Depression and Relationships: How to Redirect Self-Doubt and Criticism

June 5, 2018, Laurel Nowak Bridges to Recovery

Advent Expectations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a bless Advent season.

The LORD be with you.

Jay

MONDAY’S PRAYER

Prayers for our children from the book of Proverbs.


based on Proverbs 7:6-9

Our Father God, pure and holy, and flawless in Your words, I pray that my children and posterity will be saved from both an empty head and an empty heart. Fill them with wisdom and understanding. Teach them Your ways and fill their minds and souls with Your holiness and righteousness. Lead them not into temptation, but deliver them from the evil one. Preserve them from the misery of willful ruin and the anguish of voluntary destruction. Make them keenly aware of the subtlety of the so-called pleasurable sins. Turn them away from foolishly and naively placing themselves in the way of temptation. Give them strength to turn away from the illegitimate use of their created desires.boy-prayer-dad Protect them from the lustful impressions of the flesh. O Lord, increase their understanding of the wiles of the enemy of their soul. Provide them with a way of escape and the power to resist.

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

THANKFUL FOR SPECIAL PEOPLE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The LORD be with you.

Jay