Monday, September 12, 2016

Hope for a Weary Soul

Over the past few weeks I have been inundated with calls and meetings with people in crisis. Life is tough...there are days when we all wonder how we will persevere. In times of extreme stress, our brain releases cortisol in effort to help us regulate our stress response so that we can return to a state of homeostasis. In moderation, cortisol is a helpful hormone. The problem is when we live under constant duress, the body exerts excessive amounts of cortisol which can lead to high blood sugar, weight gain, gastrointestinal problems, cardiovascular disease, and suppresses the immune system. I wish this list was as bad as it gets, but sadly, stress leads many to consider suicide as an option for dealing with their pain. (Just minutes before posting this I received word from a loved one of a suicide in her circle of friends). 

There are times when we are unable to eliminate stressors in our lives, so what's a person to do?  The answer lies in our ability to find healthy coping mechanisms to eliminate stress. We need to combat stress physically, mentally, and spiritually. 

Most of us know that aerobic exercise, a healthy diet, and adequate sleep all work to reduce the effects of stress. We can also combat stress symptoms by managing our mental health. Meditation calms a person physically and emotionally, leading to better mental health. In addition, research shows that practicing the spiritual disciplines helps to deter the harmful effects of stress. 

The next time you are overwhelmed with stress, take a time out. Get alone with the scriptures and meditate on God's Word. Some passages that have helped me in the past are:

"Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail."  Lamentations 3:22

"Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faithproduces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.  If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you."   James 1:2-5

"but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint."  Isaiah 40:31

As well as Isaiah 43 and Hebrews 12

What are some passages that have ministered to your soul in dark times?

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Seized with Remorse

When asked to discuss suicide in the Bible, most people point out Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus. Recently I began to meditate on Matthew 27 and tried to imagine what was going through Judas’ mind when he betrayed Jesus. Did he know the chief priests wanted to kill Jesus? Did he think they were going to give him a position in the church or community that would usher in the new kingdom? What exactly was he hoping for?

Whatever Judas thought, we know that he was deeply grieved by the actual events that followed his betrayal.

We, like Judas, rationalize our sin. We try to justify why it is ok to betray the ones we love (through gossip and deception) by convincing ourselves that it is really in their best interest. Rarely does the outcome bring our intended results.

When Judas heard that Jesus had been condemned, he was “seized with remorse.”  In other words, Judas was consumed with guilt. He tried to soothe his guilty conscience by giving back the silver, but the elders basically said, “Sorry man. The deed is done.”  In anguish and shame, Judas cried out, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

I wonder if the other disciples knew what Judas had done. As far as we know, he didn’t confess his sin to the other disciples. If he had, would they have forgiven him or would they have shunned him? Regardless, Judas felt more alone than ever before. His guilt was unbearable…he could not carry the burden of his sin.  Judas only saw one way out of the insufferable pain – death. “Then he went away and hanged himself.”

September is Suicide Prevention Month. Millions of people die by suicide each year. I have spoken with numerous women who lost their husband’s to suicide. Many of these men lived with guilt and regret (from affairs, poor financial decisions, deceit, hypocrisy, drug and alcohol abuse, and more). Sadly, these men believed that their sins were unforgiveable and they were consumed with guilt and shame, and lost all hope.

I want to clarify the difference between guilt and conviction. Conviction leads to repentance and change. Guilt continues to berate us and remind us of how terrible we are. The former brings restoration, while the latter breeds self-deprecation and shame.

Judas was seized with remorse; he was filled with regret. I’ve yet to meet anyone who survived a suicide attempt that didn’t live with some form of regret. Many letters left behind from those who died by suicide also express regret…there are times when the person doesn’t really want to die, but only want to live without the pain – whether physical or emotional.

I don’t think Judas wanted to die; when he left the temple, he threw the silver coins back into the temple. This was an act of desperation; he could no longer live with the knowledge of his betrayal. Death seemed his only out.

I’ve heard it said that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. While this may be true, suicide merely shifts the pain of the one who dies to the ones left behind. When my first husband died, he transferred his pain to our family and friends as we sought to make sense of his death.

Georgia has the highest attempted suicide rate in the nation, while Delaware has the lowest (SAMSHA, 2009). What can we do to help individuals who are contemplating suicide?

First and foremost, we can listen. Research revealed that in 80% - 90% of all suicides, the person has told someone of their intent prior to taking their lives. These are often cries for help. Don’t take a threat lightly. For more information on how you can help someone, click here.

I want to leave you with the words of the Psalmist:

“Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, for the help of his presence.”  Psalm 42:5

No matter what you are going through, there is hope! Cling to that hope, and when you feel like you’ve lost hope, reach out to someone you love…sometimes hope may seem hidden, but it is always there. Better yet – God is always there; He is on the throne. He sees your pain. He cares. You can trust him.

Monday, August 15, 2016

The Semicolon " ; "

Perhaps you have noticed the increase of tattoos, jewelry and clothing bearing the semicolon ( ; ). When writing, the semicolon is a symbol to pause. The author could have chosen to use a period, denoting a stopping point, but instead chooses to take a brief pause. Project semicolon started to raise awareness and support for suicide prevention. Those who have attempted suicide and have survivved are not defined by the attempt; their future remains unwritten.

While the past cannot be changed, we can pause and reflect, but then consciously choose to move forward. The semicolon has become a symbol of this resolve to move beyond the pain of the past and cling to hope for the future.

Yesterday I was meeting with a group of ladies in jail, and one of them said, "I just wish I had taken time to stop and think, before opening my mouth. I'm in here because I couldn't control my tongue." Can anyone relate? Maybe your words didn't lead to incarceration, but how many of us wish we had taken time to pause and think before speaking or doing something that led to more pain.

All of us have pains from the past that threaten to consume our present. We can choose to be the victim or to wallow in guilt OR we can choose to walk in freedom. May we take the message of the semicolon to heart. May we pause and reflect today on how we want our present and our future to look. We cannot control our circumstances, but we can control our response, and history has taught us that we control it much better when we take time to stop and think before we act.

So will you take 5 minutes to be still? Right now. Take 5 minutes and be quiet in the Lord's presence (Psalm 46:10), saying nothing -- just pausing for 5 minutes to listen. It will be awkward at first, because we live in a culture of noise and busyness. Stick with it, and you may be surprised by the result.

I leave you as I take time to personally pause, and be still before the Lord.


Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Reducing Back to School Anxiety

The first day of school can be stressful for everyone -- students, parents, teachers, and administrators. However, the anxiety students experience is unique. In an attempt to "fit in" they worry about who will and won't be in their classes, who they will sit with at lunch, and what to wear (after all they want to look good without drawing too much attention to themselves). How can parents help reduce this anxiety?

For starters, it is important to tell your child repeatedly how much you love her, and affirm her in the days leading up to the big day. Pick out clothes and shoes the night before and have the backpack packed and sitting by the door so you aren't rushing the first morning. Try to remain calm and supportive on the way to school the first day. Use humor to minimize anxiety. Consider letting your child choose what to eat for breakfast that morning or what songs to listen to on the way to school. Make the day special by showing your child how special he is to you!

Don't forget to talk with your child. Ask them what they are feeling? Normalize their nervousness. Give them tools to deal with their anxiety -- deep breathing, prayer, art, and music can all help regulate anxious feelings.

Lastly -- relax and enjoy the process. Before you know it, your child will graduate and you will miss these special days.

What do you do to help with the first day of school anxiety? Feel free to comment below and share with others...

Friday, July 1, 2016

How Do You Love People Who Drive You Crazy?

We all have people in our lives that infuriate us; they know how to push our buttons, and they drive us mad. Some we defriend or unfollow on social media; others we avoid at all costs. I have a dear friend that calls "these people" sand paper people. God often uses "these people" to smooth out our own rough edges, to polish us so that we better reflect the light of Christ. It's easy to love the lovable, but to love the unlovable -- well now, that is a challenge. 

Jesus said, "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them" (Luke 6:32). Sinners refers to unbelievers in this verse. If we want to be like Jesus we are called to love sandpaper people even if they don't love us back.

Knowing this is one thing, but doing it is quite another. How do we love difficult people? I've been pondering this and have developed a list (it is not exhaustive) of ways I believe we can practically love people who are hard to love.

1.  Speak kindness. We all remember our mom's saying, "If you don't have anything good to say, don't say anything." This principle applies to loving the sandpaper people in our lives.

2.  Forgive. Easy to say, but hard to do. When we fail to forgive, bitterness and resentment set in making it almost impossible to love fully. Forgiveness is a process; sometimes we need to forgive daily. Forgiveness does not mean that we allow the person to continue to hurt us; it may involve setting healthy boundaries or even ending a relationship. Forgiveness does not mean the person's actions were acceptable. Forgiveness means we will no longer hold the past against the person in the sense that we want to get even. Forgiveness is more for us than for the other person.

3.  Treat them with respect. As a person created in the image of God, every individual is worthy of respect. This does not mean you respect all of the person's decisions or actions, but that you will treat them with dignity even when they fail to do the same. We cannot control another person's actions, but we can control our own.

4.  Pray for them. This principle is self-explanatory, but one we often fail to do. The Bible commands us to pray for our enemies. I'm not suggesting sandpaper people are our enemies, but I am asserting that we are called to pray for them.

These are just a few ways I am striving to love the sandpaper people in my life. What are ways you practically love those in your life?