Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Give Tanks with a Grapeful Heart

Several years ago, I was working in campus ministry when a group of students decided to sing "Give Tanks with a Grapeful Heart." At the time we thought this was a great idea. As if the song wasn't enough, we dressed up as grapes with purple and green balloons and handed out toy tanks to everyone. Now looking back, I think how silly we were, but the spirit of our actions was sincere. We simply wanted to encourage others to be thankful.

In just two short weeks Americans will gather with friends and family for Thanksgiving Day. I began to wonder how many actually meditate on what they are thankful for on this day. Our focus tends to shift to the gobs of food, the guest list, and the Black Friday sale papers. This year, will you commit that day to truly be a day of Thanksgiving? Will you be intentional about taking time to thank God for all the blessings he has given to you?

I am interested in hearing how your family focuses on thanksgiving on this special day? Leave a comment and share your ideas...you never know, you might inspire someone else to be intentionally grateful (or should I say grapeful?).

Friday, October 23, 2015

Saying goodbye to someone you love...

This semester I have been teaching a psychology class on illness, death and healing. In the course of the semester, I have spoken with friends who are nearing the end as they face their own mortality, and with others who have recently lost someone they love. What surprised me is the desire by those who are dying to talk about their impending death.

We often talk about everything except this elephant in the room when we are with someone who is dying. We make small talk about trivial things for fear of upsetting the other person. What I have learned is that the other person is already thinking about the road ahead...as a matter of fact, for many it is what they think about most.

Many long for someone to share their fears and their hopes with only to find that no one wants to listen; no one wants to talk about what the process of death will be like...what life will be like after our loved one is gone. Because many of us are uncomfortable with death, we avoid the subject when that may be the very thing our loved ones need to discuss.

Sometimes we avoid the person for fear of saying the wrong thing. Several have told me that when their friends or family avoid them, it either makes them believe the other person doesn't care or they feel stigmatized and unloved. Don't avoid people you love; make amends if needed and give the gift of your presence. Sometimes words are not needed -- just your presence and a willingness to listen.

I want to be sensitive to this in others and allow them the opportunity to speak freely. If you know someone who is dying, don't dance around the subject but don't force it either. Be a friend...be willing to meet your loved one where they are and listen no matter what they want to discuss.

Monday, September 28, 2015

What I Learned from Maggots

Last month, Jeff and I went to put the leash on the dog so that we could go for a walk. As we bent to attach the leash to her collar, we saw maggots – thousands of maggots (OK, it was probably hundreds but it was A LOT) – coming out of a knot on her back. I ran inside for rubber gloves and shampoo. Donning the gloves, I turned on the water and fought the nausea as I watched Jeff squeeze the knot and clean out the maggots from Sandy’s back (Note, I wore the gloves holding the leash, while Jeff did the dirty work barehanded).

OK, now that you are thoroughly disgusted I’ll tell you what I learned from this. If a fly lays an egg on an open wound, within an hour, hundreds of maggots hatch and attack. All of this started with one stinkin’ fly!

As I have tried to forget the nasty image burned into my memory that night, God spoke to my spirit. The scripture teaches that out of the mouth the heart speaks. How many times have I let a root of bitterness, jealousy, or anger – one thought – consume me? In time, I began to ruminate on my perceived injustice and before long, I lash out. The words that come out of mouth in that instant are like maggots. They are nasty and hurtful.

As we bathed Sandy, we noticed sticky black grime all over her. We later learned that this was “maggot poop.” In the same way, my stinging words leave behind a stink that lingers long after the words are spoken.

Our dog had to have surgery to clean the wound and medicine to kill any remaining critters. The Bible pierces our hearts as a two edged sword and in doing so, it purifies us from unrighteousness. If I want to rid my heart of “maggot-likeness,” I need to stay in the Word and do regular heart checks where I confess my sins to God. I need others to hold me accountable and to help me deal with the ugliness.

God, create in me a pure heart and renew a right spirit within me!

Monday, September 7, 2015

Depression and Suicide Risk

Barbara was relieved when her son, John, told her he was going out to grab some pizza with the guys. John had been struggling with depression off and on for the past several years. His most recent episode had lasted about three months. Barbara had been worried about John. He had no motivation to do his school work and often called in sick to work. He had been spending more time in his room, and did not even want to talk on his phone with friends.

Six weeks ago, Barbara convinced John to see his family doctor about the depression. He was prescribed an antidepressant and encouraged to exercise daily. Yesterday, John surprised his mom by giving her flowers and thanking her for her support over the past several months. She was ecstatic when he told her he wanted to go out for the night with friends. Things were finally looking up.

Just as Barbara prepared for bed, there was a knock on the door. Opening it, she was confused – why was there a police officer at her door? 

“Oh no! No! No! No!”

Barbara’s son John had driven his car off a cliff killing himself.

Unfortunately, while the details may differ, the suicides do not. Individuals with depression are at greater risk for suicide attempts immediately following a depressive episode. When a person is depressed, he may ruminate on all the reasons and ways to die, but he has no energy to do anything. As the depression lifts, these self-deprecating thoughts often remain and now the person has the energy to put into action the plan he has been construing for some time.

Don’t think because the depression is starting to lift that the risk for suicide has passed. Continue to watch for warning signs and don’t be afraid to ask the difficult questions --- Are you planning to hurt yourself? Have you thought about killing yourself? Have you thought about how you would do it? Do you have a plan?

If the answer is yes, seek help immediately. Call 911.  If you are suicidal, consider calling the crisis hotline number below.
1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433)
1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)

Monday, August 17, 2015

Experiencing the Power of God

Between writing lesson plans and researching for my dissertation, I have found little time to blog recently. However, I want to share with you about an experience I had in Africa.

I was going hut-to-hut sharing the gospel with my friend, Robert. It was time for lunch and we were walking back to the church to meet the rest of the team for lunch. On the way, a lady sitting by the path stopped us. She began sharing about her uncle who was paralyzed and begged us to go and visit him. She had heard that missionaries were in the area and she believed that her uncle would be healed if only we would visit him.

Robert began to share with her about the centurion in the Bible who came to Jesus on behalf of his servant. Robert explained that just as Jesus did not have to go and visit the man to heal him, we did not have to visit her uncle in order for God to bring healing. We then shared the good news of the gospel with her and her children, and they all prayed to receive Christ.

In response to her request, we agreed to go and visit her uncle. When we arrived, we saw a thin man lying in the bed. His legs looked literally like skin and bones, brittle and without muscle. My heart hurt for this family. The niece explained that doctors had told them he was paralyzed and that there was nothing they could do to help him.

One of our translators, Christopher, told the man, "Your niece has faith that if we pray over you, God will heal you. Her faith is not enough. You must believe in the Lord Jesus." He explained to the man his need for salvation and the man surrendered his life to Christ, experiencing spiritual healing. Christopher then asked the man if he believed that God could heal him. The man answered, "Yes!" Christopher then said, "In the name of Jesus, get up and walk."

At this point I had a crisis of belief. Would God heal this man? Could this man whose legs had no visible muscles possibly walk again? I remember thinking, "OK, God. Your name is on the line. What are you going to do?"

Again Christopher said, "In the name of Jesus, get up and walk!" The man began to sit up and his family rushed to the bed to help him. Christopher told the family to let him be. "In the name of Jesus, get up and walk." Slowly the man slid off the bed into a standing position. With Christopher continuing to command in Jesus' name, the man took one, two, three steps.

My eyes had to be huge at this point! He did it! He took 3 steps!

Christopher then said, "Walk outside. In the power of Jesus' name, walk." The man walked outside and turned around and walked back to his home. He then began raising his hands and dancing before the Lord. I watched with tears pouring down my face as his family raced to embrace him. God had healed the lame -- not only physically but spiritually as well. God Did It!!!!

Before we left, I encouraged the man to go and tell everyone he knew that Jesus Christ had healed him. I was in awe as we left his home...there really are no words to explain what it felt like to experience this miracle. Even now as I type, my eyes well up with tears.

What a mighty God we serve!

The man in the orange was the lame man and Christopher is in the plaid shirt.