So, Just “Who is My Neighbor?

We live in a divided nation. I’m from the United States, and realize I also live in a world where various nations are at odds with each other. But one thing we should agree on is that even one critical illness or death from a world pandemic is a tragedy. Maybe not to us, but to someone.

The schoolteacher from a small town in France, the accountant for a big city law firm, the coach for your college’s football team, or the writer at Hallmark Greetings who created the message in that birthday card you sent to your friend. They all love the people close to them as much as we love the people close to us.

What if the death from COVID-19 is your family member; the person who sits in the next cubicle at work; your hair stylist or barber; your friend of 20 years; the person who always sits in the seat next to you at church; the barista at your favorite coffee shop. Deaths from this pandemic will be personal and a cause of grief to us. Deaths from this pandemic will also be personal to someone you’ll never meet.

So why even discuss ‘inflated numbers?’ Why criticize and alienate people using an argument you found on social media? (This one included.) Why fall into the trap of making it all about politics? A human being isn’t defined as a number, or explained away with an argument, or solely identified by a political party.

We’re defined by our humanity.

These are weird and challenging times for us. Even if we haven’t lost our jobs. Even if we got tested and the test was negative for the virus. Even if before all this madness we stayed home most of the time anyway. And they’re weird times whether we’re old or young, male or female, religious or not religious, employed or not employed, sick or well, prominent in our community or only counted because we took a census.

I have opinions and I’ve stupidly—and regrettably—expressed some of them. However, now it’s time for me to keep in mind a few things I believe are true: Patience is better than ‘tolerance.’ Silence is (sometimes) better than speaking. Being kind is better than being right.

With that in mind, I hope I can, as I always say, “be a blessing to someone today.”

Father in heaven, we thank you for your grace to us no matter how we see our current circumstances and how we respond. Help us to see that people all over the world are affected by the same things we go through. Remind us every day that you love them too. Most importantly, keep us safe and secure in the knowledge that you are in control. Amen.

Being Mentally Ill During “Shelter in Place”

Q: How many people struggling with clinical depression does it take to change a light bulb?

A: None. They’re in a dark night of the soul and oblivious to any other dark.

Forgive the ‘dark’ humor, but using humor, dark or light, is how some of us with a mental illness deal with trouble. Someone diagnosed with clinical depression will probably identify with that attempt at humor and nod. “Yep, that’s about right.”

People who know me even a little know I’m a goofball. People who know me well know I’m also mentally ill. Then there are the people who know me so well, they’ve sat with me in the emergency room as I wait to be admitted to The Ward. A locked ward.

I use humor to deal with my struggles, no matter what they are. It keeps me sane (so to speak). And even in the emergency room, I make cracks about why I’m there and what it will be like during my stay. A behavioral health unit is a lonely place to be even when the unit is at capacity. I never look forward to being there. I’m not there because I want to be, I’m there because I need to be.

Now here we all are, in varied states of lock down. I’m hearing myself as I talk to myself use humor to get through the coronavirus crisis.

Being cooped up is hard for us all. Having a mental illness, I can multiply that difficulty exponentially because depression, mania, generalized anxiety, paranoia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and other mental illnesses thrive on stress. I think we can all agree that being sheltered in place is stressful.

Years ago, I decided I could share the fact that I’m mentally ill with a chosen few people I knew wouldn’t judge me, try to change me, tell me why I was acting out, or any of the other “crazy” things people do and say to someone who has a mental illness. I made that decision for several reasons. Some of the remarks made or advice given offended me (which put me in a defensive mode). I felt shame. I was frustrated. I got sad. And when some of those people left me—I mean left me—in the wake of their ignorance, I felt isolated and betrayed.

I knew I couldn’t change those people and it would have to be me who did. So, I decided if anything could change, it was how I talked about mental illness, especially my own. Now I tell people and leave their reactions up to them. If the opportunity is there, I educate people as much as they seem willing to bear it. I don’t go around revealing my illness to the person in line behind me at the store. There should be a good reason to tell and a good reason not to tell.

I think this is a good time to tell: I’m manic-depressive, an illness that since the late eighties is called bipolar disorder. I use the old name because it describes the nature of the illness. I get manic and I get depressed. Sometimes simultaneously, but that’s another topic for another time. I also suffer with generalized anxiety and a mild level of OCD. When I’m very, very ill, I become paranoid, psychotic, and delusional. I know; it’s not pretty.

So, there’s my personal admission about my illnesses and you can do whatever you want with it. Here’s what’s happening in my world and might be happening for someone else who’s mentally ill.

I don’t minimize the way anyone is affected by being cooped up; it can crush your spirit. Isolation makes you sad, angry, frustrated, scared, and empty. We were created to be in community with each other. “It is not good for man to be alone,” is what God said when he created us. We’re social creatures.

Several months ago, after I’d been mood-cycling for a while (manic/depressed over and over), I hit bottom and the deep depression took over. I was like that for a couple weeks. Then mania came back, and euphoria became mixed in every single day, all day long. When I begin to feel the mood swings, I get to a point where I don’t go out in public. Sometimes I can’t even tell why I do it, but I hole up like an outlaw.

The ‘craziness’ got ramped up when I had to stay home for the sake of my (and your) health and the need to protect us from a deadly disease. Even if I don’t like going out much when I’m ill, I try to take care of myself by getting into the sunshine and practicing my social skills. This shelter-in-place thing changes that.

I miss going to church. I miss meeting weekly with my mentor. I serve at the Salvation Army soup kitchen and the population has dwindled there. I miss seeing “my people.” I can’t pay my bills to the apartment manager, pick up the recycling from the office, or just sit and chat with her. She’s become a friend and I miss her too. And you know what? My psychiatrist asks me about these activities when I see him because he knows they help me stay somewhat normal.

People who know me well know I’m a Christian and have strong faith in the God I believe in. People who know the facts know that we who have a mental illness and are also Christians aren’t necessarily ‘delivered’ from the symptoms completely. We do the best we can, then accept that it’s a chronic illness that happens to be a mental one. It’s in our brain, for crying out loud, and the most educated, smart, and compassionate experts admit the brain is the last frontier of the human body. Ironically, our brains haven’t completely figured out our brains. Go figure.

I’m trying to not be completely idle. But I can only rearrange the food in the pantry so many times and then it’s ridiculous. And right now, I need my pet more than ever. Scout the Rabbit isn’t technically an emotional support animal. He does, however, provide emotional support. (He’s putting in overtime right now, but don’t tell him. He’s not getting extra lettuce in his paycheck.) When I’m having super-crazy anxiety, holding him brings my heart rate down. Sometimes it makes me cry, but it’s a good kind of crying. He gives me someone to talk to. Out loud.

Right now, I think of my friends who are mentally ill and it breaks my heart knowing some of them are struggling like me. I believe we’re doing what we can, but some of us are having a hard time doing it in isolation. I’m by nature an introvert, but enough is enough. Having said that, I respect the shelter in place orders because I don’t like being sick. I may be mentally ill, but I’m not stupid. And, while I’m not afraid to die, I hope to have a few more years of life.

Anyone who has a chronic illness knows that stress exacerbates it and symptoms may flare up. I’m thinking of you guys too. Take your meds, get your rest, follow your doctor’s orders. I mean it.

If you don’t have a chronic illness, being restricted in your social life means you too must take care of yourself, especially your mental health. Just because you’re not mentally ill doesn’t mean you have to be stupid. (hahahahaha-more humor.)

I’ve said my piece now, so excuse me. I’m going out to the living room to work on my stand-up routine.

Be a blessing to someone today.

Worshiping in the Time of a Pandemic

“And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the Lord and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord, for his steadfast love endures forever.’ And when they began to sing and praise, the Lord set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come up against Judah, so that they were routed” (2 Chronicles 20:21-22 ESV).

King Jehoshaphat believed God when he said, “the battle is not yours, but God’s.” Like him, when we see a battle before us, praise and worship come before action.

During these times of uncertainty and isolation, I like to remember the attributes and character of God. He is

  • Sovereign
  • Mighty
  • Faithful
  • Eternal
  • Active in the world
  • Loving
  • All-knowing

God isn’t surprised at what’s happening. He didn’t create the situation, but he’s allowing it. The coronavirus pandemic isn’t punishment for sin; it’s another indication that all creation “waits with eager longing” for the fulfillment of his promises (Romans 8: 18-23).

Our responses should be with the wisdom expressed by C.S. Lewis in “The Weight of Glory.” (Where you see the word ‘war’ read ‘pandemic.’)

“I think it is important to try to see the present calamity in a true perspective. The war creates no absolutely new situation; it simply aggravates the permanent human situation so that we can no longer ignore it. Human life has always been lived on the edge of a precipice. Human culture has always had to exist under the shadow of something infinitely more important than itself. If men had postponed the search for knowledge and beauty until they were secure, the search would never have begun. We are mistaken when we compare war with “normal life.” Life has never been normal. Even those periods which we think most tranquil, like the nineteenth century, turn out, on closer inspection, to be full of crises, alarms, difficulties, emergencies. Plausible reasons have never been lacking for putting off all merely cultural activities until some imminent danger has been averted or some crying injustice put right. But humanity long ago chose to neglect those plausible reasons. They wanted knowledge and beauty now, and would not wait for the suitable moment that never comes.” (Learning in Wartime)

Or, as the late Paul Harvey continually reminded us, “In times like these, it is always helpful to remember that there have always been times like these.”

People are saying, “We’re in this together.” Because of our trust in a faithful God, we know for certain that he is with us as well. “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:17).

Each of us will find ways to get through the confusion, aggravation, and unsettled feelings as the result of self isolation, an uncertain economy, and death. But God expects us to enter the battlefield and face the trouble. He goes before us and protects us. Let your weapons be songs of praise.

God and Father, you are our refuge and our shield. Give us wisdom to do your will. Help us to not be afraid or be reduced by anxiety. Our eyes are on you. Amen.

Praying for Yourself With Humility

She prays this earnest prayer when she realizes she is prone to behaving like, as we used to call it, a ‘fuddy-duddy.’ I believe the prayer fits no matter what our age is.

Lord, you know better than I know myself that I am growing older and one day will be old.

Keep me from the fatal habit of thinking I must say something on every subject and on every occasion.

Release me from craving to straighten out everybody’s affairs.

Make me thoughtful but not moody; helpful but not bossy.

With my vast store of wisdom, it seems a pity not to use it all; but you know, Lord, that I want a few friends at the end.

Keep my mind free from the recital of endless details; give me wings to get to the point.

Seal my lips on my aches and pains, they are increasing and love of rehearsing them is becoming sweeter as the years go by.

I dare not ask for grace enough to enjoy the tales of other’s pains but help me to endure them with patience.

I dare not ask for improved memory, but for growing humility and a lessening cocksureness when my memory seems to clash with the memories of others.

Teach me the glorious lesson that occasionally I may be mistaken.

Keep me reasonably sweet. I do not want to be a saint, some of them are so hard to live with, but a sour old person is one of the crowning works of the devil.

Give me the ability to see good things in unexpected places and talent in unexpected people, and give me O Lord the grace to tell them so. Amen

Anonymous Nun, Seventeenth century

Be a blessing to someone today

Our Responsibility: The Image of God

“Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” Genesis 1:26-27

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Of everything God created, we are the only creatures designed in His image and His breath is the breath we breathe.

We guard the image of man by respecting our bodies and respecting the image of God in others. We make decisions about right to life and quality of life based on what God sees and expects. We understand that, from conception to death, all human beings are people God loves. We know the things of God because we know His character.

We guard the image of man through our worship of God.

“Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”

Praising God requires our breath–His breath. When we give honor to God we’re cherishing our own bodies, spirits, and souls.

God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’” Genesis 1:28

In the beginning, God had a plan. His plan, which included you and me, was for a world where we live as stewards of everything He made. Ruling over God’s creation means being the authority. With that authority we undertake the responsibility of care. Caring includes listening, so we’re attentive to the needs of others created in God’s image.

We’re attentive to the needs of everything God created. “Every living creature that moves on the ground.” To ‘subdue‘ in Hebrew means to conquer and hold in bondage. We make it our servant. However, we must remember that God always saw harsh treatment of anyone in bondage as sin. Hence, while we may conquer Earth and everything in it, we respect those things that are under our control. We answer to God for that.

When the idea is a simple one, God is speaking. If we’re in tune with God, guarding the image of man and caring for everything he gave us becomes second nature. Implementing The Golden Rule in reference to our planet and in regard to others is the solution to our questions every time.

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you,

for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 7:12

15 A.W. Tozer Quotes

A.W. (Aiden Wilson) Tozer began his lifelong pursuit of God after hearing a street preacher in Akron, Ohio, at the age of seventeen. He lived from 1897 to 1963. The self-taught theologian committed his life to the ministry of God’s Word as a pastor, teacher, and writer. Some of his books include Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, God’s Pursuit of Man, Fiery Faith, and Whatever Happened to Worship?

Tozer imageFor your meditations today, here are fifteen quotes from A.W. Tozer.

“Outside of the will of God, there is nothing I want. And in the will of God, there is nothing I fear.”

“I am thankful that justice is in the hands of God.”

“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.”

“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion. I want all that God has or I don’t want any.”

“If your Christianity depends on a pastor’s preaching, then you’re a long way from where you should be.”

“Faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart.”

“Rules for Self-Discovery:
What we want most;
What we think about most;
How we use our money;
What we do with our leisure time;
The company we enjoy;
Who and what we admire;
What we laugh at.”

“To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”

“How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.”

“We must not select a few passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”

“Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God.”

“We can be in our day what the heroes of faith were in their day – but remember at the time they didn’t know they were heroes.”

“God created the world out of nothing, can he not do anything in and through us?”

“We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.”

15 A.W. Tozer Quotes

A.W. (Aiden Wilson) Tozer began his lifelong pursuit of God after hearing a street preacher in Akron, Ohio, at the age of seventeen. He lived from 1897 to 1963. The self-taught theologian committed his life to the ministry of God’s Word as a pastor, teacher, and writer. Some of his books include Knowledge of the Holy, The Pursuit of God, God’s Pursuit of Man, Fiery Faith, and Whatever Happened to Worship?

Tozer imageFor your meditations today, here are fifteen quotes from A.W. Tozer.

“Outside of the will of God, there is nothing I want. And in the will of God, there is nothing I fear.”

“I am thankful that justice is in the hands of God.”

“God never hurries. There are no deadlines against which he must work. Only to know this is to quiet our spirits and relax our nerves.”

“I want the presence of God Himself, or I don’t want anything at all to do with religion. I want all that God has or I don’t want any.”

“If your Christianity depends on a pastor’s preaching, then you’re a long way from where you should be.”

“Faith is not a once-done act, but a continuous gaze of the heart.”

“Rules for Self-Discovery:
What we want most;
What we think about most;
How we use our money;
What we do with our leisure time;
The company we enjoy;
Who and what we admire;
What we laugh at.”

“To be right with God has often meant to be in trouble with men.”

“When I understand that everything happening to me is to make me more Christlike, it resolves a great deal of anxiety.”

“How completely satisfying to turn from our limitations to a God who has none.”

“We must not select a few passages to the exclusion of others. Nothing less than a whole Bible can make a whole Christian.”

“Without doubt, the mightiest thought the mind can entertain is the thought of God, and the weightiest word in any language is its word for God.”

“We can be in our day what the heroes of faith were in their day – but remember at the time they didn’t know they were heroes.”

“God created the world out of nothing, can he not do anything in and through us?”

“We can afford to follow Him to failure. Faith dares to fail. The resurrection and the judgment will demonstrate before all worlds who won and who lost. We can wait.”

Jonah and a Big-Mouthed Fish

While waiting for my appointment with a doctor, I picked up a Highlights magazine from the table beside me. I don’t often read magazines for children, but this one caught my eye because of a cover blurb.

“Whoa! Whale Sharks,” it said.

The article in the February 2015 issue was fascinating. As I read it, I began to wonder if perhaps this huge fish wasn’t of the species God chose to swallow Jonah. When I was growing up, our Sunday school teachers gave us flannel graph lessons and explained this reluctant prophet’s story as “Jonah and the Whale.” But ‘whale’ isn’t the animal name given in the Bible. (Jonah 1:17, emphasis mine)

The King James Version says, “Now the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

The New International Version reads: “Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah.”

Yet another version, the New Revised Standard Version, says “But the Lord provided a large fish to swallow up Jonah.”

Even more interesting language comes in the English Standard Version: “And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah.”

I guess, even aside from the verb used to say how the fish came into the story, it’s obvious that this is not a whale, but a fish. Whales are mammals; fish are not. Scripture also makes it clear that God caused this to happen.

Basic information about whale sharks is agreed upon from research which scientists have done on them. Science describes and provides “everything you ever wanted to know about” whale sharks. For perspective, a whale shark is about the size of a school bus so it could easily hold a man in its belly.

Most of us were captivated by the story of Jonah when we were children. It’s even captivating when we’re adults with the very idea that someone survived inside a fish for three days and three nights.

Some people don’t believe the story is true. But God never answers all the questions we have about what happens in the Bible. Scripture includes lots of mysteries.

Perhaps the mystery of what kind of great/huge/large fish swallowed Jonah will never be known. But I think it’s nice to have whale sharks as a possible answer to where Jonah spent three days in the dark as he came to his senses and decided to obey the Lord.

Doxology = Praise

Praise God

from whom all blessings flow.

Praise Him,

all creatures here below.

Praise Him,

all you heavenly hosts.

Praise Father,

Son,

and Holy Ghost.

Amen

The word “doxology” has roots in the Greek language. Doxo, meaning opinion or glory and logia, meaning oral or written communication. It follows that anything calling itself a doxology would mean praise.

Growing up in church, I sang this ‘song’ with everyone, usually prior to the sermon. I had no idea what praise to God meant. I do now. The song isn’t sung at the church I now attend, but I don’t hold ill feelings about that or expect my church to implement the practice. Gratitude to God is encouraged through other means.

I wrote out the lyrics to this particular doxology not only because it’s the one I’m familiar with. I chose to write them in that fashion because seeing then this way forces me look at the phrasing more carefully. As with many songs with which we become familiar, the meaning can get lost in that familiarity.

To me, prayer itself is a form or worship. Beginning a prayer glorifying God and with expressions of praise is how I most enjoy hearing prayer. I may start conversations with God by asking questions or expressing frustration, but eventually, I get to the part where I recognize his wonder and thank him for how he works in my life.

Sometimes, I even sing the words.

Father, I’m grateful for a God who is who he is and, surely, “I AM” is how you define yourself. When I know “who” you are, I’m more likely to give praise to you. Help me to always, in addition to my questions, requests, and emotional expressions based on difficult circumstances, be aware enough to show the gratitude you’ve taught me is necessary for a fruitful life. Amen