Bible/Christian Living

Shielding Children vs Exposure and Instruction: A Study

As an educator in private Christian schools, I got it from both sides:

  • Proponents of government schooling claimed that our students were too sheltered; and
  • Proponents of home schooling claimed that our students were too exposed to social influences.

Now a study has been released with an interesting take on the issue.  Admittedly, the survey group is small, and the article does not provide enough information on which to base definitive conclusions; but what has come out is fascinating and potentially instructive.

Six- to nine-year-old girls were given a variety of dolls and told to pick the ones that they liked the most, or which represented what they wanted to be, or would be considered the most popular.  No surprise–about 70% chose the sexualized doll dressed in tight and revealing clothing as what they wanted to look like, and what they thought would be the most popular.

Here’s the interesting part:  the researchers divided the children on the basis of whether or not their mothers were religious.  Some of the children of religious mothers were less likely to choose the sexualized dolls, while others overwhelmingly did choose them.  The difference?  Exposure to media.

Daughters (of religious mothers) who were exposed to “…a lot of media” were less likely to choose the sexy doll;  similar daughters who were not exposed to media “overwhelmingly” chose the worldly image The conclusion of the researchers? 

The study also found that girls who consumed a lot of media but had religious mothers were less likely to choose the sexy doll, likely because their mothers held more conservative values such as modesty, the publication reported. But girls with religious mothers who did not consume a lot of media overwhelmingly did choose the sexy doll, in what the authors called a case of “forbidden fruit” that the girls idealized due to a lack of exposure to it, LiveScience reported.

It would seem from this study that children who were aware of the evil and were inoculated against it by proper biblical teaching turned out better than those who received the teaching alone without the context of the exposure.

So should we let out kids wallow in the muck of media licentiousness so that we can teach them more effectively?  Certainly not.  The study did not follow these pre-adolescent girls into their teen years or adulthood to find out how these childhood perceptions affected later thinking or behavior;  and another study showed that exposure to sexual media in the teen years had dramatic negative effects on attitude and behavior (potentially undermining any previously established convictions to the contrary).

My conclusion?  We should teach our children to be in the world but not of the world while they still admire and listen to their parents; and we should keep our teens busy and shielded through those years when they seem to be least receptive to parental instruction.

What was the most revealing conclusion of the first study?  Baptists, close your ears!  Girls who were in dance classes were LEAST likely to choose the sexualized dolls, perhaps because of healthier and more realistic perceptions of body image.

Parents, we have a hard enough job to do without losing our kids in their pre-teen years.  Wisdom says we should follow His Word and knowledge; and if the information in this blog causes you to stop and think about your parenting strategies, then my job is done.  For now.

An Honest Obituary

You have probably heard the old joke about the man who went to a preacher to arrange a funeral for his brother.  “You must say that my brother was an angel,” he insisted.  The preacher protested that his brother had been notorious as a drunk, a womanizer, and probably the most wicked reprobate in town.  The brother offered $10,000 to the preacher, but only if he agreed to say that the man had been an angel.  The preacher accepted;  and at the funeral he fulfilled his obligation by saying, “This man was a terrible, evil sinner–but compared to his brother, he was an angel!”

We come from a society of pretty obituaries; we were all taught not to speak ill of the dead, and if we “don’t have nothing good to say, don’t say nothing at all.”  But one brave family placed an obituary in our local paper yesterday, and it was the most honest (and tragic) one I have ever seen.  If nothing else, it paints a pretty good picture of what mental illness can look like in the flesh.  As you read it, please remember that this is a man for whom Jesus lived and died; and there, but for the grace of God, go we all.

Dennis W. Trainor (1940 – 2012)

Chenango Forks: Dennis W. Trainor of Chenango Forks, NY (2/23/40-7/10/12) decided to end his life in the place he loved best: his home and sanctuary in the Chenango Forks wood. Born in the Bronx, he spent his early years negotiating difficult circumstances with defiance, energy, and determination: jumping off the docks into the river, visiting Edgewater and smelling the vibrant life there, catching trains and riding the length of Manhattan Island, sleeping on rooftops and trying to find ways to survive. He was always proud to be a Bronx native; one of the family residences on Bruckner Boulevard was razed to make way for the Triboro Bridge. He spent too many of his teen and young adult years bouncing from institution to institution, struggling with his addictions and mental health issues. Sometime in the 1970s, his brother Frank convinced him to try living in Binghamton. After many therapeutic interventions and 12-step meetings, Dennis found life-long sobriety in August 1980. In 1982, he moved to a remarkable retreat and safe place in the woods overlooking the Tioughnioga River. He loved living there; he could listen to and feed the birds, cut firewood with an old-fashioned handsaw, try to find ways to live with his many ghosts, demons, hopes, and his firm moral and spiritual code. Dennis was a bundle of complexity and contradictions: incredibly smart yet often irrational, he was a charming and charismatic child-like spirit who could quickly turn angry and afraid. He possessed a searing intensity and determination yet often couldn’t complete the simplest tasks. He felt that he had a very limited capacity to “be in the world,” as he would say; he characterized himself as a hermit, a cowboy, a spiritual seeker, a rebel, a recluse—but never as a comfortable member of society. No amount of rational conversation or pleas could change his beliefs. He was doggedly determined to live his life on his own terms in the best ways that he could. He lived alone since 1996, although he had a close, long-time friend who tried to help him and care for him, as well as relatives, neighbors, and others with whom he developed superficial but deeply important relationships. Although he depended on minimal social services for his very basic needs, he never wanted to feel indebted to any person, agency, or government. So despite his meager resources, he paid enormous interest to clear an old loan for an aborted semester at BCC circa 1980. Because he knew that cigarettes were destroying his health, he quit smoking forever in 1997. In fact, other than a very rare round of antibiotics and occasional OTC pain-relievers, he shunned all medications. If he had accepted help and used prescription anti-depressants or other medications to help him cope with his mental and emotional illnesses, he might still be alive. But he chose his path carefully and deliberately. He saved enough money to pre-pay for his final arrangements because he did not want to burden us with those details of his death. Dennis loved so much about his life: the full moon, the changing seasons, the river, the birds and rabbits and deer and hawks. Yet he carried on a relentless battle against the flying squirrels who reside in the attic and the rodents who pilfer bird feed. Dennis adored 50s bebop and rock, classic cowboy movies and TV shows; he also venerated series such as The Sopranos and Deadwood. He tilted at too many windmills for too long, and he refused to concede a defeat that would have been enormous if he had lived to the point where he could no longer care for himself. Because he wanted a simple, unencumbered life and wanted to live as frugally as possible, he gave up car ownership many years ago; he rode his bicycle to the Forks—in all weather–for his newspapers, milk, bread, and his mail. For several years until shortly before his death, he depended on the BC County Rural service to take him to a grocery store so he could buy what he needed to survive. Dennis so appreciated the lifeline that the BC Country dispatchers and drivers provided. He came to see them as friends and he valued his interactions with them. When the powers that be decided that BC County routes would be almost eliminated (not “cost-efficient” to provide essential services to the most needy among us), Dennis was shaken and scared because one of his few safety nets had been severed. We will never know why he chose to end his life when he did; we know that a constellation of forces contributed. But he would want folks to know that he did all that he could to live and die on his terms. He often quoted the Bible – “let the dead bury the dead”— so he did not want us to mourn him or memorialize him publically. We hope that he would understand why we are publishing this obituary as a way of honoring and remembering him. Dennis was predeceased by his parents John Trainor (1959) and Helen Trainor (2/19/12), his cherished sister Patty (2/25/97) all of the Bronx, his brother Frank (12/18/11) of Pennsylvania, and his dog Willie. He is survived by his long-time close friend Susan Y Williams of Eastham, MA and formerly of Binghamton and Chenango Forks, by his dear sister Mary Bianco of Holbrook, NY, his sister Joan Meehan of Endicott, NY and many nieces and nephews, all of whom will miss him dearly. Special thanks and deep gratitude to Dennis’ neighbors, Jim and Joyce Thomas, and to the people who helped him survive as long and well as he did, especially the dispatchers and drivers of BC Country. Thanks to the first responders, especially the State Police investigators, and to Tim and Donna of DuMunn Funeral Home, who helped us through these horrible first days. In lieu of flowers, consider donating to the Southern Tier Independence Center, the Broome County Country bus service, or a mental health or suicide-prevention organization. If you cannot contribute, please take time to look up at a full-moon or take a walk in the woods or provide a helping hand to someone who needs it. To forward condolences please visit www.demunnfh.com. Arrangements for the family are directed by the DeMunn Funeral Home.
Published in Binghamton Press & Sun-Bulletin on July 15, 2012

 

All Men Are Pigs

Last night, Darlene and I had something of a movie date on the back porch:  we watched a DVD of Finian’s Rainbow.  Today’s blog is not intended as a film review, so I will not report the rude, disparaging remarks we enjoyed making as we watched this lame excuse for a musical.  However, one of the songs clearly illustrated something that I have often said:

All men are pigs.

I could talk about the total depravity of mankind, and the decline of modern culture, and the technological temptations facing males today, but I won’t.  The fact is, since ancient times men have chased anything with two X chromosomes.  As Tommy Steele sang, “When I’m not near the girl I loves, I loves the girl I’m near,” and “If they has bosoms, I woos ems.”  Bad grammar aside, it’s a good rotten social commentary.

I used to have a student who disagreed with my assessment, and protested that her dad was NOT a pig; I told her to go home and ask her father.  She came back and reported that he agreed with me, but she could not accept it:  she would rather see her father as a liar than a pig.  I truly admired her naivete.

So is there any hope for humanity?  Of course:

  • Men may BE pigs, but they don’t have to act like them.  I understand that some even make good house pets; and
  • Women looking for a husband need to accept the fact that all men are pigs, and just try to pick the cleanest one they can find.

Oink.

Tattoos

I have always had a thing for tattoos.  When I was a child, one of my favorite cartoon characters (Popeye) had one; a cousin in the navy had one; and my uncle had one (a snorting bull under which he later added the word “wife”.)  Some of the artwork and colors used today are extraordinary.  I don’t have any tattoos myself, but last year I considered getting one of those temporary ones on the boardwalk–but I couldn’t find an anchor like Popeye’s.

At the same time, I have always viewed tattoos as a matter of taste.  Robert Ripley and Ray Bradbury both presented overly-painted individuals as freakish; and my masculine associations with tattoos leave me confused when I see women all tatted up.  A lady with a small heart, or butterfly, or cross in an out-of the way place doesn’t send off any alarms; but a woman with tattoos all over her arms or her neck reminds me of an attractive postage stamp with a heavy postmark stamped across it.

Don’t get me wrong:  I defend anyone’s rights to tattoo anything anywhere.  If I don’t like it, that’s my preference, but I refuse to condemn anyone for their personal choice in the matter. 

At the same time, before the next generation gets the full Sherwin Williams treatment, they ought to be aware of a few caveats.

 

  • The Bible clearly told the Jews not to get any tattoos (Lev. 19:28).  There must have been a reason, and if that constitutes a general spiritual principle, we ought to consider it as we make our decisions.
  • Even with modern technology, tattoos should still be considered permanent.  Everyone I have known who got a bad tattoo ended up getting it covered by an even bigger one, rather than having it removed.
  • As popular as tattoos have gotten, they still have strong associations with prisons, rebellion, and gangs.

Which brings me to the inspiration for today’s cautionary tale.

A story in today’s Wall Street Journal details the difficulties faced by some immigrants trying to live down their tattoos in order to get ahead in the US.  Actions, even long past actions, have lasting consequences.

Isn’t it just the same in our Christian lives?  There is behavior that may be legal, but it might not be expedient, and it might leave lasting marks on our reputations or even our bodies.  Paul spent years trying to live down his years of persecuting The Way, so that he could be recognized and minister among them.  Solomon may have gotten straightened out later in life, but he will always be remembered for the many wives who led him into idolatry.  Every Sunday School student still knows about David’s sin and Peter’s denials.

Before we get caught up in a fad of our popular culture, we ought to consider the consequences that our actions may have not only on our lives and ministries, but on our children and grandchildren.  We certainly don’t need a black mark against our name.

Motivation

I was wondering today why it is so hard to shower and shave.  I know, I know–it’s not hard for most people, but for the severely depressed, it is a classic symptom of the illness.  One writer attributes it to the fact that the sufferer doesn’t want to be around people, and so has no reason to get presentable.  But that doesn’t explain my own situation, for I know I am going to the bank and the library–so why is it so hard to shower and shave?

After I finished (because most days I do manage to accomplish the task), I was wondering why I had no motivation–no energy or impulse to get up and do something–and it came to me that the word motivation might have two distinct but related meanings:

  1. The energy to move; and
  2. The reason to move…

So I got out my dictionary.  It turns out that motivation always refers to that which initiates or causes motion–whether a logical argument, or a simple desire or emotion.  I decided that the emotion of depression was conflicting with the logic of cleanliness, and now I know why it is so hard to do.  But will my new understanding make a difference?  Only time will tell.

But while I was on the topic, I pondered the motivation that leads people to make decisions for Christ.  We all know from the Scriptures that we have sinfully offended the Holy God, and that we owe him a debt and should repent and allow Him to adopt us into His family in order to inherit the blessings of this life and all eternity.  But we also know that our estrangement from God causes the emotions of fear, regret, guilt, loneliness, desire for love, and gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ that allows us to establish a personal relationship with Him. 

So is the true motivation for salvation a logical conclusion reached in the brain, or an impulse having its root in the heart? 

Ask Paul on the Damascus Road.  Ask Thomas in the upper room.  Ask Moses at the burning bush.  Ask Peter at the lakeside.  And then maybe we will have a logical understanding of the emotions of spiritual conversion.

Proofread, Edit, and Rewrite

This week I finished reading the most recent in the Thursday Next series of books by Jasper Fforde.  These books involve a complex fantasy where the characters of Bookworld are the written inhabitants of books, who perform for the reader when called upon, but who then have time for cross-genre and intra-literary adventures when not being actively read.  The series is humorous and a delight for people who love literature and popular writing.

Then, as I was walking this morning, I heard a song* on my MP3 player that said…”the blood of the Lamb rewrote who I am…” and it sent my mind on a ride down the Stream of Consciousness, through the Creek of Contemplation, and into the Eddy of Edification.  Here a just of few of my random thoughts:

  • In a real sense, we are characters written by the Great Author of the universe;
  • As such, we fit into His perfect outline;
  • The Author reserves the right to proofread and edit the plot of our lives
  • And even to rewrite us to better serve His purpose;
  • He expects us to be actively involved in our own character development;
  • We all have character flaws, but good subjects will overcome them;
  • As characters, we must interact with each other to make up the Novel of the Ages,
  • And it is a full-length Novel, not a short story;
  • We must be content even to be a minor player in a subplot
  • Because we are not all written to be the Hero (or, Heaven forbid, the villain);
  • There will come a final conflict resolution and God will write the Afterward!

I also pondered to what extent we are created and have our outcomes determined, as opposed to having some personal influence on the direction we take–the old Sovereign Grace versus Free Will argument.  I do not claim to understand how it all fits together, but I thought about a situation that has occurred sometimes when I have when I have written well, and had an epiphany:

On occasion when I have created particularly interesting and realistic characters, those characters may seem to take on lives of their own, and suggest to me how they would present themselves or what they would say and do–all within the context of the outline and plot development I already have in mind.  Author determination and character involvement working together… Predestination and Free Will serving a single purpose?  I think I could wrap my mind around that analogy.

Is that an insight, or am I all wet from my trip down Babbling Brook?  You, dear reader, can be the judge.

*”I Know That I Know” by Joel Lindsey and Wayne Haun, performed by the Mark Trammell Trio on their Always Have a Song CD

Disrespect–an act or an attitude?

A recent news article reported that a number of junior high school students were kicked out of the World Trade Center Memorial in NYC for throwing baseballs, plastic bottles, and other litter into the memorial pools. 

While virtually all the adults and some of the other students deplored the act and called it disrespectful, one young scholar offered this quote:

“No one was disrespecting.  It wasn’t nothing like that,” said one student.   “No one was being serious.  Everyone was kind of bored and it was just something to do.”

The poor grammar aside, this young person defined for us old fogies just what disrespect means to some youth today:
  • Actions themselves, no matter how egregious, are not disrespectful;
  • A serious attitude and intent to show disdain must motivate any action if it is truly disrespectful;
  • Any action can be justified if it is done out of boredom.
I have often encountered this argument that only intentions matter, as in “I didn’t mean to do that,”  [as if that excused the action.]  I am convinced that certain words, acts and deeds are inherently wrong and must be avoided; and my standard response was, “But you didn’t mean NOT to do it,” [so you did it and it was the wrong thing to do, and the discipline about to come your way is fully deserved.  Next time, think about your actions and intentionally avoid the wrong.]
My question is, Where were the teachers?  Why did the memorial officials have to put a stop to the actions, rather than the teachers?  Oh, I forgot:  teachers are innocent victims of student misbehavior, not paid supervisors responsible to correct and discipline misbehavior.

Rene LaRosa, of Saddle Brook, N.J., pinned the blame squarely on the shoulders of the students.  “If these kids were in middle school, then they’re old enough to know better,” said LaRosa, a preschool teacher.

Which reminds me of the school bus aide who has been in the news lately for being bullied by middle school children.  The students were wrong–but what was the aide hired to do?  She should have had that driver pull over so she could radio back to the school and have those miscreants on report, in detention, and off the bus quicker than YouTube could play the video.  She was reported as saying that she didn’t want to make it worse–but if stopping bad behavior and disciplining disrespect makes the problem worse, then there is no hope  under the sun for the next generation.

     Adults, be the kind of adults that you want these kids to grow up to be–by whatever legitimate means possible.  Please.

Unjoyment and Uncouragement

Why is light given to a man whose way is hid, and whom God hath hedged in? For my sighing cometh before I eat, and my roarings are poured out like the waters.  (Job 3:23-24)

I return to the topic of my depression–not as an expert, but as a sufferer.  My remarks are anecdotal, but true as I understand and can convey them.

I choose the word sufferer on purpose.  Until one has been through a bout of severe clinical depression, he cannot fully understand all its ramifications.  In my case, it produces terrible physical pain; every arthritic joint hurts more than normal, and I get sharp pains in my chest, accompanied by a feeling of pressure as if a wide band were wrapped around my rib cage and being slowly tightened.  My heart, liver, stomach, lungs, etc. have checked out fine–it is the pain of depression.

My mind wants to dwell on the struggles in and around me, but I seek out ways to retreat into safe and peaceful states of mind.  Unfortunately, because of the energy it takes NOT to think about things, my brain operates at low efficiency and I find it very difficult to concentrate.  I am easily distracted and frustrated.  I cannot enjoy the things that once brought me pleasure, because my brain is in a constant battle for balance.  Did you ever try to read a book, or play golf, or talk to your grandchildren, while you were standing on one foot with a pebble in your shoe?  It can be done, but not well and not for long.

The quote above is from the 3rd chapter of Job, in which he curses his life.  After sitting in silence for 7 days, he describes his suffering in dramatic and powerful images.  He does not curse God, but neither does he praise or glorify Him.  Job is too low for that.

Then his “friends” try to “help” him.  They spend the next 34 chapters or so trying to assess the blame for his tragedies, to analyze his responses, and to accuse him of impiety.  I’m sure that they thought that they were helping him by telling him to confess, repent, and rejoice evermore.  They operated under the assumption that he had forgotten God’s love, mercy, grace, and goodness; and they believed that if they just argued him into a right state of mind that his problems would be solved.

But no amount of talking would bring back Job’s family or possessions, and no amount of talking would take the pain from his soul.  Depression is a disease that needs God’s healing touch; preaching and motivational posters are no substitute.  Job told his companions before they even started that it didn’t make any sense to hand a lamp to a lost man–all it would do is to enable him to better see the unfamiliar surroundings in which God had imprisoned him.  Their well-intentioned words merely made his misery more apparent.

So how are my friends supposed to help me?  Don’t try to fix me–just sit quietly with me, pray, and wait for God to do His healing work.  He will, and I am told that I will be better off for the suffering I have experienced.  One day, some day.

A Praying Statesman

I have recently begun reading The Reagan Diaries from the beginning.  I have often in the past read random entries, but decided I would try to go from beginning to end.

I came across the following statements on facing pages:

Word brought to us of the shooting of the Pope.  Called Cardinal Cooke and Cardinal Crowell–sent message to Vatican and prayed.

and

Nancy up at the crack of dawn to leave for Miss. and the launching [of a new Navy ship].  Why am I so scared always when she leaves like that?  I do an awful lot of praying until she returns.  She returned and I’ve said my thank you.

I wonder what our nation would be like if all of our leaders had such a personal devotion to prayer and the One Who hears and answers.

 

A Modern-day Parable in Picture

A news article showed this picture of a stray dog with a jar over its head:

 

and it reminded me of the human condition.

We were all lost, astray in a dangerous world;

Either an adversary or our own curiosity trapped us inside a deadly snare;

We thought we could see, but we only saw through the colored glass of our sinful perspective;

We thought we were living, but we were headed for a certain death;

We could not partake of the Water of life or the Bread of life;

UNTIL someone came and rescued us.

Someone put out the call for help;

Many became involved in our rescue;

But nothing would help until we allowed ourselves to rest in the hands of the One who could remove our burden and give us new life.

We may have gone down kicking and scratching, but we surrendered to our salvation.

Nobody had to die in order for that dog to live;  it didn’t take the Blood of a Savior to accomplish its rescue,

Because it was only a dog.

We’re not dogs; we are made in the image and likeness of God

And it took the death of Jesus Christ to release us from the prison of our sin

And give us new life.

The question is:  what are we doing with that life?  Keep your head away from that jar,  join a loving family, and make a difference–and maybe someday you can rescue some other poor creature facing certain death.

A Community in Need

Just a quick note on why and how I ended up hospitalized for mental illness:

When my depression became severe, I knew I needed help; my family knew I needed help; and because of the medical aspects of the disease, my doctor should have known I needed help.  (But that’s another story altogether.)

I was too far down to seek outside help, so when my doctor didn’t come through, I gave up—but my family didn’t.  They used the resources available to them to try to find help for the mentally ill in the Greater Binghamton area.  My wife and daughter are both health care professionals, so their resources were far better than the average.

What they found was that the normal wait to get an appointment to see a psychiatrist or counselor in the area was measured in weeks and months, not days.  When they explained my situation to the various offices they contacted, the common response was, “Go to the crisis center.  They can evaluate the patient and get an earlier appointment.”

So I went to the crisis center, expecting to be evaluated and then sent home with an appointment to see a mental health specialist.  Instead, I was kept overnight as an out-patient, and then admitted to the mental health ward of the hospital, where I remained for a week.  During that time, I saw two different doctors (once each) and a nurse practitioner (three or four times).  I had three meetings with a psychotherapist.  All in all, the in-patient treatment was a good jumpstart toward recovery.

However, as I understood it, it would be vital to follow up with further care immediately upon discharge from the hospital.  The professionals at the hospital would line me up with appointments and resources to keep my recovery on track.  It was suggested that I should receive counseling or group therapy sessions a couple of times per week at first, to be decreased as appropriate.

You can imagine my surprise, then, when I was given my discharge papers showing my first mental health appointment being scheduled for two weeks down the road.  When I protested that such late follow-up contradicted what I had been led to expect I would need, I heard the same old story:  there are few mental health specialists in the area; a lot of established patients who fill their schedules; and it takes weeks or months for a new patient to get in.  The appointment for two weeks in the future was the earliest that even the hospital could arrange for me.  (The option of group therapy has never been brought up again.)

Once I had a professional who had agreed to see me, my family and their contacts were able to get my appointment moved up to within a few days, and my treatment has been ongoing regularly since then.  But my experience highlights a real need in the community:        

  • With two major health care provider networks in the community, there is only one crisis center for mentally ill patients;
  • The psychiatric center itself has a waiting list, and only the most severe patients can get in;
  • The hospital’s unit is staffed in part by traveling doctors, who spend a few days in Binghamton and then move on and are not available to follow up with patients;
  • Some of the hospital beds were taken up by people involuntarily committed by the justice system after alcohol-related incidents;  in one case I witnessed, the “patient” openly admitted that he was just biding his time until he could get legal discharge and go get his next drink;
  • Insurance companies dictate the length of medically-necessary hospitalizations, and the hospital staff has only limited ability to extend a patient’s stay;
  • If there are other resources available to sufferers of mental illness, that information is not being given to patients prior to admission or upon discharge.         

I am not criticizing the crisis center, the hospital, or any of those good people who helped get me started on the road to recovery.  I AM grieved that the community which was recently reported as the most depressing city in America does not have enough resources available to meet the needs.  I don’t have the answer, or even any reasonable suggestions toward solving the problem—but maybe somebody else does.  I hope that between our existing hospitals, private providers, colleges, and other community groups we can accomplish two things:

    1. To make more mental health resources available; and
    2. To publicize the ones that exist already.

My blog posts have connected me with dozens of fellow sufferers.  May each one find the help they need to achieve recovery—despite the apparent shortages and shortcomings in our community’s mental health services.

Addendum:  As a result of a friend reading this post and contacting some of her acquaintances, I was sent a document listing services available to those suffering from mental health issues.  I include that document as a link:

BC Counseling 111711

Strength in Numbers, Large and Small

When I entered the mental health unit of the local hospital, I was alone.  My wife and daughter came to see me, and my mother called on the phone, but I was alone.  Twenty-one hours a day I was surrounded by strangers—the majority of whom were mentally ill!  My walls of self-defense and self-reliance were firmly in place, and for a day all I did was watch the others in silence.

1Kings 19:4, 13-14  But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a juniper tree: and he requested for himself that he might die; and said, It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life; for I am not better than my fathers…. (13)  And it was so, when Elijah heard it, that he wrapped his face in his mantle, and went out, and stood in the entering in of the cave. And, behold, there came a voice unto him, and said, What doest thou here, Elijah?  (14)  And he said, I have been very jealous for the LORD God of hosts: because the children of Israel have forsaken thy covenant, thrown down thine altars, and slain thy prophets with the sword; and I, even I only, am left; and they seek my life, to take it away.

After my second “Community Meeting,” I realized that I was not alone by myself; everyone else there was alone too.  Despair has a way of isolating us; we feel solitary and useless, as Elijah did.  But when I saw that the other people alone around me understood what I was feeling, then I began to bond with them—our community  became like a modern-day colony of emotional lepers, thrown together by circumstances, but united in the common cause of survival. 

            The most traumatic experience of my hospitalization came when the staff told me that I would have to leave my community and move to another floor.  I had a meltdown, and retreated far within the cave of my pain and self-pity.  I felt more alone and abandoned than I had ever felt before.  I wouldn’t eat, I didn’t want to see anyone, and I certainly didn’t want anyone to see me. 

            But as I stepped out of the elevator on my new floor, my face wet with tears, all my possessions in two paper bags, who should step out of the adjacent elevator but my daughter Elizabeth and my friend Tim.  Inwardly I cursed God for letting them see me this way.  But He knew what he was doing.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12  Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  (10)  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!  (11)  Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone?  (12)  And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him–a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

They helped me through the next hour, and they have helped me through many hours since then.  My wife Darlene, my son Jeremy, my friend Lee, Pastor Dan—these and a few others have made a point to check on me, hold me up when I need it, and leave me alone (nearby) when I need to decompress.  My daughter Jennifer even flew in from northern Canada to help in my recovery.

            People in numbers still overwhelm me and I tend to withdraw; but with one or two at my side, I can stand on my wobbly legs and work on making my way back to the land of strength and health.

Matthew 18:19-20  Again I say unto you, That if two of you shall agree on earth as touching any thing that they shall ask, it shall be done for them of my Father which is in heaven.  (20)  For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.

I have taken great comfort in the story of Elijah referred to above.  The prophet had a tremendous victory, followed by a severe bout with depression and suicidal thoughts.  But he never forgot God, and God never forgot him.  When Elijah was ready, the Lord told him to join up with Elisha and to continue his ministry with this faithful man at his side; that was what he (and I) needed—God and a friend.  Then, almost as an afterthought, the voice from Heaven told him,

Yet I have left me seven thousand in Israel, all the knees which have not bowed unto Baal, and every mouth which hath not kissed him.  ( I Kings 19:18)

God had an army held in reserve for the day when they would be needed!  What a comfort and encouragement!

            I am not alone.  I am blessed to know that so many people are thinking about me, praying for me, struggling along with me, pulling for me—and it is wonderful to know that there is an entire fleet of ambulances (figuratively speaking) ready to rush to my aid.  But for now, the ambulances can stand by on alert–what I need personally is a walker or a pair of crutches to lean on as I take that next step. 

Mental Illness Goes to Church

Since my depression had become severe, I had not been in church a lot.  Before I was hospitalized, I had a problem with all crowds, but especially with people I knew and cared about.

  • I was easily distracted, and couldn’t follow the pastor’s message;
  • I tended to get angry toward the people that I felt were distracting me or detracting from the service;
  • I saw (or imagined) ulterior motives in what people said or did, and distrusted them more and more;
  • I assumed that everyone in church was as big a hypocrite as I felt I was.

After my stay in the mental health unit of the local hospital, my anxieties were actually multiplied!  After all, I had been diagnosed as “mentally ill,” and

  • “Everybody knows” that mental illness is a spiritual problem, resulting from sin in one’s life—and depression just represents a lack of faith in God;
  • “Everybody knows” that seeking secular help for a “spiritual problem” is definitely NOT appropriate for a church leader;
  • “Everybody knows” that mental illness is a disqualifying position—it kept Thomas Eagleton off the Democratic ticket in 1972, and certainly ought to keep Bob Bowker out of ministry in 2012.

I started back to church slowly:  a Senior Saints Bible study; an evening service where I slipped in late and left early; and then, after I went public with my condition, I taught an adult Sunday School class.  I am sure that no two people share exactly the same experiences, but here are my observations.  Please remember, I’m not thinking completely straight, so be kind in your reactions.

1.  People were far more welcoming and understanding than I expected.  Many people touched my arm or the back of my hand in a gesture of encouragement.  What a pleasant surprise—my stay on the psych ward was not a stigma to these caring people!

2.  Several people were eager to share their own stories of their struggles with—and sometimes victories over—depression.  I learned that many are suffering along with me today.

3.  A few people seemed uncomfortable around me.  Some were unnaturally friendly, and one or two, it seemed to me, went out of their way to ignore me.  I’m sorry I made them feel uneasy, but I can’t help it that I am sick, and I don’t regret going public with it.  They will have to sort out their feelings about it all, even as I work to sort out my own.

4.  I’m sure some wondered how I could teach Sunday School, but couldn’t sit through the morning service.  The answer involves the safety that comes from structure.  When I am teaching, I can control the topic, the pace, the direction of any discussion, and even who I call on (if I choose take any questions or comments at all).  The classroom has always been a “safe” place for me—just like the hospital was safe, and areas of my home have been made safe, so that I can avoid those things that might inflame my fragile mental and emotional state.  Having a ministry in a safe setting was good therapy for me.  On the other hand, sitting in a service where my safety is gone, someone else is in control, and every aspect from the songs to the prayers to the message are designed to impress my soul and elicit a response—well, right now that is a recipe for anxiety and the fear that I may cry for no obvious reason, or perhaps even speak out inappropriately.  My teeth chatter and I get chest pains, and I don’t need that right now.

–Question:  was it hypocritical of me to teach the Bible when I don’t have my mental and emotional state under full control?  No.  I have seldom been as real and authentic in my approach to the Scriptures or my students as I was on Sunday.

5.  I will end my observations with a request:  if my mental illness and I visit your church, please don’t ask me how I’m doing.  I don’t know how I’m doing.  My mental state changes from day to day—from moment to moment.  I don’t know how to answer you, and I’m not sure you want an answer; after all, “How are you doing?” has become a routine and rhetorical greeting.  On the other hand, those who truly made me feel welcome were those who just smiled and said, “It’s good to see you.”

Considering where I was not long ago, I could honestly answer, “Thank you.  It’s good to be seen.”

Now You Know

My friends and family know that I have dealt for some time with depression and anxiety.  I have a hormonal imbalance that contributes to the situation, and I have been on and off medications as needed to help me deal with the physical and emotional effects.  Recently, the disappointments and pressures of various situations hit me hard, and a side effect of the medicine made my response progressively worse.  With the support of my family, I checked into the hospital and spent a week on the psych ward.  I am currently at home on disability, adjusting to new medicines and receiving therapy to improve my ability to cope with this disease called mental illness.  I ask for your prayers and your understanding as the Lord, the doctors, and I travel what could be a long path to full recovery.

And yes, this blog is therapy–a way to reach people without being around too many people until I am able to handle it.  Your “hits” on the site and your comments–positive or negative–affirm to me that I still have something that people are willing to listen to.

Some day soon I will begin publishing some character sketches–fictionalized snapshots inspired by people I met in the hospital.  Watch for them in the “Readers’ Corner” and know that each character is me, and that each situation is real.

To all my fellow sufferers, let me remind you what the prophet Jeremiah said in Lamentations 3:19-21 (freely paraphrased):  If God knows and remembers all my struggles (and He does), then even when I am overwhelmed by the knowledge of them and sink to the lowest pit of despair, I know He is still there, and that gives me hope.

This morning for the first time in a very long time, I woke up and I had a sense of His pulse in the hand He holds me in.  There is hope.

Even when the ship of my life
Has crashed on the rocks of hopelessness,
And there is nothing left
But the rocks and the waves,
He is the rock
And He controls the waves.

Just keep your hands off me!

The topic of gay rights and homosexual marriage is being referred to more than ever in this year’s election.  Let me make my position perfectly clear:

1.  Whether or not people are born with a predisposition toward same-sex attraction is beside the point.  God calls sexual behavior between two men or two women dishonorable, shameless, and unnatural, and promises that the sinful behavior will be punished.

Rom 1:26-27  For this reason God gave them up to dishonorable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;  (27)  and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.

2.  God does not call me to police the behavior of individuals.  If given a chance, I will speak God’s truth as I see it in the Bible, and if given the opportunity, I will vote against legalizing sin.  However, I will not bully, threaten, or harass my neighbor, acquaintance, or fellow American just because of the particular sin they choose.  I have my own sins (gluttony among them) and I will stand before God one day to answer for my own thoughts, words, and deeds–and so will everyone else.

3.  That having been said, I don’t see why I need to know your sexual attitude!  I really don’t care whether you are oversexed, undersexed, gay, straight, celibate, boring, or perverted–just keep your hands off me!  I don’t like women other than my wife touching me beyond a handshake or a hug, and I don’t want men touching me, either.  In fact, the only time (since I became an adult) that I ever violently hit someone was one time in a crowd when a man started touching my leg; I jabbed him in the ribs with my elbow as hard as I could, and got out of there.  If it were a woman, I probably wouldn’t have hit her, but I still would have run away.  Did it offend me to have a gay man make a pass at me?  Yes.  Would it have offended me to have a straight woman make a pass at me?  Yes.  I am an equal-opportunity offense-taker when it comes to people touching me.  Your rights end where my skin begins.

Beyond my personal space, when it comes to issues of sin and righteousness, I leave it up to God to deal with.  I only have an opinion; He is the Truth.  And if you don’t like what He says about homosexuality, adultery, fornication,  or any of the other sins of passion, take it up with Him when you see Him.  I don’t think it will get you very far.

(Here’s one last thought:  if you are going to bow your knee in submission to Him anyway (Phil. 2:10-11), why not do it sooner rather than later, and save us all a little aggravation?  Thanks!)