Archives For Mental Health

Blah Days

Alyson Kieda —  January 27, 2014 — 2 Comments

Frosty Footpath – winter snow/flickr/Creative Commons/blmiers2

I live in Midwestern Michigan, where the weather can be extreme. In the winter, temperatures can reach the balmy 40s or plummet to -20°. But mostly we get temperatures ranging between 0° and the mid-30s. Our average yearly snow accumulation is around 50 to 70 inches. We can also get freezing rain—like today. And we can go whole weeks without seeing any sunshine.

If the lack of sunshine and cold weather bothers you, our region can be a depressing place to live. But all of us have our days when winter gets us down. The driving can be frightful, and we can feel cooped up in our home or office. We feel chilled to the bone. Thankfully, I’m pretty even-keeled, mood-wise. But I know others for whom winter is a downer, literally. And I know that by mid-February, if not before, I long for the warmth of spring.

In the meantime, there are some things we can do to get through the winter. Get some fresh air, such as taking a walk or cross-country skiing in the woods, but that’s not always possible—such as on days like today when walking is treacherous. That’s when hopping on a treadmill or taking a walk in the mall could be helpful since exercise elevates our mood. Others have found that light from lamps designed to mimic the sun’s healthy light rays can provides the additional vitamin D our bodies crave during the winter time.

It’s also good to engage in activities that cheer us. For me, that includes: Visiting friends whose company is energizing. Watching an upbeat or funny movie. Sitting by a warm fire and listening to cheery music. Reading a fun or inspirational book. Playing a board game with family. Seeing and hugging my grandchildren! Doing something for someone else. Laughter. “A merry heart does good, like medicine” (Proverbs 17:22).

Those are some of the things I’ve found helpful. So what lifts your spirits?

New Year’s Resolutions

Alyson Kieda —  January 8, 2014 — 2 Comments

New Year’s Resolutions/flickr/Creative Commons/bk2400

Happy New Year! It’s 2014—a perfect opportunity to make a new start.

The beginning of a new year often is a time of reflection, of thinking over the past year and imagining what might happen in the new. It’s also a time when many people make New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, to give up a bad habit, or to establish a good habit.

I tend to shy away from New Year’s resolutions. Whenever I make one, it isn’t long before I slip and disappointment sets in. Then I feel like throwing in the towel and giving up my goal as far too unattainable. Thankfully I’ve talked to enough people to know that many others have the same difficulty.

But I’d like to offer some encouragement. Don’t give up! If your resolution is God honoring, keep at it. (See 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.) If you slip, just pick yourself up and start again. It’s okay to give yourself the same grace and forgiveness you extend to others. You really aren’t a failure if you ate that extra piece of pie or if you didn’t reach your goal of time spent in the Word this week.

Try looking on your goal as a joy, not a chore. And don’t make the mistake of thinking you can pull this off on your own. Ask for help. Pray for the Holy Spirit’s help (see John 16:13-14) and enlist the aid of another—a Christian buddy who will cheer you on and who will run the race alongside you (Hebrews 12:1-3).

Growing more and more like Jesus is my resolution, not just for 2014 but for the remainder of my journey. Want to join me?

A Feast for the Senses

Tim Jackson —  December 6, 2013 — Leave a comment

Thanksgiving turkey-flickr/Creative Commons/R Bitting

There are few things that provoke memories more quickly and deeply than when our senses are stimulated by a sound, a smell, a sight, a touch, or a taste. The images that involuntarily rush to the forefront of the mind are powerful and poignant. And they are so individualized for each of us because our stories are so different.

For me, the smell of wet leaves in the fall prompt warm memories of sharing many days afield in Central Pennsylvania with my father, brothers, and uncle. The biting wind laced with snowflakes that pummeled my face in my tree stand two days ago also provoked memories and prompted a text to my younger brother. We both enjoyed reminiscing about those bygone days that did so much to shape our souls as young boys and now as men with our own families.

The smell of coffee takes me back to lazy summer days of camping along the Susquehanna River. That’s where my love affair with coffee began. My Great Aunt Marie would haul out her giant percolator (it seemed like 10 gallons to me back then) and began brewing this dark, rich elixir that was best served in large mugs with an unhealthy slosh of half-and-half. And so it began.

Then there’s waking up on Thanksgiving morning to the irresistible smell of turkey wafting throughout the house. There was nothing else like it throughout the year. It would hit your nostrils as soon as you cracked opened the bedroom door, engulfing you in glorious anticipation of the tantalizing feast we would soon consume with family and friends around the large oak table in our kitchen.

Three generations would laugh, eat, tell stories, bump elbows. There was never enough room. But no one cared. We were together. A family. And we loved it! Not that it was always Norman Rockwellian-picture-perfect. Far from it. But it was still good to be together with the people that we loved . . . warts and all.

The pungent taste of turkey dredged through a bath of homemade cranberry sauce is an unmistakeable explosion of flavor that screams Thanksgiving in my mouth and reminds me of those who came before me, those who established these memory-provoking traditions and who led the way by encouraging faith, establishing hope, and embracing love in my family.

Paul’s words to his dear friend Philemon come to mind as these memories of celebrations past swirl in my head: “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers” (Philemon 1:4). The things that I’m most thankful for are not things at all. It’s the people God has blessed me with. It’s the relationships that matter. And it’s my relationship with a personal God for which I’m most grateful, apart from which nothing else would matter or even be a possibility.

So after a weekend of celebrating thankfulness with family and friends, I find that the end-of-the-year holiday season (from Thanksgiving through Christmas to New Year’s) sparks a renewal of gratefulness. This time of year can tend to focus more on greed and gluttony than gratefulness. I certainly have been guilty of that. My hope and desire is to become a more grateful man, and that gratefulness will characterize me more throughout the remainder of the year as well.

Early Grief vs. Later Grief

Jeff Olson —  November 28, 2013 — 1 Comment

The loss of anyone we love is one of the most heart wrenching experiences we can go through. Most grievers go on to discover that there are differences between the early grief they encounter in the first year or more and the grief that will accompany them throughout the rest of their days.

The pain of early grief is sharp and intense. It can literally feel like you’ve been run over by a bus. Emotions erupt often and without warning. And some of life’s biggest questions won’t stop screaming for answers.

Early grief is reflected in the ancient words of the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah:

“A voice is heard in Ramah, mourning and great weeping, Rachel is weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because her children are no more” (Jeremiah 31:15).

Early grief feels like a punch in the mouth. Later grief is more like a glancing blow. Early grief crushes the heart. Later grief is less crippling. In early grief, memories tend to elicit mostly sadness and tears. In later grief, memories start to bring more smiles and laughter.

Grief changes over time, but it does not go away. In later grief, grievers don’t “get over” their loss. They don’t stop thinking or talking about (and sometimes to) their loved one. Holidays and birthdays are still hard. In many ways, they will always be grieving and missing those they lost, but not like in those early months and years. Tears and questions still remain, but they are not as fierce or as frequent.

An Attitude of Gratitude

Alyson Kieda —  November 27, 2013 — Leave a comment

Backyard Visitor-Flickr/Creative Commons/karma (Karen) Karen Mallonee

Gratitude doesn’t always come easy when the circumstances in my life aren’t conducive to praise. But God doesn’t want me to wait for the right circumstances in order to give Him thanks. We are called to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12:2).

I’ve discovered that when I focus on Jesus and less on me, I’m more prone to be grateful. Fixating on me means my thoughts are more self-centered and not God-focused—and that’s not a good place to be. Believe me, I’ve been there! In this place where it’s all about “me,” I can easily get bogged down in what’s not right in my life, what’s painful, what’s distressing, and forget how much I do have to be thankful for.

First on my list of things for which I am grateful is my salvation. Sometimes I forget how truly amazing God’s grace is. I did nothing to earn my salvation, yet Christ paid a steep price—His death on the cross for my sins! That God would love me so much that He wanted me to be with Him for eternity is baffling beyond words. Yet John 3:16-17 says it so succinctly: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

I’m also grateful for the fact that I can talk to God in prayer—and that He actually hears and answers. I have seen some pretty amazing answers to prayer—some almost immediately and some that after 35 years are just coming to fruition. Others I may never see answered, at least not in the way I think best. But I know that God does answer.

Right up there with prayer is the Bible, God’s real and reliable Word preserved down through the centuries that is as relevant today as it was a millennia ago. It truly is a “lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105).

I’m thankful too for the spectacular world God gave us (marred by sin though it is) that teaches me so much about His creativity and His love for every one of us. A walk in the woods or a careful examination of the plants and creatures in my backyard evidences the limitless imagination, humor, and wonder of my Father, the Creator.

I’m truly thankful for my family, even though (to be honest) family concerns and conflicts can often be the source of some of the troubles that keep me from praise. Yet that also is a cause for gratitude. Since God more often grows us through our trials, our families can give us lots of opportunities for growth. Families can teach us about love and patience and about giving of ourselves to others.

That’s just a beginning. I’d be remiss not to mention my church and pastor, my friends, my job, good books, food of all kinds, and a warm fire.

That’s my “grateful” list. So, what’s on yours? Feel free to share it with us here. Oh, and our prayer for you is that you will cultivate a heart of gratitude not only at Thanksgiving, but every day throughout the year.


The “Why” of Grief

Tim Jackson —  November 26, 2013 — Leave a comment

Melaten Cemetery Cologne, flickr/Creative Commons/Henning Mühlinghaus

When something bad happens, especially when it’s the excruciating loss of a precious loved one, we are often left with some form of the haunting question: Why? And usually it’s directed towards God: ”Why, God? Why did You allow this to happen? Why didn’t You prevent this from happening? Why, God? Why?”

A recent conversation with a dear friend and colleague has provided me with a helpful new perspective on both the intensity of the question and the illusive answer.

Dave Branon’s 17-year-old daughter, Melissa, and my son were in the same class in school. Melissa was killed in a tragic car accident 11 years ago on the last day of her junior year of high school. Dave’s friend and former pastor spoke at the funeral in Melissa’s honor. He didn’t avoid the question that drifted through the room that June afternoon. Instead, he tackled it head on with these words:

“If you knew why God took Melissa, would it make it any easier to bury her?”

No. Nothing would make it easier for Dave and Sue and the rest of their family and friends to say goodbye to Melissa that day. Nothing makes them miss her any less each subsequent day since then.

When we’re hurting, it’s natural to want to know why we’re hurting. It seems logical that if we can find the reason for our pain, then we also might be able to find a way to make it stop or even avoid it all together. But when you’ve lost an irreplaceable person, the pain never ends. The harsh reality is that your loved one is gone and there’s nothing you can do to bring him or her back. The pain is perpetual. No answer changes that reality.

However, there is hope. Hope in the God who has a heart for reunions and who will someday orchestrate the greatest family reunion of all time, not just with our loved ones who have preceded us in death, but with the One who has given us all life, hope, and joy—Jesus. And even while we await the best that’s yet to come (Rom. 8:23), we still grieve. But we grieve with a hope that makes the grieving bearable (1 Thess. 4:13). For those of you who may be experiencing your first major holiday without a precious loved one, search “holiday heartache” and check out some of our previous blogs and videos.

We’d also like to highlight, a wonderful ministry that provides training for a group experience to help grievers navigate the holidays with others who are struggling just to get through them. Check out their valuable resource: Surviving the Holidays.

No More Tears

Alyson Kieda —  November 21, 2013 — Leave a comment

Snowy Road, Red Hill, VA, February 2010-Flickr/Creative Commons/Janet Moore-Coll

My childhood friend Brenda died over 30 years ago, yet I can still recall much of her funeral in sharp detail. I primarily remember being overwhelmed with emotion (and tears) as I viewed her body in its casket (it didn’t look like her—makeup and styled hair weren’t Brenda) and then as I sat through the service.

Both my grandfathers had died when I was a child, but her death was different. She was only 25—my age. Too young to die. She was just getting her life together, and there was so much that she would never experience: a career, a husband, a family.

Through the pastor’s eulogy and her loved ones’ remembrances, I learned that Brenda had been attending college and making strides in her life. She was on her way back to school after Christmas break when a car accident claimed her life. Yet despite the sadness of her death, there was excellent news. The friend who had lovingly done her hair shared that Brenda had just become a Christian.

The news of Brenda’s salvation led to more tears. I felt tremendous relief that Brenda was now in heaven, but I also felt intense guilt. Until we moved in my mid-teens, Brenda had gone to church with my family and had spent lots of time at my home, yet I didn’t recall ever talking to her about God. What if she had never come to Christ?!

I got through the day and eventually the grief. And I came to realize that I wasn’t personally responsible for whether or not Brenda came to Christ (yet I wasn’t entirely off the hook either). I also learned some elementary, yet valuable lessons.

First, life on this earth is very brief (James 4:14). Coming face-to-face with the death of someone my age made this abundantly clear. Since then I’ve been reminded of this reality again and again through the news media and the death of loved ones—including just recently when my father-in-law died a few weeks ago.

Second, I need to be willing to be used by God to spread the gospel; and I need to take advantage of the opportunities when they do arise. This is the Christian’s calling. Out of gratefulness for our salvation, we are to sow the seed of the Word (Mark 4:1-9, 13-20)—and God will see that it comes to fruition.

One day I’ll see Brenda again. That brings me great joy!


Sunrise, New South Wales-Flickr/Creative Commons/Chris Betcher

Almost every time I am asked to perform a funeral, I read 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18. I read it because it’s a passage about hope. And hope is the one thing a grieving person can’t be without. Paul knew this. That’s why he said to the church of Thessalonica, “We do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope” (v.13).

One of the reasons death is so painful is that it is the clearest example of what we lost at the fall—life and relationship. Physical death demonstrates powerfully that earth’s reality does not match heaven’s ideal. If this life is all that we have, then death is the end, our losses are final, and we grieve in hopelessness.

But for those of us who follow Christ, there is hope beyond the grave because Christ exists beyond the grave. We believe, with the apostle Paul, that, “Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep [died] in him. . . . We who are still alive and are left will be caught up . . . to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever” (vv.14-17).

Hope doesn’t speed up the grieving process, but it can make all the difference as a person moves through the process of grieving the loss of someone or something significant. This is hope that this world is not all that there is; hope that life extends beyond the grave; hope that there is a God who cares for us and loves us and can sustain us through unimaginable pain.

All of us, believers and nonbelievers alike, suffer loss—we all grieve. The difference is that those of us who know and trust Christ grieve with hope. And hope can make all the difference.

“Therefore encourage one another with these words” (v.18 TNIV).




ShepherdingOthersThroughLossCThe path of grief after a loss is perilous. Walking alongside someone grieving a loss is a holy calling. And that’s what pastors and ministry leaders are asked to do on a regular basis. But regular is far from routine.

Unfortunately, most of those who prepared for ministry never received any specific training to know how to deal with a hurting population of grievers.

Dave Branon and Dennis Moles each bring a unique perspective and a passion to better equip pastors and ministry leaders to meaningfully engage in ministering to people who are adjusting to the loss of a loved one. Dave lost his 17-year-old daughter in an auto accident. After the funeral, the church had no idea how to help Dave and his hurting family face and work through this tragic loss.

Dennis is a pastor with 13 years of experience. One of his first funerals as a young minister was for a family who lost a child. Within a month, he also buried that child’s grandfather. Dennis understands the complexity of ministering to the grieving.

Both of these men bring their experience and passion to this much-needed topic in Shepherding Others Through Loss.

To listen to the audio recording from the webinar, click the link: Shepherding Others Through Loss audio.

As always, we receive many additional questions from the live webinar event that we’re simply unable to respond to in the webinar due to time constraints. However, we sat down in the studio and responded to those additional questions that may be of interest to you. You can download the audio of these answers to your questions by clicking the link: Additional Webinar Questions & Answers.

To download the PowerPoint of the webinar, click the link: Shepherding Others Through Loss.

Click the following link to download or order a free copy of our 32-page booklet Life After Loss: Grieving with Hope.

To get a free download of Dave’s book, click Beyond the Valley: Finding Hope in Life’s Losses.

For further resources on grief and loss from RBC Ministries, click the link: Grief & Loss.

The Last Enemy

Alyson Kieda —  November 1, 2013 — Leave a comment

Orchid by Bahman Farzad, Creative Commons/flickr

Dad was falling often and more frequently. Even though he had a walker, he didn’t use it. (We’re not sure if it was forgetfulness or stubbornness—or both.) Last New Year’s day, Dad fell getting out of bed, and Mom couldn’t help him up. After a stay in the hospital, he was moved to a nursing home; and then we agreed he would not be returning home. He needed too much care. We couldn’t expect our mom to be a good caregiver when she was becoming more and more forgetful herself.

Over the next few months Mom kept trying to pack up Dad’s stuff and bring him home. She was becoming both irrational and emotional. Due to her behavior, Dad became even more confused and depressed. We finally convinced Mom to be tested. Our suspicions were confirmed—Mom had Alzheimer’s.

Dad died last November, just days before his 89th birthday. During the months preceding that, we took away Mom’s checking account. (She was writing a check to every charity that sent her a request—and she was receiving scores of them. Her account was overdrawn and the fees were piling up.) And then her driver’s license was taken away. A neighbor in her retirement village caught her driving—and none too well—after her license was taken away, so we disabled and then removed the car.

In December, my youngest sister took in Mom. But after 10 months, Mom was moved into an assisted living facility. Her care required too much of my sister.

Watching parents decline is heart-rending. It was painful to watch my dad, who was a hardy outdoorsman, lose more and more of his physical abilities—and then take his final shallow breath. And it’s heartbreaking to watch my mother, who was “sharp as a tack,” loose her spark and fade into forgetfulness and confusion.

I know it’s inevitable. “Who can live and not see death, or who can escape the power of the grave?” (Psalm 89:48). But I hate it—and it wasn’t meant to be. Thanks to Jesus’ death and resurrection, the dead in Christ will be resurrected and death, “the last enemy,” will one day be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:20-26).

Until that day, we press on in the strength that only God can provide (Psalm 28:7). And we take comfort from others in the community of faith who have walked through grief before us.

To learn about helping others deal with grief, tune into our upcoming Webinar, Shepherding Others Through Loss, on November 6, 2013, at 2 p.m. EST.