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Listen

Dennis Moles —  May 13, 2014 — 1 Comment

 

Porch Swing-Flickr: Creative Commons/Danie Becknell

Porch Swing-Flickr: Creative Commons/Danie Becknell

In my culture (I was born and raised in Appalachian coal country), storytelling is both an art and a way of life. I’m not sure of the degree to which illiteracy and economic depression nurtured this gift in my ancestors, but the ability to teach, entertain, and communicate via stories is highly prized where I come from.

I’ve been many places and met loads of intelligent and gifted people over the years, but some of the best storytellers I’ve ever known are from back home—not the lest of which is my dad.

The storytellers

The storytellers

Dad was and is quite the storyteller. He has a gift for the art of it. Dad uses words the way a painter might use oil or acrylic—the imagination of his listeners is his canvas. Dad has the flare, imagination, and creativity to spin a tale, but he’s still not the storyteller my grandfather was.

Why? Poppaw has better stories. Dementia has robbed my children of the joy of hearing their great-grandfather tell his stories, but it has not and cannot keep them from the wisdom he has passed on through them.

Poppaw wasn’t the artist dad is. His stories didn’t run on wit. They ran on wisdom—maybe that’s why they were so powerful. Some storytellers have to be the hero in their stories, but that wasn’t the case with Poppaw. Sometimes he was the one who needed saving. In his stories, he wasn’t a war hero but a terrified 21-year-old from Confidence, West Virginia, who jumped out of a C-47 on June 6, 1944. He wasn’t a “Screaming Eagle” bravely running through the French night but a farm boy who didn’t know whether he’d live to see another sunrise. In his stories, the German soldiers weren’t monsters. They were boys who stood on the far side of a river that was small enough for the Germans and the Americans to throw packets of cigarettes to each other from one side to the other.

His stories didn’t always cast him or our family in PoppawArmya favorable light, but they almost always taught me an important life-lesson. They were gifts that I could not fully appreciate at the time but have grown to treasure over the years.

The writer of the Proverbs says: “Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck” (1:8-9).

The older I get, the more I realize that wisdom permeated Poppaw’s stories. He wasn’t telling me stories just to entertain or inform me. He was telling me his story with the hope that I would find wisdom in the retelling.

So tell me, who in your life is (was) worthy of listening to?

 

 

 

findinggod-650x220Life is difficult. Flat tires, flooded basements, cranky kids, wounding words, the loss of a job, a broken body, a painful marriage—“trouble” comes in all shapes and sizes. And it often shows up when we least expect it and are unprepared.

Learning to live for God through all the daily troubles and difficulties of life isn’t something we can take or leave. Our worship, walk, and witness depend upon how we handle the daily chaos of trouble and hardships. However, while the depth of our self-centeredness makes loving others more confusing and harder to learn than anything else in life, there is nothing more important. And that’s where we all need help.

Gary and Lisa Heim joined us on May 7, 2014, for a heart-to-heart discussion about what they’ve learned about pursuing God when we’re discouraged or frustrated. Gary is a pastor of small groups and discipleship at a church in Rockford, MI. Lisa works with the women’s ministry. Both are licensed counselors and have written about what they’ve personally learned and have passed along to others over the past 25 years of ministry. Their book, True North: Choosing God in the Frustrations of Life is the theme of this webinar.

In keeping with our ministry commitment to make the life-changing wisdom of the Bible understandable and accessible to all, we are making the content of this webinar available without cost or obligation to you and anyone you’d like to share it with.

To listen to the audio recording from the live webinar event, click the link: Finding God In The Frustrations of Life.

To download the PowerPoint from the webinar, click the link: Finding God In The Frustrations of Life PPT.

To get a free sample download from Gary and Lisa Heim’s book, click the book title link: True North: Choosing God in the Frustrations of Life.You can also visit their website for more helpful information on their teaching and speaking ministry at: True North Ministries.

For further resources from RBC Ministries to help you understand better what faithful living looks like when we struggle, click the link: Life-Struggles.

flickr/Creative Commons/Spring by Paula Bailey

flickr/Creative Commons/Spring by Paula Bailey

I like winter primarily because it leads to spring. Even though I live in Michigan where the harsh and blustery winters are reminiscent of C. S. Lewis’ make-believe world of Narnia where it was “always winter but never Christmas,” spring (even in Michigan) never fails to show up. And when spring finally arrives, I appreciate it the more for the long wait. The warm, sunny days ushered in by chirping birds and hardy crocuses and daffodils that burst through the ground, even when the last vestiges of snow still linger, prove that winter always gives way to spring.

We all face trials and difficult periods or situations in this life that, like a long winter, seem to never end. I’ve experienced a few, including a period of 2 or 3 years when I thought our son would never learn to read, no matter how much tutoring or special help he received; several years when two of our teenagers (simultaneously but for different reasons) created such stress and heartache in our family that for a while it consumed much of our time and most of our energy; and decades when it seemed a loved one would never experience a victorious Christian life. But God enabled me to endure and to grow in godly character (and surprisingly in joy) through these difficulties—and He continues to do so.

Even in the most trying circumstances we can have hope that God will enable us to endure and will carry us through—and will transform us in the process. Jesus said in His Word: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We can cast all our cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7). He promises to help us and be with us in our struggles.

Unlike winter which always leads to spring, not all difficult trials will end in this life, but they will end with this life. And in the next life, which will last for eternity, we will be with our Savior and will “receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12). That gives me hope.

 

Becoming

Dennis Moles —  April 29, 2014 — Leave a comment

becoming

This past week my kids traveled down to Ohio to spend time with their grandparents. During the trip they received a gift from my dad—a digital recording of me playing basketball as a high school senior. I have to be honest, it’s more than a bit embarrassing—and I’m not just talking about the too-short shorts.

A lot has changed since those days—mostly me. These days I wear longer shorts, have grayer hair, and sport a much huskier physique. But it’s not just my clothing and body that have changed—so has my mind. It’s been a long road between there and here.

As I watched that video of my teammates and me running up and down the basketball court, I started to daydream about what I’d like to say to seventeen-year-old Dennis if I had the chance. I came up with four things.

  • Life is not a competition—your worth is not tied to winning.
  • Don’t be so judgmental.
  • Go fishing with Poppaw and ask him to tell you every story he can remember.
  • Spend time with Paul.

Those of you who know me, especially those who knew the seventeen-year-old me, will likely understand this list. For the rest of you, here are some insights that might help.

Seventeen-year-old Dennis didn’t understand that trying and failing is often better than winning or succeeding. He didn’t know that mercy triumphs over judgment. He didn’t realize that when his grandfather was telling him stories, he was actually passing along wisdom that could make his life much easier. And he certainly didn’t think he’d be sitting at Paul’s funeral 4 short years after graduation.

Take time to be with those you love. Listen to wisdom that comes from age. Extend mercy rather than judgment – it’s the way of Christ. Excellence is not a prerequisite for love or acceptance.

These have been hard-learned lessons—mostly because I have to keep learning them over and over.

The video my dad sent back with the kids reminds me that as human beings we are always becoming—always moving. Sixty-year-old Dennis won’t be the same at forty-year-old Dennis. I just hope he continues to move in the right direction.

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 GriefShare.org, 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.