Friday, June 15, 2018

RX FOR DUMP DAYS

This white rose in my garden, about to open, reminds me of how Jesus 
presented us with an example of a life of purity
My reading pile the last few years has included a number of books on mental health issues as I seek to understand problems that people I care about are going through.  The books have reminded me that “bad stuff” and trauma are part of our fallen condition. I find myself saying, where would we be without the Lord? 

In re-reading David Seamands’ Healing for Damaged Emotions (Victor Books, 1981), I again appreciated his counsel for dealing with depression. He noted that that Martin Luther (the great Protestant reformer of 500 years ago) and Samuel Brengle (19th century Salvation Army commissioner and teacher on holiness) both struggled with depression—and both found praise one way of counteracting the negative pull on their lives. Seamands said that when Brengle struggled with feeling God’s presence or hope in prayer, he’d thank God for simple things, like the leaf on a tree or the beautiful wing of a bird.  Reading that helped me realize that my own “Thank you, God” every-day prayers—for simple things like this beautiful rose, one of the first to bloom in our yard—were acceptable and  healing forms of worship.

Seamands also had this advice: “Lean heavily on the power of God’s Word”  (p. 129).  Although God can use any portion of scripture to help people, he likes to recommend that people read the psalms. A whole range of depression emotions come out in psalms—in fact, he said, 48 of the 150 psalms express depression. To people struggling with depression, Seamands often gives out a list of the 48 to read and think about. Now, some people may find that depressing!  But it’s not.  It’s encouraging that God led the writers to be brutally honest about how they felt, and to share how they found their way up and out.  Psalms are real.

In 2014 (January to October)  I shared my “Top Fifty” psalms in this blog.  Seamands’ list and mine overlap at times.  Starting next week, and over the next few months, I’m hoping an honest look at the psalms that Seamands selected for the “dump days” (when you feel down in the dumps or feel like dumping on God) will help you as they will me.

Friday, June 8, 2018

WHAT'S WRONG HERE?


Once upon a time, people communicated on things called “land line telephones.”  For the recent generation that grew up with smart/cell phones the size of a deck of cards, that’s probably hard to imagine. These old-fashioned phones needed to be plugged into a special wall outlet which in turn connected to long snakes of “phone lines” either below or above ground. If a phone wasn’t plugged in, you couldn’t get or receive calls.  (Believe it or not, we still have a “land line” in our house!)

So what’s wrong with this picture of two “old” phones? They’re not plugged in.  (See the plug-in at the bottom of the photo.) They can’t send or receive signals.

Thanks to wireless technology, we have new opportunities in communication.  With it have come new problems, like Facebook’s recent admission that its users’ personal information had been hacked.  Those private accounts aren’t really so private any more.

I am not on Facebook, although as a proud grandma (with photos in purse) I certainly would be a good candidate. I know many who use Facebook in healthy ways.  But I also have been a victim of cyberbullying (the accusations were false), and such abuse makes me very careful about any media platform.

I've long been concerned about negative effects of social media, so I wasn’t surprised when I read this report:

“While social media is still too new to gauge its long-term effects on human psychology, a handful of studies seem to confirm conventional wisdom to the effect that social media—including online gaming—can have addictive qualities that are harmful to vulnerable people who over-use the new technologies.” The researcher also observed that “teens who log into Facebook more than average are also more likely to be ‘self-absorbed,’ ‘narcissistic,’ belligerent, paranoid, and—ironically enough—antisocial.” In addition, the author concluded, “I believe excessive social media use is closely related to the sense of incompleteness and insecurity which bedevils many teens (not to mention a good number of adults): like alcohol, tobacco, drugs and sex, it serves to occupy a restless, wandering, attention-seeking personality, which believes itself totally unable to find peace and tranquility on its own terms.” (1)

Another study said that “these constant forums for self-expression could be baiting, even feeding, the symptoms of personality disorders, such as narcissistic personality disorder and borderline personality disorder.”  It’s not surprising, given that both mental health issues seem to crave an audience for sharing every detail of their lives, whether good or bad. (2)

Mental health professionals refer to “emotional intelligence” as a gauge of mental healthiness. Its components include “self-awareness, personal motivation, empathy, and the ability to love and be loved by friends, partners, and family members.”  (3) Authentic face-to-face interaction is involved in building those aspects of personality. In other words, people are connected, like those old-fashioned phones.

I’ve been reading through Proverbs in different translations lately, and am struck by how its timeless sayings can apply even to the pros and cons of modern communication devices, like social media.  On the plus side (those who use it for good):

He who refreshes others will himself be refreshed (Proverbs 11:25)

But on the other hand:

Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him. (Proverbs 29:20)

People-smart and people-sensitive connections do matter, modern technology or not.





(3) Randi Kreger, Essential Family Guide to Borderline Personality Disorder (Hazelden, 2008), p. 54

Friday, June 1, 2018

G.R.A.C.E.


I never expected a “grace war” as my son and family sat down for dinner.  The oldest, now nearly five, had been the “grace say-er” ever since he could talk.  But now his brother, 3 ½, was being asked to give thanks for the food. They know three “graces” at this point: “Come Lord Jesus,” “God Is Great” and the Johnny Appleseed song (which really, at its “core”—pun intended—does express gratitude).  That day, grandson #2 was asked to pray. His choice did not please grandson #1. We ended up “gracing” the food twice that day.

I smile over the memory, but I also realize that the Bible’s use of the word “grace” is so big that I cannot get my mind wrapped around it.  I once heard this acrostic for GRACE, acknowledging Christ’s death on our behalf:  “God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.”  It’s easily remembered, but barely touches the depths of true grace.

Many of us have also learned a Gospel song whose fourth verse expresses gratitude for this “marvelous, infinite, matchless grace, freely bestowed on all who believe.”  The hymn we know as “Grace Greater Than all our Sin,” written in the late 1800s, didn’t come out of some ivory writing tower.  Instead, it was the fruit of a livf of service to the local church by a never-married woman whose pastor-father died when she was only fifteen.  Julia Harriette Johnson (1849-1919) wrote about five hundred hymn texts, but this remains her best known.  In 1997 it was included a treasury of best-loved hymns.

Who was she? A pastor’s daughter.  A woman who remained single all her life, which allowed her to extravagantly serve her large Peoria church for forty-one years as a leader of the church’s Missionary society, Sunday school superintendent, teacher, and leader of the infant’s class, where she loved on hundreds of babies.

She was 61 when she wrote “Grace Greater Than All Our Sin.”  I try to imagine her at her desk, wrestling with poetic ways to contrast God’s abundant grace with our deep, dark stain of sin.  Marvelous, infinite, matchless grace....  Those lines bring to mind Romans 5:1-2:  “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ: By whom also we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”

About a decade earlier she wrote “Saving Grace,” whose chorus expresses her solid hope of eternal life in Heaven:

Then I shall know as I am known,/And stand complete before the throne;

Then I shall see my Savior’s face,/And all my song be saving grace.

It’s important to acknowledge that talented musicians helped bring such wonderful poetic texts to our worship times.  The music for “Grace Greater Than All Our Sin” was composed by Daniel Towner, who besides writing for and compiling many hymns was music director at Moody Bible Institute. That’s why, in many hymnals, the tune is called “Moody.”  Others of his better-known tunes were written for “At Calvary” and “Trust and Obey.”  Coincidentally, they both died the same year, 1919—he, while leading music for an evangelistic meeting!

Friday, May 25, 2018

TAKE A WHIFF


The first rose—oh, the beauty! This one, exceptionally large and pure in color, captivated me as I surveyed our emerging “rose garden” in the front yard.  For months after my “winter prune” (knee high) and “spring prune” (down to skeleton stalks), there wasn’t much beauty.  Not so, now.

In God’s way of arranging coincidences, that same week I was reading a devotional that cited 2 Corinthians 2, which makes much of the contrast between the “aroma of Christ” and the “smell of death.” Verse 2 calls that aroma “the fragrance of the knowledge of him.”

From time to time, one of the high-end department stores in my town stuffs perfume samples in its newspaper ads.  Sometimes I peel back the fold-over to satisfy my curiosity about the scent. But I’m not tempted to buy. A sensitivity to scents means being around someone who wears a lot of perfume can stir up my asthma.

But being around someone who emanates the “aroma of Christ” through their kind words and actions is different—and oh, how beautiful. The devotional reminded me that God considers a life of sacrifice as a sweet perfume to Him. As I seek to live in a way that glorifies Him, a pleasant spiritual fragrance will emanate to others.

Whether we realize it or not, people are watching us. We don’t always need Bible words to witness for Christ. I thought of that when I received a not-pleasant letter from someone with emotional health issues. I took heart over these few words amidst the letter’s negatives: “I believe you are a kind person.”

I try to be.  With Christ’s help I try to be. But I am still in process of the School of Kindness as Christ prunes me to bloom for Him.


Friday, May 18, 2018

FAVORITES


All I have to do is say “Cuddles the Cow” and hold up a simple thick-page book, and my second grandson, Zion, comes right over to my lap.  At three, he’s developed a preference for anything with mechanical noises or retelling the adventures of “Thomas the Train.”  But this little book, about a mama cow and her calf (whose nose she tickles—and I then tickle Zion’s nose), which takes barely two minutes to read, at this point is one of his favorites.

His older brother, Josiah, in toddlerhood favored a little book about the habits of cats!  One page told about a bad cat scratching the furniture.  Never fail, he’d reach over and claw the drawing and say, “Bad cat!” Their home had a connection point for that: a “bad cat” who similarly reached under the furniture covers to scratch!

When our grandsons come over for care, these books (culled from yard sales) are among the dozens in two bookcases in our living room.  Yes, we have a cache of other toys, but I always try to include “reading time” during their visits to us.  It’s paid off. The other day I opened a simple book with Josiah (not yet 5) and ran my finger along the text...and listened to him sound out the words and read it to me.  His mom takes them to the library and they regularly read to the boys—and it’s reaping benefits.

Soon, I hope, their spiritual development will blossom and they’ll come to the point where they can live out the words of an Old Testament prophet: “When your words came, I ate them; they were my joy and my heart’s delight, for I bear your name, O Lord God Almighty” (Jeremiah 15:16).

I am grateful for pastors, Christian speakers, and writers who have helped me “eat” God’s Word. So many passages have become my “joy and heart’s delight” as I learn to praise God and trust Him in the hard and confusing times.  You’ll find lots of colored underlining in my Bible, a virtual rainbow of promises that have entered my heart.  They’re the places where God has “tickled my nose” or reminded me of bad habits (like cats who scratch furniture).

At different times in my life, different scripture passages have become “favorites” as I have needed comfort, assurance, instruction and admonition.  Recently I’ve been going through Proverbs to help me sort out why some people are so hard to get along with. But then I dip back into other passages, like Romans 8 and how nothing of the world’s problems can keep me from God’s amazing love. I memorized that chapter a few months before my world crashed with my parents’ deaths only six months apart. Did I need that word of encouragement? You know I did!

I know my grandsons will soon “graduate” beyond Cuddles and Thomas (and even Winnie the Pooh, still a favorite). I’m glad to share the world of children’s literature with them.  But I will also pray that they will yearn for—yes, “eat”—God’s Word, and grow up as strong, true men of God.  

Friday, May 11, 2018

MY MYSTERY GRANDMOTHER


My paternal grandparents--date unknown, probably about 1913
I’m seeing way too many ads these days that encourage you to spit in a tube, then send it (with the required payment) to a place that promises to detail your ancestral DNA.  You just may be surprised to learn where your relatives came from. I have no need to do that, thanks to my mother. The oldest of nine, she had many warm and sprawling connections among her Norwegian kin. She loved digging into her genealogy and left many charts, photos, and stories behind when she died.

That wasn’t true of my dad, born in Missoula, Montana, into a family with roots in various parts of Germany.  His dad was a railroad engineer out of Missoula who somehow met and fell in love with a young lady who taught in Phillipsburg, about eighty miles away.  She had the delightful first name of “Alvina," meaning "noble friend.” I have this undated copy of a newspaper clipping about their marriage:

Miss Mohr is one of the best-known and most highly respected young ladies of Phliipsburg.  Mr. Doering, who is a railway locomotive fireman [and then it named his employers]. The happy couple left on their bridal trip to Seattle, to return later and make their home in Missoula.

It’s possible the photo above is their wedding photo, though I can’t confirm that. I know I see some of her delicate features in my daughter. Sadly, Alvina didn’t live to see her children grow up. She died when my dad was about 12, his brother, 10, and a sister, 7.  I often wonder if her cause of death was pneumonia, so deadly in those pre-antibiotic days. Needing someone to care for his home and children, my grandfather quickly married a single woman who’d immigrated from Austria, and who was a railroad cook. She was of a different faith, and apparently there was strife in the home.
Germans are famed for being tight-lipped, and this was especially true of dad, who never spoke to us of his childhood.  For whatever reasons, the second marriage estranged the children, and my dad moved away from his roots as soon as he graduated from college.  But this one old photo of his “first mom” was among his treasures.

I’ve learned that I must hold lightly onto some of life’s mysteries.  I may never know the rest of the story of “Grandma Alvina.” A couple weeks ago I survived my second bout of pneumonia, thanks to the medicines she had no access to. And I will come to another “Mother’s Day” blessed to hold the children of my children in my lap.

I’m sad that my dad apparently missed out on a full childhood of nurturing love. But he didn’t let that cobble the rest of his life. He was known among the family and the community as a giving, caring man.  Those are the attributes of a Christ-shaped life--one belonging to the family of God--that no DNA test can predict. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

IS SOMETHING WRONG HERE?


A local church was having a rummage sale to help fund a mission trip, and as someone with foot problems I was happy to find some cushy shoe supports.  At the store, they are so expensive. But when I got home, I realize I’d just bought three for the right foot. None for the left.  So yes, in this case, three rights made a wrong!

The word “right” rang up a memory for something I’d recently read in the Bible.  I’d been thinking through Paul’s admonishment to one church regarding freeloading members. Their reasoning: Christ was coming again soon, so why sweat the hard stuff, like work?  Paul came down hard on their laziness, reminding them that even when he was there as a guest preacher, he looked for a “help wanted” sign at a tent-making business to support himself. He’d left them this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (2 Thessalonians 3:10). In other words, they needed to do their share of labor.  Then he commended those who were working and helping those in true need:  “And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing right” (v. 13).

Do what is right. That command surfaces in other scriptures: 
“But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.’” (1 Peter 3:14)
“So whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” (James 4:17) “But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22)
“Jesus answered, ‘If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.’” (John 14:23)
“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (James 2:8)

C.S. Lewis wrote, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” Even though it may bring scorn and abuse, “doing right” is the right thing to do. I tried to imagine what happened when Paul’s letter was read in Thessalonica, and his hard words about work-shy Christians (he remarked: “They are not busy, they are busybodies”) caused some consternation. In those days, work was work, and how the necessities of life were to be supplied.  Believers who presumed the Second Coming was imminent needed to get their eyes off the skies and back onto being responsible members of their community.

We’re still in waiting mode for Christ to come again, but the principle still holds:  doing right. When He does come again, my role model is from Jesus’ parable (Matthew 25, Luke 19) about the diligent workers who did their best (even without shoe inserts to make work more comfortable!) while the master was away.  Those who worked and invested got the beautiful commendation:  “Well done, good and faithful servant.” The one who buried his investment got nothing.  

“Never tire of doing right.” I need that reminder on days I’m around people who mock what I believe God has called me to be and do: “Let us not lose heart in doing good, for in due time we will reap if we do not grow weary” (Galatians 6:9).