What I Learned about God from my Father

I am blessed. Through the grace of God and absolutely no merit of my own, I had a terrific father. Perfect, no. We had our tiffs. But I always knew he loved me and wanted the best for me. Here are a few of my memories.

One of my favorite photos of Dad and Mom. Dad's been in heaven fourteen years already.

One of my favorite photos of Dad and Mom. Dad’s been in heaven fourteen years already.

  • Dad held me, his four-year-old, on his lap. The storm raged outside our living room window as, together, we watched the stunning pink and blue Northern Lights flit across the Manitoba sky. I was terrified, yet felt completely safe in my daddy’s arms. I have no idea what the rest of the family was doing but that memory will never leave me. I’ve been in life storms since where, but for the assurance that I was being held in my Savior’s care, I would have despaired.
  • Dad’s 1000-watt grin and clear grey eyes often reflected his love, his pride and joy in life choices I made. When I was growing up he punished me (which evidently I deserved far more often than I thought) when I disobeyed. But Dad wouldn’t let me go until he explained the importance of obedience–to him and Mom, and more so, to Jesus; and until we hugged each other. And it had to be real, not a fake ‘let-me-out-of-here’ hug.
  • Dad led our family in reading the Bible and praying together regularly, showing by example how important God’s Word was to our home.
  • Sometimes Dad put me in my place. Once he told me I was getting very bossy. Had to consider that one!
  • By his example, Dad helped me understand what it meant to have a man treat me with respect and kindness, and what it meant to be a lady. When I was a teenager Dad took me on dates where the two of us connected over cokes and conversation. I’ve been married to two wonderful men, clearly influenced by Dad’s influence.

In so many ways my father taught me how to live–with faith in Christ, integrity, respect.

Then, in his last month on earth, Dad taught me how to die. When a hospice social worker asked whether there was anyone he needed to make things right with, or if he desired any spiritual counsel, Dad responded: “I’ve tried to live my life in such a way that when there was a problem, I worked to make it right as quickly as possible; and I’m confident the God who has led me for 85 years will meet me on the other side.”

What if you didn’t have a good father, or were abandoned or orphaned early? Pastor Rene reminded us tonight that, no matter what kind of earthly father you had, we have a heavenly Father whose love is complete, who has promised He will never leave us.

Psalm 68:5-6 (NLT) says:

“Father to the fatherless, defender of widows—
    this is God, whose dwelling is holy.
God places the lonely in families;
    he sets the prisoners free and gives them joy.”

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

 

 

Maintaining Mental Health

After reading last week’s blog, one of my close friends commented about her husband’s “hellish experience” with benzodiazepine withdrawal. Her caution is wise; using drugs to address mental illness is a personal decision between the individual and his/her healthcare provider, one that needs to be considered carefully and prayerfully for potential addiction, withdrawal challenges, or further impacts on a person’s state of mind.

Healthy Life

Healthy Life

In a seminar last weekend, Dr. Jeremiah Johnston shared ten tips for maintaining mental health. While there are situations where more direct intervention or care are required, these seem like good guidelines for normal life situations and speak to me. Here is the list.

  1.  Say “no” more often. This is hard for me. A pleaser by nature, I want to say yes to those I love. But my schedule fills up so fast that I lack time to be still, to rest, to enjoy the day. I said “no” to two things this week. It felt good, freeing.
  2. Take frequent, short sabbaticals. Jesus said “Come apart and rest awhile.” This doesn’t have to be a month, a week, even days. Don and I sometimes go out for a relaxed breakfast on the beach. That brief time of “coming apart” refreshes us in body and spirit.
  3. Develop and sustain peer support. Last summer four college girlfriends and I spent a couple of days together after not being all together for forty-three years. What a joy! My “Fab Friday” Bible study gals are a tremendous support; and my close girlfriends have walked with me through joy and sorrow. I am grateful for each of them.
  4. Monitor the balance between work and personal life. This is a tough one for me. Always has been. Still working on it even though I’m retired.
  5. Establish and adjust priorities based on a periodic review of your values. What needless things are taking up real estate in my mind and heart?
  6. Proof your thoughts against scripture. The apostle Paul challenges us to “whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.” Philippians 4:8.
  7. Regularly assess your spiritual fitness. Am I spending time letting God’s word infuse my mind and heart? Am I allowing God to change me through what I read and hear?
  8. Never make a decision when tired or discouraged. I’ve learned this one. When I’m really down, my first corrective is generally rest.
  9. Prioritize your physical health. Am I eating healthy? Am I getting some exercise to help my body balance and work out stress?
  10. Watch where you park your mind. This ties in with #6 above. Romans 12:1-2 tells me that renewing my mind comes from being changed from the inside out.

Great list. I plan to review it periodically.

Is there one of these that is the most challenging for you? What can you do do address that issue?

Mental Illness: Opening Communication, Removing Stigma

Hopeless

Hopeless

  • Among 15-29-year olds, suicide is the second highest cause of death in the United States.
  • Twenty-two veterans commit suicide every day.
  • A few years ago, fifteen seniors died of completed suicide daily.

Tragic statistics which, according to Dr. Jeremiah Johnston, founder of Christian Thinkers Society (christianthinkers.com), have led the World Health Organization to term mental health and suicide as epidemic. Johnston was the keynote speaker at Saturday’s first annual “Community Gathering for Mental Health” at Twin Lakes Church in Aptos, California.

Happy Face Mask

Happy Face Mask

One in four Americans suffers from some sort of mental illness, so it touches us all, personally or with a family member or close friend. And this disease carries with it both isolation (people are afraid to be open about mental illness); and stigma (we often don’t know how to respond to someone dealing with mental illness, so ignore them. “That’s someone else’s job”). Some of us can recall times of shock when we learned of someone we knew (or knew of, like Robin Williams) taking his or her own life, a life that appeared full. The happy mask was effective; have we, church and society contributed to people feeling the necessity to wear it?

So how can we as the faith community help those who suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, or other mental illness?

  1. Recognize that every family struggles. Almost everyone is touched either personally or within their family by mental illness in some form. We are all broken. As we open the conversation we also begin to remove the stigma associated with mental illness.
  2. Love rather than judge and condemn. Two mothers talked about their grief when their sons took their own lives; and how hard it was to share their own pain because no one understood what they were going through.
  3. Build support groups in the church for ALL ages. Depression is starting younger and younger. Watch for signs and address them early, through appropriate therapeutic and medical interventions, as well as community.
  4. Encourage the mentally ill in our faith communities to get involved, getting off the sidelines. A TLC staff member shared about her panic attacks, and the process of working through those with a competent Christian counselor. She is now contributing significantly to the church family. And a young man who suffers from schizophrenia has remained out of the hospital for twelve years now and works with the Santa Cruz chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).Depression Illness not choice

Johnston says we have a lot to learn from those who have suffered from and are dealing with mental illness. Former slave trader John Newton, who came to know Christ and wrote the song “Amazing Grace,” co-wrote many hymns with William Cooper. Cooper suffered with lifelong, chronic depression. Out of his pain, Cooper was able to dig deep into the grace of God and pass that along through the hymns he wrote.

I’ve dealt with depression at a couple of points in my life, and am grateful for wise counseling, a supportive family and friends, and a small daily pill. Why is it so hard to talk about this, to admit that I am broken, that I need help from God and others? I am grateful for a church that is focused on opening conversations, removing stigmas, and partnering with others who can provide support and help for those in need. Johnston said Jesus’ ministry focused on removing barriers to belief. I love that.

What do you think makes it so hard to be open about our own brokenness? I’d love to engage on this question.

I Can Only Imagine

Three months ago we thought we might have to put her down. Our sweet, thirteen-year-old Cavalier King Charles Spaniel demonstrated great difficulty in walking, even in standing up. Kelly’s legs wobbled underneath her and, if I was putting her onto the floor, I’d hold under her belly for a minute. “Do you have your legs underneath you sweetie?” Kelly joined my life on the second anniversary of my first husband’s passing, and has been with me longer than my dear Don. It was heartbreaking to think we might have to make that painful decision.

My sweet number 1 girl

My sweet number 1 girl

Somehow, in the past few months she’s regained some of her vigor. So imagine my delight Wednesday when, after Don and I had been gone a couple of hours, she dashed out of the house, past the parked car, and about twenty-five yards straight to me, welcoming me home. This little gal who could hardly stand a few months ago ran like she was medalling in a hundred-yard dash. Pure joy!

Remembering her welcome this morning got me thinking what it will be like when I meet Jesus Christ face to face. Will I run like Kelly did, straight into His waiting arms? fall on my face before him? The thrill will be unsurpassed in that most sacred, most joyful of all possible reunions.

My nephew Drew sang “I Can Only Imagine” at my father’s memorial service. The words of the chorus  say:

I Can Only Imagine

I Can Only Imagine

Surrounded by your glory
What will my heart feel
Will I dance for you Jesus
Or in awe of you be still
Will I stand in your presence
Or to my knees will I fall
Will I sing hallelujah
Will I be able to speak at all
I can only imagine
I can only imagine

When I meet Jesus I will be whole, righteous, all He created me to be. Physical, spiritual, emotional pain or weakness will forever be gone, and He will greet me with joy.

The Lord your God is with you,
    the Mighty Warrior who saves.
He will take great delight in you;
    in his love he will no longer rebuke you,
    but will rejoice over you with singing.”

Zephaniah 3:17 NIV

I can only imagine!

 

“What’s Love Got to do with It?”

A little boy was asked how you know someone loves you. “You know they love you when your name is safe in their mouth.” That phrase has stuck with me for years.

Two days ago, I wakened early, dressed, and grabbed a protein bar for the road. It was “Fab Friday,” one of our twice-monthly dates where four other women and I meet to learn from God and each other. After chatting and catching up a bit, we looked at scripture and A.W. Tozer’s book, THE KNOWLEDGE OF THE HOLY, then discussed the character and nature of God’s love. There is no way I can describe His love adequately, no way at all. But I can reflect on it.

God’s love has no beginning and no end; it is kind, patient, not dependent on my feelings. When I sin, His love doesn’t diminish. He may convict me, challenge me–for the purpose of reconciliation, not of judgment–but His love will not change.My Man Don

Driving home after our study, I turned up our road and saw my dh (dear hubby, darling hunk …) working in the yard. I pulled over. Don stood up, handsome in his denim jacket and cowboy hat, and leaned on the white fence. My heart filled at the sight of him. I know he loves me completely, and that my name is safe in his mouth. He will never disparage or put me down, because he loves me.

And to think that in a much greater sense, my name is safe in God’s mouth is astounding. I have heard Him speak my name in my innermost being when I was in turmoil and fear. The sound filled my spirit. It was like the music of many waters, tender, filled with love, speaking peace to my spirit. Tozer says “To know that love is of God and to enter into the secret place leaning upon the arm of the Beloved–this and only this can cast out fear.” (p. 99)

I can rest in God’s love, which is complete, pure, always wanting my best. “The Love of God” is one of my favorite hymns. A Jewish rabbi wrote a poem in 1050; many years later, a demented man wrote a translation of those words on the walls of the insane asylum where he died; and a Gentile hymnwriter, Frederick M. Lehman, incorporated those words into the third verse of his hymn written in 1917.  (http://www.hymnary.org/text/the_love_of_god_is_greater_far).

The Love of God is Greater Far

The Love of God is Greater Far

 

I’ve copied the words to the first and third stanza, as well as the refrain, below. I pray it will minister to you as it does to me.

The love of God is greater far
Than tongue or pen can ever tell;
It goes beyond the highest star,
And reaches to the lowest hell;
The guilty pair, bowed down with care,
God gave His Son to win;
His erring child He reconciled,
And pardoned from his sin.

O love of God, how rich and pure!
How measureless and strong!
It shall forevermore endure
The saints’ and angels’ song.

Could we with ink the ocean fill,
And were the skies of parchment made,
Were every stalk on earth a quill,
And every man a scribe by trade,
To write the love of God above,
Would drain the ocean dry.
Nor could the scroll contain the whole,
Though stretched from sky to sky.

Even in tragic circumstances, a man who died in an insane asylum could scratch the words of that last stanza, describing God’s love, on his wall  That love is eternal, unending, unconditional, complete.

So what’s love got to do with it? Absolutely everything! 

I’d love to hear about a time when you felt God’s love clearly, personally.