Unbind her and let her go

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Throughout life, there are certain moments that fundamentally change you and your perspective. This could involve a relationship, a situation, or even discovering some hidden truth that unlocks new wisdom within. For me, most of these life-changing moments have come since I graduated high-school and “set out” on my own. You can’t plan these kind of moments and you have no idea when they’ll hit you. However, when they do, they make you who you are.

As you know, if you have followed my blog this year, I had a major change in my life. After 11 years in ministry in the United Methodist Church, I left that institution permanently. It was a very difficult decision, even though I knew God had directed me to walk away. Just two weeks after I gave my last sermon, Covid hit and churches, along with the rest of society, temporarily closed their doors. It was a lot of “closed doors” to process and, quite frankly, very difficult. My emotions since February 2020 have ranged from resentment to sadness to relief to emptiness and all things in between. Through it all, I kept asking God, “Why did you call me to ministry if it was just to watch it die?”

And that is the place where I have consistently sat, frustrated at God for all the schooling, the money spent, the tears shed, and the heartache felt. I knew I was called to ordained ministry. I knew I was called to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I knew I was called to make disciples and grow God’s kingdom. I knew it in the pit of soul so why, God? Why put me through it all? What was the endgame? 

Can you relate? Have you ever felt so convicted of a path in your life only to seemingly have that path, once traveled, to just end? It’s enough to leave you scratching your head and shaking your fists to the heavens. 

But then, out of nowhere, comes one of those moments. The ones that fundamentally change you from the core of your being. And that is exactly what has happened to me. 

July 12, 2020 was just an ordinary Sunday. My husband and I had plans to spend that sunny, hot day on the lake. That morning we packed our lake goods together and headed toward the marina 25 minutes away. It was still early so we decided to listen to our favorite church service online while driving. Little did I know that before that Sunday morning message reached its conclusion, I would experience spiritual transformation.

I have prepared around 350 sermons throughout my ministry career. That’s a lot of time reading scripture, researching the history, and studying commentaries. On top of that, there have been hours poured into Bible study preparations and other Biblical teaching opportunities. So, it would be easy to conclude that I would be extremely familiar with scripture. And yet, as I think most ministers would attest, God has a way of opening scripture anew every time you take time to read and study His word. 

The sermon that Sunday morning was the final in a sermon series titled The Signs of Jonah. The entire series was very interesting.  Rev. Alan Miller, the pastor, was specifically teaching on this particular Sunday about the resurrection of Lazarus. If you recall, Lazarus was very sick and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent word to Jesus asking him to come and help their brother. They knew Jesus was able to heal their brother because he had already healed others. They believed in him. But Jesus chose not to answer their request right away. Instead, he waited for four days. He waited until Lazarus died before coming to the aid of Mary and Martha. 

Once Jesus arrived, Mary and Martha were deeply saddened by the loss of their brother and understandably confused by Jesus’s delay. With exacerbated grief, Martha went to him.

“Lord,” Martha said to Jesus, “if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

Martha answered, “I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

“Yes, Lord,” she replied, “I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 17-27)

Jesus, … deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. “Take away the stone,” he said.

“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Did I not tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” 

So they took away the stone. Then Jesus looked up and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me.”

When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.” (John 38-44)

It’s a powerful story and one that many people know and love. Packed into 44 verses is a story of love, belief, hope, grief, humanity, and divinity. I have preached on this story several times because it’s one of my absolute favorite stories within scripture. But when I heard the sermon on July 12, it was as if I was hearing these verses for the very first time. 

So what made this sermon any different?

One simple statement. 

“Martha was focused on the corpse in the tomb and not the Christ standing in front of her.” 

Y’all! Even writing it makes my heart speed up. Hear it again. 

“Martha was focused on the corpse in the tomb and not the Christ standing in front of her.”

Oh my goodness, that statement … that single moment in time … has fundamentally changed me. I sat in that car hearing the words of the sermon fall away as Jesus’s voice became audibly clear, “I’ve been right in front of you all along and you refused to see me. Trust me because I’m not finished with you yet.” 

I’m not sure if my husband picked up on my audible gasp or the tears in my eyes that I was trying to hide. But the rest of that day, while anchored in a quiet cove on Kentucky Lake, I heard the words over and over, “You refused to see me.” And I grieved. 

I grieved because I, like Martha, had become so consumed with the death of my situation with the UMC that I had failed to see the life in front of me … the life that is Jesus Christ. I failed to see the immediate because I was too focused on the what if. I was focused on the “corpse in the tomb and not the Christ standing in front” of me. I couldn’t see all the ways I was still being used to proclaim the truth of God because I was focused on the ways I no longer was being used. And I can’t help but wonder how many times I missed a holy moment because I failed to see the Christ standing right before my eyes.

The truth is, I still don’t know what is ahead for me. My counseling practice is growing and I have recently become the only Certified Clinical Trauma Professional in our region. The Holy Spirit is very present in my practice and I can feel His guidance in those sessions. I believe I am helping people and I know that a few of my clients have come to know Jesus Christ within that office. But I am certain there is more God wants of me. And I know now that I can’t say that the ministry I was called to do is dead and buried behind some stone too heavy for me to move. 

Something was happening in the tomb before they knew something was happening. Reversal was taking place. Decomposing was composing. Falling apart was being put back together. That which could not see could now see. That which could not walk could now walk. That which Christ was doing was getting ready to come out.

Rev. Alan Miller, First Missionary Baptist Church, Benton, KY

Bro. Alan said, “Jesus didn’t just resurrect Lazarus from the dead. He didn’t restore him to the state of where Lazarus was before he died. He resurrected him, healed him, and let him go.”

I believe in that life-changing moment, Jesus not only resurrected me but he healed me, he awakened me, he empowered me, and he let me go out into the world on his behalf to teach others the profound truth that is our hope. We each have a choice to make. Every day that we wake up, we have a choice to focus on the corpse of our situation or focus on the Christ. I don’t know about you but I’m tired of living in a tomb of my own making. 

“Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face.

Jesus said to them, “Unbind him and let him go.”

Lazarus was dead. He was dead. But God breathed new life into him and when Jesus called out, Lazarus was set free from the grips of death. And so can we. I look around and see the pain etched in the faces of most people I come into contact with. The world is so full of darkness and uncertainty. Our country is on the brink of civil war. Fear is underlying most of our daily actions. And grief over the life we once knew is prevailing. 

“Martha was focused on the corpse in the tomb and not the Christ standing in front of her.”

I was Martha, focusing on the corpse. I was Lazarus, bound up in a tomb. But then Jesus called out, “Unbind her and let her go.” 

…if you believe you will see the glory of God. 

The sermon begins around the 32 minute mark.

His Message, Not Ours

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Progressive Christianity almost entirely ignores the core message Jesus Christ brought when He walked the earth 2,000 years ago.

What was His message?

It wasn’t love.
It wasn’t social justice.
It wasn’t acceptance of worldly views.

His core message was the Kingdom of God.

He pinpointed this message in the heart of the Sermon on the Mount by saying what should be the highest priority for His followers: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

Seek FIRST…

Jesus Christ’s words are clear—the Kingdom of God is to be the No. 1 focus and emphasis in the lives of His followers. In fact, it was the core of His gospel message. His gospel message was all about the Kingdom of God and what was required.

“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.’” (Mark 1:14-15)

“Then Jesus went about all the cities and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the gospel of the kingdom.” (Matthew 9:35)

At one point in His ministry, Jesus was about to leave an area where He had been preaching for some time. The people of that area tried to persuade Him not to leave. Jesus’s response: “I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.” (Luke 4:42-43)

Let that sink in. …“I must preach the kingdom of God to the other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent.”

Jesus said that one of His primary purposes for coming to earth was to preach about the Kingdom of God! That was His gospel. That was His message. That was His purpose. That is what drove and motivated Him.

When we understand the core of Jesus’s message about the Kingdom of God, we can then understand why He made the statement in Matthew 6:33: “Seek first the kingdom of God.” He tells us to seek first the Kingdom because the Kingdom of God was His primary message.

Christians must make the Kingdom of God as high a priority in their lives as it was in Christ’s life. Jesus came to set us an example of how to live, by obeying the Law as God set it. He urged us to repent of our sins. He then died for those sins and was resurrected so we can have an opportunity to be in the Kingdom of God for all eternity. That is grace!

After Jesus’s resurrection He gave us a final directive, known as The Great Commission. “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

Christ founded a Church to carry the message He preached while on earth. (Matthew 24:14; 28:19-20; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:3-8). The early Church faithfully followed Christ’s directive and preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God. But as time passed, false beliefs began to creep into Christianity. The apostle Paul wrote that he perceived Christians in his time were “turning away” from the true gospel to “a different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). Paul gave multiple warnings about his fear that people were abandoning true doctrines and being led astray into false teachings by false prophets (2 Timothy 2:14-18; 3:13-14; 4:1-3, 14-15).

As time has rolled on, the gospel message was changed from the Kingdom of God and repentance of sin to a message primarily about the person Jesus Christ. In other words, the Christian Church kept the name of Jesus Christ but not His message.

Jesus was very clear that claiming His name but ignoring His teachings is false worship (Luke 6:46). He wants His people to worship Him in “spirit and truth” (John 4:24).

The true gospel message of Jesus Christ is not a minor issue. Jesus connected a belief in the true gospel to repentance (Mark 1:15), and Paul warned that preaching a different gospel brings a curse (Galatians 1:8-9). Believing the true gospel is vital to your salvation!

The true gospel is the message of good news about the coming Kingdom of God. It is a message of hope. And hope is exactly what this world needs. There is so much anger in our world. So much desperation. And the Church holds the solution. But the Church has failed because we have replaced Jesus’s message with our own. Isn’t it time we start living as followers of Jesus Christ? Isn’t it time we share the true gospel? Isn’t it time we introduce Jesus Christ and his powerful message to the world?

#truegospel #JesuswasNOTapoliticalactivist #apologetics

The Beauty of Darkness

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Depression and the power it holds

May is mental health awareness month. It really couldn’t have fallen on a more perfect time in 2020. As the pandemic continues, and people are growing more and more weary of staying home, the importance of mental health care takes a front row seat. I know for me, personally, the pandemic has definitely exacerbated feelings of hopelessness and isolation. But more on me later.

Mental health has consistently had a bad wrap in society and has throughout history. The stigma associated with such illnesses as depression and anxiety has had far-reaching consequences in our history. In Biblical times depression was viewed as a spiritual rather than a physical condition. Like other mental illnesses, it was believed to be caused by demonic possession. As such, it was dealt with by priests rather than physicians, according to an article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. As time went on, treatment would vary from exorcisms to physical beatings. In many cases, those suffering from depression or anxiety (and other mental illnesses) were either locked away, branded as demon possessed, given lobotomies, or even put to death.

Although we have come a long way from those barbaric treatments and beliefs, those suffering from depression and anxiety still find themselves shunned, ignored, and alone. Why? Because often they do not know what is wrong in order to seek help. For that reason, they exhibit signs of irritability, isolation, sadness, and anger. Quite frankly, it’s difficult to be around someone who acts as though they don’t want you around. It’s a catch-22 for the sufferer. It’s a “leave me alone but please don’t go” tug-of-war in their minds.

What is depression? It is defined​ as a mood disorder that causes a persistent feeling of depressed mood or sadness and the often profound loss of interest in things that usually bring you pleasure. It affects how you feel, think, and behave and can interfere with your ability to function and carry on with daily life.

Most people will experience some time of depression in their lifetime. In fact, there are seven different types of depression.

  1. Major Depressive Disorder or Clinical Depression.
  2. Persistent Depressive Disorder.
  3. Bipolar Disorder.
  4. Postpartum Depression.
  5. Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder.
  6. Seasonal Affective Disorder.
  7. Atypical Depression.

During this pandemic, I have found that many of my clients are exhibiting some form of depression. For some, this is the first time they have experienced a prolonged onset of these symptoms. It can be frightening if you are unaware what is happening and why. That is why it is so incredibly important to be honest about your thoughts and feelings to those around you. Often it’s those closest to you who can see the pain you are in even when you can’t.

I have suffered from depression and anxiety for most of my life. In fact, you can read about my anxiety in an earlier blog. Today, however, I would like to focus on depression and my personal experience. Before I begin to share my story, I need to state upfront that there are some things which might be a trigger for some people. If you are feeling hopeless and are having thoughts of harming yourself or someone else, please call the the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 for support and assistance from a trained counselor.

As a little girl I can remember having moments of deep sadness. As I think about those times, I am unable to really pinpoint anything specific that would have caused such sadness. I would desperately want to be included with other children but also would shy away from the very ones I wanted to be with.

I would lay in my bed at night, convinced that I was going to die. I would do everything in my power to stay awake because I was certain that once I drifted off to sleep, I would never wake up. On one particular night, I became so distraught at the thought of dying, I woke my parents up in a complete emotional state. I can vividly remember trying to explain the hopelessness I had but unable to do so.

Throughout my childhood and teenage years, I would often find places to disappear to so I could cry. I didn’t want anyone to know just how much I was struggling. In my middle school years, suicide became a real alluring thought because I was so deeply surrounded in darkness. Thankfully, my parents recognized the sadness as something that was growing more and more out of control so they stepped in and took me to a counselor.

High school was no walk in the park. My depression increased into uncontrolled anxiety. I spent a crazy amount of time trying to be someone other than myself, hoping beyond hope that one of the personas I put on would give me a release from the prison I was constantly in.

The sadness, low self-esteem, hopelessness, and exhaustion became close friends through the years. I learned to accept them as just part of my thinking and actually found some kind of sick comfort in their presence. I found relief through the tears and the pain in my soul seemed to invite me into a place I didn’t understand but didn’t push away, either. This would continue through my young adult life.

Fast forward a few years. I met my husband. We married and had a child. We had a good life. And yet, behind the perfectly decorated front door, I was a mess. I would fly off the handle for no reason then sink into a deep grief over my words. I wasn’t sleeping and my headaches were increasing. On one particular after, my husband and I were in the car and I was saying something that was biting in nature and he turned to me saying, “You need medication.” I was so hurt. But more than hurt, I knew he was right.

It would take a few more months before I finally listened and had a visit with my doctor. He was so kind and there was absolutely no judgment when I told him my needs. Why had I waited so long to get help?! After that, I spent a few years feeling relatively at peace. I would have the occasional sinking spell but nothing like I had been experiencing. Unfortunately, the bottom dropped out and all of that changed.

My husband and I went through a three year stretch where we were anything but at peace. Job loss, moving, financial woes, illness… it was tough. And because of the difficulties we were experiencing, I decided to try to save money where I could. We didn’t have medical insurance so I stopped my antidepressant to save money.

If this is your first time reading my blog you won’t know this about me but I am a Christian. I have always known the Lord but I didn’t have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ until my early 30s. It was also during that time that I accepted my call to ordained ministry. This is important information because a lot of people still believe that depression is only a spiritual problem or they believe it’s only a chemical problem. I, however, believe it is both.

I absolutely believe in evil in the world and I believe that the battle of good and evil is constant. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” Depression is a mighty power that dangles darkness like a golden carrot. And it’s nothing to ignore.

I really can’t properly describe the roller coaster I have ridden over the past few years. I absolutely loved life and hated life all at the same time. While privately continuing to battle these unseen evil forces, I put on a completely different face publicly.

As a pastor and a therapist, my entire existence was about helping other people. And I’m actually really good at it. I can empathize with people suffering with pain, loneliness, fear, sadness, etc. because I’ve been there. I’ve walked in similar shoes. So I have given my all to helping those who need help and I’m proud to have been chosen by God to do that for His glory. But just like the rest of my life, I pushed down my own needs and concerns, sidelining them in lieu of focusing on others. And for over a decade, I did that without a second’s thought. But like a balloon, if you keep filling it with air, it will eventually pop.

I “popped” on March 18, 2020. I knew things were getting to a crisis point within my psyche several weeks prior but I had become so good at covering up my pain I arrogantly believed I could continue in my tailspin without consequence. I had taken a leave of absence from the ministry and was working toward expanding my counseling practice to a full-time status. I had just celebrating the opening of my new office space and had several new clients. Things on the outside were seemingly glowing. But on the inside I was sinking to a low unlike anything I had ever experienced. The unfortunate part is that it had been such a slow process I had failed to see it.

On March 18, I had a couple of clients scheduled as well as a meeting with a ministry supervisor. The meeting was supposed to be about my leave of absence. That morning when I woke, I had a headache and just a general feeling of doom. After I arrived at my office, my first client called to reschedule so that gave me a little time to do some paperwork. But I just could not concentrate. I felt like my skin was crawling and I could not sit still. My mind was racing and I could feel the tears threatening to fall at any moment.

My supervisor arrived and we began with talk about my leave, just as I anticipated. But then it turned and when it did, my world crashed. Now you must understand that I take my faith very serious and my vows to God are not up for debate. So when my supervisor informed me that I had caused harm to those I had ministered and had “lost my Christian witness”, I was devastated. I could scarcely breathe. And as I sat there, the darkness which I had been so diligently trying to keep at bay finally enveloped me and for the first time since the 7th grade, I welcomed it.

There is nothing easy about writing this but I think it is important that society stop pretending that depression shouldn’t be talked about. As we see a profound increase in depression and anxiety due to the pandemic, talking about depression and the signs are life and death necessities. We must not hide out of fear or shame.

In the moments right after my supervisor left, I sunk into a pit. And honestly, that pit seemed more safe, more loving than anything I was experiencing at the time. And it was so dark.

So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going.” – John 12:35

I can tell you that that moment of darkness really did leave me wondering aimlessly, not knowing where I was going. I had lost so much but up to that moment I felt as though I still had my faith and then, just like that, it was taken from me (or so I thought). I was completely hopeless, completely lost. On March 18, 2020 I said out loud, “I have no reason to live anymore. I don’t want to keep going.” And darkness grew closer, darker, and more beautiful.

By the grace of God, I immediately recognized what was happening so I went home to my husband. He didn’t ask. He didn’t need to. He just loved me and reminded me of who I am – a child of God.

It has been a very difficult but enriching stretch of time. There are things that reply in my head and I have to fight against the pull to let depression take back over. I am taking medication and seeing a therapist. I have family who love me and friends who check in on me constantly. And above all, I have a God who ensured that the Light is to never be extinguished. Not in my life and not in yours.

“I waited patiently for the LORD; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him.” – Psalm 40:1-3

Depression is a medical condition. Depression is a spiritual condition. Depression is treatable. Depression does not define you.

If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of depression, please reach out to your doctor, therapist, and spiritual advisor. Together, they can develop a treatment plan which will offer you a healthy release from the darkness that imprisons you.

Because of our God’s merciful compassion, the dawn from on high will visit us to shine on those who live in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace. – Lk 1:78-79

68 days… and counting

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Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

The past two days have been a bit of a valley. Like most people I know, I’m not a fan of disappointment and it seems that disappointment has been a reoccurring theme as of late. Let me explain.

It’s been 68 days since I stepped foot in a church building. That’s 1,632 hours since I kneeled before God in a sanctuary, asking Him one last time if He was absolutely sure this was His will. (He was, by the way). 68 days.

When I walked out with my last box that day, I really didn’t have a clue what was coming. I had no idea a government shutdown of the entire country would happen just two weeks later. I had no idea that church doors would become off-limits to us throughout many states, including my own. I had no idea that I would be left in this perpetual state of emptiness for an indefinite period of time. Nope. I only knew I needed some time away.

I understand that for a lot of people, worshipping from home with their home church is not a big deal. For some people (and if you read social media it’s more like “most” people), worshipping from home is not much different than worshipping in person. In fact, several have stated that they prefer worshipping at home because it’s easier. It never occurred to me that our worship was supposed to be easy. I always thought it was supposed to be a sacrificial part of our lives. But perhaps I have been wrong. Regardless, it appears that the concept of online worshipping has become the preferred method.

It’s not my preferred method because it’s not how we were created.

In the beginning, God created man. We know that Adam was made in the image of God to glorify God. But, as Genesis tells us, God saw that man needed a companion because there was a lacking completion with just man. So God created woman and upon seeing the two together, He was pleased.

Since the beginning of time, men and women have been in communion with one another. All through scripture we are shown the importance of community with one another. Even Jesus Christ required a community – at first choosing 12 disciples to live among, teach to, and talk with. Even more impressive is the fact that Jesus didn’t pick and choose who He communed with. He was (and continues to be) available to everyone.

But here we are in 2020 and we live in the United States of America, where our Constitution absolutely guarantees our freedoms and rights and yet we are not allowed to worship together in person. And many are okay with that.

Before I get accused of not caring about the vulnerable population during this pandemic, let me state quite clearly that I absolutely do care. I also happen to believe that we are a population of people with intelligence. Just because someone is medicare age doesn’t mean they no longer have an IQ. They are quite capable of making healthcare decisions for themselves in regards to going out in public. Those who are immunosuppressed are very educated in what is safe and what isn’t for their bodies. So, stop right there if you’re getting ready to slam me about being callous or uncaring.

For those of you who live outside of Kentucky (where I live), let me just give you some insight as to where my state stands as of mid-May. Kentucky didn’t just flatten the curve, we inverted the curve. Many of our hospitals in the state are laying off massive amounts of employees (doctors and nurses included) because their beds, outpatient clinics, and same-day surgical centers are empty. In a couple of higher population areas there has been a steady amount of COVID cases but not one single instance where there wasn’t a bed or ventilator available. We did exactly what the President of the United States asked of us – we kept the hospitals from being overrun with cases. Instead, they have trickled in at a rate that is manageable.

And yet… our governor will not allow people to live within their rights as guaranteed by the Constitution. We are not allowed to attend church in person.

Ok, so let me clarify here. The governor has said churches may open their doors May 20 (that’s not a Sunday, by the way so it’s actually May 24) but with stipulations and then more stipulations. These go WAY beyond the requirements for other businesses.

No singing! Seriously, no singing.

No hugging, standing next to each other, holding hands, shaking hands, fist bumps, etc.

All family units must be 6 feet apart from other family units.

33% capacity. (So, I guess it’s a lottery system to get into church now)

No wind instruments.

Only one person at a time in a restroom and then staff must disinfect before the next person can go in.

The clergy must preach with a mask.

No coffee (because obviously we all sit around sharing each other’s coffee cups) or donuts.

No clusters of groups in one space.

No nursery.

No Sunday School.

No youth group.

Did I say no singing? Oh, yes I did. But I mean really, no singing?

This list is not complete but you get the drift. Our governor does not want us meeting in-person to worship. He is instead stomping all over our freedoms in order to show his muscle. And people are applauding his behavior, which is absolutely your right. But these “restrictions” are destroying me and many others.

Somewhere along the way, it became acceptable to trample mental health in the name of fear. It has become acceptable to watch people quickly sink in the quicksand of hopelessness and despair in the name of “protection.” It has become acceptable to watch people’s livelihoods implode in the name of health. It has become acceptable to justify suicide, violence, depression, addiction, and other mental diseases as okay as long this virus stays around. Does that make any sense? No! Having physically healthy people is useless if we become a society of mentally unhealthy people. And yet, mental disease is on the rise at a faster rate than I can fathom all because of despair.

There is only one cure for despair. Jesus Christ.

Church is more than a place to go on Sunday mornings. It SHOULD be a place to surrender all of your fears, your struggles, your doubts, and your pain. It SHOULD be a place that allows you to receive hope and encouragement while growing your appetite for a deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. It SHOULD be a place where you are challenged and made to be uncomfortable in your complacency. It SHOULD be a place where you acknowledge your sins and recommit your life to God as you repent. It SHOULD be a life-changing place each and every time you walk through the doors. That was the purpose of the original church and a true Bible-teaching church still believes in that purpose today. You cannot make disciples of Jesus Christ while living in sin, hopelessness, and complacency.

The church is more essential than any business I know. It offers life-sustaining, eternity-promising, redemption-giving information that no other place is equipped to do. Yes, you can read the Bible for yourself. You can sing hymns in your home. But if that’s all that is required, why did Jesus urge his followers to join together? Why did Jesus see the importance of touch? Why did Jesus see the importance of community? Jesus wasn’t afraid to touch the leper. He wasn’t afraid to be around the demon-possessed. And he never taught us to be afraid, either. Yet, here we are… cowering in our homes afraid.

Yes, I’m disappointed. I disappointed that I don’t have a church to attend because there are none open. I’m disappointed that so many Christians are ok being just ok. I’m disappointed that it’s been 68 days and likely much much longer.

I’m sitting on my deck as I write this and thinking that it could easily become a worship space, full of people gathering together in anticipation of encountering the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it’s just what I will do, invite over a dozen or so people who, like me are desperate to live as God intends for us to live – in community together worshipping Him. I think that it’s just what people need. I know it’s what I need. I’ve said before that I am church “homeless” right now. When God directed me to leave the pulpit I was serving, my denomination as a whole left me. The emails, texts and personal confrontations have been like one assault after another It’s been eye-opening, to say the least. “Friends” are now only names of what once was. “Colleagues” see me as the enemy. Silence is profound. And yet I hear the words given to Ester and it’s as if God Himself is speaking them loudly to me right now, “If you don’t speak up now, {they} will somehow get help, but you and your family will be {destroyed}. It could be that you were made for such a time as this!”

I may be on my own. I may be without a tribe to walk with. But I believe that these words ring true … truer than any words I can cling to at this moment … I was made for such a time as this. And I will glorify my Lord.

Sundays are hard.

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Enneagram type 2 Infographic

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Sundays are hard.

It occurred to me last night, as I was tossing around in bed, that I dread Sundays. I dread those 24 hours because they are really very hard. And because they are so hard, I find myself angry, sad, and lost.

It’s been eight weeks since I last stood in a pulpit. Eight weeks since I walked away with my head down and heart heavy because God said it was time to leave. Eight weeks of replaying the last 10 years of my life over and over in my head. Eight weeks of questioning my self-worth, my place in the world, and my witness. Eight weeks of beating myself up for failing the churches, failing the communities, and failing God. And each time Sunday rolls around, the self-loathing starts anew.

Sundays are hard.

Some of you are familiar with the enneagram. It’s been around for hundreds of years. It’s a map that helps you discover your personality on a deeper and more spiritual scale. I have found it to be very useful in my counseling practice. I am an enneagram 2 – the helper. (If you are interested in learning more, https://www.yourenneagramcoach.com is a good place to start).

Let me just say right off that bat that being a 2 is both wonderful and awful. Twos see the world through relationships and we define ourselves based upon those relationships. According to author and enneagram coach Beth McCord, the core fear of a two is, “Being rejected and unwanted, being thought worthless, needy, inconsequential, dispensable, or unworthy of love.” And our core desire is, “Being appreciated, loved, and wanted.”

Y’all, let me just say that there has never been a truer description of myself than that right there. As a two, I have discovered that I get incredible joy from helping others and ensuring that those around me feel loved. When I offer myself to another person in relationship whether personal or professional, I take a genuine interest in them and want to be of service to them in whatever way I can. But… twos often don’t know how to do that without some self-harm.

“Because (twos) are so empathetic and sensitive, the depth of need and suffering in our world is especially burdensome to (them). Twos feel that it is their job to alleviate the pain of hurting people around (them), which is an unending responsibility, ” McCord writes. “Deep down (twos) struggle to believe that others love (them) apart from the support (they) offer.”

This description sometimes hurts me more than I can say because it’s so true of how I feel and have felt my entire life. Alleviating the pain of hurting people has been the driving force of most of my life. My senior year of high school I was voted “most dependable” because people could ALWAYS count on me to be available for them no matter what else was going on in my life. When I accepted my calling from God to go into ordained ministry, I did so because I knew God was sending me out to help people who were hurting in the world. He gave me this gift of empathy and expects me to use it to glorify Him. And from the depth of my soul I have tried to do just that. I have wanted nothing more than to please God by serving others. Unfortunately, my sinfulness has allowed satan’s voice to speak too loud at times, saying, “You aren’t loved. You aren’t needed. You are replaceable. You are forgotten.” So you can imagine (or perhaps you can’t) the internal struggle I have felt since leaving the pulpit eight weeks ago. To put it quite bluntly, I fear that I have lost my value. And that fear manifests itself every Sunday.

You see, for twos, we have a tendency to put ourselves completely out there because we want to love and be loved so profoundly. That should be easy if you’re a Christian, right? We love because we are loved by God. Unfortunately, it’s not easy! And as a two, that can be a very narrow line to walk, teetering between trusting God and trusting only ourselves. It’s that trust in self that gets me into trouble.

Twos are amazing people with hearts the size of Texas but let’s be honest…we also have a dark side. And it’s that dark side that I have found myself in these past few weeks.

When you discover your enneagram type, you will also learn about your “wings.” These are the types you gravitate to during certain moments such as stress or pain. For me, I gravitate to an eight when I feel stressed. And it’s not the healthy eight attributes that come out. It’s the unhealthy and hurtful traits that begin to dominate my reactions.

McCord describes the unhealthy eight like this, “Their whole focus revolves around protecting themselves from those whom they believe are a threat to them. They do not trust people, and assume everyone has an agenda to hurt or control them. Therefore, they want to beat them to it by controlling and hurting others first. If they have been hurt by someone, they can be very vengeful in making sure the other person gets what they deserve.”

I have to admit that I really do not like this description at all. But whether I like it or not, it speaks loads of truth and has been a very hard process to study and accept. I really don’t want to assume that the people around me only want to be around me because they need something. I don’t want to believe that if I’m not “fixing” them or someone they love then I’m inconsequential to them. I detest the voice inside that says my only worth can come if I’m serving others, even if it’s detrimental to myself. Yet, Sundays tend to be an “enneagram eight” kind of day.

I have people in my practice who struggle with self-forgiveness and I am actually really good at helping them see the source of forgiveness. I can point people to Christ and watch them blossom as they learn His love is fully available to them without question. Yet, in these past eight weeks, I have found it difficult to receive my own advice. I know God’s hands are upon me. I know God’s Spirit is with me. I know God’s love is never-ending. And, still, I feel alone, angry, sad, and unloved, and find myself asking, “Who am I, God?”

At the end of last year, I did my annual evaluation of the year and reflected on my “one word.” That time always leads me to my new word. The word I was given was “uncharted.” I had no idea just how true that word would be for 2020. Right now, my life really does feel uncharted. I have no idea where I am going or what is next. I do know that am hoping for healing. I look forward to the day when Sundays are once again filled with joy and anticipation. I know these uncharted, lonely days are only a road bump in my faith journey. I may not know what’s next. I may not feel my worth. I may dread Sundays. But I know God is bigger than all of these things. I’m still not ready to look at myself in the mirror with eyes of forgiveness. I still am not able to stop the tears at 2 AM. I still replay the words that people have said that cut me to the core.

But God’s voice is getting louder.

For every kind soul you meet with a beautiful story to tell, may you know that you are worthy of being seen that way as well. — Morgan Harper Nichols

 

Reference:

McCord, Beth (2019). The Enneagram Type 2: The Supportive Advisor. Thomas Nelson Publishing. Kindle edition.

To purchase: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B07YW4KJ22/ref=dbs_a_def_rwt_bibl_vppi_i2

 

 

 

 

Why You Need An Accountability Group

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In today’s world, there are so many different types of groups. There are mom groups and dad groups. There are groups for different occupations and hobbies. There are middle age with children and middle age without children groups. Singles groups and divorced groups. The list goes on and on. But these are primarily social groups, even if the group is comprised of Christians. And let’s face it,  there’s a big difference between “hanging out” with other Christians, and deeply connecting with them on a spiritual level. I do believe there is a place for both but, if you’re like me, you need a deep connection like never before. Scripture is so full of references to community and the importance of being with a group of like-minded individuals to walk through this life without fear of judgment or, even worse, rejection.

“As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend.” Proverbs 17:17

The beauty of that verse is clear – we cannot do life in the way God ordained it without friends. Just like we cannot grow in our faith if we do it completely on our own. We need others to do it in a way that enriches our lives and our relationship with the Lord.

One of my favorite pictures of the Christian community in action is of the early church as described in Acts 2:

“And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” Acts 2:42

Read it again!

Did you catch that? They devoted themselves to one another and to God. When was the last time you devoted yourself to something? No, I’m not talking about a short-term project or hobby. I’m talking about an all-consuming, life-altering devotion. I would bet it’s been a long while. I know it has for me. But the first church let God truly consume their lives. They pushed one another, studied the “apostles teaching,” spent time remembering Jesus and prayed. Oh, how they prayed together and separately. They were devoted to these things and they changed the world.

I know it sounds like a cliche but I genuinely want to change the world. But not as I would have it. I want to change the world so that Jesus Christ is glorified. But as much as I’d like to think I’m just that able, I can’t do it on my own. I NEED people who have a heart for changing the world, too. I need people like those in Acts. They were living what I long for. What about you?

Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.” Hebrews 10:24-25

The writer of Hebrews said it best and we would do well to heed those words. Meeting together in a sanctuary is fantastic and super important in your spiritual life. It’s a time of teaching and worshipping in a larger community.  But if that is all you do, you’re missing out on the essence of the Church! And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Just imagine a world where people met together for the intentional reason of intensive prayer, study, worship, and Holy Communion. Imagine how families would change. Imagine how children would change. Schools would be impacted. Work would change. So much would be impacted by this type of intentionality. Are you getting excited yet?

Well here’s the secret. You can’t wait for someone else to do it and invite you. If you are excited about such an opportunity, you have to make it happen. You have to be the one to take the first step. If your heart started beating just a bit faster as you were dreaming of such a group, then God is likely nudging you to action.

How do you get started?

  • PRAY! And then pray some more.  God will begin to lead you to invite one or more like-minded friends to join your group.
  • Establish a regular time and place to meet. This could be weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly. But it must be regular!!! There are going to be times when schedules don’t meet up. That’s okay. Set a time and stick with it. You’ll quickly discover who is putting forth the effort and who isn’t. And that is OKAY! Everyone is different and needs to be able to determine for themselves what is important.
  • If you are a parent, arrange somewhere else for your kids to be. I love children but children can make it a bit difficult to have deep meaningful discussions. The truth is, small children have a lot of needs and your attention is one of them. So, rather than feeling guilty about not having your children with you, think of this as your weekly “me-time”. I promise this will be the most valuable time of your life.
  • Decide together what your time will look like. What are your hopes and goals? And what are your absolute do’s and don’ts within your group. For me, I will not tolerate gossip. I’ve been the subject of it too much to want to put that feeling upon someone else. You and your group have to decide what your time will look like. Write it down and have everyone sign it. It’s a covenant. 
  • Specify a leader for each meeting. Otherwise, it’s way too easy to spend the entire time chit-chatting. And in the end, that’s just not as beneficial. I think it works best when people rotate. We should each have ownership in the group so there is not a primary leader. Instead, we are all in this together.
  • Be transparent. Be honest. Be raw. Encourage. Exhort. Love. Challenge. And watch God do amazing things in your lives as well as within the lives around you.

What to Do Each Week

If you are like me, you prefer to have some kind of template to go by.

  1. Catch upHow is it with your soul? 
  2. Talk about spiritual thingsDid you spend time with God this week? Consistently? What did that look like? If you didn’t, why not?
  3. What struggles are you having? Confess to one another. Encourage one another. Ask questions.
  4. Goals, hopes, dreams: Check-in on goals from the previous week and set new ones. These can pertain to absolutely anything, not just time with God.
  5. Pray together.
  6. Celebrate Holy Communion. 

There are some things to be cautious about though.

Like with any good thing, there are some things that can spoil it if you’re not careful.

  • Don’t gossip. I know. I’ve already stated this once but seriously it’s very important. Gossip is not God-honoring or beneficial. In fact, it’s evil. Resolve not to do this and hold each other accountable. If it’s not your story to tell, don’t tell it.
  • What is shared in the group, stays in the group. Make this a safe environment. Keep the things confided to yourself unless there’s a very important and specific reason to do otherwise. Remember, you are in a covenant and trust is essential.
  • Listen A LOT before you offer any advice or suggestions. Listen, listen, and listen some more. I’m an enneagram 2 so I get it. Being a fixer or helper is in my DNA. But people are not always looking to be fixed. Just because someone shares about a situation that is troubling to them, it’s not a greenlight for you to fix it. Sometimes your presence is enough. Be wise in what you say. God might move you to speak into a situation, or He might lead you to keep silent, but either way, James 2:4 says, “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry.” and Colossians 4:6, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
  • Finally, Don’t force it. If the friendships are to be true and lifelong, it will simply happen through the study, the transparency, and the fellowship. But if you are having to force it, to work at it until it no longer serves a joyful purpose, it’s not the right group for you. And that’s okay. Keep looking and praying until you are led to the right group of people.

God has great things in store for you. He wants you surrounded by His love. And He wants you to know who you are – His!

What If It’s True?

For six years I have stood in a pulpit on Easter Sunday and proclaimed the good news that Jesus Christ is the Messiah, the Resurrection, the Son of God. It’s been a very different Holy Week for a variety of reasons. But the most difficult part was knowing I would not be sharing the Word of God.

My beautiful family changed that.

My sister-in-law suggested we have a service on Zoom because we are all spread out across two states. I couldn’t have been more excited and honored to share the joy of the Resurrection with my family.

This is not a fancy service. It’s just us on our couch (with our cats running around). No fancy clothes. No make-up. Not a good hair day. But oh how my heart is full because God used me once again!

So… what if the resurrection is true? What if?

*Sermon illustrations from Rev. Brett Blair

The Saddest Week

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This morning U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said we are entering into the “hardest and saddest week” of our lives. He was, of course, speaking about the COVID-19 pandemic. But what he didn’t realize is that his words are much more profound than simply a state on the health of Americans. The truth is, we are entering into the saddest week as Christians around the world. 

Today is known as Palm Sunday. Others know it as Passion Sunday. Either way, it marks the beginning of Holy Week, the single most important week in a Christian’s life. And it is also the most profound and difficult week we experience. Why? Because Jesus invites us to enter into His passion as he prepares to take upon himself the sins of the entire world.

Palm/Passion Sunday is always a difficult one for me because I feel as if I’m in tandem between hallelujahs and despair. Up to this point in Jesus’s life on earth, he had led thousands to the Kingdom. That was his purpose within each miracle, each sermon, each touch, each word – point the world to the Kingdom of God. People were completely enthralled by Jesus. They were witnessing miracles upon miracles. They were hearing words that no religious leader had ever said. And they were determined to follow him wherever he went. So when the time came for Jesus to enter Jerusalem, the crowds were ecstatic. He was here. Their king was here. He was going to overthrow the brutal rule of the Roman Empire and set up his kingdom. So when he entered into the city, the crowd shouted hosannas and waved palms in adoration of this man they believed would save them. 

Unfortunately, they didn’t understand just what kind of saving he would actually do. 

In most churches on Palm Sunday there is an excitement. But what is that excitement really about? Is it because we know the ending? Or is because we know that this really fun holiday is the next Sunday? What do we get excited for on Palm Sunday? Are we more like the crowds on that day 2000+ years ago, excited but unaware of who we are really celebrating? 

Nearly all the the people in the crowd threw their garments down on the road, giving him a royal welcome. Others cut branches from trees and threw them down as a welcome mat. Crowds went ahead and crowds followed, all of them calling out, “Hosanna to David’s son!” “Blessed is he who comes in God’s name!” “Hosanna in highest heaven!”

As he made his entrance into Jerusalem, the whole city was shaken. Unnerved, people were asking, “What’s going on here? Who is this?”

And the parade crowd answered, “This is Jesus.” —Matthew 21:7-11a

They knew his name. They knew he was great. But they didn’t know who he was. In fairness, neither did the disciples, not really. They simply couldn’t comprehend the truth even though they had been face to face with the Truth for three years. 

So here we are, over 2000 years later and we still struggle with the Truth. We still struggle with the answer to the question, “Who is this?” So we pull out the palm branches and we say, “Hosanna” but we ask in the depth of our soul, “Who is this?”

Yes, this is a tandem moment between joy and sorrow. This is the beginning of the most difficult and painful week of all humanity. This week in 2020 we will experience death. We will experience denial of what’s to come or even of what is happening in this very moment. We will experience anger for what seems so uncontrollable. We will experience loss. The Surgeon General was absolutely right, this is the beginning of the saddest week. But not because of COVID-19. Rather, this is the beginning of the saddest week because we are walking towards Calvary. 

Don’t skip over the depth of what this Holy Week means. Don’t jump from the Hosannas to the Hallelujahs without the demands of the crucifixion. His passion is meant for each one of us to embrace, experience, and exhale. A lot will happen in this holiest of weeks, both then and now. May you, too, find yourself in tandem between the joy and sorrow. 

We are resurrection people but we can’t have a resurrection without a death. There is no Easter without Good Friday. 

Praise be to God! 

Finding The Stillness

It’s Sunday. It’s beautiful today. 65 degrees, sunny, a gentle breeze with trees budding and flowers blooming. The birds are singing and I hear children laughing in the distance. I love Sundays.

I used to find Sundays to be taxing. Not bad. Just exhausting. I wouldn’t sleep much the night before because I would go over and over the sermon. I’d lay in my bed playing out every part of the next morning’s service, assuring myself it was perfect. That part was pride. But I always convinced myself it wasn’t. But I digress.

Sundays are different for me now. I’m a bit lost but also a bit found. Lost because I don’t have a church home, no church family to call my own anymore. Friends I have. Friends who are deeply devoted to Christ. But not a church family. It’s different for sure. But I’m a bit found because I’ve learned to be still again.

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging. 

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. 

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Come and see what the LORD has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 

He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. 

He says, “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” 

The LORD Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. — Psalm 46

As I sit in the midst of creation today, I see the work of God all around me and I know it’s okay to be still. But there are so many who are far from “still.” Oh how they believe they “do all the work” without God. They believe they can survive and thrive by the sweat of their own brow.

The truth is we do have to be responsible for the life God gave us even in the uncertainties of living in a world of sin. But that doesn’t replace our need for absolute reliance upon God (James 4:13-17).

We are finite, and God is infinite.

Because of that, we need to find peace in the stillness, peace in relaxing, peace in serenity.

Even as I write that “peace in serenity”, I chuckle. It’s really really hard to do, particularly when you’re lost in the midst of a trying time. The past three weeks I have attended virtual church. I’ve been worshipping with a different denomination. My heart longs to be a part of this place because I know God is welcome there. And yet I have fear. I’m a woman, called and ordained by God. I do not doubt my calling for a moment. In fact, I’m more certain than ever before that I’m called by God to be his servant. But I fear that I may not be accepted in this place. Perhaps misunderstood. And then all these contradictions collide within my soul. At that moment I hear, “Be still.”

Psalm 46:10 encourages us to reflect on what God can do in the face of what we are unable to do. And could there be a better word of hope during this uncertain time than that?

Friends, stillness ought to be embraced in spite of the shaking mountains and agitated waters. This stillness does not come from a lack of uncertainties. It comes because of an unshakable reliance upon God and the promise of the eternal gift of salvation.

So if you feel like your world is crumbling around you, the voice from God is telling you quite plainly: don’t flinch in faith. Be still—not because of a self-made confidence, not because you are the most composed person in the face of disaster, not because “you’ve seen it all.”

Be still because of what you know about God.

“…And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Talking With Young People

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TIPS FOR CAREGIVERS, PARENTS, AND TEACHERS DURING INFECTIOUS DISEASE OUTBREAKS

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What You Should Know

*Note: I am not a child therapist. My expertise is with those 16 years of age through adult. The following information is from SAMHSA.gov

How do you feel right now? For some of you, there may be a sense of anxiousness. For others, fear. Perhaps even sadness, guilt, anger, or numbness. If you have a news app on your phone, do you get updates? What is your initial reaction when you hear the alert tone from your news app? These and many more responses are normal within a time such as this when things are changing daily and there seems no certainty is coming.

But what about the children and youth in your life? How are they feeling? What are they experiencing? When children and youth are exposed constantly about an infectious disease outbreak they can feel scared, confused, or anxious—as much as adults. This is true even if they live far from where the outbreak is taking place and are at little to no actual risk of getting sick. But when it seems to be in your own backyard, the resulting fear can be overwhelming for children and youth. Young people react to anxiety and stress differently than adults. Some may react right away; others may show signs that they are having a difficult time much later. As such, adults do not always know when a child needs help.

Possible Reactions to an Infectious Disease Outbreak

Many of the reactions noted below are normal when children and youth are handling stress. If any of these behaviors last for more than
2 to 4 weeks, or if they suddenly appear later on, then children may need more help coping.

PRESCHOOL CHILDREN, 0–5 YEARS OLD

The first thing to remember is that no one is exactly the same. But there are some more common responses in very young children to stress. These little ones do not have the ability to express themselves in the same way adults do. They have the words or even the understanding of what is happening within their minds. Because of this, very young children may express anxiety and stress by going back to thumb-sucking or wetting the bed at night. They may fear sickness, strangers, darkness, or monsters. It is fairly common for preschool children to become clingy with a parent, caregiver, or teacher or to want to stay in a place where they feel safe, even if they have never acted this way before. They may express their understanding of the outbreak repeatedly in their play or tell exaggerated stories about it. Some children’s eating and sleeping habits may change. They also may have aches and pains that cannot be explained. Other symptoms to watch for are aggressive or withdrawn behavior, hyperactivity, speech difficulties, and disobedience.

Infants and Toddlers, 0–2 years old, cannot understand that something bad in the world is happening, but they know when their caregiver is upset. They may start to show the same emotions as their caregivers, or they may act differently, like crying for no reason or withdrawing from people and not playing with their toys.

Children, 3–5 years old, may be able to understand the effects of an outbreak. If they are very upset by the news of the outbreak, they may have trouble adjusting to change and loss. They may depend on the adults around them to help them feel better.

EARLY CHILDHOOD TO ADOLESCENCE, 6–19 YEARS OLD

Children and youth in this age range may have some of the same reactions to anxiety and stress linked to infectious disease outbreaks as younger children. Often younger children within this age range want much more attention from parents or caregivers. They may stop doing their schoolwork or chores at home.

Children, 6–10 years old, may fear going to school and stop spending time with friends. They may have trouble paying attention and do poorly in school overall. Some may become aggressive for no clear reason. Or they may act younger than their age by asking to be fed or dressed by their parent or caregiver.

Youth and Adolescents, 11–19 years old, go through a lot of physical and emotional changes because of their developmental stage. So it may be even harder for them to cope with the anxiety that may be associated with hearing and reading news of an infectious disease outbreak. Older teens may deny their reactions to themselves and their caregivers. They may respond with a routine “I’m okay” or even silence when they are upset. Or they may complain about physical aches or pains because they cannot identify what is really bothering them emotionally. They may also experience some physical symptoms because of anxiety about the outbreak. Some may start arguments at home and/or at school, resisting any structure or authority. They also may engage in risky behaviors such as using alcohol or drugs.

How Parents, Caregivers, and Teachers Can Support Children in Managing Their Responses to Infectious Disease Outbreaks

With the right support from the adults around them, children and youth can manage their stress in response to infectious disease outbreaks and take steps to keep themselves emotionally and physically healthy. The most important ways to help are to make sure children feel connected, cared about, and loved.

Pay attention and be a good listener. Parents, teachers, and other caregivers can help children express their emotions through conversation, writing, drawing, playing, and singing. Most children want to talk about things that make them anxious and cause them stress—so let them. Accept their feelings and tell them it is okay to feel sad, upset, or stressed. Do not make them feel that their feelings are unimportant. Crying is often a way to relieve stress and grief.

Allow them to ask questions. Ask your teens what they know about the outbreak. What are they hearing in school or reading on social media? Try to watch news coverage on TV or the Internet with them. Also, limit access so they have time away from reminders about the outbreak. Don’t let talking about the outbreak take over the family or classroom discussion for long periods of time. Instead, discuss other things that are important in the world, in the community, and in the family.

Encourage positive activities. Adults can help children and youth see the good that can come out of an outbreak. Heroic actions, families, and friends who assist with the response to the outbreak, and people who take steps to prevent the spread of all types of illness, such as hand washing, are examples. Children may better cope with an outbreak by helping others. They can write caring letters to those who have been sick or lost family members to illness; they can organize a drive to collect needed medical supplies to send to affected areas. There are a number of ways they can be proactive which will encourage a sense of well-being.

Model self-care, set routines, eat healthy meals, get enough sleep, exercise, and take deep breaths to handle stress. Adults can show children and youth how to take care of themselves. If you are in good physical and emotional health, you are more likely to be readily available to support the children you care about.

Include faith. Children and youth need to understand that hope still exists in the midst of bad things. If you suddenly stop attending church or stop praying as a family, they are going to be confused and have doubts about the goodness of God. Set a time for prayer as a family every day. Give each person a chance to lift up prayer concerns, as well as something to be joyful about. Talk about God and the hope He has promised in your everyday conversations. Find a good family Bible study or devotional and make it a priority. Encourage your children to talk to God about their feelings and give them room to do so in their own way. And if they express and anger toward God, help them see that throughout scripture, God’s chosen people had moments of anger, too.

A NOTE OF CAUTION! Be careful not to pressure children to talk about an outbreak or join in expressive activities. While most children will easily talk about the outbreak, some may become frightened. Some may even feel more anxiety and stress if they talk about it, listen to others talk about it, or look at artwork related to the outbreak. Allow children to remove themselves from these activities, and monitor them for signs of distress.

PRESCHOOL CHILDREN, 0–5 YEARS OLD

Give these very young children a lot of emotional and verbal support.

Get down to their eye level and speak in a calm, gentle voice using words they can understand.

Tell them that you always care for them and will continue to take care of them so they feel safe.

Keep normal routines, such as eating dinner together, prayer and devotion time, and having a consistent bedtime.

EARLY CHILDHOOD TO ADOLESCENCE, 6– 19 YEARS OLD

Nurture children and youth in this age group:

Ask your child or the children in your care what worries them and what might help them cope.

Offer comfort with gentle words or just being present with them.

Spend more time with the children than usual, even for a short while.

If your child is very distressed, excuse him or her from chores for a day or two.

Encourage children to have quiet time or to express their feelings through writing or art.
Encourage children to participate in recreational activities so they can move around and play with others.

Address your own anxiety and stress in a healthy way.

Let children know that you care about them— spend time doing something special; make sure to check on them in a nonintrusive way.

Maintain consistent routines, such as completing homework and playing games together.

When To Get More Help

In some instances, children may have trouble getting past their responses to an outbreak, particularly if a loved one is living or helping with the response in an area where many people are sick. Consider arranging for the child to talk with a mental health professional to help identify the areas of difficulty. If a child has lost a loved one, consider working with someone who knows how to support children who are grieving.

Helpful Resources

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)
5600 Fishers Lane — Rockville, MD 20857
Toll-Free: 1-877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727)

SAMHSA’s Disaster Distress Helpline

Toll-Free: -877-SAMHSA-7 (1-877-726-4727) (English and español)
SMS: Text TalkWithUs to 66746
SMS (español): “Hablanos” al 66746

TTY: 1-800-846-8517
Website (English):
https://www.disasterdistress.samhsa.gov
Website (español): https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/disaster- distress-helpline/espanol

SAMHSA’s National Helpline

Toll-Free: 1-800-662-HELP (24/7/365 Treatment Referral Information Service in English and español)
Website: https://www.samhsa.gov/find-help/national-helpline

Child Welfare Information Gateway

Toll-Free: 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1–800–422–4453) Website: https://www.childwelfare.gov/topics/responding/reporting/how

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Toll-Free (English): 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Toll-Free (español): 1-888-628-9454
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (4889)
Website (English): https://www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org (español): https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/help-yourself/en- espanol

National Child Traumatic Stress Network

Website: https://www.nctsn.org