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

a burial ground

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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

alone black and white blur child

Photo by Kat Jayne on Pexels.com

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

When The Helper Needs Help

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How to manage stress as a crisis responder and when to ask for help

We are in a unique time in world history, one we never actually believed would happen. Daily we hear phrases like “social distancing,” “first responders,” and “shelter in place.” It can leave us feeling uneasy, fearful, and anxiety-driven.

This is the first of a series of articles that will hopefully give some guidance to anyone needing answers, direction, and, most importantly, hope.

Crisis response workers are our modern-day heroes in this COVID-19 pandemic. These men and women include first responders (police, fire, EMTs, military), public health workers (physicians, practitioners, nurses, nurse assistants, technicians, hospital staff, mental health therapists, pharmacists, etc.), and clergy (church pastors, chaplains, pastoral care providers). They are the ones who get up every day and go to work while the rest of the world is mandated to stay at home. They are the ones who are repeatedly exposed to extraordinarily stressful situations day after day, minute by minute, placing them in harm’s way. At the end of a shift, they are expected to return home to their families, ready to do it again the next day… and each day thereafter until the crisis is deemed over.

So how do crisis response workers navigate their responsibilities to their jobs, their families, and their own wellbeing? It’s not easy. And each individual is going to be different and respond different so there is not a “one size fits all” approach. There are, however some things that can be done to bring awareness to these needs.

First, there should be a clear understanding of the challenges crisis response workers face during something like an infectious disease outbreak.

  • Increase in care demand. As the news of an infectious disease spreads, more people are going to find themselves with an overall feeling of being unwell. Fear and panic can cause symptoms to appear even when they physically do not manifest. Add to that the people who are actually sick from the disease and you find many more people are presenting themselves for care. In the early stages of an outbreak, it can feel to a healthcare provider, for instance, that they have things under control. Unfortunately, as the disease manifests, an increased number of healthcare workers become sick, causing a larger burden of care upon those who are well.
  • The ongoing risk of infection. For any of the essential workers in an outbreak, there is an ongoing risk of becoming infected because of the constant contact being made with a large number of people each day. This can present a deep sense of stress and anxiety for the workers while trying to do their jobs. Add to that, the fear of potentially exposing others including family to the disease.
  • Balancing their job and support. Crisis response workers are trained from the very beginning of their respective jobs that they not only have logistical responsibilities but they are also support systems for many people. This is never so apparent than in the midst of a crisis. This is especially true in an infectious disease outbreak for healthcare workers and clergy. In a normal situation, people seek medical answers from medical professionals; spiritual answers from clergy. In a pandemic, this is heightened. The increased number of sick is multiplied by others who are feeling emotionally unwell. It can become very difficult to manage.
  • Psychological stress. People who go into a crisis response job are not in it for the money. They are drawn to these professions because of a deep desire to help others. And by helping others, there is a great internal reward. Unfortunately, during a crisis such as a pandemic, the workers can become unequipped to process the emotions they are experiencing. They find themselves on a tightrope of emotions. Most will experience fear, anxiety, insomnia, grief, and exhaustion. But they will try to push those emotions deep inside so they can do their jobs, ultimately creating a worst-case scenario for mental health.

While the challenges are many, let’s focus on the psychological stress of the healthcare worker. Why? Because psychological stress can impact every aspect of a person’s life – physical, mental, and spiritual.

What is stress? Stress is an elevation in a person’s state of arousal or readiness, caused by some stimulus or demand. As stress arousal increases, health and performance actually improve. Within manageable levels, stress can help sharpen our attention and mobilize our bodies to cope with threatening situations. At some point, stress arousal reaches maximum effect. Once it does, all that was gained by stress arousal is then lost and deterioration of health and performance begins (Luxart Communications, 2004).

What does extreme stress look like? It can be different in everyone. First, the brain sounds an alert to the adrenal glands. The adrenals answer by pouring out the first of the major stress hormones—adrenaline—for the classic fight-or-flight response. The fight-or-flight response evolved with the prime directive of ensuring our safety and survival. The pulse begins to race as the adrenaline steps up the heart rate, sending extra blood to the muscles and organs. Oxygen rushes in as the bronchial tubes in the lungs dilate; extra oxygen also reaches the brain, which helps keep us alert. During this stage of the fight-or-flight response, the brain releases natural painkillers called endorphins. This phase, in which adrenaline plays a leading role, is the immediate response to stress (McEwen & Lasley, 2002). When the stress response is active for a long period of time, it can damage the cardiovascular, immune, and nervous systems. People develop patterns of response to stress that are as varied as the individuals (Selye, 1984). These responses simply suggest a need for corrective action to limit their impact (Mitchell & Bray, 1990; Selye, 1984). In other words, changes must be made so stress does not harm you or those around you.

How can you know if you are under stress?

Behavioral

  • Increase or decrease in activity level
  • Substance use or abuse (alcohol or drugs)
  • Difficulty communicating or listening
  • Irritability, outbursts of anger, frequent arguments
  • Inability to rest or relax
  • A decline in job performance; absenteeism
  • Frequent crying
  • Hyper-vigilance or excessive worry
  • Avoidance of activities or places that trigger memories
  • Becoming accident-prone

Physical

  • Gastrointestinal problems
  • Headaches, other aches, and pains
  • Visual disturbances
  • Weight loss or gain
  • Sweating or chills
  • Tremors or muscle twitching
  • Being easily startled
  • Chronic fatigue or sleep disturbances (including vivid dreams/nightmares)
  • Immune system disorders

Psychological/Emotional

  • Feeling heroic, euphoric, or invulnerable
  • Denial
  • Anxiety or fear
  • Depression
  • Guilt
  • Apathy
  • Grief

Thinking

  • Memory problems
  • Disorientation and confusion
  • Slow thought processes; lack of concentration
  • Difficulty setting priorities or making decisions
  • Loss of objectivity

Social

  • Isolation
  • Blaming
  • Difficulty in giving or accepting support or help
  • Inability to experience pleasure or have fun

(Adapted from CMHS, 2004)

Clearly, crisis response workers are under a great amount of stress on a normal day. But during a pandemic, their stress level is over the top. But there are some strategies that workers can initiate to take care of their mental health during this crisis.

First, you must meet your basic needs. Be sure to eat, drink, and sleep regularly. Becoming biologically deprived puts you at risk and may also compromise your ability to care for those around you who are depending upon your alertness. Try to eat healthy, limiting foods that make you feel sluggish. Drink lots of water while limiting soft drinks, caffeinated beverages, and alcoholic drinks. Don’t forget to take your medications properly and exercise when you can. A brisk walk outside can do wonders for your mental and physical health.

Take breaks. In other words, don’t neglect to take a sabbath. Everyone needs to take time away from the frontlines. Even Jesus took time away to rest from the constant needs of the people. The world will not implode if you step away briefly. Breaks can vary from a few moments while on duty to a full day. Give yourself a rest from tending to the needs of others. Whenever possible, allow yourself to do something unrelated to work that you find comforting, fun, or relaxing. Taking a walk, listening to music, reading a book, or talking with a friend can help. Some people may feel guilty if they are not working full-time or are taking time to enjoy themselves when so many others are suffering. Recognize that taking appropriate rest leads to proper care of others after your break. As I have said many times, you cannot pour into others when you are empty.

Connect with colleagues. Talk to your colleagues and receive support from one another. Infectious outbreaks can isolate people in fear and anxiety. Tell your story and listen to others’ stories. We were created to be in community with other people. A quarantine goes against our very nature. But it’s necessary in order to save lives. This does not mean you have to isolate yourself emotionally. Share your heart. 

Contact family and loved ones, if possible. They are an anchor of support outside your work. Sharing and staying connected may help them better support you.

Respect differences. Some people need to talk while others need to be alone. Recognize and respect these differences in yourself, those you are helping, and your colleagues. It’s very easy to compare ourselves with others and how each of us is dealing with the situation at hand. Don’t fall into that trap. You are uniquely you and that is enough. Respect each other’s differences.

Stay updated. This one is difficult because the other part of it is to limit media exposure. Clearly, we need to know what the latest in efforts, government mandates, and recommendations are. Unfortunately, these things can be hidden within negative and fear-driven messages. Rely on trusted sources of information. Participate in meetings to stay informed of the situation, plans, and events. But try to limit social media, television, and other forms of news delivery. The more you can limit these, the better for your mental health.

Self check-ins. Monitor yourself overtime for any symptoms of depression or stress disorder: prolonged sadness, difficulty sleeping, intrusive memories, hopelessness. Talk to a peer, supervisor, or seek professional help if needed. Prolonged intense stress without proper care can lead to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Honor your service. Remind yourself that despite obstacles or frustrations, you are fulfilling a noble calling—taking care of those most in need. Recognize your colleagues—either formally or informally—for their service. Let them know you appreciate them.

Develop a buddy system. While you are often the best at determining your mental health level, sometimes crisis response workers can bury their own needs so deep they fail to recognize warning signs within themselves. During a crisis, have a “buddy” whom you trust to bring to you concerns about your behavior or self-care. And then listen! As a care “buddy”, be bold in your approach but also do it in love. If you notice your colleague withdrawing, speaking in negative talk constantly, hopeless, without spiritual support, isolating, angry, or changing dramatically in appearance, it is imperative that you bring it to their attention, as well as potentially their supervisor or family. And as always, gaining the advice of a mental health professional is important.

And finally, pray. The biggest issue that crisis response workers report is their feeling of being out of control. The truth is, within a crisis such as a pandemic, there is little that is within your control. Focus on what you can control – your actions and your reactions. You cannot control others. You cannot control the amount of work there is. You cannot control the length of time the crisis continues. But you can control your response. And that begins with prayer. God tells us from the beginning of time that He is with us, He hears us, and He answers us. Praying for the peace of mind, clarity, patience, rest, and trust can give you balance in the midst of the chaos. If you are praying for how you can fix this situation, you are setting yourself up for more stress. Trust that God is God and you are one of His instruments in this battle but you are not His only instrument. He is calling upon all of us to do this work so that our land is healed.

God appeared to Solomon that very night and said, “I accept your prayer; yes, I have chosen this place as a temple for sacrifice, a house of worship. If I ever shut off the supply of rain from the skies or order the locusts to eat the crops or send a plague on my people, and my people, my God-defined people, respond by humbling themselves, praying, seeking my presence, and turning their backs on their wicked lives, I’ll be there ready for you: I’ll listen from heaven, forgive their sins, and restore their land to health. From now on I’m alert day and night to the prayers offered at this place. —2 Chronicles 7:12-15

Hotlines

Disaster Distress Helpline

Toll-Free: 1-800-985-5990
Text: “TalkWithUs” to 66746
Website: http://disasterdistress.samhsa.gov

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Toll-Free: 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255)
TTY: 1-800-799-4TTY (1-800-799-4889)
Website: http://www.samhsa.gov
This resource can be found by accessing the Suicide Prevention Lifeline box once on the SAMHSA website.

National Domestic Violence Hotline*

Toll-Free: 1-800-799-SAFE (1-800-799-7233) TTY: 1-800-787-3224

 

References:

Adapted from “Psychological First Aid,” the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress at http://www.centerforthe studyoftraumaticstress.org and used with permission.

Center for Mental Health Services. (2004). Mental health response to mass violence and terrorism: A training manual. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Luxart Communications. (2004). The quick series guide to stress management. Ellicott City, MD: Chevron Publishing.

McEwen, B. S. & Lasley, E. N. (2002). The end of stress as we know it. Washington, DC: Joseph Henry Press.

Mitchell, J. T. & Bray, G. P. (1990). Emergency services stress: Guidelines for preserving the health and careers of emergency services personnel. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Selye, H. (1984). The stress of life (Rev. ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

I am sorry.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote a piece about why I gave up church for Lent. The intent was twofold. One, I wanted to bring to light a reoccurring problem within churches. But the other reason was for healing for me. It was meant as a way to get out what I was holding inside. It was spoken from a place of grief.

Over the past 24 hours, I have discovered that many in my previous appointment are upset and feel vilified. So I hope to set the record straight in a humble apology to you. I am doing so publicly so that anyone who read the previous one will know the truth and correct any negative thoughts they might have toward this body.  I have turned off comments to this post because I don’t want people to offer support for me. Rather, offer support to the church body.

I never meant to vilify anyone. I shared my thoughts and feelings. I shared my hurts and frustrations. Perhaps I should not have done so in such a way. Perhaps the best for everyone would have been to keep it inside, compacting it. Because by my trying to get the world to see that pastors are hurting and lonely, I have inadvertently hurt a group of people whom I love. For that, I am very sorry.

So, to the church, I write you this letter,

I am so very sorry for being selfish and thinking of myself. I should not have done that. I did not think about how you might feel by reading it. I did not consider that you would take it so personally. I thought perhaps you would read it and think about what you might change to better serve others, including future pastors. But that’s not what happened.

I’m sorry that I did not consider you were grieving, too. I honestly didn’t believe you were grieving because of the isolation I have felt. Little did I know that you didn’t know what to say or how to react. I did not realize that you were upset with my leaving so abruptly. I didn’t realize your silence was because you were hurting.

I’m sorry that my words were misinterpreted. I did not mean that the entire church body was not compassionate. I actually believe that the majority of the church body is quite loving and accepting of everyone. I believe you have good hearts and seek to help those in need. I have watched you serve others through local ministries, your monies, your time, and your presence. I have witnessed care as you walked with one another in times of trial as well as in times of celebration.

I am sorry that you felt like I said you did not believe in Jesus Christ. I was so incredibly sad that people didn’t believe the scriptures and tried to illustrate that. But apparently, it was interpreted to mean that I thought you as a collective church body did not believe in Jesus Christ. I know many of you do have a strong faith. But you keep your faith personally guarded and that can sometimes live others wondering where you stand. I made a mistake and should have kept that sadness to myself.  I have watched some of you grow deeper in your faith and your joy in that relationship is evident upon your face. I have appreciated conversations that have led to those “aha” moments when you realized Jesus died to redeem you. I have celebrated some of you who have stepped outside your comfort zone so that you could experience the direction of the Holy Spirit in your life. I watched and have given thanks to God for each moment.

Finally, I am sorry that some of you felt like I vilified you personally. It was wrong. I did not intend it to be that way. But my intentions fall on deaf ears when hearts are hurting.

I’m sorry.

 

 

My heart is just so tired

“My heart is just so tired.”

I had a client say that to me this week. It struck me because of its deep authenticity “My heart is just so tired.” Perhaps you feel the squeeze in the pit of your stomach, too. “My heart is just so tired.”

The past several weeks we have watched from a safe distance the turmoil that Covid19 has been causing around the world. We watched with curiosity and maybe a bit of concern. But we went about our daily lives. And then seemingly in the blink of an eye everything changed. The virus is here. Our way of life is interrupted. Our security fractured. And so we go from curiosity to fear. And we seek answers. No, we demand answers to how this went from a distant news story to a crippling pandemic.

How often do we have these same “blink of eye” situations within our personal lives? Life can be going along and then all of a sudden a pandemic consumes your very soul. Friends become strangers. Jobs become prisons. Homes become islands. And you find yourself holding on to the ledge of life with the tips of your fingers. Why? Because your heart is just so tired.

Friends, this life is not meant to be experienced alone. It’s meant to be shared with people of all kinds. Even in this time of social distancing, we need each other. Scripture tells us that God created woman because he saw it was not good for man to be alone. Throughout the existence of humankind, relationships have been a profoundly important part of God’s plan for us.

Unfortunately, we take these relationships for granted far too often. Instead of facing issues, we ignore them. Instead of healing hurts, we build walls. Over time friendships die, families split, and bitterness sets in. We bury emotions and assumptions deep within our heart, trying in vain to keep the cracks from becoming craters that the world can see. And we cry out, “My heart is just so tired.” It’s tired because it simply cannot do this life alone.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. — John 15:12-15

Like my client, I too find my heart just so very tired. But oh how glorious it is to know that we are not in this alone. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is with us, bearing our burdens, hearing our cries, and catching our tears. Whether you find your heart tired because of the external pandemic or your own internal one, you are not alone.

God-Sized Dream

dream

I have a dream. It’s a dream I have had for a long while actually. It’s an actual dream that I have when I go to sleep. And it’s a dream that lives in the subconscious of my mind. It’s a God-sized dream. It’s way too big for me to put into words yet when I close my eyes, I can see it so clearly.

In this dream, I am a part of a ministry team. We have a unique working relationship where we hold one another accountable, lift each other, support one another, have each other’s back, and love each other unconditionally. It’s an amazing team. It has to be amazing because the work we do is hard and risky. It is the kind of work that is emotionally and physically draining. It can impact your relationships with those you love and it can ultimately fatigue the fire of the Holy Spirit within you if you are not held accountable to rest. Yes, it’s an amazing team because it’s an amazing job.

We have a church building … sort of. I mean, we always have a roof over our heads, at least. But it’s not the kind of building you think of when you think of “church.” No, we meet wherever we can. Sometimes it’s a school. Sometimes it’s a warehouse. Other times it’s in a living room or community center. But we always have a building to gather in. God always provides that holy space. There are times, in my dream, where I miss the beauty of the traditional sanctuary — the stained glass and the unique architecture. But this church is a different kind of church. In my dream, this church is the people, not the building.

What makes this church different? Well, we do gather together weekly just like other churches. We gather to worship God and reset our spiritual needs through hearing the Word and sharing in Holy Communion. But the gathering doesn’t stop there. After worship, we get to work! In my dream, this body of believers has embraced the Great Commission – 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. Matthew 28:19-20  So, we go.

In this church, every single member has a role to play. No one sits on the sidelines regardless of age or unique ability. We have prayer warriors, teachers, carpenters, doctors, listeners, financial advisors, letter writers, and care providers. If you’re able to take a breath, you’re able to serve God and in my dream, all the members embrace this fact as given in Scripture. When one member fails to be all-in, the body of Christ is not complete.

There are mission teams both locally and internationally. They are trained and excited for the opportunity to serve God by reaching others in the name of Jesus Christ. These folks travel all over the world, being led by the Holy Spirit. Locally, the focus is the same yet very different. This team’s focus is still reaching the lost but specifically, the lost to mental illness. We have a program that welcomes those with mental illness. There are treatment groups led by professionals. In addition to the professional help that is free, there are support groups that focus on addiction, anxiety, depression, and others. It’s a constant hub of giving and receiving in the name of Christ. And it’s a beautiful thing.

In this dream, I see children taking ownership of mission projects where they lead and love in a way that only children can. I see youth becoming bold in their convictions while wrestling with things of the world and things of the Kingdom. I see deep Biblical studies taking place within the youth and a true Bible school within the children’s program.

The adults are hungry for the Word and the number of studies available are plentiful. There are studies for the disciple as well as studies for the seeker. There are studies to grow a couple in their marriage and studies to guide someone in their singleness. These meet all over the area, from coffee houses to kitchen tables.

And oh how we pray. We pray together. We pray alone. We pray for one another and for the world around us. We pray boldly, with conviction. We believe in the power of prayer so we claim our prayers in the name of Jesus Christ. And the results are miraculous because we pray.  We really pray.

But…it’s only a dream. And yet, God has so profoundly placed this dream upon my heart I wonder what is next. I have been struggling with the silence of God for a few weeks but now I wonder if perhaps He’s been shouting so loud it’s become deafening? Why THIS dream? Why now? There are times when I sit straight up in bed in the middle of the night after having snippets of this dream. In those moments, I try to settle back into a restful place but my mind begins spinning and the possibilities clash violently with the truth that money is the mountain I can’t seem to scale. If I am honest, I must admit that it’s in those moments that my faith lacks the complete surrender I long to have in trusting God to provide should I step off this safe ledge I am on.

 By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. Hebrews 11:8

I have a dream. It’s a God-sized dream. And God often speaks in dreams. Is God speaking now… or is it only a dream?

#uncharted2020

 

Uncharted

Uncharted.

This pretty much sums up my journey with God at the moment! I have no idea what is happening or coming next, but I am trusting Him.

But trust is not easy when the silence of God grows so loud it’s overwhelming. Unfortunately, that’s exactly the wilderness I find myself in. The beauty of the wilderness, however, is that the solitude requires introspection. And often that will lead to a profound revelation from God. I think about the different wilderness experiences in Scripture. Initially being in the wilderness brings forth images of discomfort or trials. But every story leads to a God-ordained deliverance. And that is the promise I cling to, as well!

For the last three years, I have had my one word and scripture. For 2020, my word is UNCHARTED. Truthfully, my heart is pounding just thinking of posting this because it makes it real. But uncharted is where I am. For someone who is typically on top of things and knows what the next step is, being uncharted means stepping up to the edge of the unknown, closing my eyes, and asking God to push. Gosh, it’s hard, made harder due to my daily struggle with anxiety. I have absolutely no idea what God has in store for me and the ministry I’m called to do. But I know that it’s going to be greater than I could dream possible.

Hebrews 11:8 is my verse of the year. Abraham was in uncharted waters and yet he was faithful.

“By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place that he was to receive as an inheritance. And he went out, not knowing where he was going.”

My prayer for the year is a simple one.

“Oh my Lord, I don’t know where you are calling me to go but I will obey if you lead me!”

And my song is The Very Next Thing by Casting Crowns.

I spend all my time
Dreaming what the future’s gonna bring
When all of this time
There’s a world passing by
Right in front of me
Set my sights on tomorrow
While I’m tripping over today
Who says big things
Are somewhere off in the distance
I don’t want to look back
Just to see all the times that I missed it
I want to be here and now
Starting right here, right now
With the very next words of love to be spoken
To the very next heart that’s shattered and broken
To the very next way you’re gonna use me
Show me the next thing
I’ll do the next thing
Let my very next breath
Breathe out a song of praise to you
With my very next step
Be on a road that was planned by you
Lord, wherever you’re leading me
That’s where I want to be
Eyes wide open I see you working
All around me you’re on the move
Step by step I’m running to meet you
In the next thing, in the next thing

As 2019 winds down, it will go out in silence for me. But I will thank God for the silence because I’m certain 2020 will be an adventure only God could prepare me for!

Happy Uncharted New Year!