Psalm 103

As a father has pity on his children, so the Lord has pity on his worshipers.

 For he has knowledge of our feeble frame; he sees that we are only dust.                                          Psalm 103:13-14

Psalm 103 is about my favorite part of the Bible. It has a lot to do with how we see God, and more importantly, how He sees us.  So many times in my counseling practice, I have talked with people who cannot understand why God would love them. They certainly don’t feel it, and perhaps were never taught it.

They may have grown up with the idea of a judging, angry God. Sometimes this was informed by a father who did not show warmth or kindness, or perhaps one who was even abusive. However it happens, people often miss the understanding of God as a loving father.

Such an understanding colors our view of everything. If God is not a loving father, maybe he is an angry, judgmental one whom we can never please. Or maybe God is a distant, absent father who periodically checks in when we call for help, but really cannot be counted upon.

My understanding of the nature and character of God is one of a loving father who sees our frailty. He knows how we are made, but does not blame us for our failures to always do the right thing. He forgives us as we seek him for it.

We fathers know how much we love our children. If God loves us like that, and He does, we can feel secure in that relationship. It changes how we see the world.

Prayer: Thank you Father for loving us right where we are, Amen

Warmth

So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Colossians 3:12-14 (The Message)

I had a discussion with a client today about the value of warmth in relationships. I define warmth as effective non-verbal communication. We determine warmth by eye contact, smiles and facial expressions, body posture, and physical touch. Obviously, warmth can be effectively expressed verbally, but our reception of the validity of that expression is more powerfully received non-verbally. It seems that we are conditioned to accept actions more readily than words. Further, we do not always trust the words of people, but we will trust our own interpretations of actions toward us.

Consequently, we can convey so much through smiles and eye contact with others. Children instinctively pick up on smiles and eye contact, even as infants. They learn to trust those expressions long before they understand language.

Finally, physical touch anchors our words. When we speak with someone and put a hand on their shoulder, or perhaps touch their arm, for example, their memory of what we have just said is greatly enhanced.

So, warmth is important in our interactions with others. Being aware of expressing warmth is an important part of those communications.

Prayer: Let our warmth toward others be genuine and well expressed, Amen

Old Skins, New Wine

No one puts a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment; for the patch pulls away from the garment, and the tear is made worse.  Nor do they put new wine into old wineskins, or else the wineskins break, the wine is spilled, and the wineskins are ruined. But they put new wine into new wineskins, and both are preserved.”                                                                                                                                                                              Matthew 9:16-17

Jesus used parables to teach principles to his disciples. He used common, everyday materials in the world as examples- like sowing seeds; the lilies of the field; the birds of the air; sheep; houses built upon sand and those built upon rock; and wine and wineskins. He was a practical and effective teacher.

He used a parable about new wine and old wineskins to teach about our receptiveness and our ability to take in change. He said that if you pour new wine into old wineskins, since those skins have already been stretched to the limit, the old skins may burst as the “new wine” ferments and expands.

I was having a discussion today with some dear friends who are about my age. We have a lot of experience in the service we do, but we agreed that there comes a time when the next generation must be handed the torch. We can change to accommodate new ideas, and we do, but there comes a time for new wineskins.

This does not mean that we just give up and retire. We still have a lot to offer. Our challenge is to recognize when and how to hand over that torch of leadership, yet also to stay as fresh and relevant as we can.

Prayer: Lord, help keep us fresh and receptive as we pass the torch of leadership, Amen

E=Mc₂

“I believe in God- who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of the universe.”                                                               Albert Einstein

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.  For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him.  He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.                                                                                                                                                                           Colossians 1:15-17

This famous formula put forth by Albert Einstein literally changed the world. Many other physicists and chemists did amazing work on nuclear physics, (among them, female physicist Lise Meitner, who I think was never given her due), but Einstein’s formula caught our collective attention.

Maybe because in one formula, he seems to have lifted the veil of the secrets of the universe. By recognizing that matter and energy are the same thing and interchangeable, he seemed to get a behind the scenes picture of God’s creation. Then he was able to convey that in this simple equation. Of course, the formula is not simple in its depth, but it conveys so much in such a little space.

I do not know much about Einstein’s personal relationship with his creator. I do think that he came to know that this masterful creation was splendid and awesome, and well beyond even his magnificent mind.

In the book of Colossians, Paul makes a profound statement about the Son being the creator of all things visible and invisible. He is also the energy holding it all together. Matter and energy are interchangeable, and Paul, not knowing the science of this, spoke the spiritual truth of it long before Einstein gave the science of it.

Prayer: We live in an amazing world that God has created, and we see that his truths are everlasting, Amen

“You Can Observe a Lot by Just Watching”

You Can Observe a Lot by Just Watching                                                                                                                                                                                          Yogi Berra

For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.                                                                                                                         Jeremiah 29:11

We have a robin who has built her nest in a wreath on our front door. This must have been a good idea for her, since she is the second bird who has built a nest in that wreath this spring. It is not, however, a good idea for us. She had built the nest pretty quickly, and we really only took notice after she had laid her eggs. We decided that we would give her as much privacy as one can, given that the nest is on a door that does need to open periodically.

We decided to use other egress out of the house when we would leave- usually the garage, or the door to the deck. She has become as comfortable as a bird can be under the circumstances, living just on the other side of our door, and always visible through the windows on the door.

The other day while working in the front yard, I upset her and her boisterous mate who jealously helps her guard “their territory”. They squawk, yell, chirp and make whatever other bird sounds that signal – I suppose – fear and anger.

I thought about this from another perspective. This is my house, and they are mad because I am present on my own property. I mean them no harm. In fact, we have gone out of our way to give them a safe place, undisturbed (generally) for them to prosper. If they only knew that we are trying to help them and protect them so that they can launch their little ones into the world.

Yet they are skittish, angry at my presence, and feel threatened when we get too close.

Then I thought about how we sometimes treat God in his creation. We sometimes fail to remember his love and protection for us, even becoming angry at him when our plans go awry. He means for us to prosper, even when we don’t understand the situation.

Prayer: Thank you for your plans, your ways, which are higher than our ways, Amen

Mind Candy

I’ll refresh tired bodies; I’ll restore tired souls                                                                                       Jeremiah 31:25 (The Message)

Yes, what a ridiculous title for a blog. However, it seems to fit the mood of the story. Today I talk about the “little oases” that we look forward to in order to deal with stresses in our life. Everyone has stress, and everyone needs to find those “little oases” to get a drink of “cool water” to refresh the mind, body and soul.

What are those little things that you do for yourself for refreshment?

OK, I’ll start- reading a Grisham novel; managing my fantasy baseball team; yard work; writing; following the Cincinnati Reds and baseball in general; walking while listening to a podcast; reading about history. There are others to be sure, but those come readily to mind for me.

I write this because I think we all need to be open and honest about the need for refreshment in our busy lives. It is not really optional. I also think that actually stating them out in the open somewhat validates them, and helps us to see the things that we really find refreshing- things we look forward to doing. They become a real and important part of our life.

For some very busy people, that list may be short and infrequently visited. Sometimes, of course, that is unavoidable for a season. However, I encourage you to think through your “mind candy” list and see if you are paying attention to it. If we keep ourselves refreshed, it helps body, mind and spirit.

I am hoping that you can make a nice and pleasant list for yourself!   

Prayer: Lord, you have created us to be productive and healthy, and you have also built into us a Sabbath principle. Help us to follow it, Amen

May is Mental Health Month

Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own                                                                                                               I Corinthians 6:19

May is Mental Health Month. It has, over the years, become much more on the radar of our culture to have awareness and appreciation for our mental health needs. When I started into my mental health professional career in the mid 1970’s (“Wow, are you that old?” you ask), there was quite a stigma in seeking counseling and psychiatric care. Fortunately, I have seen that diminish over the years so that now, people can and do openly speak about seeking treatment for mental health concerns.

Mental health care must be considered in the same realm as physical health care. Indeed, mental health is health. One cannot separate the effects of bodily health and mental health. They deeply connect with, and affect, one another. Good treatment for mental health ALWAYS considers the physical state of the client. I always ask that my clients seek out their physician for an examination, especially around issues like blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid problems, weight management, sleep quality, any new physical symptoms, and exercise limitations, among other physical indicators.

Similarly, almost all physicians will encourage their patients to deal with any stress, anxiety, depressive symptoms, or trauma in their life by seeking counseling. It just works that way in a good integrated system. Because physical and mental health are integrated.

So, I am gratified that I have been able to see over my career much less stigma associated with mental health treatment.

It makes for a healthier society.

Prayer: Lord, we are integrated beings, made in your image. Help us to care well for our bodies and minds, Amen

Love Them Anyway

People are unrealistic, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway

Mother Teresa

Real wisdom, God’s wisdom, begins with a holy life and is characterized by getting along with others. It is gentle and reasonable, overflowing with mercy and blessings, not hot one day and cold the next, not two-faced. You can develop a healthy, robust community that lives right with God and enjoy its results only if you do the hard work of getting along with each other, treating each other with dignity and honor.                                                                                                                                                                                   James 3:17-18 (The Message)

This was the “verse of the day” on my app today, and I thought that I could do no better in writing a blog entry than to simply share it with my readers.

In thinking about what constitutes wisdom, we need go no further than this passage. It seems to define wisdom as the pursuit of peace with God through having peace with our fellow man. I have always thought that true worship of God is pursuing peace with his creation, his people, and trying to love them as he loves them.

We parents understand that we receive great joy when our children enjoy, get along with, and love their siblings. I believe that it must please God when he sees his created people striving to love one another and live in peace with one another.

Yet, we also see a great deal of the opposite pretty much all the time. In a broken world, we see so much strife, war and crime that it can be overwhelming. I hearken back to the words of Mother Teresa…

People are unrealistic, illogical, and self-centered. Love them anyway

Prayer: Lord, give us the strength to love people anyway, Amen

Change One Thing…

“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”                                                                                              Reinhold Niebuhr

Depression can feel overwhelming, and when one feels overwhelmed, everything seems hard. Everything is an effort. Yet we know that behaviors that we can control help us to overcome that feeling of helplessness. I tell my clients that if they can manage to change just one little thing in their life, they can change everything. Once we see that we can make some very small changes, it affects how we see the world. From helpless to effective. From passivity to action. Just one little thing…

So, I brainstorm with my clients. Nothing is too small a start. Once they find that a little change actually works, they are encouraged to do more. They have received the energy of action. Physics tells us that a body in motion tends to stay in motion. Less energy is required to keep an object moving than to start it moving. If we can supply just a little energy to start the behavior, we can get momentum.

The “one little thing” can be as small as getting up 15 minutes earlier. Or, perhaps sending a text to a friend they have not heard from in a while. Or, deciding to walk outside for just 15 minutes a day.

While these are small and manageable little behaviors, to a person with significant depression, it can feel daunting. I encourage clients that if they just try this new behavior for a few days, they will see a difference. Indeed, they have become empowered to take charge of their life in small ways.

However, I think it proves the truth- change one thing, change everything.

Prayer: Lord, help us to make the small changes that can change lives, Amen

Attitude

If your heart is broken, you’ll find God right there; if you’re kicked in the gut, he’ll help you catch your breath                                                                                                                                                                     Psalm 34:18 (The Message)

On the surface, attitude is the way we transmit our mood to others. If we are feeling good, we likely will show that to others by the way we interact, both verbally and non-verbally. So too is the fact that if we are feeling angry or depressed, that also will come across in our attitude. Now, what attitude do you think people are drawn to?

Of course, people who are upbeat, smiling and friendly are natural magnets for others. On the other hand, there are many people who struggle with depression who are NOT feeling upbeat and positive. They struggle to put on a smile, engage others, or maybe to even offer a few words to others. They are feeling depressed, and find that it is an effort to just get out of the house, much less engage other people.

People who are depressed tend to isolate from others. Unfortunately, this can bring on a spiral of social isolation which just adds to the depression. Further, if a person who is depressed tries to keep “faking it” to fit in, this becomes not only wearisome, but disingenuous. Putting on a mask to be with other people is a burden that does not get easier with time. It is just that- a burden.

It is not a simple matter of merely advising a person with depression to “just shake it off”. If it were that easy, no one would be depressed. Rather, people who are depressed need understanding and connection from safe and caring others.

Tomorrow, more on this.

Prayer: Lord, give us sensitivity for those around us who suffer, Amen