The ‘Winter’ of Life

Have you felt the chill of that icy wind pierce your soul? Have you been through times when you thought that nothing else could possible go wrong, but it did? Have you wondered if you would ever see the last of it, but you hadn’t, that there was more that could and did go wrong than you could have ever imagined? Have you ever wondered if even God has abandoned you? Were there more questions than answers, and did most of those questions start with “WHY?” Those are the questions of someone going through one or more of life’s winters.

I have written previously about this topic, but with everything that has happened over the last several months, it is a topic worth revisiting.

I have been there, done that and got the T-shirt…many times, but this isn’t about me. Someone else both comforted those in the winter of life, and experienced it first-hand Himself. Our Lord Jesus Christ met several people in the winter of life several times, and then experienced it Himself on the cross.

So, what IS a “winter-event“? Five things come immediately to mind; death, divorce, disease, disability and disaster. This list isn’t all-inclusive, but you get the general-idea. Trauma, in all its forms, also belongs on this list. A “winter-event” is anything that seriously-disturbs what should be the “norm“, something that turns your world upside-down.

In Matthew 9:18-34, Jesus met five people who badly-needed for Spring to come. One was dead, one was sick, two were blind, and one was mute and demon-possessed. Spring returned in a big-way as the dead girl was raised back to life, the sick woman was healed, two blind men received their sight, and the demon-possessed man was freed and his speech was restored.

In Matthew 15:29-31, after healing the daughter of a Gentile woman (15:21-28), a crowd gathered around Jesus, bring many who were sick, lame, blind, mute and maimed, and Jesus, the Bringer of Life, brought healing and Spring back to them. Then, to top it off, He fed the crowd (15:32-39).

In Luke 7: 11-17, Jesus met a funeral procession. A young man had died, and was being carried out to be buried. He was the only child of a woman who was also a widow. Everything dear to her had been stripped away. She was alone, and in mourning, but the story doesn’t end there. The Author and Giver of life stopped the funeral procession and raised the young man back to life. Jesus had met her in her Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here.

In John 4: 1-42, Jesus was traveling, and came to a town in Samaria. The relations between Israel and Samaria were frosty at best. While His disciples went into town to get lunch, Jesus sat by the well to rest a bit. As He was resting, a woman came to draw water, no doubt trailed by a gaggle of children. They were from several different daddies, as she had been married five times. Some of them may have been fathered by the man she was living with, but not married to. The Jews would have considered her a woman of ill-repute, but Jesus wasn’t put off by her bedraggled persona. Jesus met her in her Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here. The Kingdom of Heaven had come to earth in the person of the Messiah, and He touched her heart with healing and grace.

In Luke 8: 42-48, again as Jesus was traveling, a woman touched Him. She was extremely sick and penniless, because she had spent all of her meager income on doctors who couldn’t cure her of her problem. The Great Physician did what only He could do…heal her completely. Jesus met her in her Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here. The Creator and Giver of life is also the Great Physician.

They were a close family, and maybe even lived together. Two sisters and their brother were dear friends of Jesus, but that didn’t keep the unthinkable from happening. The brother fell ill and died. In John 11:1-44, we meet Mary and Martha, and their brother Lazarus. When Lazarus fell ill, Mary and Martha sent word to Jesus that their brother was sick, but He didn’t even make it back in time for the funeral. When Jesus did come back into town, Lazarus had already been dead for four days. Mary and Martha knew that Jesus could have healed Lazarus, but He didn’t, but He did meet them in their Winter, and proclaimed that Spring is here. Grieving sisters met the Resurrection and the Life, and Lazarus rejoined his family.

Simon Peter was part of the inner-circle, one of Jesus’ closest associates. He was bold, brash, arrogant, and often mouthy. On that last journey to Jerusalem, he proclaimed his undying loyalty to his Lord. That was until Jesus was arrested, and he met a servant-girl. Then, he was faced with his most severe test, and failed. He denied his Lord, not just once, but three times. Heart-broken, he went back to fishing, his old occupation (Matthew 26:69-75), but the story doesn’t end there…

Jesus had met others in their Winter, and had proclaimed that Spring has come, but He still had to face His own Winter. Jesus had always had perfect fellowship with His Father (John 1:1-5). Jesus took on our flesh and blood (John 1:14), so that He could experience our winter with us. When Jesus was crucified, He experienced His own winter (Matthew 27:45). The perfect, sinless, Son of God, who had not experienced separation from his Father for even a picosecond, was abandoned, forsaken. God turned His back on His own Son… Our Winter became His Winter… He experienced Winter first-hand…

Three days later, Spring returned in a big way, as Jesus was resurrected. Not only did Spring return, but He had purchased our Spring for us. Grieving friends were met by the risen Savior (Matthew 28:9-10) and (John 20:11-18). Jesus had conquered our worst enemy – death. He who was the Resurrection and the Life was alive and well.

Jesus had only been resurrected for a few hours when He met Mary at the tomb. The loss of a loved-one to death is certainly a “Winter” experience. She had seen Him crucified, but His prediction that He would be raised again on the third day had gone right over her head. The risen Lord, in speaking her name, proclaimed that Spring is here, and she was to share the good news with the rest of His disciples. (John 20:11-18)

A short time later, Jesus met two of His disciples on the dusty road to Emmaus. They had also seen Him crucified, and all their hopes and dreams were dashed. They imagined a conquering Messiah who would liberate Israel from Roman bondage. Instead, they experienced the Suffering Servant who Isaiah had foretold. When Jesus broke bread with those two broken-hearted disciples, their eyes were opened, Spring came in like a lightning-bolt, and their grief was turned to joy. Even though they had planned to stay in Emmaus that night, they high-tailed it back to Jerusalem to tell the rest of the disciples. Good news can’t wait. (Luke 24:13-35)

After the resurrection, Jesus met Peter in his winter, and gave him a new commission. He was to tend His sheep…to be an under-shepherd to the Great Shepherd. (John 21:15-17). Peter was to proclaim to others that Spring has come…

Are you experiencing those icy winds of winter? If so, I invite you to come to the One who has experienced our winter, and has proclaimed that Spring is here. Do those memories of winters-past still haunt you? I invite you to lay them at the foot of the cross, and receive the healing which only He can give. We have a great High Priest; “Therefore, in all things He had to be made like His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For in that He Himself has suffered, being tempted, He is able to aid those who are tempted.” “Seeing then that we have a great High Priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Hebrews 2:17-18, 4:14-16), Who has experienced our winter, and stands ready to heal us, and proclaim that Spring IS here.

We often think that our problems are too tough, and our Winter is too bleak, but He who conquered sin and death also said; “ALL authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching the to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to even the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20)

These “Winter” events in our lives remind us that we lost far more than our innocence in the Fall. Life itself became tenuous and fragile. We aren’t in Eden any more.

As a fellow-sojourner, who has experienced more than my “fair-share” of the winters in life, I am here to proclaim the Good News that spring IS here. As we look back on our Lord’s passion week and His resurrection, there is no better time to bring your Winter to find the Spring which only He can bring. The clinic is open, the Doctor is in, walk-ins are always welcome, and there is no waiting. The price is already paid. Come as you are… Will you come to Him for healing? I pray that you do, because you will be glad you did.

Sola Deo Gloria!

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Do Firearms Belong In Churches?

Several high-profile church-massacres in recent years beg the question; “How should we protect our churches and their members?” While we expect that our homes and our churches will be “safe-spaces“, home-invasions occur every day, and church shootings are occurring all too frequently. The church massacre in Sutherland Springs, Texas last Fall drove this point home to me. The only thing that ended that carnage was a few well-placed shots made by a “good-guy-with-a-gun“. Are there really any “safe-spaces” left?

Any time there is a massacre in a place where we should be able to assume is a “safe-space“, there are always questions about what went wrong and how best to prevent similar incidents in the future. One thing we know for certain, is that bad-guys always select “soft-targets“, because the last thing the bad-guy wants is to become the victim of his own chicanery. “Soft-targets” are “easy-targets“, regardless of where and what they are, and a “No guns allowed” sign is like a “Welcome Mat” . One of the questions is “How “hard” is “hard-enough”?”

You can’t get into the capital building without passing a controlled entrance, metal detectors & capital police. How far would you get walking into any other government building, court house, major bank, sports or entertainment venue, media headquarters, or airport with a weapon? Disney, the “happiest place on earth“, uses metal detectors and has armed-security. If these places have been made into “hard-targets“, are they more “important” than the other places we go? Are they more “important” than our churches? Money is transported in armored trucks protected by armed-guards. Is money more “important” than human life?

The White House is protected with multiple-layers of security, controlled by the Secret Service – armed to the teeth. Our politicians are surrounded by an armed-web of security. Are they more “important” than the rest of us? What about our entertainers? The Oscars was crawling with armed-security, some of it visible, some of it hidden. Are the “stars” more “important” than us and our families? They would have us believe so…

While this is about churches, not schools, the recent wave of mass-murders in schools has many people asking how we can protect our children from harm. Some would-be killers have been intercepted by armed-security, limiting the impact of their intentions. Armed-security works. It is of course, an extremely sad commentary on our society that we would need to harden the schools populated with our children. But at some point, we will almost assuredly ask the question we’ve asked about these other facilities. It’s not why would we do it, but why did we wait so long?

Let’s end the gun control debate & just protect our children & schools like we do elected government officials.

As we have seen recently, not even restaurants are safe. There was a shooting at a restaurant in Oklahoma City, and a bombing at a restaurant in Canada. Can’t we at least eat in peace and safety? Apparently not. No place is immune…

NOTE: This is NOT about “gun-control” or “reasonable gun-laws“, because we already have way too many laws on the books and more won’t change a thing. Criminals don’t obey the law, or they wouldn’t be criminals, so more laws are worthless except to restrict the rights of law-abiding citizens.

Some dear friends of mine belong to a church which has armed-security every time the doors are open. They have also restricted access to the main-entrance only, particularly during services. They live in a state where it is way too easy to find yourself in the wrong place at the wrong time, as I well know from living there for several years. Yes, the threats are real. Does that mean that they don’t trust God to protect them? No, but they aren’t stupid either, and God sometimes uses “means” for self-protection.

There are two polar-opposite “camps” when it comes to “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions. On one side are those who have no qualms about “hardening” churches and related Christian institutions, including having armed-guards. Some even post signs indicating that there is armed-security on the premises. On the other side are those who believe that they are “honoring God” by refusing to protect themselves, thus “proving” that they are more “spiritual” than those who arm and protect themselves. My question for the latter group is “Are you courting martyrdom?” Do they even lock their doors? We can stick our heads in the sand, or we can acknowledge that churches require security from criminal assault just like every other organization.

When King David retrieved the Ark of the Covenant from where it had been stored after the Philistines returned it, it was escorted by thirty-thousand armed men – an army. (2 Samuel 6)

Even while Jesus was preparing to be arrested, He started preparing His disciples for their expanded-role in spreading the Gospel. While the Parable of the Good Samaritan was indeed a parable, it represented a real-life problem in that part of the world. There WERE thieves and robbers, and they would prey on anyone they could, particularly if they were defenseless. There was safety in numbers while they were all together, but that wouldn’t always be the case. They needed to be prepared.

35 And He said to them, “When I sent you out without money belt and bag and sandals, you did not lack anything, did you?” They said, “No, nothing.” 36 And He said to them, “But now, whoever has a money belt is to take it along, likewise also a bag, and whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one. 37 For I tell you that this which is written must be fulfilled in Me, ‘And He was numbered with transgressors’; for that which refers to Me has its fulfillment.” 38 They said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.” And He said to them, “It is enough.” (Luke 22:35-38)

Some commentators interpret “It is enough.” as “Enough of this nonsense“, as if Jesus didn’t REALLY just say “whoever has no sword is to sell his coat and buy one.”, but in this context, that interpretation is playing-off of their own cultural-hangups, not the clear-meaning and spirit of the text. Neither Jesus, nor the rest of the Bible, ever denies a person the right to lawful self-defense, and Jesus never told His disciples to leave their weapons at home. Evidently Peter wasn’t the only one “packing-heat”.

Maybe you are questioning the wisdom of having weapons in God’s house, but we haven’t always been this hesitant to protect what really matters – God’s house. The Gospels include many references to “temple guards” and “officers of the Chief Priest“.

When Jesus was buried, the Jewish religious leaders were afraid that His disciples would steal His body and claim that He was alive, so after getting Pilate’s approval, they set a guard over His tomb. (Matthew 27:62-66)

After Jesus rose from the tomb, the Jewish religious leaders paid-off the guards to lie about the resurrection. (Matthew 28:11-15)

Captains of the Temple” is mention during Jesus’ arrest. (Luke 22:52)

Officers sent to arrest Jesus failed in their mission. (John 7:32, 44-46)

Part of the mob that arrested Jesus included “officers from the chief priests and Pharisees” (John 18:3)

In the 1st Century, Herod’s Temple was incredibly-ornate, not to mention, fabulously-wealthy. All of the articles used in worship were solid-gold, and there were hundreds of them. All temple-taxes and donations were in cash and there were no banks to deposit that money in, so it had to be kept in the temple-treasury. Thus, 24/7/365 armed-security was an absolute-necessity. The temple guards also kept order in the Temple and enforced the segregation-regulations.

Segregation-regulations“? Yes, there were three “courts” in the Temple. Only Jewish men were allowed in the inner-court, closest to the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies. The second-court, or the “court of the women” was for Jewish women. The outer-court was known as the “court of the Gentiles“, so someone had to make sure that nobody went where they didn’t “belong“. The Jewish leaders weren’t beyond requiring a “robe-check” to make sure Gentiles didn’t get where they didn’t belong.

Do you remember where the first mention of an armed-guard is in the Bible? Would you believe Genesis 3:24, in the Garden of Eden? After God tossed Adam and Eve out of the Garden, He placed an angel with a flaming-sword at the entrance to the Garden. Because God met Adam and Eve in the Garden, it could rightfully be considered “God’s house“.

Yea, but… but they didn’t have firearms back then… No, they had swords, spears and bows – weapons. Firearms are simply updated-weapons. Weapons technology has come a long way in the past two-thousand years.

The Vatican, which is entirely-within the city of Rome, has its own security-force, and the Pope has his own personal body-guards, the Swiss Guards. The Pope is the most powerful religious-leader in the world, and his beliefs and opinions aren’t always popular.

“After-action-review” or “Arm-chair-analysis”…

I don’t usually like to do “after-action-reviews” or “arm-chair-analysis” on recent events, but there are way too many obvious lessons to be learned from them. Let’s look at what we know about these recent shootings, notice what went wrong, and what could have been done better. Note: I don’t have any “insideinformation“, so everything I know is based on whatever information is publicly-available.

Louie’s Lakeside Restaurant – Oklahoma City

While this shooting was stopped fairly-promptly by two men with their own guns, they had to retrieve their guns from the trunks of their cars first. Neither one had a Concealed Carry Permit, and the Governor of Oklahoma had just vetoed a “Constitutional-Carry” Bill which had been passed by the State Legislature. The Governor had gone against the will of the people as expressed by the Legislature. Had their guns been immediately-available, the outcome might have been even better.

The shooter had exhibited bizarre-behavior and had come to the attention of the FBI, but that didn’t prevent him from becoming a Licensed Security Guard with the right to carry a weapon. Why?

Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School – Parkland, Florida

A security-analysis of MSD High School had been done by a retired Secret Service agent two months prior to the event, but it was ignored, swept under the rug. The School Board had Grant Money available for school-security-upgrades, but hadn’t used that money for what it was intended for. Authorities at all levels, including the FBI, had ignored all the warning-signs that the shooter was a serious-threat… because he was a “minority“.

The Sheriff’s Deputy who was the School Resource Officer cowered outside while the carnage went on, as did three other Deputies. What happened to “Protect and Serve“?

First Baptist Church – Sutherland Springs, Texas

I spent many years in that part of the country, and in rural-areas, a gun-rack and hunting-rifle is pretty much “standard-equipment” in most pickup-trucks, and yet, regardless of how many hunting-rifles were in vehicles in the church parking-lot, they were worthless, because the shooter was BETWEEN those gun-owners and their guns. Those guns might as well have been at home in a gun-safe.

The shooter should have been ineligible to buy and own weapons due to his violent-past, but because he was in the Air Force when they happened, and the Air Force had neglected to enter his data into the FBI database, he never got “flagged“.

It took someone OUTSIDE the church, with immediate-access to a weapon and the skill to use it, to finally end that carnage. Texas has some of the most liberal handgun-carry laws in the nation, and yet nobody was armed. Why?

Your church – my church

Is YOUR church in a “safe-area“? Mine would seem to be, but the County Sheriff, who knows the “lay-of-the-land” far-better than I do, put out a video recently encouraging County residents to do whatever is necessary to be able to carry a gun to protect themselves. What does he know? Maybe there is only a “veneer” of safety…

The leadership of each church must analyze the level of risk, and decide how much risk is “acceptable”. As “under-shepherds” commissioned by our Lord, with the responsibility to care for the “flock”, not only spiritually, but physically while they are “on-campus”, they must decide wisely. Can they really AFFORD to not provide “sheep-dogs” (armed-security) to protect the “flock”?

Some of you may recoil in horror at the thought of even owning a gun, let alone carrying it to and in church, but there is nothing “unchristian” about protecting yourself and those you love from harm and violence. As always, your thoughts and comments are welcome here.

Steve

Have We “Institutionalized” Grief?

Let’s face it, nobody is comfortable with grief, either their own, or anybody else’s. Grief makes us uncomfortable. Grief is “strange“, and because no two people’s grief-journey is the same, we don’t know how to deal with it. As I have read other articles about grief, and through my own experiences, I have come to the unmistakable-conclusion that we may have “institutionalized” grief by trying to “compartmentalize” and suppress it. Our society would say;

Grieve in private, but act like you are “normal” otherwise.

What is grief?
Grief is an “intense emotional suffering caused by loss, misfortune, injury or evil of any kind“. WOW! That brush is pretty broad, but for those who have suffered from these kinds of experiences, it should come as no surprise that grief comes calling too. Grief is a journey, not a destination…

Grief has many causes…
Grief is the result of some kind of death. Death is the unwanted guest in human life. We do not want it; we often fear it; we cannot command it; and we hate our helplessness. As hard as we try to stave it off, it relentlessly comes into our lives and the lives of those we love. The experience is universal; nobody is immune; death is no respecter of persons, young or old, rich or poor; all will experience death, because death came as a result of the Fall.

While we commonly think of grief as being related to the death of a loved-one, and that kind of grief reaches the deepest into our soul and psyche, death isn’t the only cause of grief. Grief may be caused by any “death-like” experience, such as the deterioration of a relationship or loss of a job. Grief may be caused by anything that turns our world upside-down, anything that seriously upsets the “status-quo“. Grief-causes may “stack-up“, further turning our world upside-down, and compounding our grief.

Trauma, in all its forms, causes grief, because whether it is the loss of innocence for a sexual-abuse survivor, or the loss of bodily-function in someone who has survived a serious accident, injury or disease, something HAS been lost. The “normal” has been replaced by something that is NOT normal. Whatever has been lost will cause grief for that loss.

We often seem to want people who have suffered terrible things to just “get over it”. They cannot. Evil has real impact and does real damage. (Diane Langberg PhD)

Imagine being forced out of your home, losing your job, losing your spouse, getting four death-threats AND losing your family, all within the space of about three months. That was what I experienced in 1997. Everything that could go wrong – did, in spades. Any one of those events would have been bad-enough by itself, but each “shoefall” compounded the situation. To add insult to injury, my wife had died by her own hand – suicide, and her family had the audacity to blame me for her death. Is it any wonder that, when I walked into that first divorce-support-group meeting, I was bonkers-crazy? I wouldn’t have blamed them for telling me to hit the door and never come back, but they didn’t. They loved me through my craziness, for six long months.

All of the faces of grief are part of one over-arching task: learning to let go, learning to live without what once was, learning to wear something that feels like it does not fit. (Diane Langberg, PhD)

“Bereavement-leave”
I lost both my grandfather and my father-in-law in 1984. As with most major-corporations, the one I worked for had a policy of granting employees “bereavement-leave“, or “paid-time-off“, and the length of this time-off depended on how “close” the family-member was and where lived and were being buried. Both were out-of-state, one in Illinois and one in Oklahoma, so I was allowed to take five days off – with pay. Had they been local, ie, in state, I would have only received three days paid-leave.

What if I had been responsible for their funeral-arrangements? Any additional time-off I needed would have to come from my vacation-time. Each time, when I got back to work, I had to pick-up where I left-off, as if nothing had happened, but it wasn’t a “nothing” that had happened. I had lost my grandfather and my wife had lost her father. Those weren’t “nothing” events. They were real losses. What if my wife had really needed me more than for just a few days? BTW, she was thirty-four-weeks-pregnant with our third child. Is three or five days off really “enough“?

The Israelites mourned Moses’s death for thirty-days (Deuteronomy 34:8). “Great-leaders” are often “laid-in-state” for several days after they pass. Is anyone less “worthy” to be “laid-in-state“, and yet, only the “powerful” and “well-connected” are given this honor…

“Celebration of Life” events…
What better way to shew grief out of our lives than to celebrate the dead-person’s life? It no longer is important that they are no longer with us (DEAD) as long as we still have good memories of them. They might as well have moved away and left no forwarding-address…

Funerals and memorial services still honor our memories of the deceased, but they also remind us that we have lost someone we were close to and held dear. We mourn their loss at a funeral. We try to forget the loss at a “celebration of life” event. Yes, there is a difference…

One of the reasons we so often criticize another’s grieving process or rush them along in their grief is because we have not yet really accepted the reality, the finality, the crushing nature of trauma, endings or death ourselves. (Diane Langberg PhD)

Life Must Go On…Grief does too…
Bills still have to be paid, groceries bought, food put on the table, and the family tended-to…

Grief goes on too…

Jobs still have to be done…

Grief goes on too…

Life goes on…

And so does grief…

Grief waits for no-one…

Grief shows up unbidden at random and inopportune moments…

Shortly after I lost Connie, as I was going into a support-group meeting, someone asked me how I was doing. I told them; “Doing okay. I’m tough. I’m resilient.” Who did I think I was kidding? I was a basket-case, but I didn’t want to admit it.

The darkest place in the grieving process is somewhere along the way as the shock wears off and denial can no longer numb, a sense of hopelessness and despair can settle in. (Diane Langberg, PhD)

How long does grief last?
Grief has no “time-line“…

Grief has no “expiration-date“…

The faces of grief do not occur in a linear fashion. Everyone’s grief experience is unique. No two people go through the grieving process in the same way or on the same timetable. (Diane Langberg, PhD)

We just passed Mother’s Day, my second without my mom, and as I walked into church, a close friend said “Happy Mother’s Day“, and how much I still miss mom hit me like a freight-train. I was probably too numb from just losing her last year to notice it, but not this time. I had lost my very best friend. Mom’s are special, and mine was the best of the best.

Its reappearances many years later may be “triggered” by similar-events…

I lost a “brother” to suicide last October, and his funeral was the day before the twentieth “anniversary” of my wife’s death, to suicide. That was a tough funeral, and a tough weekend.

Suicide isn’t a “normal” death, so it carries with it a LOT of extra “baggage“, and greatly-complicates the grieving-process…

Final thoughts…
Don’t be afraid of your grief – it is a normal part of the healing-process.

Grief is not your enemy. Death is…

Don’t say “I’m okay” even when you’re not.

It’s okay to say “I’m not in a good space right now“, when that is truly how you are feeling.

Don’t “compartmentalize” your grief, thinking it will go-away on its own. It won’t.

Don’t suppress your grief – it will come back to bite you when you least expect it. I know. I did…

Allow yourself to feel sad when you are sad.

I am sad right now, and that’s okay…

You will grieve deepest those you loved most deeply.

It Is Not Good For The Man To Be Alone…

I listened recently to a TEDx talk by a well-known neuro-scientist about why loneliness is dangerous. He spent about twenty minutes talking, showing pictures, charts, graphs and scans of people’s brains, and even though he approached it from a different framework – evolution, he could have summed up his whole talk with the words God spoke thousands of years ago, “It is not good for the man to be alone“.

God has created us for community because God IS a community, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and He began revealing His community in the opening verses of Genesis 1:

In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth (Genesis 1:1), to:

And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters (Genesis 1:2b), to:

The God said, “Let US make man in OUR image, after OUR likeness. Let THEM have dominion… (Genesis 1:26)

So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created THEM. (Genesis 1:27)

We see community throughout God’s entire work of creation, and we see that God created mankind to BE a community.

When God, in Genesis 2, fills us in on some of the details of His creative-work, He reveals the basis of this human-community. After God created Adam, God was Adam’s only companion in the world, and for those who believe that “God is all we need“, it was God who revealed what was unfinished in His design for humanity, not Adam. Adam had God’s undivided-attention, so other than for Jesus Christ, no other human-being has had a closer-connection to God, but at this point, God revealed Adam’s “need“; “It is not good for the man to be alone.”

This wasn’t Adam’s idea: It was God’s declaration.

Even though Adam hadn’t realized it yet, God had created a “wife-shaped-hole” in his heart that only a wife, a spouse, could fill. God’s solution; “I will make him a helper suitable for him.”

When we think of “helper suitable“, we need to understand that God said He was going to make a MATE, for Adam, not just a “helper“, as we think of a “helper“. While we may be tempted to think that Adam only needed Eve for reproduction, God created Eve for far more than just reproduction. That was certainly part of the equation, but Eve was to be Adam’s companion, his “co-regent“, his “other-half“, as they carried out the mission that God had given them. Together, they would be greater than “the sum of their parts“.

18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him.” 19 Out of the ground the Lord God formed every beast of the field and every bird of the sky, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called a living creature, that was its name. 20 The man gave names to all the cattle, and to the birds of the sky, and to every beast of the field, but for Adam there was not found a helper suitable for him. 21 So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then He took one of his ribs and closed up the flesh at that place. 22 The Lord God fashioned into a woman the rib which He had taken from the man, and brought her to the man. 23 The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman (Ishah),
Because she was taken out of Man (Ish).”

24 For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. 25 And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (Genesis 2:18-25)

After Adam picked his jaw up off of the ground when God presented the woman to him, notice what he said:
“This is now bone of my bones,
And flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called Woman (Ishah),
Because she was taken out of Man (Ish).”

WOW!!! I AM NOW COMPLETE!!!

I found an interesting article about how “Ish” and “Ishah” complete humanity;

Ish & Ishah – Together Fully Human
(Adam) said, “This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman (ishah), Because she was taken out of Man (ish).” For this reason a man (ish) shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife (ishah); and they shall become one flesh. (Genesis 2:23-24)

The creation story has many profound things to say about God’s intention for our lives. We can be enriched just by looking closely at the Hebrew words that are used to describe the first human Adam, and then the creation of man and woman.

It may surprise English readers that the word adam is a neutral term meaning “human,” not specifically a man. In the original Hebrew text, all references to Adam are neutral until God takes a rib and some of Adam’s flesh and makes a woman – ishah, in Hebrew. Only at that point is Adam called ish, a man. The Hebrew word ishah hints at her origins from within the ish, something that we can mimic in English, with the words “man” and “woman.” But interestingly, Adam is never called an ish until the ishah has been separated from him. It is as if the text is implying that male and female cannot define themselves fully as human without the other.

We may not realize that this logic is part of the next verse that says that for this reason, when a man and woman marry, they become “one.” They are returning to God’s first design before the ish and ishah were separated. The complementarity between man and woman is inherent in the way they were taken apart from each other, as the first ishah provides what the ish lacks. In God’s design, it is the the two together who ultimately reflect the image of God.
by Lois Tverberg PhD.

Now, for a little test:

If you actually look at what is between your legs, would it truly make sense if there was no complementary gender? Of course not, because, if you are a man, basic-function would only require an outlet to urinate through. The same holds true for women. There used to be a man in the UK who was born without any visible genitals – visibly “genderless“, even though he was genetically-male. He had everything necessary for basic-functions even though he had no obvious genitals. We all have “excess-equipment” if there was no complementary-gender, and some of those parts can be real trouble-makers.

What about that “hole” in our hearts, because, after all, this is really about relationships?
Have you ever heard a spouse call their spouse their “other-half“, or maybe, their “better-half“? That is no misnomer, because, as we see from Scripture, we are not “complete” without our spouse, our mate.

Is it any wonder that widows and widowers are very lonely without their “other-half“? The longer they were together, the more the survivor will feel their loneliness. An irreplaceable-part of them died when their beloved passed away, just as Connie took a part of me when she pulled the trigger. We are missing something – our “other-half“.

Is it any wonder that many widows and widowers try to “replace” their missing lover? Of course not, because an imperfect-match may be better than no match at all. Yes, I tried too, but those were poor matches from the get-go. None of them even came close…

What about singles? I’m glad you asked, because God grand design for humanity doesn’t exclude them, just because they don’t have a spouse (mate) – yet. What about those seemingly “happy-singles“? Are they REALLYhappy” being single? Maybe not as much as they like to let-on…

I know a single lady, who is in her early 50’s, who has been single for most of her adult life, after being briefly-married. Is she really “happy“? She may appear to be “happy“, but those of us who really know her know that she really is miserable. She is constantly looking for someone to “go somewhere with her“, and even when she barely had two nickels to rub together, she HAD to renew her Disney annual-pass, because that, along with several other things, is her “escape” from life as a lonely-single. She doesn’t want a room-mate and she doesn’t want a husband, but she is desperate for intimate-connection, which all the entertainment in the world will never provide. I’m sure her story is repeated countless times by those who are desperate for the kind of intimate-connection we were created for, but won’t find anywhere else than as God intended, as couples.

I know another lady who says she LOVES being single, except when she doesn’t – when she craves male companionship. She isn’t willing to make the sacrifices necessary for marriage, and she can’t have it both ways. Yes, marriage takes work, because two people are trying to live together amicably even when they try each other’s patience. Marriage also takes a full-time commitment, and can’t be “on-again, off-again“, at least not Biblically.

What about that “gift-of-singleness“, as some hyper-spiritual people like to call it? Notice that most of the people who talk about the “gift of singleness” are married. How ironic! They like to parade Jesus and Paul around as examples of men who had the “gift-of-singleness“, as if they are to be our examples, our consolation, when we are lonely.

Again, take a close look at their lives:

Jesus hadn’t much more than freshened-up after He tangled with Satan in the wilderness when He started calling disciples, men, who, from a human-relationship-aspect, were to be His buddies and traveling-companions. Jesus had a special-affinity for John (the disciple whom Jesus loved). Paul likewise, nearly-always had one or more traveling-companions. Paul called Luke the “beloved physician“.

Jesus, when asked about marriage and divorce, reiterated both the importance and permanence of marriage:
3 Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?” 4 And He answered and said, “Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” 7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give her a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. 9 And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:3-9)

Marriage is intended to be for keeps – “til death do us part“, and anything else violates God’s intended design. Divorce is an anomaly, NOT part of God’s original-intention for marriage.

Are there any REALcontented-singles“? Yes, and no, depending on how they define being “contented“. I’ll dare say, that if there are REALcontented-singles“, they are “married” to their work. Oh, but what about the Apostle Paul? Wasn’t he “contented“?, Yes, and he was clearly “married” to his work, the job of being an Apostle and a tentmaker.

Paul wrote during the first-century when it was commonly-assumed that Christ’s return was imminent, within their lifetime, so there could be nothing more important than spreading the Gospel. Thus, believers shouldn’t “waste” their time with marriage if it would take away from their ability to spread the Gospel.

8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)

“Better to marry than to burn with passion”? As if sex is the only reason for marriage…

Sex IS important in marriage, but it is NOT all-important. God created us as sexual-beings, and marriage is the only legitimate-outlet for our sexual needs and desires, but marriage is more than sex. Marriage is meant to fill that void, that hole in our hearts which only an intimate-partner can fill. Marriage makes us complete, and in sex, we truly become “one-flesh“, as those parts which are “different” about us are intimately-united. Sex isn’t just a utilitarian good; it’s a gift to be enjoyed by a married couple that images nothing less than the relationship between Christ and his church (Eph. 5:22–33).

There STILL is nothing more important than spreading the Gospel, yet in God’s grand plan, being married is one of the primary qualification for church officers, Elders and Deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

Do you ever wonder why officers in the church are supposed to be married? Marriage, from Genesis to Revelation, is the very picture of God and His people, of Christ and His church. Revelation closes with the great Marriage Supper of the Lamb. We will live in community in Heaven.

Christian marriage is a picture of Heaven!

What about people who are same-sex-attracted (SSA)? They seem to be looking for the same kind of intimate-connection, just in a different way. I know a SSA man who calls his partner his “husband“. He travels a lot, but when he gets back home, he wants to go home to a loving-welcome. Many SSA female couples use similar language. ‘Nuf-said.

Are there “advantages” to being single? Yes, but “sleeping-single-in-a-double-bed” isn’t one of them. Neither is “eating alone at a table-for-two“. Neither is coming home to a quiet-house. Neither is sitting-alone in church. Do you get the point?

Maybe God knew what He was talking about when He said “It is not good for the man to be alone“…

Soli Deo Gloria!

 

 

 

On Death-Row

I am a prisoner on death-row, convicted, not by some criminal court, but by the court of my own memories and the memories of the people I have wronged. While the bars that restrain me aren’t physical, they are far stronger than any physical bars will ever be, because no matter where I go, they are still there, invisible to you, but very real to me. There is no escaping this prison.

As surely as the triple-murderer will never breathe the fresh-air of freedom, some of our past actions have lasting-consequences. My dad had several diseases when he died, but the only one that wasn’t curable was syphilis. Had it been caught and treated at an early stage, it would have been treatable, but by the time it was discovered, it was long-past being effectively-treatable. His past actions were part of his ultimate-demise.

While I don’t have an incurable-disease, some of my past actions DO have enduring-consequences. Yes, I know that, in Christ, my past is forgiven, but God doesn’t always release us from the temporal-consequences of our past. That I wasn’t as good a husband and father to my first wife and children had consequences then, and it has ongoing-consequences now. I became a suicide-survivor and widower in 1997, and my own children also disowned me in 1997. I lost my whole family in one fell-swoop.

That STILL hasn’t been resolved. My two younger daughters blocked me on Facebook immediately after I messaged one of them to notify them that their grandmother had just died. No response, just BLOCKED.

Recently I discovered that I now have six grandkids, by looking through my oldest daughter’s pictures on Facebook (the only one who hasn’t blocked me – yet). When I mentioned this to my brother Steve, he told me that I shouldn’t be doing this to myself. Am I supposed to forget my own flesh and blood?

I wish that I could say that everything has been peachy since then, but it hasn’t been. I still don’t have this “marriage” thing figured out, that is, how to make it last, because I have been married three times since then, resulting in two divorces and one permanent-separation. Permanent-separation? Yes, my wife moved-out of my house over five years ago and moved-in with another man forty-one days after we got married, and she is living as if she is married to him, not to me. While she is living in adultery, my consequence is that I CAN’T “move-on“, because I am legally-bound to her “til death or divorce do us part“. Oh, I forgot that the “or divorce” wasn’t part of our marriage-vows, so that means “til death do us part“. Do you get the picture?

Numerous people, including my counselor at the VA, have told me that I just need to “move on“. Try telling that to a death-row inmate…

Maybe you are thinking to yourself that I am being a bit over-the-top dramatic, but you haven’t walked a mile, or two or five, in my moccasins. Every time I start to experience a sense of “normalcy“, the defecation-hits-the-rotating-blades (SHTF) – again.

Christians are fond of quoting Romans 8:28 to each other during times of trial and distress. I’ve done it to myself quite a few times, but is it REALLY the right thing to say in the moment?

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

This is wonderful theology for the long-haul, but poor comfort in the short-run. This verse has a decidedly futuristic-vision, a vision of glory in eternity that will make all of our earthly-troubles pale into insignificance, but it doesn’t deny that we still struggle.

Please, please, please, before you quote this verse to someone who is going through rough times, enter into their grief and pain for a while, be their comforter when they need one, and avoid pouring more gasoline on their fire, because, in the wrong context, Romans 8:28 can feel like a cruel, sadistic joke to someone who is going through hard times.

We are NOT promised that, in this life, we will ever breathe the sweet air of freedom. Many of us will die “on death-row“, never having experienced relationships restored, never having experienced a “good” marriage, never having experienced what most people consider “normal“.

If things are going fairly-well in your life, give thanks to God, and while you are thanking God that you have a good situation, pray for those of us who are still living “on death-row“. If you meet one of us, please be gentle with us. We need care, concern and understanding, rather than a theology-lecture.

In John 11, Jesus didn’t give Mary a theology-lecture. He entered into her pain, John 11:35. “Jesus wept” is the shortest verse in the Bible, but it is loaded with meaning. Even though Jesus was going to raise Lazarus from the dead, He took time – first – to enter into their grief.

Blessings
Steve

Happy New Year!!!

Yeah, I know, I am fifty-four days late, but better late than never. HAH! Just kidding… Actually, I am NOT kidding. HAPPY NEW YEAR!!! This is a new year. This is the first day of the rest of my life!

Last year was a disaster just about from start to finish, but that disaster didn’t magically resolve-itself January 1st. Lest you have forgotten, I lost my mom to cancer April 4th, and a friend to suicide October 12th. His funeral was October 21st, the day before the 20th “anniversary” of Connie’s death by suicide, October 22, 1997. We had a memorial service January 13th for a friend who had been a part of Cypress Cove Bible Fellowship, and who passed away between Christmas and New Years. That means that 2017 really wasn’t “over” until after January 13th, or was it?

My Brother is STILL in Shand’s Hospital, after having been either in a hospital or a rehab-center for over five months. He has been an inmate in three different hospitals and four different rehab-centers. Yes, you read that right. He hasn’t been HOME in over FIVE MONTHS, and no, he hasn’t been “deployed” somewhere. SO, I have moved MY New Year’s celebration up to February 23rd, my birthday. No, I don’t want my birthday made into a Federal holiday. I’m not THAT important.

As I sat by the pool at Cypress Cove chatting with friends, walking by the lake, or soaking up some sun in the pool, wearing nothing but a grin, a hat and some sunscreen, I thought; “What a great way to start this new year.” I am hoping to get a lot more of that “sunshine-therapy” this year. It is good for both body AND soul.

While you may be thinking that I have lost my mind, I am hoping and praying this new year, beginning today, will truly be a new and better year than last year was.

Life is NOT always a “bed-of-roses” because rose-bushes are guarded by thorns, so to get to the beauty, you have to go through the pain. Reinhold Niebuhr captured these thoughts very elegantly in the “Serenity Prayer“.

The Serenity Prayer
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
as it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His Will;
That I may be reasonably happy in this life
and supremely happy with Him
Forever in the next.
Amen.
–Reinhold Niebuhr

Blessings!
Steve

The LORD is my Shepherd…

As we prepare to bid “Adios” to 2017, a year that, for many of us, has been very difficult, we need to be reminded that the same Shepherd that King David trusted in three-thousand years ago is still on His throne and will lead us onward into and through 2018.

I lost my mom to cancer April 4th of this year. She spent the last 2-1/2 weeks in a Hospice facility, and when I went to see her, I read the 23rd Psalm to her right before I left each time. Even though her thinking wasn’t very clear and she was minimally-responsive, when I read this Psalm to her, she would get the most peaceful-countenance about her as she imagined being led by her great Shepherd. It was all I could do to read the 23rd Psalm at her memorial service without breaking down.

Several of us lost a friend and brother to suicide October 12th. He left his young, pregnant wife and three adorable daughters behind. Other close friends also lost family members this year.

October 22nd was the twentieth anniversary of the death by suicide of my beloved wife, Connie. That kind of loss never goes away, and it is a loss that you don’t just “get-over”.

The 23rd Psalm is the best-know passage in the whole Bible, and even unbelievers want it read at their funeral or memorial service, because it speaks of the kind of comfort and security everyone craves. This is a phrase-by-phrase, part-by-part, meditation, and I hope to open up the richest meaning we can get from this marvelous Psalm.

King David, the author, had been a shepherd long before he was anointed as a king, so he knew intimately what the responsibilities of a shepherd were. As he applied it to us, as sheep under God’s shepherding, he has told us both what our Shepherd will do, and what our response should be.

1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, 3 he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. 4 Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. (Psalm 23)

The LORD – The LORD – Yahweh…the most personal name of God, the great I AM. This was the marvelous name God told Moses to use when he went back to Egypt to carry out the mission God commanded him to do…liberate the children of Israel from bondage.

Is my shepherd – The supreme God of the universe is the One who has taken on the task of being my God, provider, guide and protector. There is no higher authority…no better provider.

I shall not want – I shall not lack the necessities of life. We have become a seriously materialistic society, and we often confuse our “wants” with what we actually need. God is the provider of our needs, and we should be thankful for “our daily bread“.

He makes me lie down in green pastures – Lying down in green pastures is a picture of rest…rest in abundance.

He leads me beside quiet waters – In all the hustle and bustle of life, God wants to lead us to a peaceful place, a place of refreshing…quiet waters.

He restores my soul – Our souls are in turmoil. We see nothing but bad news…broken relationships, violence, wars, and personal brokenness, but God wants to repair and heal our brokenness, and restore us to a right relationship with Him.

He guides me in paths of righteousness – Our first parents left us with a legacy of sin and despair. We are sinners by birth, and sinners by choice, but God wants us to depend on Him for our righteousness. Then, with His enabling, we are able to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

For His name’s sake – God has staked His own reputation on us, and if we do what is right, we are a positive reflection of Him. We should do everything for His glory, not our own.

Even though I walk through the valley of shadow of death – We will all face the valley of death, and maybe many times, as we lose friends and loved ones, but our Lord Jesus has already trod and conquered that lonely valley, and He will guide us safely through. Even though we all will die, unless our Lord returns beforehand, we should see our death not as an exit from this life, but as an entrance-ramp into eternity.

I will fear no evil – Evil IS everywhere around us, because Satan is on the prowl, but his days are numbered. Our Lord Jesus crushed the serpent’s head on the cross, and in so doing, gained the victory over sin and death. Even though evil men may kill us, our victory is assured in Christ. We need not fear the evil one or any of his schemes.

For you are with me – Is there any better assurance? God is with us, and if God is with us, who can successfully be against us. He is our guide, and He walks by our side and carries us when we need to be carried.

Your rod and your staff – These are pictures of both protection and guidance. The rod is a tool of protection from our enemies, and the staff is used to gently guide and direct us in the path.

They comfort me – What greater comfort can we have, than that we are both protected and guided by our faithful Shepherd, even though the path may be rough and steep. This life WILL bring tough times our way, but our comfort must come from the LORD.

You prepare a table before me – This is no ordinary table. It is a lavish banquet table in a magnificent celebration hall, set and prepared by the LORD Himself. We are His honored-guests.

In the presence of my enemies – Our enemies seek to do us harm, but when we are in God’s banquet-hall, all they can do is fuss and fume on the sidelines. God’s banquet-hall is a place of perfect safety and security. We are better-protected than any president ever will be.

You anoint my head with oil – Anointing carries with it a two-fold picture. It is a picture of healing, and also a picture of honor. Priests were anointed for their holy service, and we are anointed both for holy service and as a badge of honor in God’s house.

My cup overflows – A never-ending supply, and a permanent place at His table. There is a limitless supply of His wine of grace.

Sure goodness and mercy – Goodness and mercy=blessings and salvation, which come only from the hand of God. They are not things we can earn or merit.

Will follow me – They will not only follow me, but they will also surround me and en-dwell me.

All the days of my life – God, through Jesus Christ, has guaranteed these blessings for as long as we live.

And I will dwell – Live safely and securely.

In the house – We will no longer be out in the “fields” of life. Instead, we will be HOME, never to be put out to pasture again.

Of the LORD – Our eternal LORD is the provider of our “forever-home“. This reminds me of a child who has been in foster-care for many years, and who has never really had a place to call “home“, but when they are adopted, they are taken to their “forever-home“…the home of their new parents. We have been orphans, but God has adopted us, and He will take us to HIS home…our “forever-home“.

Forever – Do we really comprehend “forever“? If we see someone we haven’t seen in a long time, we may tell them: “I haven’t seen you in forever“, which to us means “a long time“, but that time isn’t even a pin-prick on the time-line of “forever“. The problem is that our minds are constrained by MEASURABLE time, so IMMEASURABLE time is incomprehensible. “Forever” is immeasurable, and we can’t wrap our brains around it, but in fact, that is how “long” we will dwell in the house of the LORD.

Is this LORD your shepherd? I pray that He is, and that you find great comfort in knowing that, no matter what kind of trials come your way, you are in good hands…the hands of the LORD.

Sola Deo Gloria!

Suicide – Twenty Years Later

It has been twenty years since Connie put SUICIDE on my “radar” – October 22, 1997 – by taking her own life on that fateful day, and in some ways, it hasn’t gotten easier. I was reminded – again, of the devastation that is left behind when someone commits suicide. I lost a young friend (29) and brother to suicide, October 12, 2017. Connie left behind our family which will never be “whole” again, and he left his young, pregnant wife and three young children behind.

His wife told me that she felt like she had lost a piece of herself, and she did. I lost a piece of myself when Connie took the “easy-way-out“. We will never regain that lost piece, and nobody can ever “replace” that lost spouse. Why do we lose a piece of ourselves when we lose our spouse? We find that answer in the latter part of Genesis 2:24: “…the two shall become one flesh.” Marriage, as designed by God, is intended to be our deepest, most intimate human relationship. In becoming husband and wife, “one flesh“, we mirror the deep, intimate relationship within the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. We see “unity in diversity“.

Sadly, suicide has become an epidemic in America. Another person takes their own life every twelve minutes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, and one out of five is a Veteran. He was a Veteran, a two-tour combat Veteran. He had uncontrolled and inadequately-treated PTSD. Not even his wife knew how badly he was doing and hurting.

Suicide always demands more questions than there are available answers, not the least of which is “WHY?”. In spite of having more answers than I had a few months ago, thanks to some things I found in my mom’s files, even they asked more questions than they gave answers. I now know that I was kept in the dark about some things, which my mom knew about, for over five years before Connie took her own life. Why wasn’t I told?

Why does suicide seem to “require” a scapegoat, someone to blame? Aren’t there enough questions already, besides wondering what “someone did wrong“? That seems particularly prevalent when that person was married, and so the most common scapegoat is their spouse. Why do families have to play the “blame-game“. Any time a person takes their own life, it is easy to believe that “someone” is to blame. WHY??? Did that “someone” “drop the ball“, “fail to read the signs“, or otherwise “not live up to expectations“? Were they “not as good a spouse as they should have been“? There are people who are still blaming me for Connie’s death twenty years later.

As if it isn’t bad enough that others want to blame us, the survivors, for our spouse’s suicide, we have the tendency to blame ourselves for their suicide. Weren’t we “good enough“? Did we “do something wrong“? Worse yet, “could we have done something to prevent their suicide?“, or, “how did we miss the signs?“… The problem with those lines of thinking is that WE ARE NOT MINDREADERS, and not every person who commits suicide “telegraphs” their intentions beforehand.

As a suicide survivor, and knowing other suicide survivors, I am appalled by how many people take their own lives every year. One of the problems is suicide is that it doesn’t just affect the person who took their own life, but it also affects their family and friends. With that in mind, let’s look at the statistics from the AFSP (https://afsp.org/):

* Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

* Each year, 44,193 Americans die by suicide. To expand on that, a person dies by suicide every twelve minutes, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

* It is estimated that twenty-five people attempt suicide for every people who actually takes their own life.

* On average, there are 121 suicides a day, of which 22 are Veterans, which means that we not only lose five people to suicide every hour, but almost one out of five is a Veteran.

* That means that 121 families and extended-families are bereft of their loved-one every day. How many people does that affect? Thousands per day? Millions per year?

* Firearms account for almost 50% of the suicides each year. The next most common methods were suffocation (including hangings) at 26.8% and poisoning at 15.4%.

* Men die by suicide 3.5x more often than women.

* White males accounted for 7 of 10 suicides in 2015.

* The rate of suicide is highest in middle age — white men in particular. “Mid-life crisis”?

* In 2015, the highest suicide rate (19.6%) was among adults between 45 and 64 years of age. The second highest rate (19.4%) occurred in those 85 years or older. Younger groups have had consistently lower suicide rates than middle-aged and older adults. In 2015, adolescents and young adults aged 15 to 24 had a suicide rate of 12.5%.

* In 2015, the highest U.S. suicide rate (15.1%) was among Whites and the second highest rate (12.6%) was among American Indians and Alaska Natives. Much lower and roughly similar rates were found among Asians and Pacific Islanders (6.4%), and Blacks (5.6%).

These are real people, not just numbers. In more tangible terms:

* We lose a community every day. I live in a community which probably doesn’t even have 121 people in it, so it would be wiped out, and then some.

* We lose a small town every week. There are many small towns that don’t even have 850 residents. They would be a total-loss.

* We lose 3,400 people to suicide every week, which is the equivalent of a modest-size town.

* Our annual losses to suicide would populate a small city.

When we think about those affected by suicide, we immediately think of their immediate-family; spouse, children, siblings, parents, etc., but we often forget that suicide affects far more people than that; church, extended-family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. Nobody takes their own life in a vacuum. When my wife took her own life, it affected nearly the entire community because she was a hometown-girl who was related to at least half of the town through marriage. It was no wonder the church was standing-room-only during her funeral.

We must not forget that suicide doesn’t just strike “secular-people“, “unbelievers“, it strikes Christians as well. My wife was a strong Christian and active in our church. My friend who committed suicide recently was a Christian, as was the pastor’s wife I mentioned in “The Faces Of Suicide“. Just because Christians should always have hope, doesn’t mean that they always HAVE hope. Nobody is immune to staring down that black-hole of hopelessness. Nobody…

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention PTSD. Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental disorder that can develop after a person is exposed to a traumatic event, such as sexual assault, warfare, traffic collisions, or other threats on a person’s life. While Veteran’s PTSD is the most recognized, we can’t leave out the PTSD our First Responders, Firefighters, Police, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and Search and Rescue (SAR) personnel face. Nobody who deals with trauma and death is immune to PTSD, but frequent debriefings do help lessen the effects of PTSD. I was in Search and Rescue for a dozen years, and I have been places, seen and done things I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Why? Because even if we were not able to “rescue” anyone, helping bring “closure” to their families DID matter. PTSD not only affects the person with PTSD, it affects all of their close relationships, particularly their spouse.

FInal thoughts…
Is there more to say? Unfortunately there will always be more to say, because the problem of suicide is only getting worse, not better. I doubt that this is my final word on suicide, because as I learn more, I will pass on what I have learned in hopes of helping prevent even ONE suicide.

Are YOU available to help someone who is contemplating suicide? I am…

Blessings,
Steve

Tired Of Being “Tough”…

I “cracked” last week. No, I didn’t have a total-breakdown, but I was physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted, so I “cracked“. I hadn’t slept much in almost a week. It seemed that my world has come crashing down around my ears, and I couldn’t handle it any more, so I “cracked” – at the VA, in a nurse’s office. I’m grateful that I had SOMEONE to talk to who cared, because the doctor I was there to see only cares about NUMBERSLAB NUMBERS. He couldn’t care less that I hadn’t slept much in almost a week. Taking care of me otherwise is “not-his-job“, “not his department“… That is what I have “other doctors” for….

It wasn’t “fun” sitting there admitting that I was “at the end of my rope“. I am supposed to be “tough” because I am a MAN, and men are “tough“. We don’t “feel” because we are not ALLOWED to “feel“. Our emotions and emotional-needs don’t matter, because we are MEN, and that is what we have been taught from the time we were wee toddlers: “Big-boys don’t cry“, “Suck it up buttercup!“, “Be a MAN!“… What if I am tired of being “tough“?

As I think back a few days, I did the right thing, because I AM tired of being “tough“. This year has been one emotional-onslaught after another. Now, my brother in is Intensive Care in the hospital having had surgery to remove a significant part of his foot, all because his foot hadn’t been properly cared-for when he was in a Rehab center. Oh, and I am only a month away from the twentieth “anniversary” of Connie’s tragic-suicide. When will it end?

If I could, I would gladly take the place of my brother, because he has a beautiful young daughter who badly needs her dad. I don’t WANT to have to be there in his place when she graduates from High School, but I will, if I have to. I don’t WANT to have to be there to walk her down the aisle when she gets married, but I will, if I have to. I am no “replacement” for her dad. I can only be a “stand-in“, but I can’t “replace” him. I would much rather be there beside her mom and dad enjoying those times with them. Yes, I love her, but I am not her dad.

Yes, I have people who “care” about me, or so they say, but where are they when I need them? I can’t burden my poor sister with my struggles because she has a more-than-full plate dealing with my brother’s problems AND trying to care for and raise a soon-to-be “young-lady“(tweenager). Everyone I know has their own struggles, so they don’t have the time or energy to help me with mine. On top of everything else, a hurricane went through Florida less than two weeks ago (Irma). So, I am “stuck“, “stuck” dealing with my own problems as best I can, while trying to appear as “normal” (whatever that is) as possible, so I write, or try to write, hoping that this doesn’t sound to inane.

BTW, I still haven’t had a “good” night’s sleep in almost two weeks…

Blessings,
Steve

Sabbatical

It is time for me to take a break, as hard as that is. My training and psyche are saying “Suck it up buttercup. You are a better man than that.” Sixty-one years of having my self-worth tied to my performance are saying “Suck it up buttercup. You are a better man than that“. I feel like I am letting my ministry and my good readers down by taking a break, but I have to take a break, so I am. It is also hard to admit that I am NOTSuperman“, because for many years, I heeded the “call to duty” regardless of when that call came in.

I am physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted. My “battery” is drained down to little more than “click-click” when I hit the switch, and if I don’t take a break and recover, the “lights” may not even come on. Yes, I know that I am using “automotive-jargon“, but it is something most people can relate to, and something that is fresh in my mind, because the battery in my truck DIED just a few days ago.

This was NOT an easy decision to make, but after reading “A Theology Of Vacationing“, by Pastor Mark Johnstone, I came to realize that Jesus not only taught it, He commanded it. He did NOT take a poll to see how many of His disciples “wanted” to take a break, He said “We ARE going to take a break” (Mark 6:31, my paraphrase). Jesus was the perfect God-man, so He understood and experienced physical, mental and emotional fatigue. In another scene in the Gospels, we find Jesus “passed-out” in the back of the boat as His disciples were struggling to row across the Sea of Galilee (Matthew 8:23-25). He was dog-tired, so when He had a chance to sleep, He did. If Jesus knew when to take a break, shouldn’t we take a break too?

Pastor John Piper posted a couple of podcasts back in May, 2014 about “A Theology of Vacations“, where he covered this topic from multiple-angles. He tied this theology in with God’s Sabbath ordinance which included rest for both man and beast. Resting one day a week was NOT an “optional-activity“. He also mentions that Jesus took these breaks, so why shouldn’t we do likewise. Both Pastor John’s and Pastor Mark’s articles are well-worth reading. How many of us actually truly rest and “recreate” one day a week. I have saved them to my computer for future-reference, for when I am tempted to play “Superman” again, and need to be reminded that I am just a frail human.

I posted “Time-Out” August 24, 2015, using these same passages, but have I been wise-enough to heed my own advise? What is good for the rest of you may not apply to me (or so I thought). Why not? Reread the first paragraph…

Why now? I needed to be hit between the eyes by this Biblical doctrine again, from a fresh-perspective, for it to finally sink-in. The more I researched this topic, the more convinced I became. The last time I took a real VACATION was in 2012. Time for another vacation.

So, my friends, I am going to take a sabbatical til the middle of September, to rest, recharge, and get my mental-faculties and emotional fatigue relieved and be ready for a busy Fall season. See you in September.

Blessings,
Steve