Mental Health Awareness Month (and How It Relates to My Life Story)

This month is Mental Health Awareness Month. For many of us, mental health was never on our radar as children. For me, it was. As a young child, I was depressed. I was no stranger to depression because I saw my mother struggle. Her journey with mental illness began in adolescence, when much of mental health was crazy experimentation with the use of horse tranquilizers and things that would now be considered inhumane. The worst of her journey hit when she was in her thirties. It would be something that would change our family forever.

I remember my mother being hospitalized when I was in first grade. If my memory serves me well, she did not return until I was in sixth grade. The visits were very frequent for about two to three years. Repressed memories of sexual abuse resurfaced during this time, and she was facing things that were what I call “hellacious”. I am an only child, and this caused my Dad and I to really lean on each other. I was going through those awkward middle school years during this period, so life was challenging.

I faced my own journey of depression in 2010 when I admitted to my doctor that I was depressed. After two years of being a “guinea pig”, I was referred to a psychiatrist who treated both my depression and the new “resident” of my life also known as General Anxiety Disorder. That began the most stable years of my life.

I am happy to say that my depression and anxiety are, for the most part, under control. My mother is also experiencing her best days. She still has bad days. So do I. But she and I can both testify to how God has used these difficulties to broaden our ability to minister to people.

If you don’t understand mental illness, I encourage you to do some research. The saddest thing I see is that some of the ones who are least educated in this area are those in the church. We want to blame it on demons, sin, and a lack of prayer, Bible reading, and faith. The worst thing we can do is be ignorant on the matter.

To those who struggle, I admire you for waking up to face another day. I know it’s difficult. To those who love someone with mental illness, be understanding. Hang in there. Don’t criticize. Just be present. To those with the right knowledge, share it.

This Is A Story All About How (Skipping Chronological Order)

Because today is a special anniversary, I will skip a part of my story that I will pick back up in the next post. Today marks the 22nd anniversary of when I surrendered to the call to ministry. It was a call I fought knowingly for two years. That day was a game changer. I have never been the same.

What events in your life were game changers? I would love to hear from you.

One of Those Weeks

Have you ever had one of those weeks when your workplace gets inspected? That is us right now. They have set up shop for the rest of the week. As you can imagine, stress comes with this.

I am reminded that the psalmist said, “This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad IN it.” Despite the stress, I can rejoice IN this week. That does not mean that I rejoice because of the week or for the week, but I rejoice in the midst of all that is happening in this week because I see the Lord in the midst of it. I see God’s hand in placing a good team together. I see God giving us grace when we want to scream. I see God in the midst of the unexpected. So when you are having one of those weeks, remember God is still God and is making all things works together for good.

This Is a Story All About How (#2)…

I am part two into this, and I guess you have figured out this is not my opportunity to reminisce about Will Smith as “Fresh Prince”. This is a series where I am walking through highlights and “lowlights” of my life with the prayer that God will use excerpts to help others for His glory.

I began the last post with the story of how I came to Christ. I was 6 years old and discovered and responded to my need for a Savior. Not long after that, people were talking about me being a preacher. It was mainly “old people” who thought it was cute. Within weeks, I was conducting a worship service (music and preaching) with a floor fan as my pulpit, a Baptist Hymnal, and a Gideon New Testament. I had no clue how prophetic that childhood dream would be. I would like to say that everything following this was happily ever after, but it was not. Stay tuned…

Sunshine Blogger Award

April 25, 2019

I was nominated by Jackie. I am so thankful to be nominated for this award. You can find her blog here.

She and I recently connected on Twitter and Instagram. I highly recommend you read her blog.

Jackie’s Questions

  1. Why did you start blogging? I began this blog in April 2015 with one post but did not write again until September 2015 when I found myself without a ministry position (a voice to proclaim God’s truth). Over a period of months, I discovered that people connected with my straightforward thoughts about faith and the church. God was using this outlet, and I had no clue what I was doing.
  2. What is your favorite blog post you’ve written and why? This post is my favorite because it was not only my most viewed, but many people agreed with statements I made. My goal was not to be controversial but helpful. I believe you will agree. Click here.
  3. Do you have a post that you hesitated hitting publish on? All the ones I hesitated to post are still in my drafts. Some of them are almost as old as the blog itself. I still revisit my drafts to see if God will allow me to proceed with some of these.
  4. Savory or sweet? Give an example of the perfect snack. Sweet and salty. My wife slips a little salt into most everything she cooks (including sweets). I love it!
  5. What is your blogging/post schedule? I have none. When God gives me a post, I publish it. Sometimes, I get on inspiration overload.
  6. What is your favorite social media platform and why? Twitter. Up until the end of last year, I found it very restricting. Now I have some pretty great interactions with people. God has even opened doors and used me to encourage some people along the way.
  7. Is there anything you wish you knew before you started your blog, besides the tech stuff? Honestly no. I love the fact that I was totally ignorant and God did something beyond my wildest dreams. I know it sounds crazy, but I would not change the journey.
  8. What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from blogging? Blogging is so much more about the audience than the writer. I love connecting with people through my writing.
  9. Did your friends and family give you their support when you started your blog? Absolutely! My friends and family continue to cheer me on to this day.
  10. Have you ever been nominated for and/or won other blogging awards? I have. Sadly, this is the first time I have taken the time to answer the questions. I used to blog on my phone, but it is difficult to post things of this nature. I use my notebook computer now, so it is much easier.
  11. Are you, so far, proud and satisfied with your blog’s progress? I am satisfied with my blog’s progress, but I don’t want to stop here. So many people need encouragement, and God is still giving me content.

My Nominees:

  1. Shae (Shae’s Days)
  2. Riley (hopesongblog)
  3. Heather (Every Small Voice)
  4. Lily (Retrospective Lily)
  5. T. R. Noble (Inside Cup)
  6. Gracie M. (Gracie M.)
  7. John Eli (John Eli)
  8. Jonathan (Wandering with a Purpose)
  9. Patrick (SGM)
  10. Brandon (Brandon J. Adams)
  11. Jordan (http://godgoldoftheday.com)

My Questions:

  1. Why did you start blogging?
  2. What is your favorite blog post you’ve written and why?
  3. How long do you edit or agonize over a post before you press “publish”?
  4. Writers’ personalities are often different than their writing portrays. How would you describe your personality?
  5. What is your favorite social media platform and why ?
  6. If you are willing to share your social media links/handles, what are they?
  7. What tools do you use to “beef up” your blog?
  8. What is the most valuable thing you’ve learned from blogging?
  9. What advice would you give to a prospective/new blogger?
  10. Have you ever been nominated for and/or won other blogging awards?
  11. Are you satisfied with your blog’s progress?

Happy Writing!

This Is a Story All About How (#1)…

I have been battling over whether or not I should do a series of key events in my life. I must have lost the battle, because here I am. I am not a famous guy. Outside of couple thousand people that might remember who I am when you add up all the churches I have served, I am little known (and that’s okay). Approximately 1,500 people follow this blog, so my prayer is that something from the story of my life might be a blessing.

The earliest key moment in my life was that of salvation, giving my heart and life to the Lord Jesus Christ. My parents grew up in different denominations and could not decide on mutual church ground. They did agree that they wanted me to attend Christian school. Because of the influence of Christian teachers and the daily presentation of the gospel, God was preparing my heart for the moment I would give my life to Him. I responded after a chapel service at school. I did not know what I needed to say, but I knew I needed what the chapel speaker shared. So I waited until the service was over and walked to the front of the room where the speaker who was a Child Evangelism Fellowship representative led me to Christ. I will always be a strong advocate for children’s ministries.

This is not a flashy testimony. It is the simple story of a 6-year-old boy hearing the gospel and responding to the work of the Holy Spirit in his heart. You may think that you needed to commit a long list of horrible sins in order to have a fabulous testimony. God will save any repentant sinner. You can have what some might consider a clean past, or you may have a life full of filth. One of my favorite songs says, “Broken hearts, broken lives, He will take them all.”

I can assure you that I will be addressing some interesting topics for however long God allows me to stretch out this series. This will be living proof that God can do extraordinary things in an average life. That’s the story of me!

Roots

You are probably thinking a variety of things as you read a one-word title “Roots”. As I dwell on Holy Week, I remember my roots in the United Methodist Church. I am not fond of the denomination as a whole, but I grew up with some great people in our little church in Virginia. As in any church, some were truly born again while others were just playing church. For me as a born again believer, the meaning of Holy Week was deep.

In my pursuit of more conservative Christianity, I forgot my roots. I “threw the baby out with the bath water” because I did not want to look liberal if I accepted anything from my roots. As a 38 year old who has grown in many areas, I have regained an appreciation for these special days in the church.

I must admit that I have not thought much about Easter this year. When I do not hold a “church job”, it is easy to forget about it. For years, I was preparing months in advance for Easter with extra choir rehearsals. As a pastor, I was thinking about preaching a message that was Spirit-led yet not the standard Resurrection Sunday message. This year, I have been sick for the last two weeks leading up to Easter. So now I sit here at the computer and try to focus on Easter Sunday.

Today marks the night our Savior was betrayed. One of the very disciples Jesus selected would sell him out to be crucified. Tomorrow will commemorate the death of our Savior on Calvary. Praise God that the story did not stop there. Sunday focuses on Jesus conquering death. Because He lives, we too shall live.

My celebrations this weekend will not be anything like the ones I had growing up. There will not be the somber Good Friday service where all the church decorations were taken out and the congregation would walk out in silence. There will not be the decorating of the sanctuary with Easter lilies on Saturday for the 8:00 am service on Sunday followed by breakfast. Over 20 years later, things are a lot different. One thing remains – eternal life is available through the Lord Jesus Christ to all who place their faith and trust in Him. Your traditions may vary, but this message rooted in the heart of God must stay the same.

This was the church where ministry began for me in 1996. Asbury United Methodist Church of Portsmouth, Virginia closed its doors in 2014, but the legacy lives on.

Areas Where the Church Needs to Step It Up

A few days ago, I read a tweet that disturbed my spirit. The one who tweeted this is young lady who is a WordPress blogger, so I know her story. She made a statement that she had difficulty attending churches because of the way she is treated. It reminded me once again that the church does not know how to minister to certain individuals. I would like to highlight these groups for the purpose of challenging us all to think about how we can do better in reaching people in these groups to overcome rather than be overcome by their circumstances.

  1. Divorcees – I understand that divorce is not God’s perfect plan for people. Why do I really understand? I have been there and done that. I have experienced the havoc that divorce can wreak upon a man, woman, and children. Many people in the church know what the Bible says about it. The job in the church is not to kick those suffering through divorce while they are down. Having a DivorceCare ministry is a step in the right direction, but it is not enough. The mentality of the church body must change. Divorced people do not have the plague!
  2. Addicts – This is a messy one. But did Jesus shy away from messy? NO! In fact, he addressed the messiest people and loved them. He was constantly reaching out to societal outcasts. I’m glad some churches have a Celebrate Recovery ministry. That is wonderful! Once again, many in the church possess a mentality that those who are addicted to drugs, alcohol, sex, food, etc. are the lowest of the low. Have we considered that they are self-medicating because there is a deeper problem at hand?
  3. Homosexuals and those who struggle with gender identity – The church is great about screaming the verses that address this subject, but have we every really thought about the psychological struggles going on beneath the surface? Have we considered that maybe a guy did not have a male role model, was raised by women, and does not know how to live in this world as a man? Many of these people are not shaking their fist at God and choosing to be this way because they hate God. I know people who genuinely struggle in this area. It is time for the church to minister to these who are struggling in a gender-confused society. The Holy Spirit is still at work and can work on people.
  4. Those who struggle with mental health issues – This is another thing that the church has made progress in, but I still read responses to those reaching out for help and want to come through my app and give some people a revelation. Many factors contribute to mental illness. Those struggling with mental illness do not need you telling them to rebuke it in Jesus’ name, read more Scripture, or pray more. I can testify to the fact that I tried every bit of that to still struggle with depression. I screamed warfare prayers, quoted warfare Scriptures, sang victory songs, and did everything that I heard I was supposed to do. And please don’t say my faith was weak! The government and the church are failing in addressing mental health. It’s time for a change!
  5. Those who have been abused – The church does not know how to address those who have been physically or sexually abused. It is not enough to tell some girl who was raped by her father that she needs to forgive him and move on. Someone who has experienced such a traumatic event has layers of issues that will take a long time to heal. Recently, several churches were called out for knowingly hiding sexual abuse that happened within the walls of the church. I have even heard pastors blame women because their husbands physically abused them. Come on! This has to stop!
  6. Those struggling with eating disorders – This is an awareness that has been heightened by people like Caralyn at beautybeyondbones.com. If you don’t follow her site, you should. Other followers on Twitter struggle with this. Today’s society progress a bad idea about the “perfect” image. These people need love too and help as they learn to accept who they are in Christ.
  7. Those of another race – We are too quick to accept society’s stereotype of particular races without hearing from those whose culture and race is different. It’s time to sit down, put the past behind, and really listen to their perspective. If we never have these honest discussions, we will continue to fail in this area.

What would I suggest that needs to happen?

  1. Provide classes to the church that are led by trained professionals in these areas. Nine times out of ten, pastors do not receive the adequate training to address these issues. Do an interview style sermon. Educate the people.
  2. Create a judgment-free zone where these who are struggling can find hope and help. It starts with the leadership and trickles down. Teach this stuff from the pulpit. Rebuke those who are harsh toward these individuals.
  3. As a leader, pray, study, and study some more. Be intentional about talking to people who struggle in these areas. It’s time to change this view of the church. Ignorance and laziness are poor excuses.

Coming Out of Silence

Not many pastors or people in ministry can be honest about how they really feel. I choose to unload it on my blog. Some may say that is not wise. Others have commented on how refreshing it is. All I know is I found a voice that was stifled, and it came out by way of divorce and counseling. I found a healthy form of authenticity that has opened doors for personal ministry that would have otherwise been possible.

For the last several weeks, my attention was turned a different direction. I had been in contact with a church in the area about a position that would have necessitated a miracle, but I investigated this open door. I met some really great people and experienced some things I would not have experienced without this opportunity. It was the most unusual interview process. Halfway through, I sensed that I was not a good fit. Nevertheless, I wanted to make sure it was not personal insecurity speaking. When I sat down with the chairman of the committee, it was a refreshingly honest and professional discussion. It is a great ministry, and I know God will send the right person in His time. It still leaves me with this one question – How do I fit into God’s kingdom work at this stage of life?

This season has tested my willingness. I drove 3 1/2 hours once to preach with no idea of how God would take care of expenses. He took care of everything. While churches are gracious to give a small financial contribution, I have found greater joy in going where I knew the church could not provide compensation or would not. I discovered how much I had bought into the professional ministry mentality that my experience and training was worth a certain dollar amount. Honestly, it amounts to a student loan debt that I will never live to pay. Another honest statement – the early disciples were mightily used of God and some had no education. I am not putting a premium on ignorance, but nothing beats learning directly from God.

Another bump in the road has been a virus that was passed around the home. It has lingered with me for nearly 2 weeks. It forced me to slow down and rethink some things. I don’t have much figured out at this point. I do know that I don’t want to miss God’s open doors while I’m creating different ones in my mind.

I still know that these are in my heart:

But I also know that passion does not always equal calling. This may be a totally different season, and I’m missing the big picture. I asked for your continued prayers. Many of you have been reading this stuff faithfully for the last 3 1/2 years and have encouraged me more than you’ll ever know. When all is said and done, I just want to know that I have done God’s will for my life.