Category Archives: Psychology and Mental Health Issues

Ancient Message about Media That’s Perfect for Today (aka/How to Live Without Fear of the Future)

Have you voted yet? If not, I hope you get out there and cast your ballot! One of the greatest privileges of a democratic republic is the right to be involved in making political decisions, and as tensions rise over which way is going to be “the best way,” every person’s vote truly does make a difference.

The only downside of elections is the aftermath of unwanted results. The elective process is better than a hostile coup, where the new government kills or imprisons their opponents, but I know anxiety over “what ifs” surrounding today’s elections is causing a great deal of stress.In that light, I’d like to share with you the perfect “Election Day”t message, totally à propos for today, and one of the best messages I’ve ever heard at our church. It was given by our pastor, Jim Samra, who is slowly working his way through the book of Isaiah, and Sunday’s passage “just happened to be” on Isaiah 8, after King Ahaz hired the Assyrian army to defend Judah from Samaria and Syria (despite the fact that the Lord told King Ahaz that He [God] would deliver them).

In verses 5-6, God warned that because the people and their “bad” leader, King Ahaz, had failed to trust in God—who is like a gently flowing river—to protect them, God was going to allow the Assyrians (the very people Judah hired to protect them) to sweep over them like a devastating flood (verses 5-8; the entire passage is listed below). However, in the midst of the battle, God would actually rescue those who trusted in him, “for God is with us” (verses 9-10).

Today, we find our country in a similar position— a place of jeopardy, not only because of bad leadership, but also because of our personal and corporate failure to rely on God to solve our problems, relying rather on technology, programs, alliances with other countries, drugs, education, money, etc.

Just as God did in the days of King Ahaz, so He gives us some warnings today:

1. Don’t follow bad leadership or the masses (:11)
2. Don’t worry about conspiracy theories (:12a Sound familiar?)
3. Don’t fear what other people fear (:12b; and doesn’t our country seem fearful?)

Instead, God gives us several principles to help us live without fear of the future:

1. Fear only God (:13-14a; I’ve heard that “fearing God” means to reverence Him, to trust and obey Him). God will either be a sanctuary for us if we trust him or a
“stone of  stumbling and rock of offense” if we don’t (:14b-15; see also 1 Peter 2:8).
2. Focus on what God says, not what the media has to say (:16-22; talk about appropriate for today!!). It almost made the congregation laugh, but it’s true! Notice verses 19-20: “19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn.” Jim pointed out that the correct plural of “medium” is not “mediums” but “media.” As believers, we should be testing everything against God’s Word and finding our answers through prayer, not allowing the media to define reality for us or telling us how to interpret events. 3. Fellowship with other believers and wait on the Lord (:16-17). Instead of spending all our time listening to and fretting over what we see and hear via the media, concentrate on repenting from our personal failures, loving others, and waiting on God (through prayer) to deliver us. God alone can turn darkness to light, and He does promise to deliver us if we put our trust in him (:10,17-18). Here is the complete passage from Isaiah 8:

5The Lord spoke to me again:

“Because this people has rejected
    the gently flowing waters of Shiloah
and rejoices over Rezin
    and the son of Remaliah,
therefore the Lord is about to bring against them
    the mighty floodwaters of the Euphrates—
    the king of Assyria with all his pomp.
It will overflow all its channels,
    run over all its banks
and sweep on into Judah, swirling over it,
    passing through it and reaching up to the neck.
Its outspread wings will cover the breadth of your land,
    Immanuel!”

Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered!
    Listen, all you distant lands.
Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
    Prepare for battle, and be shattered!
10 Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted;
    propose your plan, but it will not stand,
    for God is with us.

11 This is what the Lord says to me with his strong hand upon me, warning me not to follow the way of this people:

12 “Do not call conspiracy
    everything this people calls a conspiracy;
do not fear what they fear,
    and do not dread it.
13 The Lord Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy,
    he is the one you are to fear,
    he is the one you are to dread.
14 He will be a holy place;
    for both Israel and Judah he will be
a stone that causes people to stumble
    and a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem he will be
    a trap and a snare.
15 Many of them will stumble;
    they will fall and be broken,
    they will be snared and captured.”

16 Bind up this testimony of warning
    and seal up God’s instruction among my disciples.
17 I will wait for the Lord,
    who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob.
I will put my trust in him.

18 Here am I, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.                                        “The Darkness Turns to Light”

19 When someone tells you to consult mediums and spiritists, who whisper and mutter, should not a people inquire of their God? Why consult the dead on behalf of the living? 20 Consult God’s instruction and the testimony of warning. If anyone does not speak according to this word, they have no light of dawn. 21 Distressed and hungry, they will roam through the land; when they are famished, they will become enraged and, looking upward, will curse their king and their God. 22 Then they will look toward the earth and see only distress and darkness and fearful gloom, and they will be thrust into utter darkness. P.S.—If you’d like to hear the entire message, it can be accessed here: http://calvarygr.org/sermons-resources/

Also, if you’re looking for a church family and live in the Grand Rapids area, please consider joining us at Calvary Church: http://calvarygr.org/

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” Would You Have Liked Mr. Rogers for Your Neighbor?

Now that I’ve seen the 2018 documentary about his life, I’d have loved having Mr. Rogers live next door! How about you? He was kind, gentle, faithful to his wife, respectful of all human beings—especially children—and a loving father.  According to everybody interviewed, Fred Rogers wasn’t just “putting on a show.” He was genuine and transparent…just as gentle and thoughtful at home as he was on T.V. As he explained:  “One of the greatest gifts you can give anybody is the gift of your honest self.”

Were you a fan? To be honest, I have never actually seen even one of Fred Roger’s 895 episodes of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, which ran from 1968-2001, but my husband did, and I’m guessing if you were born any time after 1960, you probably enjoyed at least some of them.  I stopped watching T.V. in 1962 when I became a Christian at age 12, not because anyone told me to stop, but because I felt like what I was watching wasn’t making me a better person, and I’d become a little addicted to fantasy.  Mr. Rogers, on the other hand, was aghast the first time he saw T.V. and made a mission out of trying to provide calm, quality programming for children that reached into their hearts and helped guide them through the often confusing and frightening challenges of life. “I got into television because I hated it so. And I thought there’s some way of using this fabulous instrument to nurture those who would watch and listen” (Fred Rogers).Fred Rogers was an ordained Presbyterian minister and an unlikely person to vie with the world for children’s attention. As his producer, Margy Whitmer, mused, “We had a director who once said to me, ‘If you take all of the elements that make good television and do the exact opposite, you have ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’: low production values, simple set, an unlikely star. . .Yet it worked, because it was saying something really important’.” Mister Rogers wanted children to feel secure and comfortable, so he always started the show by “coming home” and trading in his coat and street shoes for a comfortable cardigan (hand-knit by his mom) and tennis shoes.Through his trusty puppet, Daniel Tiger, he would share the concerns and problems that all children face…feeling unloved, sad, afraid, and vulnerable, etc. Fred was also passionate about teaching deep truths to children, such as the equality of all people and the importance of sharing and loving everyone. A gifted musician, Fred composed and played the music for his programs, most of which dealt with issues the children faced, and all of which expressed hope and the desire for peace and goodwill toward all. Although Mr. Rogers was never explicit about his faith, according to Rev. George Wirth, a fellow minister and friend, “He was a community builder. The neighborhood was symbolic of Fred Rogers’ desire for people to live together in peace, with respect and love and affirmation, and, when things go wrong, forgiveness and reconciliation.”  There were many clues to Mr. Roger’s faith. Not only was he faithful in his own church attendance, he named his two sons “James” and “John.”  According to Junlei Li, co-director of the Fred Rogers Center at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania: “He wasn’t doing that [not being overt about his faith] to hide his Christian identity. I think Fred was very adamant that he didn’t want any viewer — child or adult — to feel excluded from the neighborhood.”  Another quote that I appreciated was found in LifeZette: “Ultimately, ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood’ was a show about hope and reconciliation, a word Li said meant a lot to Rogers. He wanted to mend broken relationships: between people, between humans and the environment, even — though he never made it explicit — between humans and their Creator” (https://www.lifezette.com/2018/07/the-undeniable-faith-of-wont-you-be-my-neighbor/). The only thing that made me sad about the entire movie was his widow reflecting on Fred’s deathbed concern over whether or not he was truly one of God’s sheep who would get into heaven. She tried to reassure him, and I suspect she was right, but for anyone who reads this and also feels unsure, I want you to know that the Bible offers us assurance that we can know we’re one of God’s sheep and on our way to heaven.My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28). Have you asked God to forgive you for your sins? Do you believe in Jesus as your Savior…as the sacrificial lamb who died in your place? Are you listening for his voice? Are you following him? If so, then I  hope you can find peace in knowing that you are God’s sheep and have eternal life. If you have another minute or two, here are a few quotes that I love. All but the last one are by Fred Rogers:

“Parents are like shuttles on a loom. They join the threads of the past with threads of the future and leave their own bright patterns as they go.”

“Knowing that we can be loved exactly as we are gives us all the best opportunity for growing into the healthiest of people.” (That doesn’t mean God doesn’t want us to change, but that He loves us now and calls us to love others now too!)

“How sad it is that we give up on people who are just like us.”

“I think of discipline as the continual everyday process of helping a child learn self-discipline.”

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

“He really mentored me over years to show me how I could use fame as a force for positive social change and not a weight around my neck.” Yo-Yo Ma, Cellist

Labour not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life, which the Son of man shall give unto you: for him hath God the Father sealed.  Then said they unto him, What shall we do, that we might work the works of God? Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent” (John 6:27-29).

 

 

 

 

The Ultimately Creamy Tiramisu: With or Without

Tiramisu has long been a favorite dessert in our family, especially when we eat Italian food, so my son Joel has been practicing this year and has it down to an art. He even tried making his own ladyfingers (although he says it’s a lot easier to just buy a couple of packages), and he’s perfected the balance of cream with the other flavors to make a memorable dessert that can last several days in the refrigerator and just seems to improve over time! Previously, tiramisu was a dessert I never really attempted to make, I think because I don’t like the heavy alcohol flavoring common in most batches. However, I was surprised but very pleased to discover that the tiramisu I bought for my son Michael’s family in Italy this summer had no alcohol whatsoever, so it emboldened me to work  out an authentic, non-alcoholic recipe that tastes great. You may wonder why I have such a vendetta against alcohol (some of my own kids do), but it’s because I have so many friends who have been hurt by the impact of immoderate alcohol consumption. Just this week, a report came out from the WHO (World Health Organization) stating that 1 in 20 deaths world-wide is due to alcoholism. That’s a shockingly high statistic to me when you consider war, accidents, and disease. Sure, alcohol is probably related to the majority of mechanical accidents, but alcohol is one of the few things in life that we absolutely do not need in order to carry on life (unless someone becomes addicted…which is what unfortunately happens all too often). Therefore, why take a chance with a non-essential substance that gives you a 1 in 20 chance of either killing yourself or someone you love? (And, if you’re in your 20’s, the chance goes to 1 in 7.)Well, I’ll get off my soapbox in a minute and share the recipe, but I also wanted to point out an article from The Washington Post entitled, “Americans Are Drinking Themselves to Death at Record Rates,” which states that 30% of Americans don’t drink at all.* So…if you don’t drink, please don’t feel like you’re the only one out there (which has happened to me a few times). There are a lot of fellow water or Pepsi totters, so the resistance movement is strong!

Ultimately Creamy Tiramisu

Custard:

In a quart-sized sauce pan, whip together:
6 egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar. When well blended, add
2/3 cup milk
Cook over medium heat, whisking constantly until it bubbles and thickens. Cool and refrigerate until well chilled. Then carefully whisk in:
1 pound mascarpone cheese until it’s all smooth and uniformly mixed. Refrigerate this mixture until you’re ready to assemble everything.

Whipping Cream:

Whip together until stiff peaks form:
1.25 cups heavy whipping cream
1/2 teaspoon vanilla. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.

Coffee mixture to soak the lady fingers:

5 tablespoons espresso coffee mixed with 6 tablespoons of “something.” Many recipes call for rum or amaretto, but you can also use:
5 tablespoons of white grape juice plus
2 teaspoons of almond extract

To assemble everything:

Lay out one 3-ounce package of ladyfinger (spongecake) cookies flat in the bottom of a 13X9″ pan. If they aren’t already split in half, split them. Drizzle half of the coffee mixture over the cookies, then add half the custard gently, spreading it carefully until all the cookies are covered. Next add half the whipped cream, spreading it over the top. Then, carefully arrange a second 3-ounce package of split ladyfinger spongecake cookies on top of the mixture. Drizzle them with the rest of the coffee mixture. Add the rest of the custard, and top with the rest of the whipped cream, making sure everything is level and covered at each step. Sprinkle liberally with sifted cocoa powder. Ideally, chill it for 4-6 hours at least before serving to let the flavors meld. (As a side note: soft ladyfingers are best, but if you can only find the hard kind, dip them individually into the coffee mixture to make sure they’re soaked before arranging them one by one in the pan. Also, use 6 tablespoons each of coffee and white grape juice instead of 5.) Tiramisu is best if it’s allowed to sit in the refrigerator for a few hours before serving, and it continues to taste great for several days (although it never lasts very long at our house)!                                               Enjoy!! We sure do!  🙂

“Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging: and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise” (Proverbs 20:1)

*https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/12/22/americans-are-drinking-themselves-to-death-at-record-rates/?utm_term=.b105c5ec4cfd

 

Saying Goodbye to Christopher Robin

Although I grew up cherishing Winnie-the-Pooh stories, my children grew up practically quoting some of the stories by heart, and a couple of my grandchildren remind me of Christopher Robin (like this one, whom I’ve been visiting the last while, and who’s recently become a big brother, again!),

I never knew much about A.A. Milne, who authored the tales of Christopher Robin and his plush playmates. Goodbye, Christopher Robin (2017, PG, rated 7.1 on IMDb) tells the heart-rending back story of the Milne family.                 A.A. Milne, and his wife Dorothy, were rich British socialites.

In the movie, the real Christopher Robin (nicknamed “Billy Moon” by his parents) appears to have been largely neglected by his mother, although according to his biography, it was his mother who came into the nursery and told him stories about what Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends did and said, and he felt that it was his mother who actually created most of the ideas for Milne’s books. However, it was absolutely true that little Billy was very devoted to his nanny, Olive, who was responsible for his daily care. (I gather this is often true for children who grow up with caring nannies!) Milne had suffered severely from (probable) PTSD after serving in World War I and wished to use his talents as an author to write something that would inspire the world to stop resorting to war as a way of “resolving” conflicts.

Although Milne published a serious plea against war, Peace with Honour, he became famous for was his playful, four-book series based on his son and the little boy’s stuffed animals. These books were incredibly successful, and the Milne family became extremely rich!

Billy Moon (aka Christopher Robin) didn’t mind becoming a celebrity as a child…until he was sent away to boarding school at age eight, where he was mercilessly bullied for his fame.

In response, Billy enlisted in the army during World War II, where he contracted malaria and took some shrapnel to his head (although he recovered completely). It was during the war that Billy came to terms with all the difficulties in his life, because he realized that the Winnie-the-Pooh stories helped people recover from the pain and disillusionment of war by allowing them to retreat into the happy bliss of childhood innocence. Since the original books were written (almost 100 years ago), they have never been out of print, and they have sold over 20 million copies in 50 languages! However, Christopher Robin never accepted royalties from any of the books.  Instead, he married his cousin, Lesley de Sélincourt, founded the Harbour Bookshop in Dartmouth, and wrote a book of his own, Enchanted Places, finding it more gratifying to make his own life rather than live in his father’s shadow.

Now, you may fairly criticize me for telling you so much of the story, but in order to experience all the depth of pathos and charm, I highly recommend that you see Goodbye Christopher Robin for yourself! It made me appreciate that life is always much more complicated and difficult than we can ever imagine, and even the joyous affirmations of innocent childhood—in the real world—often come at great cost.

I also want to say that, unlike Christopher Robin, who didn’t want to stand in his father’s shadow, I am eternally grateful for our loving heavenly Father, who invites us all to stand safely under His shadow! “Because thou hast been my help, therefore in the shadow of thy wings will I rejoice” (Psalm 63:7).

               Beneath the Cross of Jesus
(Elizabeth C. Clephane, 1868)

Beneath the cross of Jesus I fain would take my stand,
The shadow of a mighty rock within a weary land;
A home within the wilderness, a rest upon the way,
From the burning of the noontide heat, and the burden of the day.

O safe and happy shelter, O refuge tried and sweet,
O trysting place where Heaven’s love and Heaven’s justice meet!
As to the holy patriarch that wondrous dream was given,
So seems my Savior’s cross to me, a ladder up to heaven.

There lies beneath its shadow but on the further side
The darkness of an awful grave that gapes both deep and wide
And there between us stands the cross two arms outstretched to save
A watchman set to guard the way from that eternal grave.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

 

 

Are You Optimizing Your Brain Fitness?

A week ago, I wrote about Alan’s attending the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatrists’ annual meeting and the tidal wave of Baby Boomers hitting retirement age, and I suggested that we start learning to surf so we don’t get crushed. This week, I want to offer a few ideas from what I’ve been learning in my own quest for health.

Are you familiar with The Great Courses? I am a fan. Through audio or video, this organization can bring a world of research and learning via professors from some of America’s best universities right into your car or home. I can drive and learn, sit quietly on a couch with notebook in hand, or work out on my elliptical while absorbing information.

Granted, these college-level courses won’t keep you awake like Hollywood’s glitzy entertainment, but they are excellent resources for brightening your brain! I ordered a couple of series last fall and have been completely satisfied with the quality of their programs and what I’ve been learning. My personal favorite way to optimize both brain and body fitness is to work out while keeping a notebook right beside me for scribbling down ideas. Stopping to write notes does effect my workout stats, but I figure the mental stimulation is worth the hit to any personal pride that may be lurking behind my attempts at physical conditioning.

Simple tips from the series on Optimizing Brain Fitness that impressed me:

*In an experiment with rats, those who were fed 35% less food lived 35% longer!
*Best diet tip? Stop eating deep-fried foods.
*Walking 1 mile daily decreases your chance of developing Alzheimer’s by 50%.
*Get enough sleep. The current generation is getting 45 minutes less sleep per day than the older generation, but it’s had a negative effect on learning.
*Power naps are good; they reset your energy and help process learning.
*Most important aspect of memory is learning to focus and pay attention!
*”If you can see, look. If you can look, observe…attend…study!”
*Your brain needs exercise, so take up some new hobby.
*Scientists have discerned that you improve long term retention more by repeated testing than by more study.

This last bit of research made me understand why we have tests in school and in life! The Lord is training us to learn and grow, not just have brains full of data that doesn’t stick!

Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4).

Just in case you’re interested in more information about The Great Courses, I’ll include their contact information: https://www.thegreatcourses.com/courses. 1-800-832-2412. For classes on Christianity, though, I’d rather refer you my son Jonathan’s Aqueduct Project [https://aqueductproject.org/ ], or the new Center for Global Theological Education, which he’s developing at Moody Bible Institute in Chicago.

Baby Boomers Learning to Surf

Not long ago, Alan and I spent week in Hawaii on Waikiki Beach, but we weren’t really surfing those 30-foot waves that were rolling in on the North Shore. Alan attended the annual meeting for the American Association of Geriatric Psychiatrists. As part of his prep, he had to take a self-assessment to see how well informed he is concerning current trends in America, and he shared some of the interesting statistics with me. Those of us in our sixties (as Alan and I are) are surfing, but not on waves of water! We’re riding the crest of the tidal wave of Baby Boomers about to crash as a beach head here in America.   Did you know that some 10,000 Baby Boomers are passing age 65 every day now? Did you know that America now holds the record for the most centenarians in the world: 53,000 and counting?! America is producing sixty-one geriatric psychiatrists per year, which only fills 40% of the need. Who’s going to take care of us when we’re all demented?   Well, for one thing, we can be more pro-active in trying to take care of ourselves! According to current research, the most positive psychological predictors of successful aging include: “Resilience, optimism, personal mastery, coping self-efficacy, social engagement, spirituality and religiousity, and wisdom.” The single most valuable predictor of satisfaction is retirement is adequate social engagement (even trumping cognitive and financial issues).   A couple of psychiatrists at the meetings, who had retired after highly successful careers, were taken off guard by how quickly they went from being highly esteemed to feeling no longer valued by their professional colleagues. I’ve heard this so many times! I think it would be extremely wise for each of us, as we approach retirement (or even if you’ve already retired), to find a compelling avocation to pursue that will require us to continue being fruitful….giving, growing, and engaging with others socially and spiritually. Maybe, if we can continue working on areas of personal growth such as those listed above, and if we’re willing to pursue productivity even after we’ve retired, we’ll find that we can surf into old age with grace rather than being dashed to pieces under the crushing waves!

They shall still bring forth fruit in old age; they shall be fat and flourishing” (Psalm 92:14).