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Monday, November 28, 2016

Lincoln's Lessons - Dealing with Depression

This election year has left us longing for leaders of the past who led with character and integrity.  None looms larger than Lincoln. His Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural raised the bar for wisdom, justice, faith and forgiveness.

In spite of the achievements that made him the most intriguing President in U.S. history, all of his biographers agree that Lincoln suffered from periodic bouts with depression.  His law partner, William Herndon observed, “His melancholy dripped from him as he walked.”

Depression is widespread. It can be debilitating and, in its most severe form, can even lead to suicide. For most of us it is temporary and seldom. For some, it is a lifelong and constant companion.

According to Mayo Clinic, “Depression is a medical illness that causes a persistent feeling of sadness and loss of interest.” We all know it when we feel it: the heavy weight that seems to bear down upon us, sapping our energy, dragging us down, emotional shackles that reduce our steps to a shuffle, the thief that robs us of creativity and destroys our dreams.

Here are a few proven steps to combat depression, some from Lincoln himself.

Make conscious decisions that refuse to surrender to depression’s emotions. Lincoln learned this discipline and encouraged others to follow it. In 1842, he wrote, “Remember in the depth and even the agony of despondency, that very shortly you are to feel well again.” Later, in his famous letter to Fanny McCollough, he said, “You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say.” 

Get up, and get out. Exercise, walk, run, play.  Exercise of the body somehow releases a wind within that can blow away the dark clouds that close in on us. Get with people. Loneliness is depression’s partner.

Do something good. Guilt and depression are common companions.  The acts that make us feel guilty often become the seeds of depression.  Acts of altruism will punch holes in the darkness and let in the liberating light.  Look for someone you can help.  Accept God’s forgiveness for your sins, and then go out of your way to do something for others, especially for those of another race, culture or religion. Do it privately without seeking any credit. Jesus said, “Your Father who sees in secret, will reward you.”

If the depression persists, seek professional medical assistance.  We are complex creatures with a complex chemical balance that affects our moods.  Proper medication, administered under the careful supervision of a doctor can help. Speaking of his own depression, Lincoln said, “Melancholy is a misfortune. It is not a fault.”

Trust in God who cares for you. When his father was dying, Lincoln sent him this message, “Tell him to remember to call upon and confide in our great and good and  merciful Maker, who will not turn away from him in any extremity.  He notes the fall of a sparrow and numbers the hairs of our heads …” 

Monday, November 21, 2016


The trees are turning.  Invigorating cool air has spilled across the land.  Families are getting ready for Thanksgiving.  Some prepare for children to come home.  Others make plans to travel.  Thoughts turn to turkey, dressing, giblet gravy, pumpkin and pecan pie. Football is in the air and the Cowboys are finally winning again.  I like Thanksgiving and the American traditions that go along with it. This year we are sharing Thanksgiving with our International students from South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and China.

Thanksgiving is special to the American experience.  From the time we are children, we are taught to remember the Pilgrims who feasted with their Indian friends in 1621, giving thanks for their survival in the new world. Children in elementary schools still walk out on stages wearing flat brimmed pilgrim hats and painted faces to re-enact the first Thanksgiving in front of adoring parents.

George Washington signed the first Thanksgiving proclamation in 1789.  But the official annual holiday began in 1863 when Abraham Lincoln set aside the fourth Thursday of November as a day for giving thanks.  When he issued his proclamation our nation was embroiled in Civil War. Young men by the thousands lay dead on the battlefields.  Families were gripped with grief.  But a wounded nation found solace for its soul by seeking a grateful heart.

In times of prosperity and want, in times of war and peace, throughout the Great Depression and our most recent Great Recession, we have paused as a nation on this final Thursday of November to remember and to be thankful.  For this one day, at least, we make sure that the homeless and the hungry are fed. On this day, we lay down our tools and gather around tables with those whom we love the most.  We are not burdened with the buying and giving of gifts.  We simply pause to enjoy one another and the goodness with which God has blessed us.

Nothing is more important than cultivating a grateful and thankful heart.  We all experience blessing and loss.  God sends his rain on the just and the unjust.  The faithful and the unfaithful must weather the same storms. We all experience life and love that we do not deserve.  We will all suffer disappointment, injustice and pain.  Illness will come. The loss of loved ones will come.  The same circumstances sow the seeds of bitterness and resentment, thankfulness and gratitude. The former leads to death.  The latter leads to life. 

The Bible is clear about the importance of thanksgiving.  The Psalms are filled with thanksgiving and praise.  Jeremiah envisioned desolate Jerusalem restored with gratitude saying: “the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, ‘Give thanks to the Lord of hosts, for the Lord is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting.’" (Jer. 33:11).  Paul wrote, “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  (Colossians 2:6).  

Monday, November 14, 2016

Overcoming Adversity

We all experience moments when it seems like nothing good can come of the misfortune that has befallen us. Bad things happen to all of us: the death of someone close to us, whether family or friend. We get sick, sometimes fighting life-threatening diseases. We are mortal and life sometimes seems fragile.  But God has a way of taking the worst that can befall us and giving us opportunity to use it for good.

On July 30, 1967, Joni Eareckson dove into the waters of Chesapeake Bay.  She was eighteen years old.  It was the last time she would be able to use her arms or legs. Striking her head in the shallow waters, she suffered a broken neck that left her a permanent quadriplegic. According to her story in Joni, she sank deeper into anger, depression with suicidal thoughts and spiritual doubt.  But, over time, she emerged with a faith that inspired others and created change for the handicapped world-wide. 

Controlling a brush with her teeth, she became an accomplished artist, wrote 40 books, and recorded several music albums.  In 1979 she founded Joni and Friends, a Christian ministry to the disabled throughout the world. Her organization, Wheels for the World, collects wheel chairs that are refurbished by prison inmates and distributed to disabled children and adults in developing countries.

Rachel Scott was 17 when she was gunned down as the first murder victim at Columbine High School on April 20, 1999.  Rachel’s Christian witness and her vision for acts of kindness that can make a difference inspired Rachel’s Challenge, a movement in her memory.  Rachel’s Challenge has reportedly touched more than 20 million students worldwide in an effort to reduce violence and teen suicide.

According to the Bible, Joseph was thrown into the well by his brothers and sold as a slave into Egypt.  Years later he become Prime Minister in Egypt and was able to rescue his family during a widespread famine.  Confronted by his brothers who sold him into slavery, Joseph said, "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Genesis 50:20)

Peter recognized that all of us experience difficulty and pain.  In his letter he wrote, "Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed." (1 Peter 4:12-13)

The Apostle Paul wrote, "And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us." (Romans 5:3-5).

We each must work through our own suffering and pain, trusting God to give us strength to discover the good that He wants to bring into our lives. Sometimes it takes many years for this to come into focus.  Sometimes, we never see it.  At those times we can only live by faith.  When something terrible and confusing happens to us, we always have a choice, to turn inward in disappointment and disillusionment, or to turn outward and look upward in faith and hope. 

Monday, November 7, 2016

The Path Forward - Post Election

After this election I find myself hungry for humility, gentleness, kindness and goodness.  We have been inundated through the news and social media with arrogance, accusations, insults and anger, not just between the candidates, but often between family, friends and neighbors.

Some are characterizing November 8 as a day of election depression.  We are just tired of it, and wanting to leave it behind us for four more years.  Our way forward is not more of the same.  It is a different course. 

Jesus identified the path that leads a people and a nation to health and wholeness.  He did so with his story of a man who finds a helpless stranger.  Even though he is of a different ethnicity, culture and religion than his own, he washes the stranger’s wounds and pays for his care.  He did so when he described a father who refused to give up on his wayward boy, even though his son had wasted a good part of the family fortune. He did so by the way he treated a woman caught in adultery, challenging anyone without sin to cast the first stone.  He did so in his conversation with the Samaritan woman at the well, offering to give her living water.

In these and in many other ways, Jesus demonstrated the way forward.

We must be kind to one another, in our families, in our schools and in the work place. The way forward is found in thoughtful words and actions. We must respect those of every color and culture. We must speak words of encouragement to those who wait on our tables, to cashiers in the check-out line, to beggars on the street and to the officers who pulls us over. We must be kind to one another, forgiving every slight and confessing every wrong.

Jesus said, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you!  In that way you will be acting as true sons of your Father in heaven. For he gives his sunlight to both the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust too.  If you love only those who love you, what good is that? Even scoundrels do that much.  If you are friendly only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even the heathen do that.  But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:43-48. Living Bible).