mental health during this pandemic

I was pondering today the reality that around the globe we are all faced with some strange realities simultaneously. Who would have guessed this was all ahead a year and a half ago? I want to say that I acknowledge the pandemic is very real. We have lost loved ones who died from COVID (thought these two women were elderly and had other issues as well), and we know younger people who have been very ill with this virus. We’re praying hard for one man who is very sick and in ICU, and others. So there’s no denial that this is a serious illness.

The origins of the illness and how various leaders around the world are responding (and opportunistically trying to control people beyond their legal authority and impose socialist policies) are worth pondering, however.

In many places, elderly have been isolated from loved ones for months and months now, and depression and other mental health impacts are serious. Kids are hurting too. They are missing out on contact with teachers, other kids and other benefits of in-person education. The mental health crisis is as serious as the pandemic, and these are inter-related. We need to create ways for meaningful connection. We need to consider the whole person, and also we need to stand up to leaders who are abusing their positions and harming many in the process.

Rise up. Find ways to care about the people in your sphere of influence.

Yes, we need to avoid spreading this blasted virus. But we also need to remain engaged in life and find and preserve connections with others that are life-giving. A friend has brought her dogs over sometimes and she stayed for dinner recently. Another friend came over for a visit and stayed for dinner in the past few weeks. We enjoyed music, prayer and conversation, and we don’t take time with others for granted at all right now. We do what we can to protect our health. But we also know that these interactions are good for health, and we trust others are encouraged as well.

how do we handle disappointments in this fallen world?

In a year of a worldwide pandemic, many people have experienced real loss, illness, financial setbacks, and other deep disappointments. If you’ve lost loved ones to this insidious virus that has circled the globe, or had significant setbacks related (or unrelated) to the pandemic, I am very sorry. Two of our relatives in Holland died from COVID, though they were older and vulnerable, it was still very sad. We know many lives have been lost, and some people have lingering effects from COVID. It’s all very terrible.

Healthcare for other conditions has been compromised because of the pandemic, too, and when a serious health crisis strikes, such as a stroke which affected our beloved family member, the care has been impacted by this dreadful COVID virus and the impact on health care system.

A few weeks ago, I fell and got a concussion. I hadn’t fallen for a few months, and the PT and other medical appointments, which began after a bad fall out in my garden last spring (and progression of the multiple sclerosis), were finally slowing down. I thought I might have the reward of having some time freed up before the holidays. But no, I had to fall on the sidewalk outside Big 5 the day after the US Election (which has been a fiasco as well). I hit my right cheek and chin hard on the concrete and sustained a concussion, a scraped and swollen knee and other painful sprains. I’ve had a headache every day since that fall, and concussions are certainly no picnic. My vision remains messed up. Just when things were sort of looking up, too. The PT who is also a brain injury specialist commented that concussions have many of the same symptoms as an MS flare up (when lesions are actively damaging the brain and spinal cord’s myelin sheath). So living with MS really is no picnic either. I used to enjoy a good picnic. My Mom packed the best picnics ever, so the way life has turned out is disappointing in contrast.

The day after my fall, we had some help arranged so I had to be outside for hours finishing the dismantling of my garden and moving raised beds in preparation for the barn that we had scheduled to be built last week. Despite the pain, I persevered, and that weekend, I helped ensure the spreading of the crushed gravel on the building site and pathways went well. So again, when I needed to rest, I could not because of the timing. Then the barn builders showed up on the long awaited day. I was so delighted this goal I’d worked so hard for was coming to fruition. They were supposed to build a quality barn in one day, and we’d put electric to it and insulate it, and do the finishing inside soon after. A friend offered me a noble fir tree that I could enjoy in the my new barn (my husband is allergic to almost everything). I was looking forward to cutting my tree and also moving my indoor succulents into the barn as soon as it was ready. I was most excited about having a quiet space to write soon.

However, pretty much everything that could go wrong the day of the build did go wrong. They arrived without the flooring they promised, substituting poor quality plywood instead without even telling us. One of the workers recklessly caused the wood to crash off of the truck onto the concrete sidewalk more than once, splitting many of the boards. Nothing seemed to go right, and it became apparent that the quality would suffer. While I felt for the guys who came to build, when their boss decided to call off the job and have them dismantle the part they started and refund the money, we felt relieved. Somehow in God’s sovereignty, that barn build wasn’t meant to happen that day. With tears running down my face, I told the workers what their boss had decided, and thanked them for trying. I felt so disappointed. My husband said I was inconsolable, and it hurt his heart. The reason I want the barn is to have a detached space to write and do the things I love, since my husband works from home now due to the pandemic.

I had a good long cry that day, then dusted off my soul and moved on. Maybe I’ll be grieving for awhile, but this year has been filled with challenges and disappointments, so it’s just par for the course. My husband and I have a contractor working up a bid to potentially build the cabin or barn in a few months. God knows.

Time with loved ones is very precious to us right now. The pandemic has robbed us of time with aging parents, and now two of my nephews were exposed to COVID so I just learned this morning our Thanksgiving dinner has to be called off. I had really been looking forward to sharing a meal with a small gathering at my Mom and Arie’s house this week. I am quite sad and praying that my nephews, my brother and anyone else they’ve potentially exposed won’t get COVID.

Prior to this morning, people have been altering plans anyway since our governor has threatened jail time or huge fines for anyone gathering with more than six people and no more than two households. This Marxist-oriented governor thinks she’s helping prevent the spread of COVID with her draconian measures, but the same governor has allowed her policies to devastate small businesses and she tends to support wild protests without masks while overstepping her authority and limiting churches. We need to do what makes sense to protect one another from the pandemic. However, her approach leaves a lot to be desired and if some other country would please take her as an immigrant soon, that would be greatly appreciated.

Our state has recently endured wildfires that ravaged many towns, destroying homes. Some of our hospitals report high numbers of COVID cases, and health care professionals are stretched thin and weary. Families have had to adapt to kids being home from school, and some people have lost jobs. Local small businesses are really hurting. We are praying for all of you who are experiencing these tough things. This is a year we won’t soon forget.

I told my husband I felt really disappointed about not having Thanksgiving this week. Especially because time with parents is rare, and with Arie’s health being so fragile lately, time is precious. Once again, this wretched pandemic is robbing us of time together. My husband hugged me, offering his love, and said, “I know, let’s have a holiday this week where we give thanks.” I smiled at his heart.

Because of our hope in Christ, we can still have joy. We can still have peace. I might cry a bit more to wash the windows of my weary soul, but my heart remains aware we have so much to be thankful for.

trusting in the midst of turbulence

We live in turbulent times. The recent US Presidential Election has been a wild one. The media has projected a winner, and Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have made fancy speeches, celebrating with their supporters with shining faces.

However, the votes have not all been counted, nor have the issues of suspected voter fraud been sufficiently addressed. Legal challenges have been filed in many states. Evidence of significant fraud needs to be examined before declaring a winner. So creating this narrative of a victory by the candidate Joe Biden was premature in the view of millions of Americans. The mainstream media has treated President Trump with disdain from the day he first announced his run for this office over four years ago. So, many people don’t feel surprised that the media thinks they can declare a winner, though this is not how our democracy is structured. The media does not determine who is the next President of the US. We have a constitution. We have laws in this country governing elections. But this old adage comes to mind: “figures can lie and liars can figure.” Do you feel satisfied that this election has reached a valid conclusion and that the votes have been properly counted, ensuring the validity of this election? If you’re old enough, you’ll remember the Al Gore fiasco and how that election eventually played out.

Did you feel great joy as the speeches of the “new administration” were aired? Or did you feel troubled by what you perceive as an election that has not yet been fully carried out in a legal or legitimate way? When an election is this close, during a pandemic, do you think that our democratic system for election has been honored sufficiently?

Today we took our friend to get groceries with us. When we were getting back in the car, an older veteran near our car interacted with us. He looked very distressed as he expressed his frustrations and concerns about the election. As our friend said, he probably hasn’t had anyone else to visit with about how he’s feeling. The pandemic isolates so many of us. As my husband, who is a veteran reminded us, for some veterans hearing these acceptance speeches prematurely may trigger some trauma. After all, too many brave American soldiers paid the ultimate price, never returning home to resume life in the nation they were defending. Many lives were lost during the Obama era (and under other former Presidents as well). My husband reminded us that not every veteran trusts Joe Biden. (Some do, but this older gentleman clearly didn’t.) So, emotions arise and trauma sometimes gets triggered. This veteran, talking us in the grocery store parking lot on a cold November day, was clearly shaken by the way this election has been handled.

A friend of mine visited yesterday, and she voiced some strong views. Some of those views differ from ours, but we love her anyway. We share a faith in God and a love for one another. We’ve never allowed politics to divide us. Most healthy people share the desire for less polarization, more healing in this land, and all of us desire what is best for this country in the long run. I actually like talking to people I respect who have a different perspective. (Sadly, respectful dialogue sometimes feels like a lost art.) I can learn from them, and recognizing that many things shape the beliefs and views of each person helps me embrace healthy dialogue.

Genuine curiosity helps. Remember Mr. Rogers in his button up sweater? He had a calming presence and used his show to help children learn about the world they were born into. Be like Mr. Rogers. Look for the helpers. Be a peaceful, calm presence in a troubled world. The only way I can do this is to abide in Christ and rest in His sovereignty. Our hope is not in human beings. Our hope is in the LORD, Maker of heaven and earth.

I appreciated a conversation I had with my brother this morning. Tim has a balanced and helpful view of many things in the realm of politics. I found his views encouraging. Another friend today called and asked if I had any encouragement during this very sad week for those who support President Trump.

This election is on the hearts of so many Americans, and it’s being watched by people around the world. The election was extremely close in so many states. The future of this nation depends upon fair and honest elections. Let this election get sorted out properly before assuming the outcome is in one direction or another.

I read more than one article before the election results were being counted, and they tried to claim that President Trump would not peacefully leave his position if he lost. Many sensationalized narratives have been woven, seeking to discredit and harm public perception. That’s just not a reasonable concern. Of course President Trump will move on to the next adventure when the time comes. I can’t imagine having to focus on doing a complex, challenging job with so much static and distractions. He endured an impeachment process that many Americans saw as very contrived and unfair.

I am thankful that President Trump has been willing to serve our nation despite the intense opposition he’s faced. I don’t think he is perfect. He’s human. He has areas where he certainly could grow and improve, as we all do. But he’s endured abuse and endless criticism, and he’s still accomplished some important objectives. The unborn have had a president who stood for their right to live. Israel has been treated as a sovereign nation and a valued ally rather than brushed off and mistreated as they had been by the prior administration. Christians and other religions have seen their religious freedoms restored and protected, rather than diminished and attacked as they had been previously. Many good things have happened under his watch.

Regardless of all of that and various views people espouse, many of us just want to see this election resolved accurately and honestly. So many people just believe what the news broadcasters say, and if it agrees with the outcome they want, they perpetuate this story. I wonder how much cognitive dissonance is required to reconcile declaring and celebrating an outcome when people are aware of shenanigans that compromise integrity. I’ve listened to credible cyber security experts and voting software experts who have shared that this election looks to have been manipulated in significant ways which may impact the outcome, and we all deserve to have answers about whatever took place.

No matter what the outcome, as believers, we can find our stability in the LORD. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we can find peace in His Presence in spite of the troubled times we live in. However, we’re reminded not to be “so heavenly minded that we’re no earthly good.”

Count those votes.

Pray.

We have technology that can be used with integrity, but vulnerabilities exist.

Patiently work it through and reach an honest conclusion.

Then we can all adapt to the true outcome, not this rushed declaration.

a strange mixture

Life sometimes holds such a strange mixture of deep loss alongside celebrations, time with loved ones, and situations that defy logic and understanding. When we can’t make sense of it, when we know loved ones are hurting and sorrow seems to be the only truth in that moment, I am so thankful God gets it. Jesus wept. God extends His love to us no matter what we encounter. We are not alone.

Lean into the One who never stresses

I hear people express frustration about the uncertainty and limitations which a global pandemic impose on them. For people who aren’t accustomed to limitations, the pandemic adds considerable stress. I don’t mean to minimize the vast impact. I empathize. Even though I understand that many are struggling and the realities may be harsh, I think that living with MS or other long term condition for the rest of your life is even more enduring. This pandemic will eventually pass. Enduring hardship teaches us a lot. The gift hidden within limitations is that we can learn to rely upon God and not ourselves. Uncertainty is a human condition–God already knows the future. He exists outside of time and He is never stressed or anxious. His loving purposes will ultimately be accomplished despite this pandemic or whatever challenges we face. Lean into His love tonight. Trust His heart, which is for you. His love never fails. He knows. He’s got this. He will provide for you. He promises that ultimately He will work all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose (Romans 8). This life goes by quickly. Eternity in His Presence awaits those who know Jesus.

listen

In a noisy world, enjoy some quiet. Listen for His still small voice. Turn off the noise and devices, switch off the news and mow the lawn, take a bike ride, get to know an older friend. Go for a swim. Spend time in the Word. Let go of expectations of others, and seek His face. Find your identity in the One who can transform your heart, heal your wounds and change your life in beautiful ways.

The Radiance of His Glory

Watching the brilliance of the moon rising in the night sky, and thinking about how Jesus came into the world bringing LIGHT. One day, in His full Presence, we will no longer have need of the sun and the moon for light. The Radiance of His glory will be all the light we need. For those who love Him, that will be a great joy.

the verboten TV

Long ago, I remember sitting with my Swiss Grandma Tillie in their farmhouse up on the hill. The sound of her clock ticking on the fireplace mantel marked the seconds audibly. Her long silver hair always looked tidy under the net that kept it styled neatly above her shoulders. That evening, she asked me to turn on the verboten TV (I pulled the button out as remotes weren’t how she operated that black and white screen), and after a few minutes of world news, Grandma made a face and said, ‘That’s ugly! Turn that thing off!”

She and Grandpa and Aunt Velma didn’t usually watch TV. Grandma had a little electric organ she played hymns on. We would gather around and sing off key. Happy memories with my family. Now that Grandpa had passed away, her organ and the TV were still considered worldly, but she kept them around anyway. She understood God’s grace, and she wasn’t bound by all of those legalistic ideas. But unless you turned on that TV, it simply collected dust. She preferred it that way. The violence and chaos of the world beyond their hillside farm didn’t often reach her eyes and ears.

Unlike most people nowadays, Grandma hadn’t grown desensitized to the images and noise of this world. She simply couldn’t endure watching much news. I feel that way about social media and some of our news nowadays. I seldom turn on our TV. I can read enough articles to stay abreast of things well enough to pray. My husband informs me of major things in his good natured way, inserting humor to lighten the mood as needed. Life’s too short to spend all of our time captivated by images and words on a screen. I’d rather look into the eyes of someone I love, and plant succulents, and spend time with lambs in the spring. I love to go for a drive and look at the fall colors with my Sweetie.

If Grandma Tillie were alive today and saw all that’s going on in our state and world, she wouldn’t be spending much time with the news on. She’d read her Bible. She liked to grow African violets. She’d visit over a cup of tea with her large extended family and neighbors. She liked to ask us to weigh on her old scales when we came in the sliding glass door. She probably missed her calling as a nurse. Grandma never learned to drive a car. She had Mr. Kuenzi drive her around in their huge old light green Chevy Impala (with a white hard top and 400 engine) until he died. Then she’d get rides from family or have us pick up groceries for her in Silverton. She would rather can green beans and serve up some vanilla wafers with pudding. She’d lift the lid of her cookie jar and offer us an oatmeal cookie (often a little hard), and visit about something positive, like the new baby a cousin just added to the family. Somehow she kept track of our hundreds of cousins and delighted in their news, sharing this joy with a twinkle in her grey blue eyes.

Grandma understood that what we focus on influences our outlook and quality of life. Granted, we need to understand what’s going on and do what we can, and certainly pray. We are called to pray continuously. But, we live in a fallen world, and our hope just isn’t here. In Christ, we have a hope that transcends all of the things going on. One day, this upcoming election won’t be so crucial. Fires won’t fill the sky with dark clouds of smoke and ashes. None of the social chaos and pandemic will be able to disturb us. Not when we see Jesus face to face. The things of earth really will grow strangely dim as the hymn says. Our citizenship is in heaven, and we’re passing through this life as we hopefully grow to be more like our Beloved Savior, by His grace. Left to our own devices we’d be such a mess.

Even if you feel like a mess, take heart. God is in the transformation business…from ashes, He brings beauty. From filthy rags, emerges a garment white as snow because of His sacrificial gift of eternal life and forgiveness. We have reason for joy and peace despite this very messy world we live in. As Abbott Marmion wrote, “Joy is the echo of Christ’s life in us.” Now that’s beautiful.

Fires and other major stressors? Here’s some help:

Feel like you’ve been through the wringer? Well most of us in Oregon have been in fight or flight all week, and although in some areas things are calming down a bit, it’s not over yet. The fires continue in many parts of the state and the air quality is very poor. Take time to breathe deeply (indoors with air purifiers on if possible) and connect with the LORD. This calms your nervous system. Take time to hug your family or loved ones or ride an indoor exercise bike. This produces endorphins and bonding hormones that make you feel better. Drink lots of water. This helps flush the toxins from breathing smoky air. Your mental health matters too. There are some simple things you can do to help. Gratitude helps you to turn on the relational circuits in the brain. Even giving thanks for simple things, like the fact that you woke up to another day, can help. Pain turns off relational circuits, making it hard to relate to God and other people well. But you can turn those circuits on with interactive gratitude and worship or thanking God, so these tips might help.


There’s also an exercise we call the “Five Bar.” When your phone or laptop has a strong connection, you can see five bars signifying that. If you have a few minutes, close your eyes, pray and think of a time when you felt a strong connection to God. (If you don’t believe there’s a God, you can improvise, but this is more powerful because God’s Presence in healing and powerful. He is love.) Then when He brings a memory to mind, remember that time of deeper connection with God. Marinate in those memories, using all five senses if you can. Take as long as you want. Then, once you feel connected, share this with someone else out loud if you can. This will help create better neural pathways in your brain as it turns on relational circuits, too. A simple thing you can do also at this point is ask the LORD, “Is there something you’d like me to understand?” Or you can invite Him to come with you to the thoughts that are troubling you. He may minister to your heart in a way that can be very healing. These principles come from something called the Immanuel Approach, which Janet Taylor and I taught to some counselors in Asia a few years ago. I still offer Immanuel prayer ministry to others sometimes. Remember God is with you. He is mighty to save!

Just had a shower and washed the ashes and smoke out of my hair, enjoying the warm water and emerging clean and fresh. Now I have God’s Word playing in the background as I get some daily chores done. Feels like being washed and renewed, too. In a very distracting time, we need His Word more than ever. In a time of crisis, His Word is a light unto our feet…a refuge, a source of power and strength. We can rest on His promises, and where faith and promises unite, we see God move powerfully and lovingly.

the true heroes

I am hearing verified reports of loggers, farmers, excavation companies, and others lending their skills and equipment in the defense of whole towns, communities and homes against Oregon’s fires. Some of these people are my cousins and friends. Thank you. You are the salt of the earth. You inspire all of us by your sacrifices and hard work, your willingness to lay down your life to help protect others. The fight isn’t over but the wind conditions have helped calm some of the fires, and more help is arriving from out of state firefighters, and the National Guard, and others. So, Oregonians who know what honor really is, and who love our beautiful state, thank you for persevering despite losses and scary things we’ve all been facing together. Some of you have lost homes or businesses or lands. A few have lost lives of loved ones. Many have lost sleep and felt very stressed. Take heart. We are going to get through this together.

For those of you who have been ‘fighting injustices’ by violence and who desire anarchy, those of you who are seeking to loot and harm people in their times of vulnerability: Go back to wherever you came from. Leave our beautiful state alone, or learn to love, protect and appreciate this incredible land God has allowed us to call Home. We don’t need lawlessness or violence, and we sure don’t need arsons. People are defending their homes and lives the best ways they know how.

A whole generation in Asia experienced the Cultural Revolution and bore scars and trauma the rest of their lives. If you want Marxist ideologies and godlessness, and to abandon the rule of law, get out of here. We don’t need more lives lost to this senseless approach. You won’t fight injustice with violence. You’re just perpetuating the problems. Take some notes from the farmers, loggers, firefighters and others who are selflessly defending this state, despite exhaustion. Learn from the helpers who are caring for evacuated animals. You’ll change the world in positive ways, helping people of every race to lead healthier lives and find true justice and mercy if you learn from these examples. Praying you encounter Jesus and experience transformed lives, and lay down your weapons and protest signs. Pick up your cross and follow Jesus…that’s a true revolution.