Christian, food, mental health, prayer, Uncategorized

Dr. Jesus, the Church, and Mental Health

Here are some facts about our brains from “Complexity of Our Brain” by Dr. Mario D. Garrett as found in Psychology Today.

  • A human brain has 7.146 billion models.
  • It has 86 billion neurons that each have 1,000-10,000 synapses, which equals 125 trillion synapses (the equivalent of 1,000 times the number of stars in our galaxy.)
  • A single synapse can control 1,000 molecular control switches meaning that the entire brain contains 125,000 trillion switches.
  • In the cortex alone, there are over 100,000 miles of nerve fibers.
  • Messages can travel through the nerve fibers at speeds of 268 miles per hour.

The level of complexity involved in the function of the human brain is unparalleled. The brain not only controls the way we interpret outside information, it is actually changed as a result of the information it receives. Whether you are talking about Classical Conditioning and Pavlov’s dogs or Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the brain is molded by both experiences and the data it receives.

The brain can be impacted by physical conditions such as sleep deprivation, dehydration, and tumors. Human behavior and the physical health of the body can be impacted by imbalances in the brain. Learning specialists tout cross body movement and “crossing the midline” to help with brain functioning. They talk about the connection between babies that skip the crawling stage and later reading disorders. Want your kid to read better? Experts encourage exercises that cross the midline such as playing patty-cake and/or use both hemispheres of the brain like riding a bike. And we’ve all heard of the placebo effect. If you can trick the brain into thinking you are healing the body, you might actually get better.

The reverse is also true. We know that gut health is directly related to mood. Ever heard that drinking warm milk or eating a tryptophan filled turkey on Thanksgiving will make you fall asleep? There is some truth to the claims (even if they might be exagerated). Many diets promote optimal brain functioning and improved memory among their many health benefits. (Whether or not these diets can scientifically prove their specific claims, we know there is a connection to diet and brain function.) Exercise reduces depression. Sleep improves both our memory and our ability to learn new information. Too much screen time can impact attention and interfere with sleep.

My list of brain body interactions could go on and on for a very long time.

Amazing isn’t it? Yet we read one Bible verse, and somehow we can dismiss all we know in exchange for short platitudes.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? …..31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. Matthew 6:25, 31-34


“But let the righteous be glad; let them exult before God; Yes, let them rejoice with gladness.” Psalm 68:3

Oh, well, I guess having anxiety must be sin. Depression is a sign of unrighteousness. Mental health issues can always be cured through prayer and the Great Physician.


Um. No! Just, no.

My father drowned. My mother died of pulmonary fibrosis. My son died from diabetes. I prayed for all of them. I prayed for healing. Heck, I prayed for resurrection for my father. I know many people with chronic health problems. I know people who take cholesterol medication, insulin, and other daily medications.  And don’t even get me started on the church’s embracing of the healing properties of essential oils (unless you want to know what I’m diffusing in my house this season because it smells amazing).

“Well, that’s different,” you say. “That’s the body. Sometimes God chooses not to heal someone on this side of heaven. We don’t know why, but it’s not a lack of faith.…Well, unless it’s a mental health issue and then it’s totally a lack of faith.”

Maybe we don’t come out and say that, but we act that way every time we tell someone struggling with anxiety to “give all to Jesus” or someone with clinical depression to trust more in Jesus and rub a little lavender oil on their wrists. We might not tell the person diagnosed bi-polar that they are living a life of sin because of their mood disorder, but we make comments about mood stabilizing medication that we would never make about high blood pressure medication or chemotherapy.

pills 2

As a church body, we need to be more educated and understanding of mental health disorders, medications, and treatment. We need to understand that there is still a lot we don’t know. Faith absolutely plays a vital role in mental health, just like it plays a vital part in physical health, and every other aspect of life and community. Healing might come through the Great Physician or it might come through trained doctors, therapists, and pharmaceutical companies. We need to take away the stigma that if your pancreas isn’t producing insulin it’s fine to take an insulin injection, but if your amazingly complicated computer of a brain is misfiring one or more of it’s 125,000 trillion switches, you need to pray more.

Church, we can do better.


To read the full article: Complexity of Our Brain by Mario D. Garrett, PhD

Christian, prayer

More Than We Ask

“Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen” – Ephesians 3: 20-21

Sometimes I find it difficult to pray. It’s easy to ask people to pray for me, but to actually pray myself is hard. I know a lot of this is rooted in my lack of faith. I feel that what I’d be asking for is impossible, or at the very least highly improbable. What I truly yearn for would require serious intervention by the heavenly host, countering science, and literally being supernatural. I know that God is capable of this, and in fact specializes in this, but I can’t bring myself to ask. Maybe I’m afraid that not getting what I asked for would lead me to doubt my faith; so it’s better to not ask than to be disappointed or disillusioned. It’s not that I have never asked for something spectacularly impossible, it’s just that I’ve never gotten a “yes” answer to those big requests. So now I just send up some token prayers to the general effect of what I desire, but I don’t really petition heaven. 

Tonight, as I read these words from Ephesians, I felt some comfort. It doesn’t let me off the hook in my cowardly failure to fervently pray, but it’s good to know that God can meet me even in this place. “Far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” He knows what I’m thinking. He knows what I want. He knows my fears, my fragile faith, and my weariness hidden behind those token prayers. He can still answer my meager offerings and my broken dreams couched in, “If it’s God’s will.”

God can meet me in my imagination even when I’m too afraid to ask him to make it a reality. 

ministry, prayer, social justice

Living Passionately With Boundaries

In Father of The Bride (1991), George Banks (played by Steve Martin) is talking with his daughter’s ex-fiancé following a dramatic break-up scene. George is trying to smooth things over when he says, “Annie’s a very passionate person. And passionate people tend to overreact at times.” He is using the word “passionate” as a nice way of saying she is a little crazy at times. After seeing this movie, my husband started using the term to describe me. He uses the word a lot.

While my passion is selective, it is impossible for me to only partially commit. This applies to a project I am working on, but not to cleaning my house; which at times can be problematic.

“You need help with summer camp, sure I can help and of course I will plan the activities for my station and buy goat to roast over the open fire. “

easter eggs

“Why yes, my mouth is all bruised and swollen. I was blowing out 2 dozen eggs for my 1st graders to hand paint as a lesson on Russia. “

“We’re taking a trip to New Orleans (from New Jersey), so I planned a few other stops not too far out of the way like, say, Austin, Texas.”

“You know, these lesson plans had a great idea for making food from ancient Egypt, I bet I could do that with every place and time we study. I just need a map and I can check off the countries as I cook.”


My husband has just gotten used to these crazy ideas, God bless his soul. Our house is filled with crazy things like a miniature steam engine, wood burning tools, painted backdrops of volcanoes and jungles, and quill pens all because, “I might need them for a lesson some day.” (and I DO!) Our kids eat whatever is put on the table and have simply requested I not tell them where it’s from. Our road trips are EPIC!

The problem comes when I get passionate about something, but I can’t do anything about it. I become conflicted. I mull it over in my mind ad infinitum. That was the case for me with issues of justice in the world that I was seeing: slavery, poverty, violence, inner-city education, oppression of women, and the list goes on and on. Before I could even wrap my head around one problem I would learn about another problem. These are all vast issues with many facets, often deeply entrenched in culture and religion. Sometimes the depravity of what I was seeing would haunt my thoughts day and night.

I felt helpless, conflicted, and at times almost paralyzed or apathetic, because how could things change?

How does one live passionately with tasks so overwhelming? How does a passionate person not burnout when confronting immeasurable injustice and oppression around the world? How?


I’ve found myself at times caught in a downward spiral of anguish over some injustice. I’d get stuck in learning about some horror and I couldn’t let go.  I needed boundaries. 

Boundaries I have found helpful:

  1. Everything in life must be centered on Christ. This is both a reminder to myself and the crux of my being. I can only fight injustice when I understand the Creator of justice, when my mind is renewed by Him DAILY, and when I am strengthened by the Holy Spirit who resides within me. I forget this truth often and must be reminded of it regularly.
  2. I don’t watch/read the news. Not that I don’t keep up with world events and politics, but I limit my consumption. I don’t need to read every news report on every child molester. Nor do I need to hear every survivor’s tragic tale to be informed. I don’t need to see everything for myself. You just can’t un-see something. Sometimes less really is more.
  3. “Look for the helpers,” just like Mr. Rogers said. I read of rescuers, of survivors, and of hope as much as possible so I can envision the change I am working towards.
  4. “When I was a boy and I would see scaryI surround myself with supportive, faithful Christians who lift me in prayer, teach me the Word, and hold me accountable. A safety net is a must.


If you’re going to join in the fight for justice you need to set up some boundaries. You aren’t any good to the fight if you are worn down and feel defeated. Your boundaries might be different from mine. You might need to steer clear of some particular injustice. Don’t feel bad. You aren’t alone. Someone else will take up where you aren’t called to be. Take the time to set up boundaries now before you get too entrenched in this battle.


Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.-1 Peter 5:8 (ESV)

“She turned to the sunlight    And shook-2


parenting teens, prayer

To My Son on His 30th Birthday

December 16, 2014

To My Son on His 30th Birthday,

I do not remember what happened on the day you were born. I never held your tiny hand or wrapped you in a tiny blanket as I did my other children. I don’t have any baby pictures of you. I don’t know how old you were when you took your first steps or first rode a bike without training wheels. Our story is different. Our story is a story of mutual choices. We chose you, and you chose us. It is a story of bumpy adolescence, of struggles, and only a few years of shared living spaces. Ours is a story of family, permanent bonds that cannot be broken. Ours is a story of God’s hand of providence.

Jeremiah 29:11says, “For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosperand not to harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.” You know these words, because they were the words we gave you when you first became a part of our family. These are words that God spoke to you. I know this because I sawthe note you wrote a few months before you came to us, a crying out for purpose and a future. Those words you wrote will forever be etched in my mind. God reached out of heaven and answered you when you didn’t even know he was listening.  Perhaps it seems his response came too late. Perhaps you wondered where he was all those years before. I cannot answer that for Him, you will have to wait on Him for that answer some day. God in His sovereignty is beyond comprehension. What I do know is that had he reached down any earlier you would not have come into our home. Any sooner and I am certain we would have been unable to make you our own. Perhaps God waited until we were ready. I am glad he did. I am glad His timing, as some consider slow, brought you to us.

I have learned many things in my years as your mother. I have learned about the importance of family. I have learned how ill equipped I am to be a parent outside of the grace of God. I have learned that love is not about feelings, genes, history, but is much more, so very much more. But of all things I learned there is one thing I learned that goes above all those things. I learned that God speaks and when He speaks He fulfills His promises. He spoke to me. He told me that you were to be my son and it is the only time in my entire life that I knew God was speaking to me and then fulfilled that promise. You are the son of my promise, like Isaac to Abraham. You are the answer to my prayers.

Here is what I hope you have learned from us. I hope you learned that we are family, and that family is forever. I hope you have learned that we are people you can count on, people who are here to care for you, to support you, to love you through thick and thin. I hope you have learned to trust, hope, and love. But most of all I hope you have learned about faith. I hope you have learned that God is real, personal, and good. I hope you have found the purpose and future that God planned for you even from the foundation of the earth. I hope you have not only learned the story of God’s redemption, but that you will come to embrace that truth in your heart. I hope that one day you will find the deepest healing that comes from the Great Physician, and use your experiences to be God’s tool to bring healing to others.  I hope I will some day see you living out the plan God has for you.

I did not name you. Your name was chosen by God and appointed to you before we met. Your name, Sean, is the Irish name derived from John. It means “God is Gracious.” Grace is undeserved blessing, unmerited favor. For each of our children we have prayed that they would live up to their names and their namesakes. For you my prayer is that you would find the Grace of God and dwell in that grace. I pray you will be like John, “The disciple whom Jesus loved.” I pray you would love God with all your heart as John did, and you would be blessed as he was.

So on this, your 30th Birthday, I wish for you not the treasures of this world, as many will wish for you.  I wish for you something greater, deeper, far more wonderful. I wish for you all the treasures of heaven, your name written in The Book of Life, and your adoption into a whole new family, together with us, so that we can all dwell together for eternity.  Happy Brithday!

With Love,

Your Mother

parenting teens, prayer

The Drowning Child

This morning I read an article a friend of mine posted on Facebook. It was called “Drowning Doesn’t Look Like Drowning”. I was actually surprised to find out that it was talking about drowning. The article was excellent and everyone should read it, it just might help save a life. I’ve attached it here, but let me explain why I was a bit surprised that an article that has the word drowning in it was actually about drowning.  As I read the tag line, “children playing in the water make noise. When they get quiet, you get to them and find out why,” I immediately began thinking about parenting. When my kids are too quiet in their rooms it makes me wonder why and get up and check on them.  What mischief are they getting into that is motivating them to be quiet enough as to not draw attention to themselves? I was wondering if this idea about drowning can actually apply to a lot more than water.

silly water

I am going to pose some questions today and not necessarily answer them. My children for the most part have not reached the adolescent years. I have had a lot of experience with other peoples teenagers through youth group, guest speaking and counseling, but my personal experiences are more limited. As I think back to some of the kids who I have seen over the years get themselves in trouble I would say that there are usually signs, but they aren’t typically the bright, bold flashy neon kind, or at least not at first. They have been more subtle.  Kind of like the article said about the mouth being at water level, just surfacing long enough to breath, but with no time to yell.  How many times have you heard a story about a teenager who got pregnant, had a DUI, even committed suicide and all the people interview or talking about it said, “They were such a good kid, we never saw this coming,” or you have thought that yourself. I remember in grad school doing a research project on sexual predators and the two main phrases that came up in the articles about these perpetrators were either “the mother’s boyfriend” or “the babysitter”. And in the case of the teenage babysitter it was almost always the honor student, captain of the football team, church youth group president, Boy Scout kind of kid that no one suspected. It scared me enough that my husband and I  never let men babysit our kids (with a few rare exceptions, mostly in emergencies).  It makes me wonder what a parent is suppose to look for to keep their kid from drowning in life if not for the obvious cries for help?

Here are some of the signs to look for in someone who is drowning, according to this article.  They aren’t calling for help or waving their arms. (quiet kids, maybe really “good” kids, maybe loners)  They are vertical, but not treading water. (They appear fine, but aren’t looking like they are doing anything, maybe they have no hobbies or extra curricular activities.) They are swimming without making any headway. (They aren’t achieving goals, or maybe they don’t have any.) Their eyes are glassy, closed or cover with their own hair.  (Drug use, excessive sleep, and bad hair cuts..OK maybe not the last one, but it did make me laugh at some of the bad hair cuts teens have these days). They appear to be climbing an invisible ladder. (Maybe they are working too hard; are too focused on success.)  I found this list pretty interesting. I know it doesn’t really narrow things down; it could be anyone. Remember, this was an article about drowning in water, not navigating the teen years (interesting that we use the term navigate, with the Latin root for “I sail” to talk about life), but there might be something we can learn from this.


I think there are kids out there who are drowning, and they make it pretty obvious. Their cries for help are great and visable and people are often taking time trying to help them.  I wonder if these are the kids who have already drown? We are now actively doing rescue breathing on them; some will make it and some will not. Maybe we missed the signs that happened before they drown and started floating face down in the water for all to see. But what are those signs? Can we pretect our kids? Can we rescue them before it’s too late? Can we equip them to not need to be rescued? Can we protect them without souffocating them? How do we balance our desires to protect them while giving them enough freedom to make their own mistakes and learn from them?  It’s a tough call and something that as a parent I struggle with on a daily basis.

I don’t have the answers. I don’t yet know if my kids will drown. I don’t know if I will err on the side of suffocating my own children or watching them drown while they are sitting next to me. (Half of the 750 kids that will drown this year will do so within 25 yards of one of their parents.) I don’t know if my kids will survive because I have given them the perfect level of education and support or they will make it because they are naturally gifted swimmers or they find a top-class swim instructor. As a parent I pray a lot.  I pray God will give me the wisdom  on when to intervene and when to step back. I pray he will bring swim instructors into my kids life, lots of them, but only good ones.  I pray that when I can’t watch my kids that a community of life guards is keeping a watchful eye out for them.  And one more thing I do is talk.  I talk a lot. Just like the article said, I ask my kids “Are you alright?” I explain the reasoning behind rules. I ask them direct questions. I bring up real life examples of things that go on both in the news and with people they know.  I talk about the hard things of sex and alcohol and even laziness. I talk. I worry that I talk too much, but I think this article is probably right, if they can answer your question, they are probably not drowning. So I keep talking,and listening, and watching for the signs. And I pray that it’s enough.

Bible Study, prayer, Proverbs 31

My Dirty Little Quiet Time Secret

I commited my life to Christ 24 years ago. For the first few years, I was just trying to figure out what that meant; for the rest of those years, I have tried to be a good Christian. I have grown more like Christ in the way I live and the choices I make. I have faithfully attended church, been invloved in Bible Studies, Home Fellowships, and ministries that serve others. I even spent many years running my church’s Jr. High youth ministry. But all this time, I have kept this shameful secret.  Well, it’s not completely a secret. I have confessed it to people from time to time, but certainly not quit as openly as this. So here it is.  I don’t have quiet times.


Now, before I am completely thrown out of any leadership position in my church, I should be more specific.  When I led youth group, I would frequently lead Bible Study, and every week I would faithfully spend quite a bit of time reading and studying to prepare for my lessons.  I even prepared (though not as much) for the lessons that other people were teaching just in case they couldn’t make it.  I have been invovled in quite a few Bible study groups where there was homework, which I dutifully did.  In addition to these things, I pray, read the Bible, and Christian books that have all helped me grow in what it means to follow Chirst.  In my attempt to be more Christ like by having daily quiet times, I have over the years set up plans to read the Bible before I even get out of bed in the morning, before I would let myself eat breakfast (sort of a fasting idea), or before I went to bed at night. All of these plans would last for a while before I would relapse into my non-quiet time life again. At different times in my life, I have been more successful than at other times, but usually my success has be related to two factors: 1. Did I have a task that needed to be completed? or 2. Did I have a lot of free time (such as summer vacation)? For almost my entire life as a Christian this has been a dark cloud hanging over my head. This shame that I am not as commited to Christ as I should be. If I was a good Christian I would get up early before my kids and spend time with God (early morning seems to be more spiritual a time of day), I would never watch a movie after the kids were in bed if I hadn’t done a quiet time that day (free time can only happen after obligations are fulfilled), and I certainly had no business leading others in ministry if I couldn’t be faithful in my own quiet time with God.

Yet always in the back of my head I would remember my Dad saying that God didn’t want so much from people as they seemed to think.  He said that God asked for one day a week, that’s all. He didn’t expect us to be in church every single day. He wanted us to of course follow Him daily, but not live in church services. I thought it was a pretty good argument, but still I thought that a daily quiet time was part of that friendship with God, the time that we would spend together growing closer.  After all, friends want to be together, they want to have the time to just sit with one another and not just one hour a week on a Sunday morning.


Then I left leading ministry and found myself in an unusual place in my life. For the first time in many years, I had nothing and no one telling me what to read or study. I wasn’t teaching so I didn’t need to prepare a lesson, and I wasn’t enrolled in a Bible study with homework; it was just me.  What was I going to do in my time with God, with no agenda, and no tasks to complete? So I went back to the basics. I read Luke. Inspired also by the book Already Gone by Ken Ham and Britt Beemer, I began looking at the gospel trying to see what things we have added to the gospel as modern day American Chirstians. I looked at what Christ’s life was like, and how we have added to or taken away from that in our faith.  One thing I saw was the quiet time.  The expectation that is placed on us by Christian society is that we should have a daily quiet time.  We are shown verses about the manna in the wilderness and in the Lord’s Prayer asking for daily bread. We have  been told that quiet times are the way that we get this daily bread and are reminded that we shouldn’t eat only once a week. There are countless books and thoughts on exactly the proper format for this necessary quiet time to nourish our souls. But is that what it meant?

Let’s think about history. For most of history the average person has been illiterate, or nearly so. Books (or scrolls) have been rare. They were hand written on tablets, parchment, or paper taking a great deal of time to create thus making them too expensive for the average person to own. The scriptures were often only read by priests and by a few other learned men. The average person wasn’t expected to sit and read the scripture or even in some cases to know what it said outside of a few baisc rules that were memorized. As history progressed, we see Guttenburg creating his printing press and many  more books, the Bible in particular, becoming available (of course still not in a language that most people knew). When Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theseis to the door of the church in Wittenberg (1517 AD) the majority of people neither had access to a Bible nor the knowlege to read it if they did.  It was Martin Luther who translated the New Testament into the language of the people, well his people at least, which was considered heretical by the Roman Catholic Chruch.  As time goes on, the Bible would get translatated into different languages and printed so that the common person could access it.  Yet, still many people didn’t own books.  Also, many of the Christians throughout history have not had the amount of “free” time to devote to daily quiet times that we have in our society. (Think  of the African slaves, the Medieval peasants, or even the more modern day immigrants working in the factories of the industrial revolution. Heck, think of the single working mom with three jobs.) I don’t know the origin of the quiet time and when it became the thing for good Christians to do, but I must think that such an idea could not have come into play until access to the Bible was common for people, so sometime in the last 300, maybe 400 years.  This means that for the first 5500+ years of world history, it wasn’t part of the plan.  It wasn’t part of the early Christain church. And it wasn’t part of the instructions that God gave his people in the scripture.


Now, that said, I am not arguing that quiet times are unGodly, unBiblical or bad in any way. I am all in favor or quiet times, of spending time with God, in sudying the scripture, and even memorizing passages. The more you put into a relationship, the more you will get out of it. In having a discussion on this with a good friend of mine, my friend offered me the best argument I have heard for quiet times. She said, for whom much is given, much is expected. (Thanks Jenn!) We are a generation greatly privlidged to have the Bible available to us to read and we must not waste that gift. I have acess to every translation of the Bible, study tools, and commentaries and I have 20 mintues or more a day that I could devote to quiet times. However, we are also the generation that has been given the gift of the Holy Spirit indwelling in us. We have the scriptures written on our hearts. I try to sit down and have my quiet times as often as possible. I enjoy it so much more that I am doing it as I am moved rather than as a task to check off the list. But I also know that some of my best friends I don’t see daily, I don’t even see weekly.  These are friends whom I have connected with on a deep level and we are bound forever, despite sometimes not getting to see one another. Do I like seeing them more often? Do I miss them when I don’t? Of course. I meet with God at least once a week at church, but certainly most weeks more than that.  I also live in a state of prayer.  I don’t think when Jesus said to pray continually he meant in quiet times, he meant as we go about our days.  I pray as I go through my day, remembering people and things, encountering difficulties, counting my blessings, asking for guidance, even telling Christ about my life and the things that I’m thinking. Do I take time out to pray more indepth? Sure, but I think what draws me to God more is my constant prayer not my seperate times of prayer.

Coming to an understanding that God did not command quiet times has helped me free myself of the shame that I have felt for many years. When I would be consistant in my quiet times and then “back slide,” I felt shame.  I would feel guilty that I was too self focused in my life and not enough God centered. It is this guilt and shame, this condemnation that does not come from Christ. I want to spend time with Christ and I am certian that he wants to spend it with me. Without this dirty little secret plaguing my heart, I find that I am more inclinded to reach for my Bible, curl up on a chair, and spend some time reading and praying, like friends, not like a task to check off my list. Right now I am reading Acts and how the early church did devote themselves daily to teachings, prayer and fellowship. (Acts 2:42-47) Perhaps I will become more consistant and faithful in my quiet times, not beacuse I feel obligated to out of Christian deovtion, but becauses I desire to. Right now, I am basking in the freedom that quiet times are a man made invention (that very well might be an excellent tool to help me in my walk), but they are not a mandate from God, a mark of my faith, or a measurement of how good a Christian I am.