Umbrellas are stupid.

My oldest son asked for one item from Santa Claus this Christmas.  Just one.  He climbed up into Jolly Old Saint Nicks lap, looked him dead in the eye, and without a hint of irony said, “I want an umbrella.”  To me this was an odd request of a man who can supposedly make your wildest dreams come true.  He could have asked for anything, and he lands on an umbrella?

I have a confession.  I think umbrellas are stupid.  No, it’s a little deeper than that. I think umbrellas are kind of girly.  No offense, but in the past if you were a man and I saw you carrying an umbrella I would judge you a little in my heart.  So when my son asks for one I was a little hesitant to honor the request.  Fortunately my wife does not share my opinion on umbrellas and on Christmas morning my son awoke to many presents, but the one that he held near and dear to his heart was the $5 Superman umbrella laying under the tree.  He carried it everywhere for days.  He proudly showed it off to anyone that would take the time to listen.  He would open and close it with a simple joy that can only be found in the heart of a three-year old.

Then Sunday came.  It poured rain on Sunday.  I stood in the door way of my house dreading taking the first step out.  My son on the other hand could barely contain his excitement as he popped open his umbrella and stepped out into the great adventure that was the walk to the car.  It rained all day, and all day my son got to use his umbrella.  I got soaking wet.

It was about half way through the day that my opinion on umbrellas changed.  Suddenly they were not so girly.  I was starting to wish I had asked Santa for one myself.  What I once saw as an unnecessary, girly, waste of time I now see as an essential piece of equipment that, when used, can actually turn a rather miserable rain storm into a pleasant little stroll with my son.

I don’t know what 2014 holds for you or me, but here is what I do know.  This year I’m not asking God for wealth, health, or happiness.  This year I’m climbing up into the Father’s lap, and with out a hint of irony simply asking for his protection from the inevitable storms of life.

I’m asking God for an umbrella.

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The Year in Review.

It’s that time of the year where I always get a little nostalgic and begin to reflect back on the past 12 months, and try to draw some lessons out of the experiences that I have had.  I do this exercise mostly for myself but if someone gets something out of it I’m happy for that as well.

2013 had some great highs! In one year we moved twice, started a new and amazing ministry at Gethsemane Church of Christ, Aimee began a new and challenging teaching position, we celebrated the one year mark of our youngest sons birth, rejoiced with my sister and brother-in-law as they brought their first child into this world, and rejoiced in the new spiritual births that have taken place in our student ministry with many students accepting Jesus for the first time in their life. Oh yeah, the Ravens won the Super Bowl too.  That was neat.

2013 was not all, as one now infamous duck caller would say, “happy happy happy.” For the Thayer’s 2013 also held some significant losses for us. We lost three people from our lives this year. Aimee’s grandfather on her mother’s side and her grandmother on her father’s side went to be with The Lord, and while we rejoice in that fact, we selfishly mourn their absence from this earth. While these two had no choice in their departure our third loss chose to leave on his own accord.  That’s been hard, but by the grace of God we learn and we grow from it.

From these experiences I’ve landed on five major lessons for the year. Enjoy.

1) The hardest people to extend grace to is your family.
I am a preacher of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I believe that message’s foundation is grace. More specifically that everyone deserves grace. Nothing challenges that belief more than when a family member wounds you. It made me appreciate a bit more the pain God must feel when his Children wound him, and respect him all the more for his ability to continue to pour out his grace despite that hurt.

2) We are all one bad choice away from ruining a lot of good things,but we always have a choice until we take our last breath.
I don’t know where you are in your life right now. I don’t know what you struggle with, and I don’t know how close you are to throwing in the towel, and just letting the proverbial chips fall where they may, but I do know this; you always have a choice. Never let Satan convince you that you are too far gone to turn around.

3) Everyone needs a few people in their lives that they can cry with, laugh with, and scream at every once in a while.
We were built to enjoy fellowship with each other. This year I’ve learned that means crying with each other, laughing with each other, and being able to be angry about life with these people while they simply listen. You know who you are.  Thanks.

4) I’m collectively four and a half years into parenting and I still don’t know what I’m doing.
If you have kids you’re going to mess them up somehow. That’s just the way it is. There is only one perfect Father, the rest of us kind of make it up as we go along. Case and point. We walked out into the kitchen one morning to find our oldest eating raw macaroni noodles for breakfast. I’d say that’s a parenting fail. Just make sure they know they are loved both through your words and your actions and they probably won’t send you the therapy bills.

5) Everyone should be in therapy.
Seriously. Every single one of you have issues you need to work through. It’s time to drop the stigma that is getting mentally healthy and begin encouraging it. If you’re a minister, and have never sat across from a mental health professional to hash through some of the issues you have had to deal with then I fear for your long-term viability as an EFFECTIVE minister. Exercise? You betcha! Eat right? For sure! Find someone to talk to? Essential.

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I Do Not Care About My Legacy

Last week was a weird week.  By weird I mean emotionally and physically exhausting.  I won’t get into the messy details but my wife’s grandmother passed away, and with the trip to WV where she was buried came some family baggage that hasn’t been completely worked through yet.

This trip got me thinking a lot about one’s legacy.  I don’t know who came up with it originally, but I first heard it from a very wise college professor who’s teaching I sat under in Baltimore MD during my freshman and sophomore year of college.  His name was Dr. Robin Underhill.  He had a lot of good things to say, but one statement he made has stuck with me even now after being out of his classes for almost ten years.  He said, “It’s not so important how you start, what’s really important is how you finish.”

Last week I sat at the memorial service of a woman who finished well.  During her early years  she was a far cry from a  saint.  Most of us are.  To sit and visit with her friends and family though, you would never have guessed it.  They spoke of her integrity, love of family, brilliance, gentleness, faith, and most importantly her dedication to her God. These were not simply moral platitudes uttered by a preacher from a pulpit, you can find those at any funeral.  No, these were heartfelt whispers coming from the lips of people as they hugged each other.  They were stories told around a lunch table while we ate taco’s.  They were statements of truth about a woman who understood that it doesn’t matter how you start, it only matters how you finish.

Some times I worry about what my legacy is going to be.  I don’t want to be “that guy.”  You know the one I’m talking about.  His or her story usually starts like this, “They had so much potential but…” “They were really charismatic and charming but…”  The but is usually followed by some horrible moral failure that will ripple though the generations affecting many more than they could even imagine.

None of us wakes up one morning and decides we are going to ruin our legacy in some truly horrific fashion.  I’ve never met anyone who has said, “I really hope that when I die people remember me for one particular dark part of my past.”  Sadly this does happen to some people.  They are remembered for, “that thing.”  This usually does not happen suddenly.  We know that it’s the little decision on top of little decision that usually leads to that cataclysmic implosion of our world that ricochet debris into other people’s lives and harms many people around them.

So how does one finish well?  How does one leave a legacy that they could be proud of?  That’s the question that kept ringing through my head as I drove back from this dear woman’s funeral this weekend.  The answer I came up with is simple.

Stop worrying about your legacy.  Start worrying about Christ’s.

As a Christ follower my legacy does not matter.  If I’m doing what I’ve truly been called to do then all that matters is that I reflect the life of Christ well.  When I realize this truth my legacy begins to fall in line with his, and let’s be honest; our actions on this earth, no matter how impressive, really do pale in comparison to Christ’s.

This is what made Aimee’s grandmother’s life so easy to celebrate.  Despite her past, she cared more about representing her savior’s legacy then she did representing her own.

I pray that one day the same thing will be said of me.  How about you?

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So You’re Married to a Depressed Person?

Yesterday I wrote a post called, “So You’re a Minister and You’re Depressed.”  Apparently it’s a topic that hits home with a lot of people.  I am hesitant to piggy back off of that topic for a few reasons, the main one being that I don’t want to be “that guy.”  I don’t want to be the guy that deals with something, and parades it around for the whole world to see in order to meet some kind of deep seeded childish need for affirmation that I matter to the world. Let’s be honest that’s a lot of what social media posts are about.  With that being said; I did walk away from yesterdays post feeling like there was something left unaddressed.  It gnawed at me for a while.  It was too neat, a little too tidy.  I had the affirmation that I had spoken some truth into someones life so I could go ahead and dust my self off and ride into the sunset ready for the next big adventure.

Then my wife sat down beside me on the couch last night as I was zoned out, and said something that made it all click.  She said, “I’m sorry if I was not very understanding of your low time this weekend, it’s just really overwhelming sometimes.”  The truth hit me like a ton of bricks.  It’s something I think I’ve always known about the journey we have been on for the past couple of years but have not been able to express with any clarity.

Depression affects more than just the depressed person.

Ground breaking? No.  An issue that is severely over looked?  Yes.

Think about it for a minute.  So much time and care is given to the one dealing with the depression that sometimes we forget that there are spouses that have to live with that person day in and day out.  That can take a toll on a person.  I realize that this is way too big of a subject to tackle on this dinky little blog, but I did want to give some very specific reminders to a very specific set of individuals who deal with this issue.  These are nothing you don’t already know.  Just consider them as encouraging reminders.  If you are the spouse of an individual that suffers from depression here are some things to keep in mind.

1) It’s not your fault.

When he or she won’t get out of bed, get off the couch, look up at the dinner table, or generally won’t engage you or the family in any type of meaningful interaction it is not your fault.  There is nothing that you have done or will do that makes him or her this way.  Can you help?  Sure you can, more on that in a moment, but for now just realize you’re not the reason they are acting the way they are.  They might be angry, they’re not angry at you.  They might be anxious, they’re not anxious because of you.  They might curl up in the bathroom, lock the door, and cry.  That’s not because of you.  You can’t keep the house neat enough, the kids quiet enough, or the atmosphere cheery enough to make it go away.  When you realize this hopefully you can get rid of some of that guilt.  Here is what I know.  When I get in a low spot I feel guilty for it.  I feel guilty because I’m not pulling my weight in the house.  I also feel guilty because I know my spouse feels guilty.  That’s the funny thing about guilt, it feeds off of each other.  There are few things worse than laying your head down at night feeling guilty for something you have no control over.

2) You need to take care of you too.

Chances are if you are living with someone who suffers from depression they are seeing a counselor.  You need to be seeing one too. You can do it together or you can do it separately but it needs to happen.  It is taking a toll on you physically and mentally to keep up with the needs of your spouse, and eventually, if it hasn’t already, those feelings of abandonment, helplessness, and aggravation that accompany caring for someone with depression are going to seep out.  If they are not addressed they seep out in unhealthy ways.  If you don’t take the time to care for yourself you will find yourself beginning to resent the one your taking care of.  If at this point you are arguing in your head with me that you don’t have the time or resources i.e. money to do counseling for both you, and your spouse get in contact with me I’ll point you to some really good people who would love to help.

3) Keep pulling the covers off of us we need you.

It’s Saturday.  11:00 a.m.  The kids are in the living room screaming.  I’m huddled in the bed listening, and groaning, and my heart is saying, “get out of bed you lazy good for nothing dad and help your wife.”  My mind is saying, “If you move a muscle the world is going to collapse on top of you, stay put.  They are better off with out you anyway.” Sometimes it’s at this point that my wife lovingly walks into the room, pulls the covers off of me, looks me straight in the eye and says, “I need you today.”  It doesn’t make my depression go away.  I don’t feel any less anxious.  Heck, sometimes it makes me down right angry, but don’t be fooled.  We need you to do this.  I can’t tell you when and when not to do this.  My wife is a master at feeling out when it’s appropriate to pull this stunt, in fact I’m hoping that she will soon guest post on here and talk more specifically about the challenges that come with this department, but for now just hear this.  We need you to pull the covers off, throw open the shades, pick us up off the floor, kick us off the couch, make us look at you at the dinner table, and generally remind us that what we suffer from does not define us, and we still have a part to play in this world.  I realize it’s tough.  It’s not pretty or romantic.  It won’t be seen in a movie or read about in a teeny bopper magazine, but in the end your spouse will love you more for it.

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So You’re a Minister and You’re Depressed?

So you’re depressed?  I don’t mean sad, down in the dumps, or tired.  I mean the lead blanket is on top of you.  The world is one big haze.  The thought of even moving your body to a sitting position feels like it would take all the energy of the universe to accomplish.  Depressed.  You know that it’s hard to describe to someone who isn’t, and you probably have stopped even trying.

If you are a minister and you understand the last paragraph with painful clarity then keep reading.  If you don’t then I am giving you permission to go ahead and close this window and go back to your life.  There is nothing else for you in this post, and you and I should hang out more because I want to know your secret.

Still here? Ok then let’s chat for a moment.  First off I’m not a dr.  I don’t claim to be and I never will be one.  I’m also not a counselor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or any other type of mental health professional in any sense of the word.  All I am is a minister.  I will point out though that I am a minister who in the past two years has seen four separate counselors, three psychiatrists, one psychologist, two general practitioners, the inside of a stripped out emergency room “holding facility” twice, and a few just really good guys who just flat-out wanted to help me; all because of depression.

I point all of that out to say, I get it.  I also want to point out that I’m not “fixed” yet.  In fact I’m getting to the point where I’m starting to realize that there is no fixing it.  I will have good days, and I will have bad days for the rest of my life.  There are pills that help, friends that can empathize, family members that suffer with me, and people who just don’t get it.  In the end the bad days suck.  There is no other way to put it.  Anyone that tries to tell you that there will come a day where there are no bad days is either trying to sell you a prescription or is talking about heaven.  You should nod and grin at one, and nod and grin at the other, both are just doing their job.

So here is my point.  You’re a minister and you’re depressed.

That’s ok.

You’re allowed to be.

For too long I lived my life thinking that you could only be one or the other.  Some of that comes from what I was taught growing up by well-intentioned Bible teachers (i.e. real Christians don’t suffer from depression), and some of it comes from my own prideful need to have that nice glossy veneer that all the “successful” ministers seem to have. Maybe they are faking, maybe they are not; either way you be you.  If you’re still with me you are either a family member or you are waiting for the take away so here it is plain and simple.

You can be an effective minister and suffer from depression.

That’s it.

I just wanted to remind you of that.

I wanted to remind you of that because this is what I know.  You are under a lot of pressure from a lot of people to be a lot of things, and for most of those people depressed does not fit into the schedule.  It’s messy, and it messes with calendars, programs, and potlucks.  That’s ok you can still minister.  In fact I’m going to take it one step further and then I’m going to let you go because you’re a busy guy or gal.

Sometimes your season of depression can make you an even more effective minister.

Don’t believe me?  Next time someone is sitting in your office and begins to describe that black hole feeling in the pit of their stomach that they can’t seem to shake.  The one that causes them to neglect their work, family, and home; look them straight in the eye and say, “me too.”  Watch what happens.  If that’s not ministry then I don’t know what is.  In the mean time take your medication, get plenty of sleep, exercise, and all that other stuff they tell you to do to keep it under control.  In the midst of all that though never forget you’re still a minister, and a really good one at that.

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Some lessons from youth ministry that have nothing to do with students.

I am a man who appreciates a mile stone.  I believe that created within each of us is the desire to remember, reflect, and celebrate where we have come from and where we are going.  God’s a fan of it as well.  If you don’t believe me just skim the Bible for about two minutes and look at all the times that God commands his people to remember the lessons of where they came from so that they can focus on where they want to go.  It seems that it is a dangerous and foolish individual who does not possess the capability to celebrate the past while focusing on the future.

November 10th marked one year of ministry at the Church I serve, and 10 years of youth ministry total.  To most a year may not seem like a big deal.  To me it’s huge.  Partly because of the journey I was brought through to get to this point (that’s another story for another time), and partly because I’ve just really enjoyed my time here.  In the grand scheme of ministry a year is really just a drop in the bucket, but it’s a drop that has taught me a few lessons.  I’d like to share those lessons with some of my youth ministry friends.  Believe me, these are not profound, groundbreaking, or new, but I do hope they can be helpful.

1) Appreciate your older members

A few months ago I was having a conversation with one of the oldest, and in my opinion sweetest ladies of the congregation here at Gethsemane.  In the middle of that conversation she stopped me and said, “Jonathan I can’t believe that you remember my name.”  This really caught me off guard, and made me a little sad.  It seems that we in youth ministry (me included) have done quite a disservice to our ministry by creating the “us and them” atmosphere.  Something that I always need to remind myself of is that without these dear older members my ministry would not exist.  Take the time to get to know them.  Learn their names, listen to their stories, and allow them the blessing of serving students in any way that they can.

2)  Be your ministry teams biggest fan.

Let’s just lay this fact out on the table.  When you are new to a church just about everyone loves you.  They love your preaching, your programs, and the freshness that you bring to the congregation.  If you play your cards right you can ride that wave for quite a while.  With that love comes the tendency for very well-meaning members of your church to tell you things that can make you feel pretty good about your self.  That’s ok.  Take those compliments and store them away for a rainy day, but in the midst of that praise we in youth ministry (especially new to the church) need to make sure that we are affirming the work that has been done, and is continuing to be done by the other ministers you work with.  It’s not a competition and nothing good has ever come from making it one.  One day I’m  going to do something stupid, when that day comes I want to make sure those I work alongside have my back.  That starts with me taking every opportunity I get to affirm and praise the work of those I minister with.

3) Take out the garbage.

Seriously.  You’re not the prince of the church.  Help out when you can help out.  I don’t mean just cleaning up after youth events that’s just part of your job (although I am very blessed to have a great team that helps me with this).   You can’t do everything in ministry, and you shouldn’t, but you know what?  Sometimes stuff needs done that falls out side of your job description.  If you want your students to live the kind of life of service that Jesus talks about then you need to model that yourself. It’s the small things that make the biggest impact sometimes.  So try it.  Take out the garbage.  Most of us could use the exercise anyway.

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Stop Saying These Things.

I do a lot of driving in my life now.  Because I drive so much I spend a lot of time listening to the radio.  I’m too cheap to buy music.  I’m also not a huge fan of a lot of stuff I hear on the radio ( but yes I do stop at the Nikki Minaj songs just like you so stop judging me).

A lot of the time I find myself listening to preachers on the radio.  Contrary to popular belief some of them actually have insightful things to say.  Every so often though I hear one that makes me want to pray for the Holy Spirit to smack them in the face through the radio.  I understand that this is an anger issue on my part.  Thank God for Sanctification.  In the mean time though this is my desire.

The preacher said and I quote, “There is no such thing as a depressed Christian.  If you have the Holy Spirit in your life it should not matter what comes your way you should never find yourself in even a season of depression.  There is no room for this in your soul.”  He then proceeded to tell the story of how he  lost his wife of 40 years and never grieved a day.  I’m pretty sure counselors would have a field day with this guy

I understand what he was going for, but this statement really struck a chord with me.

The depression of the saints has really been on my heart lately.  I have a hard time remedying statements like the one above, and hearing the same statements from some ministers growing up with the men I find in the Bible.

The prime example of course is David, but I think of Elijah, Jeremiah, Solomon, pretty much all the O.T. prophets and even the Apostle Paul.  This is not an exhaustive list by any means it does not even include modern-day titans of the faith like Charles Spurgeon, who was very vocal about his depression, and C.S. Lewis.

What’s my point?  It’s time to give Christians permission to be human.  If we have a problem with that we have a problem with the Bible.

I do not think that most Christians mean to be ignorant when it comes to the issue of a hurt soul.  I just don’t think we know how to deal with it.  I came across a resource that might help with that.  It was a list of 104 things NOT to say to someone who shares with you that they struggle with feelings of depression.  I have whittled them down to 10.  Hope you find them as helpful as I have.

1) No one ever said life is fair.

2) There are a lot of people worse off than you.

3) You are what you think.

4) Have you been praying/reading your Bible?

5) You’ll be a better person because of it.

6) If you trust God, you won’t have to take that medicine.

7) You can make the choice for depression and its effects, or against depression, it’s all in YOUR hands.

8) That which does not kill us will make us stronger.

9) Go help someone else, then you won’t have to brood.

10) Well, we all have our cross to bear.

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