OF TIME AND TELOMERES

OF TIME AND TELOMERES

“My arm won’t quit hurting and I can’t figure it out. It hasn’t slowed me down yet, but I’m in constant discomfort.”

“The weather has cleared, and I need to be out working but my back is a wreck. I can hardly move. I’m on my way to the doctor now.”

“My wife used to walk five miles with me every day. Now she can barely make it down the block and the doctors don’t know what’s wrong.”

“I never felt old, but once I did, I got old quick!”

I could fill pages with such quotes, and not all of them from my baby-boomer peers. Some are men and women twenty years or so behind me. They got me thinking about time and telomeres, or frailty, the inevitability of it, and how to handle it.

Telomeres form a kind of protective cap at the ends of our chromosomes. Scientists liken them to the plastic tips at the ends of shoelaces that prevent them unraveling. They degrade as we age and as they do, disease becomes more likely.[1] As sure as the sun rises our telomeres will unravel and with them our bodies.

Of course, this is not news. David sang, “As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.” [2]

And Moses wrote, “Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.”[3]

The young never imagine getting old but are wise to take good care of themselves. I never believed in unions with their high labor costs and productivity choking rules until I saw what low-profit-margin manual labor and inadequate support does to the bodies of young men. It isn’t pretty. Most of them are somewhat crippled by age 55 and unable to work by 60. I still don’t like unions, but young contractors could learn a thing or two from them about the bids they offer and the jobs they take. Their bodies might last longer if they did.

Middle-aged people, even in white collar jobs, can see their slow-down coming. But most don’t take time to think about it. They’re in the middle of margin-less living, to borrow a phrase from Dr. Richard Swenson. And most aren’t setting aside the financial resources that will provide security when they can’t keep up with the guys in their thirties. Spending less and saving more would go a long way to securing their future.

My grandma, who was not known for profanity, shockingly said, “I don’t mind being old, it’s just such hell getting there!” Most senior friends will agree. They know now what their 30-something selves never imagined, and some are depressed by it. But they shouldn’t fall prey to the lie of uselessness. Remember Simeon who blessed the baby Jesus, and the prophetess Anna who did the same (See Luke 2:25-38)? Drink deeply of scripture and develop a life of prayer. Think about the major life lessons you’ve learned—you remember them as stories—and boil them down to short sentences, personal proverbs you can share when the time is right. They are invaluable to the blades of grass coming up behind you.

Frailty is a fact of life, but Christ has overcome it for all who will believe. He died for us that we might live forever and rose from the grave to guarantee that promise. Long after our flower has faded, and our earthly place has forgotten us, we will be living in flawless bodies that time and telomeres cannot touch.

Have you put your faith in him yet?

[1] From Wikipedia.

[2] The Holy Bible: New International Version. (1984). (Ps 103:15–16). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Ps. 90:12

ON MENTAL ILLNESS Last Ride With Big Mike

ON MENTAL ILLNESS  Last Ride With Big Mike

Suicide and mental illness have been much in the news lately. In light of that, and by way of encouragement, I thought I would re-post this story about my brother, who in great pain considered taking his own life, but chose the better path.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. (Heb 12:1 NIV)

Nitrogen fumes from the Shell premium gas Mike burned in his Honda CBR 1100 XX drifted back to us, threading their way into our helmets along with the mountain aromas of cool granite, green laurel and fresh-cut grass. I kept pace with Mike and his passenger, my daughter Mikeala, on a borrowed BMW, railing the tight curves and slowing to a walk on the switchbacks of Georgia SR 180 as we wound our way up Brasstown Bald, the highest point in the state.  It would be our last motorcycle ride together before he died on August 5th, 2010—and one of the best—climaxing as it did with a view of the world from 4,784 feet. He had already covered 200 of the 350 miles he would ride that day and wasn’t even tired.

My older brother Mike suffered from atypical bipolar disorder. This disease, or something like it, was not new to our family. Our aunt suffered for years before taking her own life. Our grandfather was also disabled by it. It hit Mike in his 39th year, brought on (we believe) by a reaction to a blood pressure medication.

Big Mike, his nickname in the neighborhood, was always bigger and stronger than me and most of my friends. He was also a rock when I needed him most. Watching him break into a thousand mental pieces was almost more than I could bear. But watching him climb up out of that psychological black hole, a place from which few men return, was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever witnessed. We talked about writing a book on it. I’m writing this today to encourage you and anyone else that you know who suffers from a mental disorder.

Mike’s journey from the pit of despair back to mental health was marked by three things.

Humility. Mike was a proud man, a strong man that submitted himself to hospitalization under the care of competent professionals who prescribed medication and psychotherapy. Once out of the hospital Mike took responsibility for himself and worked the program. It took years. And like many bipolar patients, along the way Mike decided he no longer needed the meds. This led to a relapse and another hospital stay. But the second time was the charm. He humbled himself by taking his medicine every day and visiting a counselor every week for years. Even when he no longer needed the counselor he stayed on the medicine and visited a therapist now and then just to keep a check on himself. He knew the disease too well and as strong as he was, knew he couldn’t handle it alone.

Faith. In all the years of his suffering Mike never turned his back on Jesus Christ. I never heard him blame God or use his illness and disappointment as an excuse to quit worshiping or neglect his devotions or stop fellowshiping with other believers. He wanted to be well and he knew that in the end, only walking with Jesus would give him the strength to get there.

Perseverance. Sadly, many suffering people give up and let their illness define them for the rest of their days, or take their life. Mike never gave up. Even after two years of unemployment due to his disease, something that spins many men down into depression, he kept up his courage. He was as healthy on that day at the top of the world as I have ever known him, enjoying the good gifts God gave, enjoying the ride, and discussing plans for his new business. No one knew that even though his mind had healed his heart was diseased. He was working on a motorcycle in his garage on the day his heart stopped.

So, if you know someone who is struggling with a mental disorder tell them about my brother. Tell them they can recover. And tell them there’s a big guy in that great cloud of witnesses, cheering them on.

SNOW SABBATH

SNOW SABBATH

The recent weather reminded me of something I wrote many years ago, when our girls were little, and a blizzard stopped the world for a while. I hope it encourages you as we anticipate more snow Saturday night.

Monday morning January 24, 2000, dawned bright and clear, but school was still out. The cold and light snow we had experienced the previous week and weekend had closed the roads and deposited several neighborhood kids on our doorstep, in our den, in the basement and in our bedrooms.  They were everywhere! Eating the groceries, needing their mittens and boots dried and going through art supplies like snow in a frying pan. A few of them (including my two youngest) were home-schooled but most attended the elementary school down the street.

When my oldest daughter asked, “Are we going to school tomorrow?” My wife and I both said, “Yes! You, your sisters, the neighbors and all the home-schooled kids in the neighborhood!”  Little did we know; the blizzard of 2000 was almost upon us.

But the storm had a different effect than might be expected. Unlike the previous week’s weather that kept only the schools closed, the blizzard brought the adult world to a standstill too.  Fifteen inches of snow in eight hours forced everyone to “be still and know that I am God”.  It created a snow sabbath.

Sabbath, at its most basic, means to cease from work. Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man.”  It is an opportunity for the soul to re-establish the balance and equilibrium it loses by striving in the work place. We work in a world cursed by sin and that makes work difficult and draining.  It taxes us spiritually, emotionally, and physically.  Sabbath compensates us for the energy we spend dealing with our own sins and the challenges of working life.  We need sabbath time.  It restores us.

And if you’re one of those folks that “feels guilty when I relax” then sabbath can re-orient your perspective.  I had “things to do, people to see and places to go” the next morning. But the snow sabbath forced me to realize once again that, “God can run the world quite nicely without your help thank you very much.”  That single thought, a sabbath thought, will do more to relieve your stress than anything I know.  God has worked and is working to provide for us.  He wants us to know what it means to rest in him, to be humble enough to know that we can’t accomplish anything at all without him. So, we can trust him enough to relax, let the world go by, and enjoy the peace of a quiet day, or even the occasional blizzard.

HOW GOD HEALS BROKEN HEARTS

HOW GOD HEALS BROKEN HEARTS

Humanity is broken and hurting. Hear some comments from hurting people:

I’m 48 years old and my wife has just filed for divorce. I never planned for this. I never thought I would be alone and have to start all over this late in life. On top of that it may bankrupt me.

I was still in rehab, just recovering from a gran mall seizure brought on by spinal meningitis that could have killed me, when we learned that our daughter, contrary to everything we had taught her, had just “come out” as gay. We read the letter and sat down in front of her old bedroom door and wept broken and bitter tears.

My first husband beat me. The man I’m married to now doesn’t love me. I am fourth or fifth on his priority list. I’m so lonely and unhappy that I’m flying to the other side of the country to find a job and a new life. My life is adrift.

We only want to know one thing when we’re hurting. We aren’t interested in the weather. We don’t care about the stock market. And we sure don’t care about politics. We only want to know how to be healed.

Psalm 147, the second in a set of five that make up the last songs in the book, is a song about healing.

Verse two gives us the context saying, “He gathers the exiles of Israel.” The Psalm was written to help the people of God worship after their return from exile in Babylon. It was good to go home, but still a time of great brokenness and sadness. Their cities and towns had been destroyed, their property given to foreigners. Their spiritual, civic, and economic infrastructure was like Houston after Hurricane Harvey: a shambles.

The psalm shows us that God heals in four ways: “The Lord builds up; The Lord gathers; The Lord heals; The Lord binds up their wounds.” (V. 2-3).

First, he rebuilds what was broken down—the walls in Israel’s case. He gives them the tools and resources and leadership (under Nehemiah) to make their city secure once again, to keep out invaders, to give them stability.

God rebuilds our walls too. Brokenhearted people are often violated people. When we are sexually abused as children; when parents lose children; when we’ve invested years and fortunes in a career and suddenly lose it, our walls are broken down. We feel violated, less secure.

The healer of broken hearts helps us rebuild our walls. He brings together the tools, and the resources, and the leadership we need to make our city secure again, to give us stability in a shaky world.

Second, God gathers what was scattered. In Israel’s case it was the people, scattered about the Babylonian empire. Bit by bit and tribe by tribe, they made the pilgrimage back to the land of promise. God opened doors for them to leave. Cyrus the king issued a decree making money available. Property was returned. Travel was protected.

How does God heal us? He gathers what was scattered. Brokenhearted people are often lonely people, disconnected from healthy relationships with others. God brings us together for strength and encouragement. The New Testament is full of references to this. (See Acts 2:44-46; 2 Thessalonians 1:3).

God heals us when he gathers us to his people. When we become part of the living body of Christ, the Church, we cease to be scattered. We become connected to others who dispel our loneliness and welcome us into their lives based on our common relationship with Christ.

A challenge: do you isolate yourself? If so you are missing the healing God has for you. You may not like it at first, but it’s what you need, and God has it for you in his Church.

Third, God heals the brokenhearted with the brokenhearted. He heals the addicted with the formerly addicted; the divorced with the previously divorced; the grieving with the grieved, the hope and purpose from those who’ve come through on the other side of brokenness.

But there is a catch to all of this. Or maybe it’s better to say that the path to the healing power of God is counter-intuitive.

We are tempted in our brokenness to turn away from God, even to run. That’s the worst thing we can do. When the storm blows the hardest it is time to lean into him. The Psalmist shows us how.

Embrace humility in the pain. “Sing to him with thanksgiving,” it says (V. 4-7). Praising God when we hurt is a humbling thing, completely counter-intuitive. But that’s where the healing comes from. Lean into that wind. That’s what drives the fear and insecurity away, leaning into him with worship and praise, not running.

Finally, “put your hope in him.” (V. 8-11). Remember what Jesus said to Mary and Martha when their brother Lazarus had died? “I am the resurrection and the life. Do you believe this?” “Look to me Mary, look to me Martha. Put your hope solely in me.” It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

Many voices vie for our attention when we are brokenhearted, many people, many philosophies promise peace and healing. Only God can give us the order we need, the comprehensive understanding that leads to healing. Only God can give us himself.