Stand by Me: Memorial Day and the Healing of Souls

Courtesy Odyssey Networks

Reflecting on Memorial Day and Jesus' promise to be with us. Courtesy Odyssey Networks

If you have to reassure people that you’re not abandoning them, it may be because they feel you slipping away. In John 14, Jesus is responding to the anxiety of those he loves. “I will not leave you orphaned,” he says, but it is not clear how he will keep that promise. In a few hours, his arrest, trial, crucifixion and death will all have been accomplished. It will feel as if he has, in fact, abandoned them or been torn away from them.  

Jesus loses his life, and he is not the only one to suffer loss. Those he leaves behind lose him, and without him, they lose whatever security they might have felt in the world. After his death, they take refuge by hiding. They are isolated from each other and afraid of everything on the other side of locked doors. 

We rarely think of what happened to Jesus as an experience of combat, but the story of his arrest includes soldiers, weapons, and at least momentary hand-to-hand combat as Peter draws a sword to slice off the ear of one of those sent to arrest Jesus. Twenty-four hours later, those who could not watch with Jesus in the garden or save him from the enemy will themselves be lost without him. 

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

Sad monster illustration, Elena Nayashkova /

Sad monster illustration, Elena Nayashkova /

Alexander was having a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day.

It's a children's story. I know. A no good, very bad day ... how do you prepare your kids for that kind of day where nothing seems to go right, where at every turn knobs break and we step in puddles and get gum stuck in our hair?

Maybe, we tell ourselves, that we can move to Australia and everything will be better.

Well, no. Terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days happen there, too. They happen everywhere. Everywhere. It's a great book.

So what do we do about them? The classic children's book doesn't answer the question for us. Not really. It's just a little bit of truth telling with fun illustrations. Some days are just terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days.

But as we grow older, we learn that though these days do simply happen, that there are attitudes one can have, there are approaches to these days one can take.

Is Grief a Mental Illness? New Diagnostic Changes Say 'Maybe'

Illustration of woman in despair, Vedran Vidovic /

Illustration of woman in despair, Vedran Vidovic /

Each year 90,000 parents in the U.S. confront the profound suffering that follows the death of a child or adolescent.

Some of those rely on faith to help them through their grief. Others look to psychiatrists, who offer therapy or prescribe antidepressants to help ease their patients’ pain.

On Saturday, in a move that could add to the tension between religion and science, the American Psychiatric Association changed a controversial diagnosis regarding how grief relates to mental health.

The change “will affect every single person in the country, because at some point we’re all going to be bereaved,” said Joanne Cacciatore, founder of the Center for Loss and Trauma in Phoenix and a professor of social work at Arizona State University.

At issue are questions as fundamental as how long we grieve, what clinical label we assign to sadness, and when grief transforms into mental illness.

The modification also rekindles long-standing debates about whether spirituality or medicine offers the best pathway out of bereavement.

Church Leaders Tackle the Stigma of Mental Illness

'Girl at the end of a tunnel,' A.R. Monko /

'Girl at the end of a tunnel,' A.R. Monko /

The Rev. Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was getting ready to work in the yard in the fall of 2009 when the phone rang. His daughter was on the line.

Daddy, I love you, she said. Tell Mama and the girls I love them, too.

Then she was gone.

Melissa Page Strange, 32, took her own life just after hanging up the phone with her dad.

“I do not want you to imagine what that is like,” he said.

For years, Page did not share the painful details of Melissa’s death, fearing that some Christians might speak ill of her if they knew. Mental illness and suicide were taboo topics for many churches, seen as a kind of spiritual failure.

But that may be starting to change.

Beneath the Stereotypes, a Stressful Life for Preachers’ Kids

Jay Bakker, son of televangelists Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker, identifies with Matthew Warren as a fellow PK. Photo courtesy RNS.

The day Franklin Graham was born, he received a telegram.

“Welcome to this sin-sick world,” the Western Union message said, “and to the challenge you have to walk in your daddy’s footsteps.”

It didn’t take long for Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, to realize that being a preacher’s kid would be both a blessing and a burden.

“I love my parents,” Graham said in a recent interview, “but there came a time where I couldn’t let my parents live my life.”

Waiting for Your 2013

Aleshyn_Andrei / Shutterstock

Blonde sitting on the roof of the house. Aleshyn_Andrei / Shutterstock

A new year evokes so many emotions in us. For some a wonder of potential opportunities. Others, the hope of change. Still others, the fear of uncertainty. In each case there lies a moment of suspense. A pause. And yet our resolutions are spoken, written and relayed far before the time has been taken to contemplate what we feel and how we feel.

This year my challenge is to start with the place of inaction and pause to consider what we in fact feel. To each of us we have to slow down after the Christmas season high of purchasing, giving, praying, lighting candles, waiting in Advent, and hoping for the Christ Child to know what kind of year we will encounter.

Resolve to be irresolute until the time of knowing appears. 

Resolve to sit silent and listen.

Resolve to move slower until weary legs are refreshed.

Resolve to know loved ones as they are right now.

Resolve to build, to grow, to transform those parts that 2012 has damaged or left broken.

Depression, Gift, and Legacy

Photo: Alexandra Thompson /

Photo: Alexandra Thompson /

Across five states and 20 years, on the couch at the psychoanalyst’s, wadded Kleenex in my hands, and kneeling on the marble floor of the confessional, incense curling through my hair, I sorted through the jagged prisms of experience that, as a child, I did not understand: What it means to be in the constant presence of someone who does not look you in the eye, who lives beyond the bar of constant preoccupation.

I didn’t understand then the tiresome vigilance I’d develop as a result—the almost unconscious, constant mental sorting to see if, at that moment, I was OK, or if others were about to abandon me forever—a reaction I’ve heard is common among children of alcoholics, and which I’ve seen myself in the needy inner-city children I have taught.

Along the way, I discovered that the seed of my mother’s sadness had been there all along, from my earliest memory, well before my father died. And by the time I was a toddler, the seed had germinated in me, too.

Cold, Broken or Grumbled, Every Hallelujah Counts


As I lay on the kitchen floor -- my body rocking with sobs, my mouth telling my husband, "I hate my life" -- it never occurred to me to pick up the phone and call a friend.

To tell someone about the life I was living, in which over the last few years rug after rug kept getting pulled out from under me -- my parents divorced, my husband's business tanked, our debt rose, health issues loomed, and our marriage sagged under the weight of it all -- was not something I was wired to do.

In fact, I was mortified when my husband rounded the bend and saw me there, sprawled out on the tile, weeping. Crying and hurting is something I do best alone.