Monday, March 31, 2014

Dog Days of Winter

“Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest” -Matt. 11:28 I know, I know…the phrase “dog days” refers to the sultry days of summer, not the cold days of winter. In the Northern Hemisphere, the dog days of summer are most commonly experienced in the months of July and August. In the Southern Hemisphere, in January and February. They are hot and humid and sticky. The Romans referred to the dog days as diēs caniculārēs and associated the hot weather with the star Sirius, the “Dog Star". It is the brightest star in the constellation Canis Major (Large Dog). The Romans also sacrificed a red dog in April to appease the rage of Sirius, believing that the star was the cause of the hot, sultry weather. Poor dogs. Dog Days of summer were popularly believed to be an evil time "the Sea boiled, the Wine turned sour, Dogs grew mad, and all other creatures became languid; causing to man, among other diseases, burning fevers, hysterics, and phrensies." according to Brady’s Clavis Calendaria, 1813. Most of us in the United States have been experiencing the bitter cold called winter. I consider myself a positive, half-full person, but my cup has been empty this winter. Cold after cold and snow after snow has worn out the most ardent of winterized Americans. As we endured yet another cold front coming through the Ozarks, I glanced out in the front yard and, to my surprise, our young lab, Maisy, was sound asleep in the front yard. The weather was freezing and the light snow fresh, but our Maisy was totally out- snoozing in the winter air. She was content. She was happy. She was ASLEEP. But how? I don’t doubt that Seasonal Affective Disorder is legit. When less endorphins are secreted and the level of sunshine is decreased, our mood can become melancholy. It’s difficult to be positive and optimistic when the weather is cold and snowy. But I wonder if it’s mostly a matter of chemical levels or making the choice to be happy? Abraham Lincoln once said, “Most people are about as happy as they choose to be.” In their great book “Happiness is a Choice,” Minirth and Meier addressed this supposition. “We couldn’t agree with them more. Lincoln should know. He went through much anguish in his life- the death of his fiancée, lost elections, the Civil War, and other major disappointments. At one point in his life he was so depressed he considered suicide. But Lincoln chose to overcome his depression. He chose to be happy and obtained inner joy and peace in those last years before he fell victim to the bullet of a hostile fellow man.” So, how do we make the choice to be content? How can a lab be perfectly fine sleeping in freezing weather? It’s tough being OK when the circumstances are less than desirable. But I think Maisy knew something most of us struggle to grasp. “Leaving well enough alone” means we play with the “cards dealt to us.”Maisy’s logic: “I can’t change the weather, I’ve got food in my bowl, the sun is out, and I’m tired, so it’s nap time! I choose to chill.” Making the choice doesn’t mean we deny the difficulty in our lives, but it does mean we choose to work past the issues that keep us down. It means we go to Jesus and choose to live in the rest He provides. May we all choose peace in the midst of the pandemonium. May we all choose rest in the midst of the restlessness… …and may we all choose to snooze in the snow. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Sunday, March 23, 2014

The Blessing of Pain

We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope - Romans 5:3-4 Rarely do I post someone else’s words, but a friend gave me this article by Priscilla Shirer and it hit the nail on the head. So I yield to the Lord’s words through her and present it to you to read. Enjoy. A jovial rosy-cheeked young girl bounded across the set of a widely popular television talk show. Her proud mother and father made room for her on the sofa next to the show’s host. They’d already been on for quite a while talking about their precocious youngster. Their description of her sounded much the same as any adoring parents yet their stories of normalcy were peppered with eerie tales of an uncommon disorder. It’s a rare disease, one most of the viewing audience might never have heard of until this moment – I certainly hadn’t. But its effects couldn’t be missed as the girl stepped from behind the curtain and into public view. Her chubby smiling face seemed a bit weathered. There were some bruises and scars, patches and bandaging. Her right eye was covered and several gashes on her arms were dressed. Then, she smiled and her infectious grin revealed an endearing yet toothless grin. I felt my blood pressure rise as she walked across the stage. How could this much damage be done to a child? My heart ached and pulse raced as I folded a pile full of clean laundry during the commercial break. My body was busy but my mind had slowed. I was consumed with thoughts and questions, eager to have each one of them answered. My internal conversation was interrupted when the commercial telling me I’d used the wrong detergent ended and the talk show host welcomed me back to the program. I sat down on the edge of my bed, my husband’s crumpled t-shirt in hand, and listened. The parents explained. Their daughter couldn’t feel pain. They’d noticed it soon after her birth. A scraped knee on the playground or burnt tongue on a cup of hot soup would go unnoticed by her nerves - deadened and unresponsive. The news stunned her parents at first but gave them a sense of unexpected elation. Their daughter could never be hurt. She’d never feel pain. Seemed like a dream come true for a protective parent. This father and mother admitted to feeling blessed. Yet, their enthusiasm soon cascaded into a pool of despair. First, some hot coffee spilled, burning their 3-month-old’s baby soft skin. The overturned carafe leaked steadily from a coffee table but she didn’t feel anything as her flesh scalded. Later, when she discovered the fun of using her hands, she began to pry at her eyes, freeing the one on the right from its socket. When her teeth came in she began to unknowingly bite through her own lips and tongue, leaving her parents no other option than to have all of her teeth removed. Without the built in boundary that pain provides, there was no threshold that couldn’t be crossed, no boundary that couldn’t be broken and no need to request help instead of risking injury. Tears streamed down this loving mother’s face as she stroked her daughter’s blond hair. Above all else, she wished for her daughter the blessing of pain. Job hated it and David despised it. Abraham hesitantly forged through it while Habakkuk tried to escape it. And you and I – we do the same. We don’t like pain. Who does? From the beginning of time humanity has gone to great measures to avoid the discomfort that accompanies the meeting of our bodies or souls with anything that causes hurt. Except for the occasional exercise poster exclaiming “No Pain, No Gain” the vast majority of our thinking is trained to steer clear of anything that will cause us discomfort. Pain is the arch-enemy of happiness, right? So, why – why – would any parent want it for their child? Wouldn’t life be better without it? Maybe Hannah has the answer; her soul ripped and torn under the weight of a barren womb and the constant taunting of her rival. . . . . she was greatly distressed and prayed to the Lord . . .- 1 Samuel 1:10 Or possibly Job, his heart frayed at the loss of his family and livelihood, his body sore from top to bottom with oozing boils. . . . . .I had heard of Him but now my eyes have seen Him . . .- Job 42:5 Perhaps David’s poetic heart song can give us the hints we need . . . .. .I would have despaired unless I believed . . .- Psalm 27:13 Or maybe Jeremiah, weeping and wailing, his heart and soul in deep anguish at the thought of the destruction of his beloved people and nation . . . . . .there is a balm in Gilead . . .-Jeremiah 8:22 What about Stephen, his body snapping like a twig under the weight of the boulders being sent crashing down on his limbs . . . . . .I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing. . . – Acts 7:55 And of course there’s Paul and Silas; shackled to the walls of a rusty Roman jail, backs freshly bruised from the beating and skin on their ankles blackened from tightly strung chains . . . . . .about midnight [they] were praying and singing hymns of praise . . .Acts 16:25 Or maybe. . .just maybe. . . the message is just as clear; the mystery as easily unraveled when no words are spoken. She never spoke. The woman, painfully embarrassed and humiliated, having been caught by the Pharisees in the very act of adultery. She just looked into the soft, caring eyes of the One who didn’t throw a stone (but had every right to) and heard: . . .just go and sin no more . . . She said nothing; just sat in the fresh wound caused by humiliation of the worst kind and listened. . . . . .then left His presence brand new. Mysteriously there seems to be a blessing in pain. It causes us to check the barometer of our activities and clearly see the reality of our circumstances. It forces us to seek refuge and protection, safe harbor and retreat. Pain is. . .well. . . painful. But ironically it is the gift that keeps us from further discomfort. When we feel it, it becomes a teacher pointing us to the only correct answer there is. And so, our Father, like any loving parent, desires for us the blessing of pain because, mysteriously, it keeps us, comforts us, humbles us, teaches us and drives us back to safety. Hurting? In spite of it all, bolster up the courage to see beyond. Then whisper “thank you” to the One who loves you most.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Frozen, Part Three: The Thaw

“…let your heart take courage” -Proverbs 27:13 “Conceal, don’t feel.” Queen Elsa sang those words when she was closing herself into her ice castle. She hid after abandoning her kingdom when her magical ability to create and control ice was discovered by the public. Up in the mountains, away from confused and suspicious onlookers, she realized that she no longer needed to hide her abilities, and declared herself free from the restrictions she had to endure since childhood. She rejoiced in finally being able to use her powers without fear, manipulating snow and ice to generate a magnificent castle for herself. But one thing was missing: relationship. Being made in God’s image, everyone desires and needs relationships. No matter the size of the castle or the illusion of freedom, without people, we are all frozen. As a therapist, I have the wonderful privilege of helping people work through their issues everyday. It is amazing to watch people make the decision to feel and reveal their inner hurts and needs. It’s wonderful to see the load lifted as people open their hearts to healing and to a loving God who cares deeply. As Anna made the difficult quest to love and rescue her sister, Queen Elsa’s heart was changed. Peace was restored and the sisters bond was rekindled. Elsa responded to Anna, “We are never closing the gates again.” She was referring to the kingdom’s gates, but she was also referring to her heart. Along with Elsa's rebirth comes the entire kingdom's thawing as Elsa realizes that love is the key to controlling her powers. That’s how healing works- it effects not only the individual, but everyone in relationship with that person as well. Healing is contagious and lasting. Elsa even conjures up a snow cloud for Olaf to survive all year long, including summer. Once again, the ice is melted and Arendelle is restored to peace. Elsa is again accepted as queen, with everyone finally understanding that she's no monster, but a creator of beautiful magic relationships at last. It snowed over the weekend here in the Ozarks. But today, being close to Spring, the wind shifted out of the south and the temperature climbed well above freezing. In just 24 hours, most of that snow is gone. All because of one object: the sun. Sure, the temperature was above freezing, but the cloudless day allowed the sun to do its thing and the snow and ice vanished. Love, like the sun, in time, always melts the hardest of hearts. Later on, to celebrate the joyous day, Elsa turns the castle courtyard into an ice rink with the entire kingdom joining in on the festivities, as the queen vows never to close the gates again, much to Anna's joy. The two sisters then begin skating with all their friends, rekindling their bond. You might think Elsa and Anna would turn the kingdom into a Caribbean resort, with no hint of winter. After all, it was the ice and snow that created the problem, right? Wrong. It’s wasn’t the presence of ice and snow that created the problem. It was Elsa’s misuse of her gift to create the ice and snow. As the snow thaw took place, Elsa’s heart thaw happened as well. Love was the catalyst and the kingdom was saved. When God’s love takes over a heart, the seasons change and life becomes abundant. Relationships are restored and life becomes meaningful. As Richard Beach used to say, “The sun shines on clay and hardens it but the sun shines on butter and melts it. The difference is the condition of the material.” May we all allow God’s love to melt any area of our heart that is hardened. May we live in the freedom God desires… …and dwell in His kingdom forever. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Frozen, Part Two: The Rescue

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” -Rom. 5:8 When someone we love is headed the wrong direction, we’re left with a choice: do we stand idly by or do we jump in to help? Idle is always easier. But true friends come to the rescue of true friends. We should all certainly be thankful that our loving God didn’t stand passively still while we wasted away. He lovingly provided a way of freedom for us. So, with Elsa locked in her own private ice castle, Anna, her sister, made an important decision to act. She wouldn’t leave her sister alone to live out her years secluded. She loved her sister and wanted to bring her out of the cold. Elsa later commented to Anna, “What power do you have to stop this winter…. to stop me?” Anna’s only power was to love and it made all the difference. Princess Anna of Arendelle was the fearless, spunky and innocently awkward younger sister of the powerful Snow Queen Elsa. Anna is loosely based on Gerda from "The Snow Queen,” a fairy tale by Hans Christian Andersen. And she is also loosely based on anyone, propelled by love, who is willing to jump in for the good of someone. That’s exactly what our loving God did when He sent His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our cursed sin. As Disney Wiki says, Anna is more daring than graceful and, at times, can act before she thinks. But she's also an optimistic and caring person. She longs to reconnect with her sister, Elsa, as they were close during their childhood. When Elsa accidentally unleashes a magical secret that locks the kingdom of Arendelle in an eternal winter, Anna embarks on a dangerous adventure to make things right. Armed with only her fearlessness, a never-give-up attitude and her faith in others, Anna is determined to save both her kingdom and her family. Paul Briggs, one of the writers of “Frozen”, said, “Anna is a character who is willing to stand beside you and stand up for what’s right. Her sister was born with a condition that’s shaped a world where Anna doesn’t belong.” And so Anna is determined to do something about it. She’s determined to help her sister be more than her sister thinks she can be. Though she values romance greatly, it's clear Anna's most valued treasure is her relationship with her sister. Since childhood, Anna's been attached to Elsa, and always leaped at the opportunity to spend time with her. As the years passed, and the sisters grew apart, the heartbroken Anna continued to try time and time again for some quality time with the one she loved most. Throughout most of the film, Anna was also the only character to have faith that Elsa was no monster. The Duke of Weselton was notably against her because of that very theory, Kristoff feared her, as did the other citizens for they were oblivious of who Elsa truly was. Even so, despite their separation, Anna knew her sister was far from vile, and put it in her hands to bring her home, not only for the sake of the kingdom, but in hopes of reattaching their formerly close bond. powerful sense of hope, as well as her love for her sister. That’s what true friends do. They see the best, not the worst, in those they love and they act on that love, even if no one else follows them. That’s what God did with us. He reached out to us when we were at our worst. And He’s still reaching out. In the end, despite her numerous flaws, Anna is an extremely sweet, selfless, and loving character. Throughout the film, numerous times, she puts the safety and well being of others before her own, showing great loyalty and admiration for her friends and family. This is most notably seen with Elsa. Some examples of this can be seen when she purchased the items and food Kristoff couldn't afford in Wandering Oaken's Trading Post and Sauna, prevented Kristoff from spoiling Olaf's dreams of living in summer, and most significantly and importantly during the climax where she saves Elsa from death at the hands of Hans, despite knowing she'd inevitably lose her life in the process. That’s always the ultimate test of love: a willingness to lose one’s life for someone else. Paul said repeatedly in his letters, “I die to myself for you.” Not literally, though he would have been willing, but more importantly to die in life. That’s called selflessness and always produces fruit in the rescuing. It was God’s plan through Jesus Christ, it was Anna’s plan with Elsa, and hopefully our plan with those we love… …and desire to see fully alive. By Eric Joseph Staples ©

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Frozen, Part One: The Curse

“…for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” –Romans 3:23 Several people have asked me, “When are you going to comment on the movie Frozen? My response? “As soon as I see it.” I’d heard it was a fun movie for kids, but also a movie with an important message for us grown-ups as well. Last weekend, we travelled to Des Moines to spend the weekend with Elizabeth, Mark and our two grandkids, Reese and Lucy. Our best friends Donny and Lisa, Mark’s parents, were there as well. One of the highlights of the weekend was going to see…you guessed it…Frozen! It was adapted from the Hans Christian Andersen classic The Snow Queen. I have no idea what message the producers intended (I probably don’t want to know), but it did speak truth to me as it’s spoken to so many. The original premise of the movie is the “curse” that the older sister, Elsa, the princess of Arendelle, possesses. Technically, she has cryokinesis, the magical ability to create ice and snow. It’s not explained why she was born with the curse, but her inability to be rid of her icy powers forms the plot of the movie. In any early scene, her ability to form ice and snow injures her younger sister, Anna. So her parents decided to isolate Elsa and her powers to her room in the castle where she is banned from involvement with her sister. Her private life shields the world from her powers, but creates a closed and lonely Elsa whose only view of the world is cold and cruel. But it makes sense: if one possesses the ability to hurt others, just cover it up, “Out of sight, out of mind.” That same premise forms the plot of our lives as well. We are all born with a curse called sin. Our recognition of that curse and its solution has everything to do with whether we live a full or empty life. Some psychologists and scientists have attempted to deny that humanity is inherently sinful or ‘bad.’ For example, the founder of humanistic psychology, Abraham Maslow, said: “As far as I know we just don't have any intrinsic instincts for evil.” Agreeing with Maslow is noted psychologist Carl Rogers who stated, “I do not find that…evil is inherent in human nature.” Both Maslow and Rogers dismiss sin and instead say if a person is committing evil acts, then the “patient” is psychologically ill and must be brought back to mental sanity through medication and therapy. However, history has shown that the evil actions of humanity transcend mere mental disorders. We all are born with a sin nature. It only requires working an hour in any nursery to see that everyone is innately self-centered and self- focused. We are all products of the fall of man and have a void in our hearts at birth. Elsa eventually retreats to her own ice castle to live out her life of seclusion. But her little sister Anna is determined to rescue her sister. Elsa will eventually deal with her curse, but only after she deals with her cursed nature. We void our curse by recognizing the curse, our inability to fix it on our own, and surrender to a loving and “curse destroying” Savior, Jesus Christ. As John Calvin put it, “For certainly, Christ is much more powerful to save than Adam was to ruin.” May we all face our curse and surrender ourselves to a loving God… …to melt our frozen hearts. By Eric Joseph Staples ©