Category Archives: Random

Raylan’s 1st Birthday

Exactly one year ago, my wife was lying in a hospital bed at Willis Knighton Bossier, breathing through an oxygen mask and crying because our son would be taken by caesarean section on Halloween of 2011 rather her being induced on 11-1-11, as was the plan. God had another timeframe in mind, so Raylan Mason Dean entered this world on the holiday that isn’t exactly our favorite.

They rolled Shari into the operating room and began to prep her as I put on my doctor gear (I looked at stupid as you might imagine). The whirlwind began, and I found myself sitting on a stool next to my wife, a curtain separating us from the stomach-turning gore happening on the other side. It was over in a heartbeat, and

“Who in the family has red hair?”

The nurse uttered those words as my eyes grew wide, seeing that tiny, slimy, screaming human for the first time. I thought for months that  I would cry, but the moment was too surreal for me to shed any tears. Shari, on the other hand, was indeed crying and begging for me to show him to her. After the nurses cleaned him up, I was finally allowed to hold him and take him around the curtain to see his mom face to face (he’s been close by ever since…very close by).

We knew our lives would change completely, but we had no idea exactly how much. I didn’t know exactly what colic was (or that it makes time stand still for months), how often kids get ear infections, that he would say, “Ma-Ma” for Shari, “Ba-Ba” for his bottle, and even “Apple,”  the name of our dog before finally chattering out “Da-Da.” I didn’t know that I would at times be dead-tired in the middle of the night, but smiling as he reached out for me to pick him up in the middle of the night.

My little buddy doesn’t look like me, nor does he act like me. In other words, he’s got the same kind of personality that first drew me to his mother a decade ago (being cute doesn’t hurt, either). With every flash of his dimples, he takes another piece of my heart. He’s not at all how we thought he would probably be, but he’s every bit my awesome, hilarious little buddy.

There are times in my life that I’ve been overly-introspective, and I didn’t think fatherhood would suppress that tendency, but having a child truly eliminates a large part of yourself from the equation. I’m always thinking about him, always wondering what he’s doing while I’m at work, and praying that I become the kind of father than he’ll need for every stage of his life. Parenthood has been, as it is for all, a learning experience for both Shari and myself, and I can’t wait to learn more over the next year.

Raylan, I love you more than I ever realized I would. The past few weeks have been incredibly busy, and I haven’t spent enough time with you and your mom, but that’s about to change next Monday. Be good for Mommy until Daddy gets back.

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Happy 60th, Dad

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My father, Jerry Dean, turns 60 today. I’ve never imagined my dad being in his 60s, but when I look around and see his five grandchildren running and crawling around during the rare, happy moments that we’re all together, I guess it does make sense.

He has been the lead pastor of The Pentecostals of Bossier City for 24 years. He serves on the Global Missions Board of the UPCI. He is the Director of Louisiana Apostolic Man Ministries, and the Vice President of the UPCI’s Apostolic Man Ministries. He has preached on four continents, including the General Conferences of North America and the UK.

In short, my father has smashed the incorrect (and absolutely infuriating) notion that many carry in regards to ministers: that they play golf, sip coffee, and only have to work on Wednesday nights and Sunday mornings. I have watched my dad exhaust himself seven days a week for as long as I’ve lived.

There is a reason he has impacted so many people: his passion is overwhelming.

I have said dozens of times that the highest compliment that I can pay my father is that he is the exact same man in the comforts of his home that he is when standing behind the pulpit. There is no pretension within him. There is no ambiguity in his actions — when he preaches against secularism, materialism, and spiritual complacency, it is because he consistently avoids sin, greed, and lethargy in his private life.

Though he has given the benediction at the installation of a governor, he has never valued the company of those in positions of power or prominence over that of the humble workers of his community. There is no prejudice, no haughtiness, and no cynicism in his dealings with others.

He calls himself “the redneck pastor,” and he genuinely seems most at peace when walking on the land some relatives own in Oklahoma and East Texas, leading his grandsons down trails or snapping pictures of them catching their first fish. His eyes still light up as he recounts the many stories of his childhood in De Leon, Texas, some of which I’ve heard several times, but hope he never stops telling.

I have always respected my dad for his character and commitment, but I must confess there was not always a time that I properly valued it. As a teenager, I thought and said countless hurtful things about our church and religious beliefs. I came to hate the work of God and the demands that the job my father accepted placed upon not only him, but our family. I bristled every time someone said, “You’re the pastor’s son — you should know better!” I’ll skip over the rest of the story, but I found healing at an altar at 18-years-old, and with it regained my admiration for the selflessness that my parents have always displayed.

Today, Jerry Dean is not just my pastor — he’s also my boss. I am privileged to be able to work beside him in our offices, to walk beside him as he minister’s to this community, and pray beside him at the altars of POBC.

I didn’t always understand why my dad sought a higher level of self-sacrifice which seemed above that of so many in his profession, but when I see him praying at the altar for a visitor who is receiving the Holy Ghost for the first time, the alcoholic who has stumbled into our church and is seeking deliverance, or the prodigal who cannot walk another step without pursing redemption, and I see the tears streaming down both their faces as God’s beautiful work is done, then it makes sense.

When I see our church acting on their faith, serving their community, and loving those who desperately need it, then it makes sense.

When I hear the young ministers from all around the country tell me, “You have no idea what your dad reaching out to me meant,” then it makes sense.

When I stand in the midst of a crowded auditorium, and I feel the faith arising in the people around me due to the passionately-delivered words from the “redneck pastor” preaching to them, and I know that the reason it resonates is because the of the genuine nature of his anointing, then it makes sense.

I once made the incredibly painful accusation to my father that he was “pastor first, father second.” Please allow me a few final paragraphs to address my father directly:

Dad, please forgive me for ever uttering those words. I was speaking from a perspective that was limited, and my heart was not in the right place.

Over the years I have come to understand something: your being a good father doesn’t come from the fact that you’re a good pastor. You’re being a good pastor comes from the fact that you’re an incredible father.

Thank you for all the love you pour out — to your wife, your children, your grandchildren, and your son-and-daughter-in-laws. We all love and respect you more than you’re even aware.

Happy 60th Birthday, Dad,
I love you.

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Raylan Mason Dean

Last Monday, October 31, 2011, my wife and I were joined by my mother-in-law for our weekly appointment at Willis-Knighton Bossier City in preparation for the birth of our first child. Our previous check-ups indicated we were on track for a due-date delivery (November 5). Little did we know, we wouldn’t be leaving the hospital. Dr. Leslie Dean (an absolutely brilliant OBGYN) examined my wife’s vital signs, along with the heartbeat of our baby. He was experiencing a decelerated heart rate, so Dr. Dean committed Shari for overnight observation.

This caught us off-guard (though it really shouldn’t have), since we expected to be induced the following Monday. I needed to drive home to collect our ready-packed bags, so I began my 12-minute journey to the house. As I turned onto our street, my mother-in-law, Tanya, called me on my phone. I assumed they had forgotten to pack something, and either she or Shari needed me to find something. However, as I answered, I could hear in the tone of her voice that something was wrong. “Ryan,” she said, ” you need to be quick. His heart rate decelerated again, and they might have to take him in for a c-section the moment it happens again.”

I went into panic-stricken terror mode. There was absolutely no way I was going to be anywhere but the side of my wife during the birth of our child.

I rushed into the house, bags flying through the air as I literally ran through our cozy little house as my very confused dog watched. I slung everything into my car, zipped onto our road, and began a run of terror from Haughton to Bossier City. Note: I am a defensive driver by nature, and rarely go 5 MPH over the speed limit. I don’t appreciate speeders who endanger the safety of those around them, especially in neighborhoods.

I drove at a safe speed throughout our subdivision, but as it came time to merge onto I-220, I became an absolute madman. My hands trembled and tears were welling up in my eyes as I alternately prayed to God and screamed at my fellow drivers. With my emergency blinkers on, I zoomed down the interstate at an entirely unreasonable speed, which in retrospect was absolutely stupid. BUT I COULDN’T MISS MY SON’S BIRTH!

Luckily, Shari and the baby stabilized, and Tanya called me again to assure me that they weren’t expecting to wheel Shari into surgery any time soon. I rocked back and forth in my seat at the red light, patting the wheel, praying, and sweating profusely. At this moment, I get a call from my dad, who I recognize is chuckling for some bizarre reason. I was not chuckling.

“It’s alright,” he said. “Shari’s okay. The baby’s okay. No one is doing anything yet. I see you rocking around in your car — just settle down.” Every syllable seemed to be laced with something between the aforementioned chuckle and a giggle. I still wasn’t chuckling.

I finally reached the room, with bags in hand (minus the several items and additional bag I forgot in my mad rush). I was there, along with my family, when our incredible nurse, Kelley, came in to tell us that Raylan’s heartbeat had once again decelerated, and Dr. Dean’s partner, Dr. Gomez, was on the phone to explain to my reluctant wife why a c-section was absolutely necessary. An hour later, I sat next to my beautiful wife, an anesthesiologist at her head, a surgeon at her abdomen, and nurses everywhere.

I held my wife’s hand as the procedure began. Shari was blocked from seeing what was happening due to a small sheet that formed a 6-inch curtain just below her chin, but I was able to see much of what my perspective did not permit by looking into a reflective surface on the opposite wall. The procedure is absolutely incredible, but I remember very little of it.

Suddenly, Dr. Gomez said, “Oh, look at all that hair!” At this moment, I looked at Shari, who began to cry heavily. Almost immediately, our screaming, crying son came into view. The first thing I noticed was his hair: it was a mixture of my wife’s dark blonde hair and my family’s Irish-red strawberry-blonde(ish) hair. I followed along as the nurses cleaned him, snapping pictures and fighting away tears. But then the moment for which I’d waited 28 years came: I was allowed to hold my son.

The moment that he was nestled into my arms, a barrage of overwhelming emotions and thoughts flooded my mind, and though it might sound cheesy, the most powerful impression was this: Now I have a better glimpse of the incredible, powerful love that God feels for us. As I cried profusely, I finally understood that all the cheesy cliches that I had always heard were true: this is a different, powerful love — distinct from anything I’d experienced before.

The following days have been spent with my son, wife, and family. We’ve experienced an incredible outpouring of love from our church family and friends. They’ve brought us meals, showered us with gifts, and generally shown more excitement than I thought possible. We’re incredibly blessed, and we know it.

Raylan is keeping us up, filling diapers, crying, staring, frowning, smiling, and making life a wonderful adventure. As I write this blog post, he is lying in his car seat (he seems to prefer it), swaddling in warm blankets, and wearing one of his two LSU beanies. Shari and I are happier than at any point in our lives prior to his arrival, and we can’t wait to see what this parenthood thing is all about.

Seconds after being taken from the womb

Seeing Mum for the first time.

Taunting the camera

Forever furrowing his brow

Fauxhawk #1

Getting tweeted

Tay Tay

🙂

Staredown

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1,000 Awesome Things

I love recommending good web-sites, particularly home-grown blogs that put their own creative mark on the world. 1,000 Awesome Things was immediately added to my RSS reader (more on a later date) when I found out about it, and they never cease to put a smile on my face.

The premise is simple: take commonplace things that we might experience fairly often and remind us of how awesome they are. Here are some examples of what you can expect:

#211 When you’re walking next to a fence or railing and you stick your finger or a stick in there so it clangs over and over.

It’s like playing a harp with only one note.

AWESOME!

Even those of you over the age of 50 must admit that you do this when no one is looking.

Another of my favorites:

#216 Putting your ear on someone’s stomach and hearing all the gurgling.

It’s the sound of life.

Listening to the sound of a stomach chowing down on a greasy hot dog is listening to the sound of a body filling up with energy. Ketchup, mustard, pickles — they’re all magically getting transmogrified into molecules of you and molecules of poo. Amen, sing it to your mama.

Putting your ear on someone’s stomach and hearing all the tiny fizzpops and spin-gurgles having a blast on the inside is a strangely beautiful moment of intimacy and an ear-twinkling moment of

AWESOME!

One more…

#221 Using your keyless entry remote to find your car in a big parking lot.

First, there’s nothing.

You mindlessly walk into the Sea of Cars from the mall and start tapping your remote over and over and over again into quiet and silent night. Foggy memories of parking near the pizza smell by the back slowly hit you and you groggily stumble forward like a zombie … deeper and deeper into the concrete bowels of the lot. Yes, wedged between the door handles and tailpipes you’re a Parking Lot Disaster until — suddenly! You hear it! Getting closer!

Be-beep.

Be-beep.

Be-beep.

Be-beep.

Be-beep!

Be-beep!

AWESOME!

If I’m not mistaken, Matt from Mattflies.com introduced me to the site, so hopefully I’m paying it forward a bit by letting some of you know about it.

Go subscribe!

Common Sense Media

Today the Supreme Court ruled that California’s Assembly Bill 1179 was unconstitutional. You can read about the ruling here, but I’ll summarize by saying that the Supreme Court decided that the government heavily fining a store that sells “violent video games” to minors was a violation of the First Amendment rights granted to all forms of media in the United States.

How you feel about the ruling is inconsequential when you realize one fact: THE MONITORING OF YOUR CHILDREN’S ENTERTAINMENT IS YOUR RESPONSIBILITY!

NOTE: before I go any further, I want to point out that if you get anything from this blog post, it should be this link: COMMON SENSE MEDIA, where you can find ratings, content guides, and more concerning video games, movies, television shows, and music. Just type the name of the title into the search bar, and then read all about it.

The lawmakers responsible for drafting Assembly Bill 1179 might have had honest intentions, namely that of protecting your children from exposure to overly violent video games (which may or may not have a psychological impact on their tolerance to violence, depending on which study you believe). However, it is far more likely that they are trying to buy parents’ votes by cheaply pandering to their base as moralists while they spend their free time sending naughty text messages to their mistresses. It’s not the government’s job to parent our children — it’s ours.

If your child is playing violent video games in your home, it’s your fault. If your child is watching sexually explicit films in your home, it’s your fault. If your child is learning language that they’ve never heard from the HBO comedy special on the television in their bedroom, it’s your fault. The government has nothing to do with it, nor does the video game store at the mall. Parents must monitor their children’s entertainment. Be nosey! You are not your child’s best friend — you are their moms and dads.

Almost all consoles and computers now come with parental controls. On XBox Live, you can enable parental controls which allow you to set time limits (including the ability to turn the console off automatically at a given hour) and restrict the ability to play games that are rated T or M (teenage/mature). Macs, iPhones, and iPods can have their Internet access restricted, and each offer a wide range of controls to customize your child’s experience based upon their age. Televisions have long had controls that restrict certain channels and programs which are rated for an adult audience.

The tools are there — but children are still playing, watching, and listening to things they shouldn’t, and it can be chalked up to one of three things:

1. Laziness
2. Ignorance
3. Ambivalence

If it’s laziness, then you need to research to find out what you can do. I’ve heard someone say, “Well, I don’t know kind of content is in the video games my kids want me to buy.” Okay, well then CLICK THIS LINK

If it’s ignorance, then it’s rectified by studying, asking questions, and simply reading the backs of the boxes of many games and movies. If your kid is watching a show on television, ask him/her what the title of the show is, and then Wikipedia it to find out what themes it addresses, what kind of characters are being presented, and whether or not it’s something you want them watching. When people say, “I don’t know where to start,” that usually means they didn’t even attempt to start.

If the matter is ambivalence, then I’d recommend that you pray God for a burden to protect your children. What they watch/hear/play DOES make a difference in their lives. No matter what psychological studies prove or don’t prove, there is no way to spiritually measure the affects their entertainment has upon their emotions and consciences.

BE ACTIVE!

Psalm 101:3a (KJV) – “I will set no wicked thing before mine eyes…”

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10 Lessons from My Dad

In honor of Father’s Day, I figured I’d list a few of the many things that my dad has taught me throughout the years. This is by no means a comprehensive collection of all of his nuggets of wisdom, but these are the things that came to mind as I sat down to write. It’s a bit disjointed, but you’ll get the idea.

First, some serious stuff:

1. Be the same person at home that you are from the pulpit.

My dad is a pastor. I’ve seen pastors, both personally at from afar, who were unable to live up to the lofty standards that they pushed upon others. Some of them didn’t even seem to be trying. Yet my father lives the same convictions he preaches publicly, treats everyone fairly, and shows generosity and patiences to everyone, regardless of their stature.

Being his son, I still only remotely aware of just how many people he has helped, and can honestly say that the majority of his pastoring is done far from the spotlight, with no one to admire and reward his works but God. His ministry is no facade.

2. Approach situations with patience, mercy, and empathy.

Having worked in ministry for only eight years, it still floors me to see how my father is one of the most forgiving people I have ever met. One of the oft-overlooked downsides of ministry is that we often have front row seats to people’s darker sides. People lose their tempers — ministers see it. People harbor unforgiveness — ministers feel it. People gossip about one another — ministers hear it. People are unfaithful — ministers counsel through it. People become disillusioned and resentful with God and/or  ministry — ministers absorb it.

One of the greatest enemies for every Christian is cynicism, and ministers are one of its greatest targets. My father refuses to be cynical, and through faith, pushes to find a positive outcome, then works for it. Instead of throwing in the towel on the nincompoops, he prays and fights for them to be something better, and often plays a critical hand in their renewal.

I believe they are three traits that make him an excellent pastor, and wish that all could emulate them.

3. We’re in the people business.

I may act like a banshee on meth once every few weeks, but I am, at heart, a terrible introvert. Unfortunately, I’m also a bit of an idealist, and disappointments with others and/or myself causes me to withdraw from groups even further.

But my dad taught me that when you’re in ministry, you’re in the people business. We have to listen to people, talk to people, care for people, and above all else, love people. I’m not saying that I don’t listen/talk/care/love people (quite the opposite), but my father reminds me that I have to make sure they know that I care about them. A person hurt by ministry carries a very difficult wound to heal.

Love God, love people: it’s everyone’s calling.

4. It is NEVER less than hilarious to mumble nonsense words when people least expect it.

“Hey, Ryan!”

“Hey, Fred! How are you?”

“Pretty good. How’s the family?”

“Well, pretty good, but if that calfreman doesn’t smort the flabnem, then we’re going to have a long summer…”

(awkward pause)

“Can you say that again?”

If you wonder where I get this from, now you know who to blame.

5. When you hit a putt short, it is necessary to take tiny, rapid steps backwards and say, “YA GOTTA HIT IIIIIIIT!”

Other notable golf tips I learned from Dad:

– When someone hits a bad shot and is extremely frustrated, ask them, “Well, what did you do that for?”

– When you slice the ball into the trees, ask no one in particular, “Why do I wanna come out and waste money on THIS?”

– Unless a PGA Tour professional, you should never feel guilty for adjusting the ball’s lie.

6. “To the pure, all things are pure.”

This is most often used as a defense against bemused criticism at family dinner for innocently using phrases in the pulpit that may or may not have a double-meaning in today’s culture.

7. “Never let a fight get in the way of a good night’s sleep.”

In other words, if you get in a knock-down drag-out with your spouse, don’t feel compelled to sleep anywhere other than the comfortable, familiar half of your own bed. Couches, guest rooms, and recliners just don’t get the job done.

The awkwardness and silence might make things uncomfortable for a few minutes, but once you fall asleep, you’ll stop noticing.

8. Missions, missions, missions.

My dad pastors a church in Bossier City, Louisiana, but at times you’d think that he also pastors a few other churches around the world. He gives reports about what is happening in Guatemala, Chile, China, and other countries with the same fervor and excitement that he does when we have an awesome service at POBC.

We live in the greatest country in the world, and with all the financial blessings that come with it, we have a powerful calling to aid in spreading the Gospel to the rest of the world. Missions can never be neglected.

9. A boyhood filled with bare feet, rattlesnakes, fights, and stampedes > Call of Duty.

If I listen to my dad’s endless supply of stories from De Leon, Texas, I can’t help but get the feeling that modern, urbanized youth are missing out on something truly special. I myself have become incredibly jealous hearing some of these tales, including, but not limited to:

– Uncle David convinced the four other Dean boys to spend the night in a nearby graveyard, then everyone screaming and running as a herd of horses came crashing through. This story resembles others in which he’d convince them the moon was turning to blood and the Rapture was nigh.

– Several of the boys held on to a massive rock at “the pits,” so that it would take them further underwater than they’d been before, only to stop abruptly when one of them developed an underwater nosebleed.

– The boys freaked out one day when Whiskers, the beloved family rat terrier, disappeared into an armadillo hole for what seemed like an eternity, only to pop back out of the ground 100 yards away (the exact measurement varies).

10. No matter what else happens, your family means the pacht lamen fled.

I told you.

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Upset Stomach or Terrorism? You Decide.

From the Yahoo News article: No bail for man who tried to access plane cockpit.

A federal judge has denied bail for a Yemen native accused of trying to barge into the cockpit of a San Francisco-bound American Airlines flight.

Prosecutors argued in court Tuesday that Rageh Al-Murisi shouldn’t get bail because he’s a danger to society.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Elise Becker says Al-Murisi yelled “God is great” in Arabic before pushing toward the cockpit. She notes the same phrase was uttered by the hijackers of Flight 93 as they took over the plane that eventually went down in Shanksville, Pa., on Sept. 11, 2001.

Sounds like a clear-cut case of a loose cannon extremist attempting to bring a plane down without much of a plan, right?

Well, not according to his family…

The Yemeni man who was wrestled to the floor after pounding on the cockpit door of a plane approaching San Francisco may have mistaken it for the bathroom.

Rageit Almurisi cannot speak English very well and could have misunderstood the signs inside the jet, his cousin claimed.

The maths teacher, who was heard yelling ‘Allahu Akbar’ as he allegedly battered the door, had also only been on three planes in his life and would have been unfamiliar with the layout.

This definitely means that every time I visit the loo from this day forward, I’m going to yell out “Allahu Ackbar!”

His family also claimed that Almurisi, 28, suffers from rheumatoid arthritis and could also have reacted badly when an air stewardess told him to sit down.

His painful joint condition meant he had to take regular walks on flights, they claimed. ‘I would not be having that,’ his cousin Rageh Almoraissi said.

‘If a flight attendant has the nerve to grab me and try to force me to my seat, believe me, you would hear about other people having injuries.’

So if you have a headache that sends you into a frenzy, the natural thing to do when a flight attendant tries to calm you down is rush the cockpit and yell out the same thing as the 9/11 hijackers? Fantastic idea.

Also, I’m checking out the other passengers on every flight I take. If Rageh Almoraissi is on board, then I will not be.

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Defeating Depression: My Story and Solutions

(Warning – I discuss some slightly harsh topics in this post. If you are the squirmy, uptight, or cynical type, you might not want to proceed. Also, this post is thoroughly introspective, and I hope that it doesn’t come off as self-aggrandizing. If it does, that certainly was not my intention. If you are here solely because you want to read my own tips for defeating depression, please skip to the numbered points in the second half of the post.)

This post is not a plea for pity — I neither want it, nor require it. Actually, if anyone offers it, I am usually quick to dismiss it and become greatly embarrassed, even ashamed, by it. I am quite content in who I am, but only when viewed through the perspective of God’s grace. I have struggled with depression for many years, and I thought it might be beneficial to share my perspective and solutions with someone who might be struggling through similar circumstances. I’ve thought about writing this post for several years, and am finally getting around to it.

I am a depressive.

I can’t remember the first instance that I felt genuinely depressed, but it was almost certainly between the ages of 8 and 10-years-old. Understand that when I refer to depression, I’m not speaking of sadness or fleeting moments of helplessness. I’m speaking of depression in the clinical sense, defined by Merriam-Webster Dictionary as “depression of sufficient severity to be brought to the attention of a physician and to require treatment.”

Let me be clear: if you have never experienced depression, please do not dismiss the claims or the emotional distress of those who struggle with it — it is real. It can even be annoying to be around a depressive, especially since so many who claim to be “depressed” are attention-seekers searching for a quick hug and reassuring nod. In reality, those who are truly depressed often keep their feelings underneath the surface. They don’t want for you to know.

At a very young age, I developed a harshly self-critical perception, and began focusing almost exclusively on my inadequacies. When I underperformed, whether at school, in basketball, in church, or one of my own personal endeavors, I beat myself up until there was little left in regards to ego. I didn’t need anyone to tell me I didn’t meet a goal: I was already well aware of it. I was a classic INFP (which I was unaware of until I was 25), and had higher ideals than I could hope to achieve. To put it simply, I was a mess. I altered my appearance, my vernacular, my, goals, and even my beliefs.

I had suicidal thoughts first in junior high school, and began discreetly making small cuts on my arms and legs, not because I found the process cathartic, but because I wanted to be able to imagine how badly it would hurt if I actually cut my wrists. I planned my suicide out, from little details like the video I would record to what music I would play as I committed my final act. In all honesty, there were two reasons that I never followed through: one, that it would hurt my family too much, and two, I was genuinely terrified of spending eternity in Hell, despite my reluctance to admit there definitely was a God (I identified myself as agnostic during this time period). I was hopeless, but not heartless. I was godless, but not without a fear of God.

Throughout high school, I struggled with the notion that I would never become what I was “supposed to be,” whatever that meant. Suicide remained in my thoughts, even during the good times. My friends knew that I wasn’t happy, but I’m pretty sure they didn’t know how bad it had become. I wanted out, and I didn’t know how to work up the courage to make it happen.

One night at our church, I stood in the fourth row of pews (not going to church wasn’t an option as long as I lived with my parents) and listened to a missionary couple from Malaysia sing and speak. Bro. Marshall and Sis. Vani would continue to play a significant role in my family’s lives, but the first role they played was that of the catalyst that would draw me back to God. Near the end of the altar service, Sis. Vani crawled on top of the pew in front of me and began to pray, close enough that I was the only one to hear it. She spoke of things that I had never told another person, and she spoke as if God had filled her in on all the necessary details of my life which had me bound since before adolescence. I cried, I prayed, and I turned around. My life was God’s, and I haven’t wavered since.

But my depression did not end with my repentance. One night in Alexandria, Louisiana, I felt something come over me during prayer, and I felt the depression leave my life. I was convinced that I was healed of it, but it came once again around six months later. I was praying, studying, fasting, and loving God with my whole heart, but I could not shake the self doubt and despair that might have originated from my borderline unhealthy idealism. I no longer dealt with thoughts of suicide, but depression was still present — it was just taking a slightly different form.

My perception of depression has been continually re-shaped. I noticed that my best writing and prayer seemed to take place during the more severe bouts. Many of what I consider my best sermons were studied for, written, and preached during those same times. After reading John Keats’ “Ode on Melancholy,” which asserts that one better understands the joys and beauty of life only after experiencing the bitter lows and darkness of it, I started thinking that my depression might even be a vital and even valuable part of my personality. I can’t say that’s entirely healthy or even correct, but there was some logic behind it.

Over the years, I have successfully combatted depression with understanding, determination, and prayer. It is a daily battle, but if you want to end depression, you have to be willing to fight it on every front.

In between all the rationalizing and confusion, I’ve actually stumbled across, studied about, or instinctively arrived at certain solutions to overcoming depression. I am personally opposed to medicinal solutions (for myself, not for everyone), so I’ve made an effort to remember these and practice them as often as possible:

1. Prayer

This might seem like an obvious inclusion, especially when coming from a student pastor, but prayer and a relationship with God are the two most important steps in overcoming crippling depression. There are temporary solutions, but I can honestly say that my battle with depression has never reached the severity that it had during the darkest times when I had excluded God’s power and authority from my life. Prayer works!

I have not yet fully defeated depression, but I daily fight against it, and most days…I win. But I don’t do it alone, and it’s when I’m most aware of that fact that I feel most at peace. God does not forsake me during the dark times, and He has reminded me of that time and time again. Thank God for His presence!

Prayer can bring comfort, but Godly living also brings consistency and contentment. Every significant character in the Word of God was deeply flawed, but each of them who turned to God and turned themselves over to Him prevailed. God cares about the broken, the underachieving, the lonely, the fearful, and the neglected. The first step towards defeating depression should always be the same, and it should always be toward God.

2. Family/Friends

The natural inclination of introverted depressives to to exclude themselves from social activity. Depression feeds on loneliness.

I couldn’t begin to count the number of times that my mood shifted from sour to joyful as the result of those close to me. After some of the most gruesome days, an evening spent with my wife, Shari, has lifted me up when my original desire was to stay home and read in a chair, completely alone. Dinner with family on Sunday mornings after church has been a long-standing routine for the Deans and Stanleys, but they’re also therapeutic for me. I love my family, my family loves me, and whether they know it or not, their very presence soothes me.

I’ve been blessed with a number of friends, but particularly so with a smaller number of close confidantes. They know what makes me laugh, and they seem to know exactly what to say or do to put me in a better mood. The funny thing is that they likely don’t even realize that they’re doing it. They might not even know that I’m down (as I said, chronic depressives become good at hiding it).

No matter what your mood tells you, spend time with other people! They’re a blessing from God, and they can help you. Since we’re so often victims of our own minds, it’s good to make sure we’re not allowed the source of the problem to be the only brain the in the room.

3. Read and Study

I can’t recommend a particular book for everyone, but a number of them have helped me. Among them are Unmasking Male Depression and Boundaries, the latter not really being a book about depression, but is currently helping alleviate me of some sources of stress, which is definitely a factor in depression.

You need to understand your problems. You need to know what makes happy, angry, sad, content, and depressed. There is still a certain stigma attached to depression and other disorders — we don’t want to be considered a victim. Well, if you don’t want to be a victim, then find out how not to be! There is a wealth of reading material on the subject, and you would be foolish to ignore it. Speak to a counselor for recommendations.

4. Ask for Help

This, like many other personal battles, is not one that you can win alone. I unashamedly admit to having been assisted by counselors over the years, and I would recommend it to absolutely anyone who has faces depressive tendencies. This should not be a source of shame!

Half a century ago, the field of psychology was still derided as something that only the kooks required. Only the mentally disturbed were thought to require psychological attention. Times have certainly changed, and while there are some things that only God can fix, there are many others that I believe He uses godly counselors to help solve. For many of them, helping people defeat their problems is their ministry. They are gifted by God, just as a preacher is gifted to preach the Word, and a music leader is gifted to lead in worship.

Do not be too fearful, skeptical, or ashamed to ask for help!

5. Retrain Your Mind

Depressives often follow a pattern. There are certain triggers that can alter a person’s state of mind for days. You can retrain your mind to react to circumstances. It takes dedication to make it work, but it is possible!

This is where reading and studying about your particular issues come into play. Combine that knowledge with the insights provided with therapy and prayer, and you have yourself a game plan. If you simply try to pray yourself out of it without taking an actions for yourself, you’re likely asking God for help with something for which He’s already provided a solution. Cognitive therapy is almost always successful when properly applied, but it must be applied. Don’t think depression will go away by itself.

This post might have been too forthcoming, but I hope that someone who battles these same issues might find something of value in it. Since my turning point at almost 19-years-old, I’ve continually felt a burden for those who battle depression, particularly young people who little to no idea of how to handle it.

Pray. Share. Study. Ask. Retrain.

PSSAR: it’s not a good acronym, but it’s fun to try to say.

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Counter-Culture

Within every culture, there are those who spit in the face of the status quo and blaze their own trail. Then there are the multitudes: the vast majority who look alike, sound alike, and pursue almost identical goals.

Everyone likes to think of themselves as counter-culture. It has always seemed cool to be unlike everyone else.

When I was young, I quickly realized that I was a nerd. It’s necessary to make the distinction that I was not a “geek,” which is a slightly more endearing term. I was a nerd. I liked Star Trek and Star Wars. I was as interested in Michael Jordan’s statistical analysis as I was in his jaw-dropping highlights. I didn’t realize how odd most of this was until I was made aware that I sat at the “Nintendo table” at school. Today, almost every male aged 10-34 plays video games, but in the early 90s, it was still mostly the dominion of the dweebs. I was a nerd, and I was suddenly aware of it. I became addicted to games like SimCity and Civilization II, where I created my own kingdoms and wreaked havoc upon the minions that inhabited my nation. The weird thing about it all? I was kind of proud to be a nerd.

When I became older, I finally discovered my love for Apple’s Mac computers. I bought an early iBook, and have never looked back. I’ve brought 60 people into the Mac realm, with 59 of them now being Mac-centric Apple fanboys, and the remaining one just not caring enough about anything tech-related. When I first bought my iBook, I was the only college student in any of my classes that didn’t have a Dell, HP, or Gateway. It made me feel special. I felt different. I know that’s a little self-congratulatory, but we all need to feel special from time to time.

I didn’t like Macs because they were different — I liked them because I thought they were better. The same applies to all of our perceived preferences. But when we realize that we’re standing out because of our interests, it makes us think of them a bit differently. They’re not just something we like; they set us apart, and that comes with a realization of peculiarity that can feel isolating or privileged, depending on our mindset.

Living a Christian lifestyle in an increasingly godless society has placed many of us in a position that we never thought possible in a so-called Christian nation: we are now the outsiders (cue NEEDTOBREATHE song). A nation that was founded upon Christian virtues and principles has begun pushing Christians from positions of prominence into the closet.

  • Worldly culture dictates that the Word of God is not to be taken literally.
  • Christian culture maintains that the Bible is the inspired, fully true Word of God.
  • Worldly culture dictates that divorce is perfectly acceptable for struggling couples.
  • Christian culture maintains that divorce destroys lives and is frowned upon by God.
  • Worldly culture dictates that sex before marriage is to be encouraged.
  • Christian culture maintains that the marriage bed is sacred.
  • Worldly culture dictates that success is to be largely determined by material possessions and status.
  • Christian culture maintains that true success is found only in a life lived for Jesus Christ.
  • Worldly culture dictates that there are many ways to Heaven.
  • Christian culture maintains that salvation is found in no one else but Jesus (Acts 4:12).
  • Worldly culture dictates that the universe, this planet, and humanity itself was an unlikely accident.
  • Christian culture maintains that we were created by a loving God for a specific purpose.
  • Worldly culture dictates that pleasure in any form is paramount.
  • Christian culture maintains that where we spend eternity is paramount.

For those who do not rationalize the Bible as only a philosophical work of literature…the statutes, principles, and teachings it offers hold true in 2011 just as they did in 33 AD. I have tested the Word of God in my own life, and I find it holds steady and true. When we follow the plan set in His Word, we are the ultimate counter-culture mavens, living by faith.

Years ago, I attended a large youth conference in which a preacher took a quote from Audio Adrenaline singer Mark Stuart wildly out of context. He blasted Stuart for saying (I’m paraphrasing because the article is no longer archived on the web – Newsweek: Jesus Rocks!), “Christianity has always been about rebellion.” What the preacher failed to include is Stuart’s clarification: “…rebellion against popular culture.” Stuart went on to describe how Jesus’ teachings were rejected by the religious leaders of His time, and how the message He preached was unpopular with many. Stuart was absolutely right. Jesus wasn’t even accepted by His own hometown. Jesus taught people that instead of taking an eye for an eye, turn the other cheek when struck by a brother. This was radical thinking!

We are different, but we’re not different so that we can feel special. We are different because we are following a different path. Our lives our not ordered by secular humanism, but by God’s Word. And just like I felt compelled to convert Windows users to Mac OSX, every Christian MUST have the desire to spread the news of what God has done in our lives, and encourage others to follow the same path. I mentioned earlier that recognition of our distinction will make us feel either isolated or privileged. I hope that every Christian realizes how privileged we are.

Our differences must not make us arrogant, but desperate — desperate to share this counter-culture message of faith, hope, and love. That is our mission, and if it makes us a little “weird,” then so be it. We’re just a little different.

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:”

1 Peter 2:9 (KJV)

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Laugh It Out

Gramps (BIll Dean), Laughing it Out

 

“A cheerful heart is good medicine,
but a broken spirit saps a person’s strength.”

– Proverbs 17:22 (NLT)

I like to laugh. Who doesn’t, right?

But I really like to laugh, and when I get going, I’m about 99% positive that it gets annoying to the people around me. I can’t help it. I’m the guy who laughs at a funeral, and only holds in the volume by shaking maniacally until it subsides. I wheeze-laugh, snort-laugh, and shriek-laugh. I’ve snorted milk, Mountain Dew, water, and orange juice through my nose as a result of sudden laughter. I’ve laughed so hard I dry heaved. I’ve been criticized by some because I joke too often and laugh too loudly.

I don’t care.

Long before we discovered laughter’s medical benefits, the Word of God said, “A cheerful heart is good medicine.” It wasn’t until 2,000 years later that we discovered laughter increases healthy-enhancing hormones like endorphins and neurotransmitters. It increases the number of antibody-producing cells and enhances the effectiveness of T cells, resulting in a stronger immune system and fewer physical effects of stress. A good belly laugh exercises the diaphragm, contracts the abs, and works out the shoulders. Even the heart benefits from laughter, which improves the functioning of blood vessels and increases blood flow, which can help protect against a heart attack and other cardiovascular problems.

Laughter isn’t just good for you — it’s great for you! Get off your mopey, uber-serious high horse and join the rest of us. Laugh until you cry! Laugh until your abs are sore! Laugh until people give you dirty looks! Laugh it out!

“But look, God will not reject a person of integrity, nor will he lend a hand to the wicked. He will once again fill your mouth with laughter and your lips with shouts of joy.

– Job 8:20-21 (NLT)