Great things are born of open hearts: From Lydia to Lydia’s House

istockphoto_8380994-soup-timeistockphoto_1093989-handing-over-the-keysThere is a rather brief story in the New Testament Book of Acts about Lydia, one of  the women who gathered by the river outside the gate in Philippi and eagerly listened to Paul and his companions, Timothy, Silas and Luke (Acts 16:13-14). The story continues to say that Lydia was “a worshiper of God” and on that day she and her household were baptized (verse 15).

We can gather from this brief story that Lydia was a woman of some means, as a “dealer in purple cloth”. Furthermore, the term “household” usually included not only family members, but also servants and the term “worshipper of God” was a reference to “a woman of high standing”.

The big story within this brief account is that “the Lord opened her heart” and she invited the apostles to stay in her house. Great things did happen as a result of her generosity. What we need to note here is that the Lord opened her heart because she was willing to have her heart opened. Free will is always part of the equation.

Similar stories can be found throughout the centuries and even in our own day. Willingness and openness are the foundation to wonders and greatness.

In January 2012, two women in Cincinnati, Meridith Owensby and Mary Ellen Mitchell Eilerman opened their hearts to a vision of “a nurturing home for women and children in crisis”. By May 2012 a ministry christened “Lydia’s House was born and the momentum has continued, with a targeted January 2012 opening with four women and their children and two volunteers in residence.

There is not a day when God is not wanting to open our hearts. The possibilities that follow our willingness are limitless. Find out more about Lydia’s House here.

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7 Tips on how to pick yourself up and move on

stock-photo-17323499-france-organ-of-chambery-cathedralIronically, one of the symptoms of depression is lack of interest or ability to do almost anything at all. Yet, here I am suggesting things to do. What I am suggesting is a routine; a habit; things to practice on a daily basis as a counter  measure to the onset of depression.

Positive Influences: The people we surround influence our thinking and attitude. A positive mentality goes a long way to uplift our spirits. In my experience, the weekly Bible Study group has a tremendously profound positive influence on my perspective of life issues

The internet is also an invaluable resource of positive writers like Neale Donald Walsch, Christine Kloser, Brian Tracy, Christina Hills, Arielle Ford, and many others who – in addition to writing – also lead uplifting webinars. In my experience with depression these were God’s angels – more than medications.

The second tip is Yoga. For me, it is the first thing in the morning. It is twenty to thirty minutes of Classical Stretch, concentrating on breathing and simple stretches that allow maximum oxygen flow and opening of glands and organs. It relaxes the body and mind too. It does not have to be Yoga; any simple exercise, indoors or outdoors, is perfectly fine.

Meditation is third on my list and comes after Yoga as I begin the day. I go for anything inspirational – scripture or something like Daily Spiritual Exercises, or A Course of Chicken Soup for the Soul, or something like that. Sometimes I simply sit still, close my eyes and let the moment be. You can devise your own meditation according to your situation.

The fourth tip healthful eating. It has been said that we are what we eat. Unhealthy eating habits cannot be expected to produce positive dispositions. Now I am keeping a journal of what I eat with the goal of being intentional and accountable about my eating habits. For a diabetic like me, anyway, that is a health issue – well, everything is, in the final analysis.

Number 5, for me, comes music or the noise that goes into my ears. Classical music is always inspirational to me: Vivaldi, Handel, Haydn. Church music too, by Charles Wesley, for example. That works for me; enjoy your music of choice. Rap does not work for me, it may work for someone else.

At number 6 is what I learned to sing in primary (elementary) school: Early to bed and early to rise makes a wise man (and woman) wiser and a rich man (and woman) richer. I strive for 7 hours sleep!

Number 7 is what not to do: Watching television. It seems like television is programmed to depress. There are, of course, some positive programming on PBS, and I certainly look forward to something educational on Nova, or positively entertaining like Downton Abbey, but as a general rule, stay away from television.

Let me know what you think and any advice for my ongoing journey.

The joy of the Lord is your strength

There is a moving story in the book of Nehemiah chapter 8 where the people of Israel gathered in Jerusalem after their return from exile and asked the scribe and priest, Ezra, to read to them the Torah. It was an assembly of men, women and all with understanding – the whole community came together. Ezra was assisted by Levites and lay people “with interpretation…so that the people understood the reading” (verse 8).

In that assembly, Ezra was the representative of the religious, while Nehemiah, the governor, represented the civil establishment. The reading went on from early morning to midday that September day in 444/443 BCE. Furthermore, the celebration that followed lasted for 24 days, the longest celebration in the bible.

What we see in this chapter is an occasion for renewal, for the whole community.

These were people who had come back from the worst experience they had ever experienced. They renewed their common purpose and celebrated as they started their new journey together. They had God and hope for the future. That was the source of their joy and celebration – as the text says, “do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength” (verse 10).

Often we are tempted to despair and lose hope because of past experiences.

During the inaugural celebrations earlier this week, there was a lot of comparisons between four years ago and today. Every commentator was keen to contrast the 1.2 million people who attended the first inauguration with the less than a million this year. There was contrast between the hope that filled the crowd then and the less than enthusiastic mood now. The expectations of four years ago are no longer today’s.

Yet, hope is not momentarystock-photo-22945196-teamwork-giving-okstock-photo-14985064-diverse-generations. Neither should our expectations be. Something deeper than our emotions or short-term achievements and disappointments sustains our hope and  expectations. For the people of Israel on that day reminiscent of the Sinai experience, it was the renewed community, its commitment to the Torah and the Lord who is the source of every joy and strength.

We, too, can learn from their experience.

Tips on how to pick yourself up and move on

For a reason or reasons I am yet to discover, I experienced some feelings of depression for some weeks extending from the week before Christmas and into the second week of the new year. It is not uncommon for many people to feel depressed during holidays. The festive mood of holidays can produce negative feelings. Lack of closeness or connection with family members or just one particular family member can also trigger unhappiness and depression.

I have been on depression medication (celexa/citalopram) for  some time now. I cannot recall how I was feeling when it was prescribed but for a while I took it because my doctor thought I needed it – after all, I have taken precautionary medications (Aspirin and Lisinopril) because of diabetes.

Eventually I asked my doctor how I could tell if or when I was depressed. One symptom she gave me – and I found that on the internet too – is lack of interest in things one is usually interested in. That was precisely what happened during those weeks. I spent most of that time in bed or indoors, lacking motivation to do anything.

One of the highlights of the week, for me, is the Men’s Bible Study at my local church on Thursday mornings. It is a feeling shared by the other 10 in the group. Because of the openness, free expression and extent of discussion we share, we feel inspired and motivated after every session.

Another highlight for me has been the 5,000 Club at my local church where every Tuesday we serve dinner to around 200 folks. As with any volunteer activity, generally, the volunteer experiences joy and blessing or inspiration more than those served. It is indeed, better to give than to receive.

There have been other areas of strength for me, including noon worship and Holy Communion on Wednesdays and Fridays.

As you can see, all these have been spiritual resources that have given me momentum to do whatever I need to do during the week. They were too, the areas that my depression affected. (I don’t like the idea that I am personalizing it as my depression).

What did I learn and what tips can I share from this experience? Find out in the next post.cropped-Victoria-Falls-013.jpg