Why People Aren’t Always Being Helped

By Joe Zaccaria, Executive Director – Mental Health Coach & Chaplain

One thing is certain – when this pandemic is over in whatever form that looks like, a huge number of people will be forever impacted in a very bad way, unless as a society we can get over our biases, fears, and stop becoming experts at establishing roadblocks. A great number of people are heading quickly towards a mental health cliff. The good news is that our mental health experts and our churches can mobilize to become a safety net, if we can put the needs of others ahead of our own.

I know we are all sick of hearing about the COVID Pandemic. But for many, many people, this pandemic has made them sicker than they have ever been in their lives. Still many more have died. I‘m not talking about sickness and death from COVID-19. I’m talking about the vast numbers of people whose struggle with mental illness have either become acute, or who have died from their illness – through suicide. We won’t know the actual numbers that have been impacted in this way during the pandemic for some time, while some numbers may be hard to link and quantify forever.

For years there has been a great debate by licensed professionals (counselors, psychologists, psychiatrists, and others) on what to do with the topic of faith or in counseling people of faith. On the church side, old-school thinking did not allow for any acknowledgement that sometimes people of faith must do more than read their Bibles and pray. There is a place for medicine, and sometimes mental illness requires medications and/or tools that licensed professionals can bring to the table.

“Churches Without Broken People Are Broken Churches” – Ed Stetzer

Licensed professionals need to come to grips with the shortage of mental health professionals today. Most especially here in Whatcom County. If the professionals and the churches worked together, hurting people could realize the help they need, want, and are not getting today. While there is a definite place for the licensed professional to help someone investigate their past, or tools to move out of old ways of doing things, not everyone needs or can afford this level of professional care.

Sometimes the people hurting don’t need to look in the rear-view mirror for months and months. For some, they need someone with patience to listen, when others don’t have time for them. For others, they need coaching. A mental health coach or life coach that is trained to see where folks are stuck and help get them unstuck. Often this appears in the form of a listening ear, someone to walk alongside them, asking them the right questions, or goal setting and the coach keeping them accountable to the goals they set. Even people that suffer from severe mental illness enjoy someone that will give them time, as often due to their illness, other people tend to avoid them. In these cases, a hybrid approach is effective, as the licensed professional helps with the things they are well-qualified to address, while the mental health coach encourages and supports their efforts. Providing that additional relationship at no cost to the hurting person.

Churches need to realize that the statistics say a hurting person will first reach out to a pastor, priest, or Rabbi for help. Is the church prepared to be “first responders” to crises that involve mental health?

Edward John Stetzer, Ph.D. is an author, speaker, researcher, and a pastor. Over the years he has heard people talk about a “friendly church”. Sometimes people talk about a “caring church”. But Stetzer points out that Galatians 6:2 (NIV) admonishes us to Carry one another’s burden…” Are we a “Carrying church”?

Churches are much life families. They don’t know how to talk about mental health. Are we just a superficial “friendly church”? Or are we a “Caring and Carrying Community”? We are called to be a supporting community. In being a supportive community, we must become a community of awareness. The awareness that people in our community can struggle with mental health. We can be a partner in the community by engaging mental health professionals and partnering with them to serve people together. Normalizing doesn’t happen by the pastor just having a list of resources that he can give people occasionally. That is simply an awareness gap between the pastor and the congregation. The message must be persistent and everywhere from the weekly bulletin to pre-service slides, to the website, and more.

“Sermons Break Stigmas” – Ed Stetzer, PH.D.

Regular messages from the pastor help normalizing getting help and giving permission for them to do so without stigma or questioning of faith. Some pastors will ask that in such a time as this with all the division we have, with the few resources and time we have, do we really need to take this on now? The simple answer is “YES”! If you are wondering what your church will look like post-pandemic, take this blog post as a “clue”. Yes, you pastors have spent countless hours providing pastoral counseling to untold numbers of people. How can you possible do even more? The simple answer is this is not about you doing anything. Yes, you have a big role in communicating often and normalizing help, but a mental health coach, small groups, home groups, encouragers, and some solid outside partnerships are all that is required.

“The church’s role is to relieve suffering, reveal Christ, and restore lives”  – Dr. Matt Stanford

The mental health coach meets with people to “triage” the immediate needs, then guides those needs down an established path with the resources your church has in place. For some, they need a listener, encourager, coach, and accountability check in. Others may require more substantial help that is provided from partners on the path. Moving the church beyond the whispering, taboos, silence, and stigma. We see cases of an illness and we treat it as such, just like people dealing with any other illness. We are an essential voice to this conversation. Choose to be the church you would want to be in if you had mental illness.

“Offer a supportive care structure, help people spiritually, help them understand where God is in the situation, and help them connect to Him.”

– Dr. Matt Stanford

Day 27 – Another Miracle Happened

UPDATE – EVENING October 12, 2021

Late today I received a call from the executive director of Journey Home, a non-profit in Vancouver the helps refugees. A young couple that have assisted many refugees wants to invite our traveler into their home, help him resettle in Canada, and get plugged in to their church that also has a heart for refugees! Our traveler is extremely happy and excited about this news!

I’m sorry to our faithful follows that I’ve been unable to post any content for many days. I have been busy preparing paperwork for an asylum case to help a young man from the Middle East that had to flee his country to escape death at the hands of his family. Canada’s asylum system has been effectively shut down by the Immigration Minister’s “Order in Council”. He did so due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

VERY few exceptions to this closure, and through another miracle, our traveler was found eligible. It took some time for this exemption to be received from Ottawa and so The Gathering Place – Blaine provided all of the supports needs for this young man to wait out the 27 day process.

So with that letter, a current negative COVID-19 test result, and proof of full vaccination, our traveler entered the Canadian Port of Entry to begin processing his refugee claim. He still has a way to go and I am still working very hard from Blaine to secure a better housing situation in British Columbia. There were many, many miracles and blessings along this journey for him. They have left a lasting impact on his spiritual life as well. From near death from a brutal beating and a large kitchen knife, to freedom and the right to live his religious choice.

Thanks to many of you, our costs were offset and it would have been extremely difficult to do it without you. Our traveler speaking with me daily. His extreme stress and sleepless nights from living in limbo and not knowing if he would be deported to his home country. Thank God it all came together.

When Your Family Wants You Dead

Today I went to church and then was planning on spending my day hiding in the back room of The Gathering Place Blaine to study my Bible and pray for the week ahead. As is sometimes the case, God had other plans.

I received a phone call as I was serving communion to our congregation. Thankfully my phone was silenced and as no message was left, I wrote it off as a telemarketer. After service, the same number appeared and I answered the call. It was the pastor of a small church here in Blaine. She told me about a man that appeared at their church in need of help. A young man from the Middle East in a fight for his life. The small church didn’t have any resources and asked me to help, and had given him my chaplain’s card.

Not having any phone number I went to my back room and spent some time in study and prayer. As I lifted my head from prayer my phone rang and it was this young man. He found a WiFi connection at Starbucks in Blaine and connected to my App. He was alone in as strange city after being handcuffed by the RCMP in Canada last night, then interrogated by Canada Border Services Agency, and finally taken to the United States side of the border. Canada told him he could not seek asylum. Because he had a valid US visa until 2025, Canada’s CBSA released him to US Customs and Border Protection. His handcuffs were removed, they fed him, and four hours later at 11pm last night they cancelled his US visa, issued papers for a removal hearing in one month, and was allowed to walked into Blaine with two small bags. A stranger in a strange land. He wondered around Blaine until midnight, then found a Blaine police officer and was able to use most of the money he had left to secure a cheap hotel room.

We met at a cafe and he told me the story. 30 years old, and his non-religious lifestyle didn’t go over well with his family from a very traditional little city near Iran, in a Muslim nation with very devout Muslim family. His parents have little education, but he got educated and got himself a job in the aviation industry so he could fly around the world and not be forced to practice his family’s religion. But then his father found some photos on the son’s phone. When the son returned from the bathroom, the father brutally beat him. His mother intervened as the father was about to kill him with a big kitchen knife. He fled and started making his way to the airport. It was then that he received a call from his mother to let him know that 56 of his uncles and cousins were at the airport to kill him. He couldn’t call the police, as they would have understood the family’s position, and hand him over to them. He laid low and some time later, got a flight routed to North America.

Here he sat, a frightened young man sitting across from me detailing the sheer horror of his life for the past few days. No sleep the night before living in this terror, in a strange city, with documents that indicate he would soon be returned to his country. The place where family members would be waiting to kill him. A land where even 5 or 10 years from now, they would still be seeking to kill him in order to “restore honor” to their family. I listened to his story and took notes. I scanned all of his documents with my iPad. I didn’t have to think about the fact that his lifestyle choices didn’t align with my theology. I didn’t have to ponder if I should have compassion and help him on my day off. Jesus Christ died for everyone, of every race, religion, lifestyle, etc. As a Christian Chaplain, my job is to show people like this man the love of Christ and to serve him. And in serving him, there are no conditions to my help. I assured him all would be OK. I got on my phone and booked a couple of nights’ hotel room in a nearby city, paid online, and took him to a clean, quiet hotel near some food shops. In the lobby tears of joy flooded his eyes. He thanked me with heartfelt thanks. Tomorrow we will seek resources to see about an asylum application in Canada. For tonight, I am praying for him to have peace and rest. Please join me in this prayer.

Likely this young man will need many nights in a hotel until the resources can assist him. My personal finances are extremely limited. The Gathering Place – Blaine is currently not funded by any grant money or huge donors. A friend is in the early stages of helping me establish a non-profit. Until then, what I receive from the outside goes 100% to the person in need. If you are moved to give help and are OK with the terms I outlined, feel free to send money via PayPal to joe@joezaccaria.com or text me to arrange a meet-up. Please mark the PayPal as Friends & Family so you don’t have to pay a fee. Note on the gift simply “Asylum Seeker” and I will be sure to funnel that to all the needs this young man will have. Gods Bless, Chaplain Joe.

God Works in Our World Through People

The Gathering Place Blaine and Chaplain Ministry God has called and entrusted to me to watch over. But lest my head swells with arrogance and pride, the Lord Jesus has made me reliant on others. That is such a good thing!

Today was another awesome day thanks to the generosity of our Blaine community. Over the past week I was in contact with several women that have fled domestic abuse. Others are in recovery for various addictions. They need everything to start life fresh. Bedroom sets, living room furniture, pots, pans, utensils, and so much more. Deanna Mulder is the driving force behind Wild Bird Charity’s Blaine Boutique. After all the advance coordination, Deanna opened the doors today to six ladies in need. It was an awesome sight, with Deanna in her element. It was as if Dea was the Mom, discussing items they desired, offering advice on things that match, and talking with the ladies about their struggles and new life. It was very touching to say the least.

The Boutique needs to help fund Wild Bird Charity’s school backpack and other programs as well. But today for a few hours, some ladies beamed with contagious smiles as they gathered around Dea to receive God’s blessing. Karen Trudel frantically kept lists of what was given away for the charity records. An entire bedroom set, floor lamps, dishes, bowls, mugs, cups, a living room chair, a brand new Keurig coffee machine, clothing, winter coats, and more. Penn Carman the Boutique’s lead clerk, had likely never seen so much activity at any one time in the store. It was funny watching her head spinning.

Today at the Wildbird Charity Boutique, the spirit of Blaine came together and thanks to Deanna Mulder’s open heart, Karen, Penny, and I got to assist in the blessing God poured out on these women in need today. Dea has also provided so much more to The Gathering Place – Blaine and that has included some outreach money she collected. I am blessed often by her willingness to give and lend a hand.

As if that wasn’t enough, Gary Stabbert helped me meet another need today. A young man with a complicated visa situation could not cross into Canada yesterday, despite his wife (a Canadian) being allowed in. He and his wife are graduates of Trinity Western University, and he is stranded alone here in Blaine. During his first night in Blaine this guy already found employment. Today Gary donated a bicycle that will get this man to and from work. The bike was at my office within 30 minutes of my call to Gary. I so appreciate his heart for ministry.

Tonight as I study at home here, I will reflect on the tremendous people God has placed in my life. These friendships and the way these people mobilize around a crisis feed the souls of people in need, while showing me the true meaning of life in service to others. Thank you Deanna, Gary, Karen, and Penny for your hearts and lives. I can only sum it today up by quoting a line from my all-time favorite song by Fernando Ortega. “You can have all this world – give me Jesus.”

God’s Will This Morning

This morning I was in The Gathering Place – Blaine for my morning quiet time. Reading New Morning Mercies which looked closely at 2 Kings 22-23. Out putting aside of self-rule and experiencing God’s grace in the process. How despite our feeble thinking that we know everything, God is most infinitely more qualified to set the boundaries for our lives than we are. That our destructive, sinful nature drives us to a desire for self-rule. But God’s grace works in a heart of submission. A heart that esteems his authority, and finds joy in his law.

In my prayer time that followed I offered intercession for the list of people I keep daily. I always end my prayer time asking God to break my heart for what breaks his. To work today at The Gathering Place (TGP), sending the people he will send here and showing me how best to serve them. To help me to die to self today and receive his grace in the process.

About 5 minutes after I completed that prayer I was closing my Bible when a man appeared at the door. I motioned him in and found him to be very anxious and worried. He asked me where the police department was and I took him outside to point it out just a half block north of here. I asked what was going on and if I could help. He told me that to celebrate his wedding anniversary him and his wife flew from Irvine, California to Alberta, Canada to visit Jasper and Banff. They had a wonderful time until they learned that due to COVID restrictions, they would not be able to drive their rental car from YVR to Seattle to catch the flight home. They walked south across the border into the USA worried about the unknown. How will they get from Blaine, WA to SeaTac? Where do they go in this strange city?

I invited him back into the office and called the Bellair bus service. I learned their was a shuttle departing Bellingham Airport to SeaTac with enough time for me to rush them by car there. We collected his wife and luggage a block away from TGP and made our way onto I-5. While Michael could speak and understand English well, his wife Miah only spoke Mandarin. I learned they were originally from southwest China before immigrating to the US. They are Christians and came to America to raise their kids with Godly principles. With their anxiety lifted they smiled and Michael translated for Miah as we chatted and drove to Bellingham International Airport (BLI). They were shocked to learn I had spent many years living and working across Asia, including China. We talked about their great adventure to Canada and the hopes and dreams they have for their children growing up with Christian values. I dispelled the suggestion several times that I was an angel sent from God for them. I did acknowledge that God had a plan and that including leading Michael a block down the road to find The Gathering Place.

When we arrived at BLI Michael and Miah asked if they could hug me and take pictures. They asked if they could share them on social media to tell all of their family and friends of how God provided for them today in their hour of need. I also obtained their permission to do the same in the hopes of encouraging others to good works.

Our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6). My Hebrew word studies tell me that the word used here (ukabeged ehdim) literally means, “like as rags of menstruation”. Salvation and heaven are not obtained through works lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:9). We can’t work and earn it. However, if we put aside our strong sinful desires for self-rule and yield to his will, amazing things in everyday life can happen and that will lead us to pure good works.

Michael and Miah were honored, and felt very blessed to be rescued from uncertainty in the strange new City of Blaine and vocalized this many times during our drive. The reality is that while God had his hand upon him and blessed them in their time of need, God took me up on my prayer to give me his heart today. Building my faith in the process and allowing me to put aside any agenda that I had, to walk into His will and agenda.

What Kind of Jesus Do You Want?

With the Labor Day weekend upon us I am just enjoying some quiet time in the back room of The Gathering Place – Blaine. I’m surrounded by several Bibles and lots of really good reference books. I share this post not to appear to be some super spiritual and special person. I share it because after my prayerful consideration of scripture and note taking, it helps me to communicate the truths that I’ve learned and which could be of great benefit to others.

Apart from my study materials, I also like using several devotional books and booklets to provide some structure to my quiet time of study and prayer each day. One of them is Table Talk published each month by Ligonier Ministries (the late R.C. Sproul), and a new 365-day book, New Morning Mercies by Paul David Tripp. I like his writing style and the way he challenges me in the faith. This morning I am praying and processing a sermon my pastor delivered yesterday at church. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TfNwFRCUWOM

As is often the case, my devotion for today – September 6th is a continuation from yesterday’s message. Paul David Tripp poses the question, “What kind of Jesus do you want?“. He asks if you just want a Prozac Jesus who will make you feel better. Tripp’s text for today’s devotion is Luke 12:13-21 know as The Parable of the Rich Fool. Jesus rebukes covetousness and says one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions (Luke 12:15). He tells the crowd gathered a parable of a rich man who’s land produced plentifully. The man had no more room to store his crops, so he tore down his barns to build larger ones to store all his grain and goods. Then the man will say to his soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” (Luke 12:19). Sounds like comfort and the goods life…

“But God said to him, Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21).

Tripp goes on to ask questions regarding what we define as blessings and what we identify as a sign of God’s faithfulness and care. What does our “Good Life” consist of? If only I had ____, then I’d be content. What goes in your blank here? What causes us to question God’s goodness and love? What tempts us to be disappointed in our lives? What do you want from God, or to put it in a more provocative way – what kind of Messiah do you want Jesus to be?

Do our desires align with Jesus’s Agenda Page? “Perhaps many of us struggle with disappointment with God because, at street level in our daily lives, we don’t esteem what God values.Then Tripp continues, Maybe many of us do want nothing more than Prozac Jesus, who will make us feel better and make our lives easier, for which we would give him thanks and name him as faithful. Another way of phrasing that is – Do we view Jesus simply as savior? in the reality of our daily lives is he truly our savior and Lord ? Do we want control (over people and circumstances) more than we want redemption (a buying back, release from sin)? Tripp offers a list of things we may want more than redemption – Control, success, acceptance, comfort & pleasure, a life easier and more predictable, and material things to name a few. None of these are inherently evil. The more important question for me is, What set of desires rules my heart?

The Prozac Jesus is a safe bet when his agenda is replaced by ours. For some, their crisis of faith is a result of what desires rules their hearts. How they evaluate life, the process they use to make small and large decisions, and more. A struggle of faith can result from not really valuing what God is working to produce in our hearts and lives, as both savior and Lord.

God taught me a very valuable lesson several years ago. After living in Asia for a good amount of time, and then Canada for many years, I collected lots of stuff. When I moved from British Columbia Canada back to the United States (Blaine, WA), I stressed to get my “stuff” across the border and was blessed by 3-4 Canadian friends who came forward to help me. I moved into a three bedroom home where my late dog Bentley and I lived. Over the course of several years, the two extra bedrooms filled with stuff. When I decided to downsize into a small travel trailer, the volume of accumulated stuff in the two bedrooms and tool shed hit me. Getting rid of all that stuff was stressful in order to meet the move-out deadline I had established. I prayed about it and as I was really seeking God’s agenda in this move (live with less), he turned the stress into opportunities.

That December and January I was able to bless a family that was burned out of their home just before Christmas with furniture and so much more. I gave household items to single Moms that had fled from domestic abuse and had nothing. I was able to pray and weep with countless individuals and families in my old living room as the piles of stuff dwindled and people saw answers to prayer. Some folks that came to the yard sale were able to pay, and that was a blessing to me in a time of need. From that sale God gave me an awesome friendship with Dr. Marta Kazymyra, which continues strong to this day. She was a neighbor that lived just up the road from me, but it took that yard sale to bring us together. God had a plan. My agenda finally aligned with His agenda. There is awesome freedom in me not controlling the agenda.

I learned a very valuable lesson from that experience. The consumer mentality that the world holds out as the “good life” was in really an anchor around my neck. It took up so much space that I was paying for financially, and created so much stress. I have a small storage unit I am working to clear out. Because I live in such a small space, that helps me to hold hobby stuff I use from time to time. Even much of that I hope to sell to invest in the ministry. While I still value a good book to learn and grow, I don’t require much in life. There is freedom when my agenda is in line with God’s agenda. I can confidently say today that if a windfall of money landed in my lap, I would seriously invest that in the lives of others as God directs.

Today has been a very good day. I’m enjoying some simple quiet time in the back room. I’ve learned a few things and I’ve contemplated how to implement them into my life. I’ve got no weight around my neck and nothing to fret about. Some may say that every day may not be like today, but I would say that if I align my life with His agenda, there is a high degree of probability that every day can be like today.

What Do Chaplains Do?

At times chaplains serve as a friend that actively listens to concerns people have, or perhaps to just be present and standing with people going through trials, grief, or crisis. For some it appears to be the worst day of their life and they need support. Chaplains refer to this as the “Ministry of Presence”. They don’t tell people what to do, but they do ask thoughtful questions in a friendly manner. These questions can guide people to their own good choices and decisions.

Chaplains work with people to assess areas of their lives that may need to get “unstuck”. We can offer one-on-one chats, group meetings or book discussions that provide more clarity to life’s challenges. We can also work with people to determine their medical or behavioral health needs, finding appropriate providers, resources, support services, and other licensed professionals, as required.

As an experienced life coach, some chaplains work with people as equals to overcome obstacles and hindrances to achieving goals. The obstacles are moved for people as chaplains actively listening, ask good questions, help identifying goals, and serve as an accountability partner on one’s daily life journey.

Chaplains considers it an honor to serve people in many places that life finds all of us at one time or another. Joe has served in prisons, overseas slums, cafes, the workplace, hospitals, nursing homes, and hospice centers. As an ordained chaplain of the International Fellowship of Chaplains (IFOC), Joe is also able to officiate weddings and funerals in our community.

What Does a Chaplain at The Gathering Place – Blaine Do?

  • Access alcohol and drug addiction assessments to gain access to detox and/or treatment programs
  • Assist clients with vocational counseling and help in finding local jobs
  • Help clients renew or obtain government issued ID cards and birth certificates
  • Apply Apple Health coverage or sliding fee scale approvals with health and mental health providers
  • Apply for federal government sponsored LifeLine cell phones and service
  • Navigate social services, medical, dental, and behavioral health services
  • Obtain good used bicycles for transportation to work, get good new or used clothing, shoes, back to school supplies, holiday toy and food baskets, coats and socks, and other needs
  • Organize small group support meetings to address adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), addiction recovery, loss and grief, life goal setting and building resiliency
  • Help non-tech savvy clients access online services
  • Respond to people and their families following severe accident or illness, suicide by family members, hospice care end of life events, help organize celebrations of life to help bring closure, and more
  • Give veterans and other folks rides to medical and other appointments
  • Fill the gaps in county mental health services by providing a listening ear, navigation to available resources, mental health coaching focused on goal-oriented, forward-moving strategies
  • Access local food resources to supplement SNAP and other food programs
  • Assistance with rent, gas for work, utility bill support, and help due to monetary shortfalls created by a one-off crisis
  • Navigation to rental and legal assistance programs
  • Book COVID-19 and other vaccinations as a member of the Whatcom County Community Health Worker network
  • Make referrals to the GRACE and LEAD programs, Opportunity Council, Blaine CAP, and others
  • Chaplains serve all people of all faiths, or no faith at all
  • Being present there for people when life throws a “curve ball”
  • Helping people reach clarity in a stressful or crisis situation

Are Chaplains Legal?

Today, chaplains serve in all levels of governments, prisons, private industry and elsewhere. Based on court rulings, chaplains must firstly serve a secular purpose. They provide education and access to community programs and resources, help with basic physical needs, and remain present with people during a crisis. Those are all secular activities. Chaplains operate under the protection of the first amendment to the US Constitution and do not present a challenge to the separation of church and state. Two major US court decisions have affirmed the unique mission and need for chaplains in America.

Lemon vs. Kurtzman (403 U.S. 602, (1971) established a three-prong test:

  1. Serve a Secular Purpose – Provide social services navigation, access to food, etc.
  2. Primary Effect – Governments can employ and pay chaplains to provide services, provided that the government action must not have the primary effect of enhancing or inhibiting religion.
  3. Excessive Entanglement – Government action must not force excessive entanglement with religion. An agency cannot enforce exclusion of certain religious guidelines. The operations of the chaplain program cannot usurp the authority of the agency being served

Marsh v. Chambers (463 U.S. 783 (1983)

A Landmark US Supreme Court of the US decision said the government funding for chaplains was constitutional because of the “unique history” of the United States.

Chaplains in the Workplace

Today, chaplains serve in the workplace in 20% of the Fortune 100 companies in America and beyond. Many companies have come to realize that while they may have employee assistance programs (EAPs), most of the damage has already impacted a person’s work and production, coworkers, family, and even their lives before most EAP program can respond. Chaplains in the workplace build quality relationships with employees and often hear about problems in their infancy, while there is still time for the chaplain to respond.

Being Real

The purpose of the blog will always be focused on providing a new way to approach life, as well as helping to lead folks to solutions. In order to accomplish this mission, we need to be open and honest with each other. This includes me! I love the fact that recently some major athletes have come out to share their mental health struggles. Because of their examples, I believe many people will be helped. While I don’t struggle with mental illness, I work with those that do and know how difficult their battles are. When we are vulnerable it gives others permission to be real. When we are real, we can work on solving the root problems.

Oh, and the other purpose of this blog unrelated to this post is to help people understand what chaplains do. I also want to say that the purpose of these musings are not to garner any sympathy for me, but just to be real in seeking to help others – sometimes in the process of helping myself. “This to shall pass” a former neighbor always said. The dawn of a new day will bring more opportunities. But on to disappointment…

There are weeks that The Gathering Place – Blaine ministry is very exciting and fast-paced. But during those mountain peek experiences, I know that right around the corner, things will not remain high up on that mountain. Life is often messy, at times ugly, and sometimes disappointing. This week was one of those disappointing weeks. I have been working with some young people that struggle with large issues in their lives. Two of them appeared to take steps backward. While I know my friends and I did everything we could possibly do, people need to use that help to change, or admit they are powerless to change and seek additional help.

Late yesterday I got an email with some disappointing news. In order to keep the storefront ministry The Gathering Place – Blaine here going in some fashion, I applied for a local job that seemed like a perfect fit. The interviews seemed to be focused on having a good local network, local event and process knowledge, etc. It appeared to be the perfect match and it led to two interviews, but I was unsuccessful. I heard that the person selected was younger than I, new to the area, and has two bachelor degrees. I guess the local knowledge and network meant little. God bless them – for real.

My faith tells me that God ordains our steps and we are to trust in Him. I will take it a step further to say that when God ordains something, He will provide the mechanism for it to continue. While I don’t see any solutions at this moment, I know I don’t have to worry or panic because he is in control.

“The steps of a man are established by the Lord,
when he delights in his way;
though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong,
for the Lord upholds his hand. “

– Psalm 37:23-24

This morning is a cloudy Saturday. The temperature is a nice 63 degrees and I’m in the back room of The Gathering Place. I come back here, flip on my desk light, and spend quiet time in study and prayer. I’m surrounded by great reference books, various translations of the Bible, devotional materials and more. Whatever is not on my shelves is online in my Logos and others software.

By far the best resource I have every day, but most especially days like this, cannot be seen with the human eye. I am 100% confident in the fact that when I take the time to be real and call out to God in my brokenness, He is here and listens. Not only does He listen, but He provides solutions.

When life has gotten the best of you, where do you turn? Do you pick of the phone or meet with friends and pour your heart out complaining about how things suck or how unfair life is? Sometimes talking with others and this confession is a good thing. But how often does that become an extended gripe session leading to nothing productive? In my prayers I make confessions to God of my frustrations and disappointments. I may even communicate how unfair I think things are. At some point I acknowledge Him and offer praise and worship. I make it a point to be still. Psalm 46:10 – “Be still, and know that I am God.”

“Pray until you can pray; pray to be helped to pray and do not give up praying because you cannot pray. For…when you think you cannot pray that is when you are praying.”

– Charles Spurgeon

Prayer is simply communion with God. When you talk with a friend you don’t look for special words or something someone else said. You talk with them using your own words. Prayer should be no different, but we should have reverence for God when we approach Him.

Here are some practical things I would recommend to you when life seems to have gotten the best of you. I could fill pages of suggestions, but here are a few…

  • Draw near to God and He will draw near to you – James 4:8
  • Even if we don’t know what to say, God’s Spirit prays for us – Romans 8:26
  • Confession to God is always a good thing. Sometimes we have to confess our unbelief that God can really help our situation
  • Express our faith and need for God – Hebrews 11:6
  • Pray for forgiveness for you AND those that you feel have wronged you
  • Take time to pause and listen. You may not hear an audible voice, but a scripture or an idea may come to your mind

“Prayer doesn’t change God, it changes me.”

– C.S. Lewis

Grief

Bentley

On the evening of July 21, 2021, I said goodbye to what was truly my best friend – Bentley. I had visited the litter about 4 times and settled on him. While his siblings were jumping around and playing in their whelping pen, Bentley was off to the side chilling and taking a nap. He always had this calm and gentle spirit about him. As he grew, he tolerated almost anything. I can recall his patience with young toddlers sitting outside of Starbucks in Blaine. One boy was tugging on his tail and Bentley gently sat down with his tail tucked under himself. Problem Solved. Then this boy started to touch and pull Bentley’s ears. The solution this time was simple – he took his long tongue and licked the boy’s face from chin to the bridge of his nose. The boy giggled and got the message quickly.

Bentley was with me every minute of the day or evening, except when I traveled for work. He rode in my car with me, he sat outside Starbucks while I drank coffee, and he slept next to me in bed every night. His back was usually against my back when we slept. At times he would use his legs to push against my back to ensure he was right up against me. Sometimes he would position himself on his other side and tuck his four paws under my back to warm up. Or for me to reach back and hold a paw as we slept. He was a gentle giant that grew to 130 lbs. until I put him on a diet and he was down to 102 lbs.

Bentley started to limp and I took him to the vet. They said it was arthritis is the left front leg and had me get expensive medicine to treat it. The cost didn’t matter, Bentley was my best friend. The medications failed to work and when I took him to another vet, they determined it was cancer. Now it made sense, as although Labrador Retrievers never lose their appetite, Bentley was getting very lethargic and he would look at me as dogs do when they know it is time to go to sleep. He was panting at night and I now know that cancer had metastasized into his lungs. It all struck me now – Bentley knew he was spending his final days with me and he did so laying by my side and looking at me intensely. I never thought we would be saying goodbye at only 8 years and 7 months old.

Some days I’m too busy to think. But when I get home, there is a very noticeable silence. Bentley floods my thoughts and I am moved to tears. This week has been especially difficult as more people heard the news and I explain the tragic story all over again. I know that some will never comprehend why someone would be so impacted by the loss of a pet. That’s because they can’t understand how close you can be and how much a part of young life they become. Other well-meaning folks will recite “The Rainbow Bridge” poem. But I know that my Bible is relatively silent on this issue. Many theologians believe that animals were made to be subservient to man and therefore have the “breath of life” (Genesis 1:30), but not an immortal soul as humans do. Nonetheless, Bentley was the son I never had. He displayed unconditional love at all times. He was very intelligent and he knew how to move me. He made me laugh, he calmed me, and he at times me made me cry. His loss is very evident to me because he was ALWAYS with me.

To help us cope with grief and loss, some mental health people have assembled many resources. Most people have heard about the “Stages of Grief” – Denial – Anger – Bargaining – Depression – Acceptance. Some cling to these stages like a predictable path of grief. Some have added two or more additions to this list. The late Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross pioneered grief research and her work was based on terminally ill cancer patients. Before her death, Kubler-Ross expressed concern that her model was being used in a specific order to help grieving people. She said grief was more linear, and some people may experience a few, or not ANY of these stages. She said the categories was meant to be “descriptive, not prescriptive”.

What we do know today is that the symptoms of grief can present themselves physically, socially, or spiritually. The symptoms can come in the forms of:

  1. Crying
  2. Headaches
  3. Difficulty Sleeping
  4. Questioning the Purpose of Life
  5. Questioning Our Spiritual Beliefs or Beliefs in God’s Existence
  6. Feelings of Detachment
  7. Isolation from Friends and Family
  8. Abnormal Behavior
  9. Worry
  10. Guilt
  11. Anxiety
  12. Frustration
  13. Fatigue
  14. Anger
  15. Loss of appetite
  16. Aches and Pains
  17. Stress

So, what can we do to overcome our loss and grief? For some, seeking the help of a mental health professional, Licensed Christian Counselor, or a trained pastor can be very helpful. If you or a loved one is self-isolating for two weeks or more, talks about suicide, or shows signs of depression, there needs to be some proactive action taken to regain health. Some people’s physiology or genetic may require anti-depressant medication for the short-term, with this treatment being monitored by licensed professionals.

Still for others (like myself), I can reach into the scriptures in morning or evening devotionals, prayer, and even fasting. Focusing time contemplating God’s unconditional love for us, His plan for our lives, and looking hopeful to what God has ahead for us. We can remind ourselves that while on this earth we will never know all of the things God knows, and therefore if we are questioning Him, we are not being very logical.

Grief is a normal part of life. How we handle grief is up to us. For me, I have good days and bad days where I really miss my friend by my side. I have been doing some the following to heal:

  1. Stay connected with your friends and family. Don’t isolate from your support team. I’m thankful for my good friends during this challenging time. If you have few available friends, find an online or in-person grief support group
  2. Attend your home church and fellowship with the family God has given you there. Make an appointment with your pastor if you need to chat
  3. Seek out a chaplain in the community you can speak confidentially with
  4. Look online for the many ways you can celebrate you best friend’s life and the good times you had with him/her. I’ve looked into a company that will place some of Bentley’s ashes into a blown glass ball and they have an LED lamp base for it. It costs a bit, so I’m saving up to do this and enjoy a night light with a part of him in it
  5. Buy a good devotional to start mornings off right. I’m about to get into “New Morning Mercies” by Paul David Tripp
  6. Listen to my favorite music and podcasts. I’m listening to some really good Christianity Today podcasts
  7. Walk or bike. I purchased an eBike at a tremendous discount and it is second-hand, but brand new. I will work up the courage soon to learn to balance a bike again, before kicking in the battery’s juice
  8. Get engaged with your favorite hobby, or find a new one. With the cooler weather coming, I’m getting my radio gear ready to experiment with antennas of the HF (high frequency) bands
  9. Be thankful for all that we have each day. Serve others in need and in doing so, we help heal ourselves

May God Richly Bless You Today!

Chaplain Joe

Compassion

Kim Eagle in happier times

Kim Eagle was in Bellingham just doing her daily work with her company, Kim’s Care Gardening Service when a driver struck Ms. Eagle so hard he sent her into her work trailer. On impact, one of her legs was severed at the scene and her other leg had to be amputated in hospital.

The driver is suspected of falling asleep after a night of Methamphetamine use. I cannot fathom the pain and sorrow Kim is facing now and in the months and years to come. I don’t know Kim, but I was moved by compassion over the last few days to do what I can do to let Kim and her family know that God cares, and people care.

I urge anyone that can to please give to this Go Fund Me page for Kim Eagle and let her know we care. You can also read about this tragedy by following this Bellingham Herald link. Thanks and God Bless.

Give to Kim via GoFundMe Here

News Article Here