Tuesday, December 27, 2011


This time of year is usually reserved for reflections or goal setting and you may wonder how this topic fits in with either of them. Well, I have been thinking about this for 16 or more years, so that makes it a reflection, and I will get to the goal setting at the end of the blog.

In May of 1994, when I was 6 months pregnant with my youngest child, my 68-year-old mother had a debilitating stroke. I spent the next 3 months juggling my time between my family, which included my husband and 3 sons, and my parents, while at the same time dealing with the latter stages of my pregnancy. My mother was hospitalized for almost 2 months, and when she came home she was a mere shell of the woman that we had known before. Our daughter, Megan, was born in August and she was a much-needed blessing for all of us. As we dealt with the reality that a full recovery was not going to happen for my mother, the sweetness, cuteness and innocence of an infant was a breath of fresh air in an often otherwise gloomy atmosphere.

It was at this time, that I began to hear a lot about the Sandwich Generation and I realized that I was indeed one of them. The Sandwich Generation is described as "those caring for their children as well as their own aging parents." Fortunately my dad was fairly healthy so was able to help my mother, but I spent a lot of time with them, supporting them however I could, both emotionally and physically. I remember vividly going shopping and on one side of me holding my hand was my mother, and on the other side of me holding my hand was Megan. I was truly the middle of the sandwich.

I am not complaining about being the middle of the sandwich. Truthfully, I think I am a better person because of it. It taught me love and compassion and opened my eyes to the many people who are suffering around me, especially the elderly. Even though it was extremely hard to watch my mother struggle to do the simplest things, I realized that I had the opportunity to make her life more enjoyable by spending time with her, encouraging her and loving her. A side benefit was the relationship that developed between Megan and my mother as they also spent time together. I grieved because I felt like Megan never got a chance to know her "real" grandma but eventually I realized it didn't matter. Megan loved her for who she was and my mother benefited as well because Megan did not expect her to do things that she couldn't but just accepted her the way she was.

My mother died in 2006, my children grew up, and I no longer have daily child and elder care responsibilities. However, often my life is still one big juggling act. I am a wife, grandmother, mother, mother-in-law, daughter, daughter-in-law, secretary, Sunday School teacher, Bible quiz coach, and the list could go on. Sometimes, it feels like I am being squeezed in the middle of a sandwich again.

As I have thought about this over the years, I realized that Jesus lived in the Sandwich Generation. Was he sometimes pulled between his heavenly home and his earthly home? Because he came as a "middleman" I am saved from spending eternity in hopeless damnation. I suggest that we no longer look at being "sandwiched" as a negative thing, but view it as a positive thing. We are the "meat" in the middle of a sandwich and this gives us so many opportunities to be a blessing to those who surround us.

So, as I bid farewell to 2011 and greet 2012, I do indeed have a goal for the New Year. I resolve to find ways to encourage and enrich the lives of those who are the "bread" of my sandwich.

~Mary Lehman

Monday, December 19, 2011

Two Main Tools from God's Toolbox

Walking through life in this world can sometimes be very difficult, especially if we either choose to "go it alone" or we feel cut off or far away from our heavenly Father. This distance can be from unhealed hurts we carry within, or from our own waywardness and independence which hasn't yet been fully surrendered to Jesus. God wants to heal us from all our hurts, and He wants to guide us back to a strong and positive loving relationship with Him.

We know this is true because the Scriptures tell us that Jesus died for our sins, by actually becoming sin in the Father's sight, while He endured the agony of separation for all of us on His cross at Calvary. The Bible also says that Jesus bore our "griefs and sorrows" - the damage done to us by the sinfulness of people in our lives, that has caused hurt and destruction in our attitudes and behaviors toward ourselves and others, even effecting our relationship with God.

God will bring us close to Him by covering all of those sins, turning us to His ways, and healing those hurts. He also gives us many tools or ways to reach out to Him and for Him to reach back into our lives and hearts. We are called to grow and learn of these ways and use these tools to help us come closer to Him as well.

Fasting and Prayer are two incredible ways our Lord Jesus has modeled for us in His life as a human person here on the earth. He has given them to us as tools to enter more fully into the Presence of God through His Holy Spirit.

He has given us these particular tools for many reasons. When we are fasting and praying, we are surrendering ourselves to the Lord. We are laying down:
  1. the many distractions of our minds, which are filled with futile thinking;
  2. strongholds that raise themselves up against the knowledge of God;
  3. the deceitfulness of our hearts, which harbor unfaithfulness and faithlessness;
  4. our wayward wills, which are constantly seeking self-fulfillment in all the wrong places.
God's love covers the multitude of our transgressions. It also provides for us His way of escape out of these traps that ensnare us and hold us back from Jesus and from the full freedom of His Spirit!

As we learn and grow to be more like Jesus through this consistant surrender, it actually causes real changes in who we are and the way we operate. It enables us to receive greater grace in the fullness of the Holy Spirit and to see more of His will and His ways. We begin to see the true nature of who we are becoming in our thoughts, feelings, and actions, and we more fully recognize His workings in the world around us and in the people He has sent us to live among and serve. Through loving Jesus, we will in time, love those around us  more than ourselves.

Death to self is then engulfed by the greater life Jesus offers to us, as we are compelled by increasing faith to become more like Him. We become less connected and less tempted or controlled by our sinful natures or by others that are still part of the world system and under the darkness of ignorance or outright rebellion. This entrance into eternal and resurrection life is not something waiting for us after our physical deaths, but is happening right now within us and around us. Fasting and Praying opens our eyes, minds, and hearts to the spiritual reality of what God is actually doing!

Fasting and Prayer are only two of the many ways that the Lord has given us to remain on the right path and to find Him daily. It allows us to be with Him and in Him constantly as we set ourselves to draw near to Him.

~Neil Uniacke, MC
Executive Director

Monday, December 12, 2011

It's the Most Wonderful, er...Stressful Time of the Year!

It's that time of year for family get-togethers with lots of food, gift-exchanges and other festivities. We're busy decorating and baking and shopping. There are special church services and school plays and community programs to attend. In other words, it's the most not-so-wonderful-but-actually-quite-stressful time of the year.

In addition to the general stress, the Christmas season is often a difficult time for many folks. Some of my clients struggle with heightened depression and anxiety. Loneliness is exacerbated for those who've lost loved ones or experienced a divorce or geographically moved during the year. Financial stress creates conflict in marriages. And there's pressure...pressure to be happy and wish strangers a "Merry Christmas" when a person actually feels like snapping in irritation or crying in despair.

If you're stressed or discouraged, may I make a few suggestions for how to navigate the holiday?

1. Take time to sit, rest and breathe. I find the loveliest and calming things to do after a crazy day is to sit in our living room with just the lights of the tree, sipping a cup of tea and cuddling under a blanket with my husband while the dogs lay at our feet. Sometimes we play Christmas music, sometimes we just talk, but it's soothing to take a break and remember to not just get ready for Christmas, but actually "take it in."

2. Say "no" to non-essentials. If you're invited to attend or do more than you can possibly do in the time you have available, than cut out those things that aren't necessary. I'll let you in on a secret...I decided several years ago that Christmas cards don't need to be sent every year...I send mine out every other year. And believe it or not, some people don't send them at all. Not every party or program or service needs to be attended.

3. Choose your own priorites. Several years ago, there was a bad snow storm on Christmas day and my husband and I stayed home for the first time in our marriage. It was a restful and lovely time for us. We read, watched movies, made homemade soup and celebrated quietly just the two of us. Ever since then, we're not afraid to decide how we want to enjoy our day. Sometimes going to a family or church event is our priority, but we have also chosen to stay home and replicate our "snow storm Christmas." Take time to choose your own priorities and boundaries.

4. Look for ways to get "centered." When we prioritize well, a person feels less chaotic and more stable. What we choose to do with our time around the holidays (or any time) creates balance or imbalance. I encourage my clients to structure routines that "center" them. A weekly worship service to praise our Lord, a morning quiet time, an evening stroll around the block...all these activities build stability. At Christmas, centering may come through family traditions or by developing one that incorporates the true reason for the season. Look to put something sacred into the holiday. Read the Christmas story, attend a candlelight vigil, take the kids Christmas caroling to your elderly neighbors and as you do so take time to ponder the blessing of Christ come to Earth.

My hope is that your Christmas is full of His light and life. Merry Christmas!

~Shannon Shertzer, MS, NCC

Monday, December 5, 2011

JESUS: Ultimately Our Only Hope

If anyone has ever felt truly hopeless, they know what a horrible feeling it is, and an awful place to be. I have found myself in that place at various points in my own personal journey. Each time, my heart and mind was overwhelmed by a gnawing hopelessness within me.

It was not that everything in my life suddenly got worse, but that I had allowed the burdens of worry and weariness to overtake my thoughts and feelings to the point that I did not care whether I lived or died. I would never purposely do harm to myself, but I had a sense that it just didn't make any difference if I existed or not.

To move below the basic human instinct to survive and give up on life is the saddest place to go, and one of the worst to stay in for any length of time. It usually happens through negative circumstances and/or negative perceptions seeming to pile on top of us, with our hopes being crushed as we realize that there seems to be nothing to hold onto or worth living for.

We find ourselves attempting to place our trust in various people or things that just don't live up to our expectations, and when they fail us we are thrown more deeply into despair. We begin to negatively identify ourselves as the problem, or to shift blame onto everyone and everything else.

Some of this is actually the result of forces way beyond our control, but some is because of decisions we have made for ourselves personally or in the way we have connected with others in dysfunctional patterns, and finally, some of this is just because we live in a fallen world that is not able to sustain our needs and desires in the ways we had hoped it would.

The last point is actually the steppingstone toward moving from hopelessness to true hopefulness. We must realize that every time we place our trust in someone or something in this world, we risk losing hope! It would be a very amazing thing for anyone to trust the things of this world and never be disappointed. For most of us, this has proved impossible.

When we have hit our heads enough against the brick wall of trusting, failure, and hopelessness, we finally come into the realization or revelation that there ultimately is only one Hope in this world: Jesus, our Hope of Glory, who desires to meet us wherever we find ourselves when we have no hope left, and then to become the Hope we can learn to know, and receive to grow within us.

When all else has failed, we are ready to really trust in a way that we do not naturally allow ourselves as long as there is just one more other thing to hold onto, whether a relationship, a job, some money in the bank, or whatever we choose to fill in that great big empty blank space within every one of us. Jesus is always here with us and for us, but we have to clear out the other distractions and really focus on Him as our only Hope able to carry us through the tough times in this life.

The toughest time of all is as we approach the end of our time here on the earth. This is when we are forced to see the stark reality that everything else around us is not able to sustain us, but feels as if it is shutting down and we are fading away. We see in this time that as the Bible tells us, "naked came I into this world and naked will I go." It is this time especially that we are freely invited with every difficulty within us and around us to put our hearts fully on eternity where our endless, boundless, infinite Hope, Jesus, awaits us in all His Glory!

Neil Uniacke, MC
Executive Director