Janine knew she had made a horrible mistake. At 15, she was well aware that she could not properly care for her yet unborn child conceived out of wedlock. As she sat in church on Christmas Eve she struggled with how to tell her parents, and how she would handle the shame and the disappointment she would hear in their voices. For her, abortion was not and never would be an option. Her heart ached as she struggled with the difficulties that lay ahead, and the heartbreak of knowing that for her child’s sake, given her child up for adoption would be what was best.
As she sat in church on Christmas Eve, in the quiet of the candlelight she would later tell her family and friends that she had no doubt that Almighty God spoke to her. The message was clear and concise. “Janine, I know what you are going through. I too had to give up my Son. I too felt the pain and the anguish that you are facing.” But be assured “’I will be with you always!’”
Janine found instant courage knowing that God knew exactly what she was facing and that no matter how tough the future, God, the Creator of all, would be by her side.
It’s an understatement to say that 2020 was a difficult year. But as difficult as it was, we always had the confidence of knowing God was always by our side, giving us comfort when needed, hope when desperate, joy in the midst of sorrow, and confidence that He will never leave or forsake us.
With the promise of a vaccine, and Covid 19 being more controllable, 2021 will be a year of opportunity, listening anew to God’s direction, hearing His nudging through the power of His Word and following in the footsteps of Christ who is Lord. The convenience of “going back to business as usual” is not (in my opinion) an option for the church. Instead, we need to “walk by faith and not by sight!” Magnificently, God is not stumped by what needs to be done, but it will take courage, vision, boldness, creativity and determination to focus and follow in the direction that He leads.
May I also be so bold as to say to all of our NJ Congregations, it’s been hard on all of us, including our Pastors and called Church Workers. Make sure to insist that they take some time off, time away from the pressures of ministry and to spend some quality time with their families. Don’t take “no” for an answer.
Pastor R. Izzard
For the Wellness Coalition
One January morning, a world class violinist played six of Johann Bach’s most stirring concertos written for a violin solo and played on a 300 year old Stradivarius valued at over 3.5 million dollars. Two nights before he performed to a sold out audience paying as much as $200 for the “nosebleed” seats, but this time the performance was free. Joshua Bell, a renowned violinist ditched his tux for a baseball cap and a pair of jeans and played incognito outside the Metro Plaza in Washington D.C.
The experiment was conceived by a reporter from the Washington Post, who with hidden cameras recorded that of the hundreds of people who passed by only 7 actually stopped to listen. The 45 minute performance ended without applause or acknowledgement. In the rush of the day, there was no time to stop and listen to one of the greatest musicians play some of the finest music on one of the most beautiful instruments.
For us too, Christmas is filled with shopping, cooking, parties, cards, decorating so much so that the greatest message of all, “For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given…” (Isaiah 9:6) can get easily buried beneath the turmoil. And if that is true for all of us, think what it would be like to be a Pastor with added sermons, worship services, and the increased impact of the needs of the sick, the hurting, the lonely, the poor and lost.
It’s easy to get lost in preparation and never stop to take the time to hear the preciousness of God’s love for each and every one, including Pastors and Called Workers. Pastors and Called Workers, stop to get recharged and renewed and hear the message of God for you, “for unto you a Child is born, to you a son if given…. and for you too in the midst of your ministry He is “the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, and the Prince of Peace.”
I wish you a blessed and Merry Christmas!
Written by Pastor Richard Izzard
Virginia Satir, a Social Scientist, told delegates of the American Ortho-psychiatric Association that there is a cure for depression and discouragement that doesn't require a prescription, is free, and its even fun! She reported that “every person for survival needs at least 4 hugs a day, for maintenance needs 8 hugs a day, and for growth, no less than 12 hugs a day.” Obviously, especially in the days of social distancing our ‘hugs’ are associated with kind words, compliments, positive strokes, praises, approvals, thanks and commendations. She also went on to say “negative comments are so devastating that it takes 99 positive strokes to combat one put down.”
When it is thought of in that way, the words of St. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:11 comes as a powerful reinforcement, “Therefore encourage one another and build one another up.” The word that St. Paul uses literally means “to mend one’s nets.” As fishermen carefully check their nets at the end of each day’s catch, mending those places where mending is needed so that none would be lost. So we, as children of God need to go all out to mend, repair, restore and strengthen our relationships, especially within the Body of Christ.
Discouragement is one of the most devastating of all darts that the devil can throw our way. It weakens us and the Body of Christ, so that we become even more vulnerable to the devil’s attacks. I’ve heard the criticism that “the Christian army is the only army that shoots its wounded.” No doubt we all have been wounded by sin, and there are times when we fall short of God’s glory, but by the love of God and by the price that Christ paid in full on the cross, we are healed and forgiven and made whole. Therefore, let us not be guilty of “shooting the wounded.” Rather let us be about the business of “building up the Body of Christ.” (Ephesians 4:12)
These are difficult and discouraging times , but by God’s help and with the encouragement of one another we will get through it. Let us not forget the fulfillment of Christ’s promise that we do have the One whom He sent to walk alongside us, as a Counselor and an Encourager, One who is with us always, helping us in crying to our Heavenly Father, “Abba!”
On Christian radio, there is a song that begins with a grievance directed toward God about the condition of the world; the poverty, the hatred, the prejudice, the faithlessness. In frustration, God is asked, “Why don’t You do something?” God listens and answers back, “I did! I created you!”
In many different ways, every called worker has responded to God’s call, and with a burning passion in their heart, they answered with joy and expectation. It is that same burning passion in one’s heart that answers God’s call that can so easily lead to burnout and everything that goes with it.
Last month I promised to tell you how I handled the threatening and ministry destroying sense of burnout! Simply put, I considered another call to another church in a different area and situation. I would strongly not recommend this as a way of handling burnout. I went from a small struggling congregation in the Midwest to a large East Coast church with a Christian Day school. Then to a mission church in Northern New Jersey to a specialized ministry in a large church in Texas. To a shrinking large church in New Jersey to a growing and expanding church and school in the Southeastern District. It was quite an adventure, but burnout was never far behind. Considering a call began with concentrated prayer and contemplation. And it felt really good to be wanted. Accepting the call gave me two more weeks of packing and saying goodbye and another two weeks to relocate. It was like an unintentional sabbatical. I would then work “like crazy” until my passion for succeeding brought me again to the point of burnout.
In retirement, I found the benefits of being an “Interim Pastor” that came with a 1 ½ to a two-year commitment. By God’s grace, I did seven interims, always knowing that I could end the commitment when needed. But burnout was never far behind, having never dealt with it in a beneficial way. Don’t get me wrong, I loved ministry, and I loved the people and the places I was called to serve, but burnout was always nipping at my heels. I was blessed and very fortunate to have an understanding wife.
I wish the Seminary would have taught me ways to properly handle one’s passion for the Lord and Christ’s mission. I wish that today’s churches had Wellness Ministries for their called workers. I wish God’s people better understood the pressures and the root causes that bring about burnout. I wish that every congregation personally and seriously developed a wellness team to actively aid and support church workers. And I sure wish pastors and called workers would take more seriously their spiritual, physical, and mental wellness. I believe healthier church workers will strengthen our resolve to be more missional and help our churches become more incarnational and not places of escape to pamper our whims, likes, and dislikes.
“God, why don’t You do something?” “I did,” He says, “I created the church, the very Body of Christ, and I gave to them ‘apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the works of ministry, for the building up of the Body of Christ.’” (Ephesians 4:11-12)
Richard Izzard, for Church Worker Wellness
P.S. A good resource for future action is Dr. Bruce Hartung’s book, “Holding Up the Prophets Hands.”
After talking with our two Seminarians assigned to do ministry in Bridgeton and Maywood, it brought to mind my own experience when I was placed in a small congregation west of Chicago. It never occurred to me that when your passion for ministry is high, so is the increased threat of burnout. Back in those days, we never heard much about pastoral wellness and health.
I was called to the congregation meeting in an old wood-frame church, built back in the days when men sat on the pulpit side and women on the lectern side. The church lived in the shadows of both a mega Lutheran church and another Lutheran church that attracted the more influential. In my zeal, I put in long hours working almost every day with little time off. The people were wonderful Christian servants who had long been written off.
I started in August, forgetting that Advent would require an extra service each week and be followed closely by Christmas and the New Year. Easter came early that year, so Lent too came the day after Christmas, or so it seemed. I was weary and thinking I had chosen the wrong profession. About halfway through Lent, with the pressures of ministry increasing, my tank was near empty. I had nothing for Sunday's message. I remember going to the church and collapsing in front of the altar, pleading and begging God for help and strength. I could not hear Him.
Seminary training never warned me there would be times like this. That night I slept fitfully. Around 4:00 a.m. I awoke with a thought. It was in the days of Martin Luther King, Jr., and his emotional and moving I Have A Dream speech. That was it. Homiletic professors, forgive me, I don't remember the text or if there was one, but I will never forget the title: 'I Had a Dream!' The details of the message remain long buried, but the overall meaning was clear, concise, and not very Pastoral:
"I had a dream that when I came to you, we would light our community on fire for the Lord, and you, the members of the church, killed my dream."
I had no energy left. I was void of ideas, and the accomplishments were few. I had a dream, and I was burnt out. Their reaction might best be summed up by one kindly, elderly lady, who patted me on the shoulder and simply said, "Pastor, it will be okay, you'll get over it." Elsie, who with that one pat on the back and a compassionate voice, provided more to my Pastoral wellness than I had ever received.
I found out the hard way that the greater the passion, the higher the threat of burnout. And quite honestly, my struggle with my passion for the lost and the church's condition quickly led me to the depths of depression. And remember, back then, compared to today, ministry was considered 'easy.'
Burnout is real when passion is high. It can happen in any profession, but Pastoral Ministry has one of the highest burnout rates of most professions. As Pastors, we need to learn how to manage our passion for Christ's ministry and His Church. I have met some Pastors who, due to stress and burnout, retire way before their actual date of retirement!
Congregations need to give serious consideration to developing a wellness support team for their ministerial workers. There are many valuable resources available to help combat burnout in ministry. Please respond to this blog in the comments section and I’ll direct you towards resources that will help you develop a team within your congregation that supports and cares for the pastor and other ministry workers. Families of ministry workers should also be included in this care, as they too suffer the effects of burnout.
Next month, I will be issuing a sequel to this blog on how I handled the burnout. Until then, congregations, please take care of your pastors. Pastors, please take care of yourselves as you continue to care for your congregations.
Pastor Izzard for Pastoral Wellness
A couple took their young child to a concert in Carnegie Hall to hear the great pianist Paderewski in hopes that he might be inspired to take his piano lessons more seriously. As they were finding their seats, their young son quickly disappeared. Frantically and helplessly they searched through the people finding their seats, when they heard a commotion coming from the front of the stage. They heard some people yelling, “get him off of there,” “where are his parents?” “he’ll ruin the concert!” It was then that his parents caught sight of their son making his way to the Steinway Grand Piano on stage. They were stunned, not knowing what to do, when their child sat down at the piano and started to play the only tune he knew, ‘Chopsticks.’
Backstage Paderewski heard the commotion and quickly assessed the situation. He quietly walked on stage as the crowd grew quiet and the parents sank further down in their seats. He quietly sneaked behind the boy, and put one hand on the keys to the left and the other on the keys to the right and started to improvise a tune incorporating the boys ‘Chopsticks’ rendition, as he whispered to the boy, “Keep going, you’re doing great! Don’t stop! Good job! Together we’ve got this!” As a duet they played a never before heard tune, with the audience responding by giving them a standing ovation.
In the midst of one of the most disheartening, frightening, and devastating events known as Covid-19, God’s church ‘plays’ what it can as God quietly whispers in our ears, “Keep going, you’re doing great! Don’t stop! Good job! Together we’ve got this!” But beware, people of God. A great passion to do what God has called us to do and be can in these hard times set the stage for burn out. Especially when many of the tools we use for ministry are temporarily unusable. As the Body of Christ we need to encourage each other, especially our Pastors and called workers to keep going! We need to tell them, “You're doing great! Don’t stop! Good job!” And perhaps most importantly, “Together we’ve got this!”
Make no mistake, God is with us, after all that is His promise, “I will be with you always!” We will come out of this smarter than we were when it first started having set the Lord always before us, he is at our right hand, we shall not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)
Congregations encourage your Pastors. Pastors encourage one another. VPs, Circuit Visitors, encourage your brothers and sisters, especially those out front leading.
Chirpy was a fun loving and beautifully singing canary who never tired of entertaining an audience with her melodic sound. One day her owner was vacuuming the house while Chirpy was safe in her cage. Chirpy’s Mom decided to save some time and clean out her cage with the end of the vacuum hose. As she carefully removed the litter, the phone rang, and Mom instinctively reached for the phone only a few feet away. As she was about to say “hello” she heard this horrendous ”swoop” and Chirpy was gone, sucked into the vacuum's canister.
Mom quickly shut off the vacuum and opened the canister, and found Chirpy okay but somewhat stunned and shaken, covered with dust and grime. She did what any compassionate bird owner would do. She carefully picked up Chirpy, cupping her in her hand and ran to the kitchen sink and held her under the cold water. Noticing that Chirpy was shaking from the cold she blow-dried her with a hair dryer and gingerly placed her back in her cage. Her neighbor who heard the story called and asked how Chirpy was doing. “Well,” said the owner, “she pretty much just sits there and she seldom sings anymore.”
I would imagine that in the midst of COVID-19, that’s pretty much how we feel. Sucked up, drenched in cold water and blown dry. It’s taken a lot out of us and our churches. I would also imagine for our younger pastors who are just starting out, it’s been particularly difficult. Don’t forget to check on one another, and pastors, don’t forget your families.
Personally, I can’t wait to see how God is going to use all that we’ve been through! Daily I need to remind myself of the promises of God. Though more sinner than saint sucked up into the world’s craziness, I rejoice in God’s promise that ‘there is now no condemnation in Christ Jesus’. Though washed over, I am reminded of my own Baptism when the indelible sign of the cross was made with water upon my forehead and engraved upon my heart. And though often blown over by the challenges of the day and ministry, I know that Christ walks by my side being filled with a ‘living hope’. Though disappointed in the barriers and stumbling blocks, I realize more than ever that I can do all things through Christ’s strength and reminding myself that ‘not even the gates of hell shall prevail against us’. I haven’t quite grasped St. Paul’s mindset, ‘learning to be content in all things,’ but I am learning to trust more in Christ and the Spirit’s leading.
I believe COVID-19 is a wake-up call to our churches and to the Body of Christ. We’ve been too lapse and too content with 'staying in our lane'. God has called us forth to stand up, stand out, and stand strong with the greatest message ever proclaimed. Maybe what we need now is a spiritual pandemic inviting and allowing God to work through us to proclaim the joy that ‘God so loves the world that He gave His One and Only Son’. Now is the time, perhaps more than ever to let our faith shine through by walking the extra mile, sharing the extra shirt, turning the other cheek, and directing our attention away from what has and will happen to us to what Jesus has done for us.
As the weather grows warmer, and we head outdoors to enjoy more activities such as walking, cycling, running, and swimming, all while social/physical distancing of course, I wanted to send along some sun safety tips that you can share with your loved ones. Skin cancer awareness is vital for all ages, and simple, practical, prevention steps should become part of your daily routine.
Growing up in a beach town on Long Island, NY, I spent the first few years of my life, plopped in the sand of the many beaches and state parks. I can't recall ever wearing sunscreen during those years. My brother and I were always swimming and exploring nature. This was before the advent of cell phones and gaming systems, and our childhoods reflected that in our daily outdoor life. My love for the outdoors remained strong throughout my life.
A few years ago, after returning home from a trip to Bermuda, I went to see my dermatologist for a regular skin check. It was during that visit to the dermatologist that I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma of my left leg. Since this diagnosis, I have been blessed by God to be followed closely by a wonderful team of skin cancer specialists at Memorial Sloan Kettering Hospital, in Basking Ridge, NJ. The skin cancer center in Basking Ridge is a wonderful resource if you are looking for exceptional skin cancer care.
Wearing sunscreen, hats, cover-ups and long sleeves has become an important part of our daily routine, both for myself, and for my family. The American Cancer Society recommends getting screened for skin cancer every 12 months. So many people I speak with as a parish nurse are diligent about going for their necessary health screenings, yet often when I ask about their skin checks, they admit that this particular screening they sometimes forgo. Here are some statistics that I pray will help you to always wear your sunscreen and hats, and always go for your annual skin checks:
"Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the United States and worldwide.
1 in 5 Americans will develop skin cancer by the age of 70.
More than 2 people die of skin cancer in the U.S. every hour.
Having 5 or more sunburns doubles your risk for melanoma.
When detected early, the 5-year survival rate for melanoma is 99 percent." (The Skin Cancer Foundation)
Knowing the ABCDE's of skin cancer can also help you to do monthly self checks of your skin. Qualities to look for:
A~ Asymmetry - One half of the mole doesn't match the other half
B~ Borders - Irregular borders
C~ Colors - Color that is not uniform
D~ Diameter - Diameter greater than 6mm (about the size of a pencil eraser)
E~ Evolving - Changes in size, shape, color, or bleeding or itching of a mole
God bless your summer!
In His service,
Colleen Bottcher RN, BSN, FCN
NJ District LCMS Parish Nurse
Our Savior Lutheran Church
22-15 Broadway, Fair Lawn, NJ
What is the most common response to the question “how are you?”? “OK,” “good,” “hanging in there,” “not bad,” are all typical responses. But I’ve found that #1 is “Fine.” Personally, I got so tired of people coming out of church responding to my question “how are you?,” by simply answering “fine.” So I redefined the word. The “F” stands for “fouled up,” the “I” for “insecure,” the “N” for “neurotic,” and the “E” for “erratic.” It took some time, but soon people stopped saying “fine.” As a side benefit, visitors could often be identified by their “fine” response. And at other times it became an open invitation for possible Pastoral intervention and care.
Now granted, sometimes “fine” doesn’t mean I am “fouled up,” “insecure,” “neurotic,” and “erratic”. We’ve all been there at one time or another. The Coronavirus certainly has and can make us feel that way, especially as the days drag on. But let’s not forget that what we feel we can best be described as “fine,” may it more importantly bring to mind the multitude of promises from God for each and every element of “fine.” Fouled up? “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1) Insecure? Jesus promises “Lo, I will be with you always to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Neurotic? “Be not dismayed, for I am your God, I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” (Isaiah 41:10) “Erratic?” “It is to your advantage that I go….the Helper will come to you…” (John 16:7,8) I read somewhere that there are no less than 366 “Do not be afraid” promises that God makes to us in His Word, one promise for each day, and one more for a leap year.
No doubt the pandemic has “pushed our buttons” as we are being pushed to a new normal. The Good News is we are already part of the “new normal,” brought to us by the sacrifice, crucifixion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. And we are more than “fine” because of the promises of Our Father, and the redeeming work of Christ and the presence of the “One who comes to walk along side of us.” As we face the challenges that yet lay ahead, let’s continue to check in with our brothers and sisters in ministry, being concerned not only with their physical, mental and spiritual well being, but the wellbeing of their spouses and families. “Bear with one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
As I began to pray about and to write this Parish Nurse blog, I started by looking back through my journaling during the last 8 weeks working as an RN, caring for my patients as they one by one developed COVID-19. So many gifts from God have given me the strength to go through these challenging weeks. The gift of prayer from my brothers and sisters in Christ, my family's support and prayer, God's Word, the many virtual worship services, Bible Studies and Zoom meetings that lifted my heart and spirits.
So many aspects of our lives were instantly stripped away from us when this pandemic occurred. Some of us have lost dear friends, co-workers, or family members who have been called home to our Lord. Many of us lost jobs, income, investments, freedoms that we have always assumed would be available to us, and much more. Our physical, mental, and spiritual health may be suffering. Our youth and college students have temporarily given up seeing their teachers, classmates, friends, and have had to adjust to remote learning. There are many challenges and stressors before us, however God is always with us, and His grace and love carry us through this storm. Celebrating Mental Health Awareness month is more important than ever!
Holy Yoga classes have also provided spiritual and emotional care to us as we navigate this new reality. This week in Holy Yoga, our focus has been on waiting on the Lord. As we wait, may we experience His peace, and share His peace with others. May we seek God in all of our waiting moments.
I am still confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord
in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.
As we celebrate Mental Health Awareness Month this year, it is so important that we support one another as brothers and sisters in Christ. A few tips from the CDC to cope with stress during COVID-19:
1. PAUSE. Breathe. Acknowledge how you feel.
2. TAKE BREAKS from COVID-19 content
3. MAKE TIME to sleep and exercise
4. REACH OUT and stay connected (call one another, FaceTime, send cards, host a zoom meeting)
5. SEEK HELP if overwhelmed or unsafe or alone
Additional Mental Health Resources:
NJ Mental Health Hotline: Dial # 211
*Note: There are many Telehealth options available for those struggling with mental health and stress issues. #211 can help you find an appropriate practitioner.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Dial # 1-800-273-TALK
Did You Know:
Physical exercise is the single most important activity you can do to keep your brain healthy. Exercise can boost blood flow sending positive nutrients to the brain, increase your levels of dopamine, and generate new brain cells that can help the brain self-regulate and calm down. The simple exercise of walking can help you clear your mind, decrease anxious thoughts, improve your mood and burn calories all at the same time.
In His service,
Colleen Bottcher RN, BSN, FCN
NJ District Parish Nurse