be an ambassador

Regardless of what is going on in your life, be my ambassador. Act in love no matter what is happening around you. Be a beacon of hope in pain, suffering, hardship, affliction, and unrest. Let people see your pure heart, knowledge, patience, kindness, and genuine love, which come only by my Spirit. Speak truthfully and without qualification. Guard yourself with holiness and wholeness on every side. Seek to live an integrated life whether you are honored or dishonored, slandered or praised, rejected as a liar or accepted as a truth-bringer, living or dying, in punishment, sorrow, or loss. Keep hoping even when everything seems bleak.

2 Corinthians 6:4-10
Letters to the Beloved

clay pots

You have an infinite treasure–the light of my love–stored up in clay pots; heavenly beauty held within the stuff of earth, imperfections and all. Transformation comes because of my life in you. Daily stresses may leave you feeling battered and bruised, but my Son’s life in you means nothing can destroy you. In your suffering, be reminded of his death, but never lose sight of his indwelling Spirit, which is real life. Let every bit of pain, fatigue, and brokenness serve as a reminder of the life I have given you. Death and disintegration may be present in your day-to-day life, but your core identity is secure in my Son.

2 Corinthians 4:7-12
Letters to the Beloved

be careful little eyes what you see

As a neuropsychologist, my day-to-day work involves assessing how people think and process information. Forgetfulness is people’s primary complaint when they see me; however, I evaluate more than memory. A thorough neuropsychological evaluation examines cognitive skills like memory, attention, and word-finding; emotions like depression, anxiety, or anger; sensory changes; and relational difficulties. Just as our thinking is complex, so are the variables associated with understanding and processing information. Although I use various psychological tests to assist in my evaluations, spending time with well over 10,000 patients over the years, I also notice behavioral trends that provide me with additional insight.

Increased anger and paranoia are patterns I have noticed more over the past few years, especially among my elderly patients. Although their doctors routinely refer them for evaluation of dementia, once they are in my office, their family members will tell me that dad has become much more irritable, judgmental, and paranoid. In my experience, it’s usually men who display this pattern. As a diagnostician, I am asked to determine what is wrong and what factors contribute to cognitive, behavioral, and interpersonal changes. In the case of dementia, changes in the structure and function of the brain are generally evident.

However, I have observed increased paranoia and anger often accompanied by constant exposure to cable news. More than once, as family members have lamented these behavioral changes, they have shared their exasperation, saying, “He watches Fox News 24/7” (n.b. I have only heard people say this about right-wing media. It does not, therefore, mean that the same thing does not happen with left-wing media).

Disease or injury can change our brains in drastic ways, but it is also true that experience changes our brains by strengthening or weakening synaptic connections. When we continually expose ourselves to toxic or divisive things, we unwittingly become more toxic and divisive. In truth, it is not only my dementia patients who are becoming this way; it is happening to many of us.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote, “Many of the things we consume, both as edible food and as sensory impressions, have toxins in them. Just as we might feel worse after eating a whole bag of chips, we often feel worse after we spend many hours on social media sites or playing video games. After we consume like that in an effort to block out or cover up unpleasant feelings, somehow we only end up feeling even more loneliness, anger, and despair” (Silence: the Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise, 2015).

So what can you do? First, understand that regardless of how intelligent, wise, or objective you believe you might be, what you expose yourself to shapes you gradually at first, but the effect can be drastic over time. Second, regardless of what you are taking in, be willing to ask, “what is the message behind the message?” Is this meme/newscast/article encouraging love and understanding or hatred and division? What emotional response are they seeking to generate? Third, set boundaries with people who seem to be driven by divisiveness and hatred; your heart will thank you. Unfollowing people on Facebook or Twitter can be a holy act. Fourth, intentionally turn off the television and do something else. Go for a walk and say hello to your neighbors.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.-Philippians 4:8

*There is a fascinating 2015 documentary titled “The Brainwashing of my Dad,” that provides additional insight into this phenomenon. I watched it on Amazon Prime, though it can be found through multiple sources.

real shalom

“Do you think I came to bring peace on the earth? No, I came to divide fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters.” Ultimately, beloved, my Son is the embodiment of true peace and love, not mere tolerance. Real shalom is active and results from hard work and adversity as you work to reintegrate your divided self and your fractured homes by the power of my Spirit. Continue working and wrestling through your pain rather than pretending it does not exist.

Luke 12:51-53
Letters to the Beloved

be who you are

Instead of fumbling around in the dark, pretending to be something you are not, be who you are. Walk in the light where you will always find me. This honest, vulnerable place is where you can have real friendships with one another and with me. When you remember that my Son’s blood has cleansed you thoroughly, you will not need to hide. Come out of the shadows and be seen. When you pretend that you are better than you are or have no sin in your life, you may deceive others, but the one you have deceived the most is yourself. You cannot live long in that disintegrated state before it begins to tear you apart. Half-truths are no truth at all.

1 John 1:7-8
Letters to the Beloved

conduits of grace

Does loving like Jesus ever feel impossible to you? It does to me. I cannot make it through my morning coffee loving God and others the way he has loved me. Does my failure to love perfectly mean that I should question my salvation? No. Rather, I believe Jesus was telling his followers, “Look, I’ve come to show you the best way to live. Life in my kingdom is radically different from the life you have been living. Become a conduit of my grace and engage in true other-centered living.”

from Notes from the Upper Room, The Devotionals

love your enemies

Hear me: Love your enemies, even those who make your blood boil. Let love show up in your actions. Treat others well and do good for them. Bless those who are cursing you and want to see you hurt. Pray for the hearts of abusers. These people will do everything they can to steal your joy. Do not let them. Bring them to me in prayer. Release you negativity and do not give hatred a place in your heart. Bitterness will damage you far more deeply than your enemy ever could.

Luke 6:27-28
Letters to the Beloved

seeking quiet

My Son understood the importance of regularly withdrawing from the people. He would go off on his own to be with me. Learn from his example. Regularly retreating from the busyness and constant stimulation of life is healthy for your soul. It is even more challenging to get away from the hustle and bustle in the industrialized, ever-connected world. You will need to be intentional about finding a quiet place to be with me, just as my Son did.

Luke 5:16, Letters to the Beloved

Living non-offensively

Live non-offensively. I see many of my followers majoring in criticism, sarcasm, and attack. Too many seem to get a charge out of riling up those who believe differently. You can stand boldly for my truth without being a jerk. Instead, seek to do right by others, even those who strongly disagree with you. Do not compromise the truth, but live with kindness and other-centeredness so that others may come to know my Son.

-1 Corinthians 10:32-33
Letters to the Beloved (releases October 25, 2021)