Counseling in Uganda with Medical Team

May 18, 2015

What a stretching experience to provide counseling in Uganda as I joined with a medical team from Austin Ridge Church.  My role was to counsel with those who had just received their diagnosis of HIV-positive.  Jeremy Ezell heads the counseling program at that church and he invited me to join him in providing counselor training to 100 social workers in the southern city of Gaba. After our tasks were completed, we had two days free to join the medical team in the north, in Pader.  This video says it all.

Truth, Falsehood, Fire & Water: An Ethiopian Allegory

February 15, 2015


I borrowed this allegory from Heather Forest’s book, Wisdom Tales from Around the World, but added my own conclusion.  At our monthly men’s group, we each present five minutes of our thoughts on the same virtue.  This month it was “Truth.”  So I share my five-minute contribution.  What are your thoughts on the value of truth and the virtue of seeking it?

Long ago, Fire, Water, Truth and Falsehood lived together in one large house. Although all were polite toward each other, they kept their distance. Truth and Falsehood sat on opposite sides of the room. Fire constantly leapt out of Water’s path.

One day they went hunting together. They found a large number of cattle and began driving them home to their village. “Let us share these cattle equally,” said Truth as they traveled across the grasslands. “This is the fair way to divide our captives.”

No one disagreed with Truth except Falsehood. Falsehood wanted more than an equal share but kept quiet about it for the moment. As the four hunters traveled back to the village, Falsehood went secretly to Water and whispered, “You are more powerful than Fire. Destroy Fire and then there will be more cattle for each of us!

Water flowed over Fire, bubbling and steaming until Fire was gone. Water meandered along, cheerfully thinking about more cattle for itself.

Falsehood, meanwhile, whispered to Truth. “Look! See for yourself! Water has killed Fire! Let us leave Water, who has cruelly destroyed our warmhearted friend. We must take the cattle high in the mountains to graze, out of Water’s reach.”

As Truth and Falsehood traveled up the mountain, Water tried to follow. But the mountain was too steep, and Water could not flow upwards. Water washed down upon itself, splashing and swirling around rocks as it tumbled down the slope. Look and see! Water is still tumbling down the mountainside to this day.

Truth and Falsehood arrived at the mountaintop. Falsehood turned to Truth and said in a loud voice, “I am more powerful than you! You will be my servant. I am your master. All the cattle belong to me!”

Truth rose up and spoke out, “I will not be your servant!”

They battled and battled. Finally they brought the argument to Wind to decide who was master.

Wind didn’t know. Wind blew all over the world to ask people whether Truth or Falsehood was more powerful. Some people said, “A single word of Falsehood can completely destroy Truth” and “Falsehood is easier to market to the masses than the truth.”  Others insisted, “Like a small candle in the dark, Truth can prevail and drive out darkness. After all, falsehood has no substance of its own. It’s simply the absence of truth.”

Wind finally returned to the mountain and said, “I have seen that both Truth and Falsehood are equally powerful and one cannot prevail for long against the other. And it shall be that way forever.

Then Spirit spoke from a cloud on the mountaintop. No! This leaves people with no hope. The one that is more powerful is the one who will withstand the test of time. Take one away and see what happens to the other. Take away Truth and, over time, Falsehood will not stand. It will stumble over itself. But take away Falsehood and, over time, Truth will continue to stand like a light on this mountaintop. Truth will remain the same till the end. So the contest is not so much between Truth and Falsehood but between the wise man who seeks Truth and the foolish man who settles for momentary satisfaction.

Character and Quality Make Reliable Rehab Center

November 1, 2014

I like organizations that are led by men of character.  Robert Shryoc is one of those men and the Stonegate Center is one of those organizations.  It’s a Christian drug and alcohol rehab center for men located west of Fort Worth in the country.  Robert founded the center some years ago and continues as its CEO.  I had lunch with him a few weeks ago and was impressed with his world view and his attitudes toward treatment.  

He says that addiction is about impaired choosing.  The addict is a broken person who sees things in a distorted way and makes bad choices that make his condition worse.  Robert likes the Twelve Steps because they help a person gain (1) peace with God, (2) peace with themselves, (3) peace with others and (4) and enduring peace that comes from a transformed life from the inside out.

The program itself  works on physical, mental, emotional and spiritual issues that pertain to addiction and recovery.  A typical day there is structured from 6:00 AM to 10:00 PM but includes time to relax and reflect.  Robert says that real change happens IMG_0008in the context of real relationship, so community is very important at Stonegate.  I find that to be true in the personal counseling that I do as well.  Robert practices this with his organization as well, referring to specialists in the community and accepting referrals from other professionals in the community.

Another thing I like about the program is that it focuses on how to live a full and meaningful life beyond simply not doing the harmful thing.  In other words, let’s evaluate progress by the presence of good, not just the absence of bad.  It reminds me of the passage in Colossians 3:1-17 that uses clothing as a metaphor.  “. . . rid yourselves of . . .  and clothe yourselves with . . . “.

Perhaps these are some of the reasons the program has a 70% success rate.  I hope you don’t have a need for a recovery center, but if you do, consider Stonegate.  It’s a quality program run by a quality person of high character.

Why Exercise Helps Mental Health

November 25, 2013

From my own off-and-on exercise program, I can tell that everything works better when I work out, literally from head to toe.  But I never dug into the reasons why.  Now I have an Intern, Rachel Miedema, who has pulled together some of the research that explains the connection.  If you just want the conclusions, read the following article she has written.  If you’re moreImage curious, you can click on the links she’s provided for more detailed original source material.  Now, if you want to dive in, Rachel can integrate your mental functioning with your physical functioning.  She offices at Forte Counseling Center, 1422 W. Main St., Lewisville, 75067 (under the supervision of J. Lee Jagers, PhD, LPC-S) and can be reached at 972-219-1628 or  Check out her web site too.  She’s a remarkable person and uniquely trained with a degree in Exercise Science, a Masters Degree in Kinesiology and a Masters in Biblical Counseling.  Not only smart, but a fun and delightful person, easy to relate to.

Here’s what she writes:

Everyone has heard about the positive health effects of exercise: decreases cardiovascular disease, decrease body weight, increases circulation, improves immune system functioning, regulates hormonal balance, and on and on.  And you may have heard that exercise helps mental health, but have you heard any evidence as to how?   Many researchers have investigated that exact question and below is a brief summary of the positive correlation between physical activity and improved mental health.

Research Area #1: Brain chemistry 

Exercise increases serotonin, which is the same brain neurotransmitter that is increased by certain types of antidepressant medications called SSRI, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.  These medications increase the amount of serotonin in the brain by slowing its absorption.  Exercise naturally accomplishes this same effect.

Exercise also releases endorphins, which have been termed a “runners high” for the way they naturally mimic opiates.  Some of these effects are a sense of well-being, pain relief, improved immune system functioning, and reducing stress.

Exercise also increases norepinephrin which has a positive effect on memory, learning, and physical arousal.  Norepinephrin also has a secondary effect on mood much like serotonin and is also effected by a class of antidepressants called SNRI’s, serotonin norephinephrin reuptake inhibitors.

Research Area #2: Mood effects

One study shows that regular exercise directly correlates with both state (in the moment) and trait (underlying) anger.  These participants self-reported that exercising 2-3 times a week led to significantly less anger.  If it works for them it may work for you too.

Exercise is statistically equal to antidepressant medication in its effect on depression and low mood as well as statically higher rates of preventing relapse compared to placebo groups.  So regular physical exercise helps just as much as the best medication in the field.

Physical activity is also shown to have a positive effect on anxiety.  One researchers described it in this way, “Exercise in many ways is like exposure treatment,” says Smits. “People learn to associate the symptoms with safety instead of danger.”  The more instances your body has to overcome the symptoms of anxiety, the better adapted it becomes.

Research Area #3: Daily Patterns

Regular exercise leads to increased feelings of energy and decreased feelings of fatigue.  These effects can improve depression, low mood, anxiety, and overall stress.

Speaking of stress, exercise is shown to help a person cope with stress.  The body reacts to the physical stress effect so exercise in the same way it reacts to mental stress and regular exercise helps to adapt to this occurrence.

Regular physical activity is also correlated with improved sleep.  Studies show that a regular exerciser goes to sleep faster, feels more refreshed when waking up, and feels less tired throughout the day.  Those who report the highest self-report mood and mental health average 7-9 hours of sleep.

Exercise is also shown to improve confidence, self-esteem, and body image.  This happens as exercisers lose body weight, become stronger, and learn new skills or hobbies.

On a purely anecdotal note, exercise can be fun and enjoyable.  Making time to exercise daily can bring a positive distraction from day to day stresses or concerns.

Lastly, regular exercise can create built in community in which genuine, supportive friendships can form around a common activity.  If there is ever a day you may want to take off from exercise when you know it’d be in your best interest to work out anyway, a good network of accountability and community could be the answer.

These positive effects of exercise improve overall wellness, including healthy body, mind, and soul.  Hopefully, this information will help you get out there and move!