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By The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

#onewordresolution #newyearresolution

It’s late in the month to be talking about New Year’s resolutions. By now you’ve either made one or not. And if you made one, you’re either feeling successful, struggling, or have failed.

So here I am in mid- to late-January writing about New Year’s resolutions. Why? Because I want you to rethink them. For the most part we make resolutions that have to do with something physical such as losing weight, exercising more, sleeping better, or personal attributes such as being kinder, being more honest, being less critical, etc...

I’m encouraging you think a bit differently using a concept I’ve come across over the past year, which is adopting a guiding word as a resolution rather than adopting a resolution. The word can serve almost like a mantra that we repeat over and over to ourselves, and that over time shapes and changes our thinking, acting, and more in ways we want to change.

For example, instead of resolving to lose 20 pounds by going on a diet, choosing a word like “moderation,” may have a huge impact not only on losing weight, but on life. If we choose to moderate in all things, we may find that we’re not only moderating our food choices, but also moderating how we interact with people, the amount of television we watch, the degree to which we do too much stuff that doesn’t matter and not enough of that which does.

Think of what the impact of following words such as “kindness,” “generosity,” “appreciate,” “healthy,” “others,” and more might have on your life.

A one-word resolution can also have an impact on our lives spiritually. For instance, choosing a word such as “aware” might help us become more aware of God’s presence everywhere, and how every part of life has spiritual meaning. “Gratitude” can help us become more thankful and appreciative in life, making us more positive and enthusiastic. A word such as “compassion” can help us sparkle with a greater sense of care for others.

The key is taking time to assess our lives to get a sense of what could be enhanced, and if we have a spiritual bent, asking God in prayer what word we’re called to adopt. When I’ve done this in the past, I’ve often spent time looking honestly at my life, thinking of all the things I’d like to make better, and then just ruminating on what one word captures it. Eventually a word seems to emerge.

For example, the word for me this year is “engage.” What does that mean? For me it means making sure that whatever I embark on that I’m engaged in it rather than just participating in or doing it. It means bringing passion, consistency, resiliency, perseverance, and more into my life. This is a highly personal word for me that has more meaning that I can really convey here. It’s a word that came to me while walking in a mall several weeks ago as I reflected on what word captures what I’m seeking.

So, I’m encouraging you, for your physical, mental, and spiritual health, to consider a one-word resolution, even if you’ve already made your resolution.

As always, if it leads you to seeking help from us, we’re always here with compassionate counselors, coaches, and spiritual directors.

Be blessed!

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By The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

#mentalhealth #mentalillness #schizoaffectivedisorder #compassion #generosity #charity

On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, while most of us were still recovering from our Thanksgiving feasts, Bobby Vandrak gathered with his family as he prepared to do a 10-mile run around North Park Lake. Bobby wasn’t training for a marathon, nor was this part of his normal Saturday morning exercise routine. Bobby was running to make a difference. Before I share why he ran, let me tell you about who Bobby is.

I’ve known Bobby since he was four years old. I was pastor of his family’s church for 22 years, and they joined the church early in that time. I watched Bobby grow up from a four-year-old to a wonderful man. He and his family were heavily involved in the church.

They worshipped most Sundays together. He was involved in our children and youth programs, as well as our yearly youth mission trips. We were involved in our dynamic drama program, appearing in plays such as Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar, Honk, School House Rock, The Sound of Music, and

even a review that included songs from

Rent and Hamilton.

Bobby’s family were steadfast believers in turning faith into action. His mother, Heidi, is a therapist. His father was a doctor at Jameson Hospital in New Castle, PA. Generosity and service were central to their lives. Whenever one of the kids turned 17, Heidi had a tradition: each could choose a mission trip that she would then take her or him on. Bobby chose to go to Mexico City, helping in a medical mission doing eye exams and treatment for the poor.

Bobby’s father, Bob, died unexpectantly and suddenly in 2015, which had an impact on Bobby. Bob was not only a great doctor, but also always willing to help anyone in any way he could. Quite often he would bundle the kids on a Saturday morning into the car to do something new and exciting or to go help someone in need.

I asked Bobby in a recent interview that we posted last week on YouTube how his father’s death impacted him (For the full interview, visit Bobby said, “So with him passing away it showed me that with life you just have to keep going, you just have to continue to . . . I feel like I had a moment where I was like ‘I’m going to be bitter and sad and mad about this.’ But it really ended up turning into a switch of like, ‘I’m going to use this to the best of my abilities to make a difference.’”

This leads us to now. Bobby was diagnosed a few years ago with schizoaffective disorder, which is a really complex mental disorder where people can have elements of schizophrenia (hallucinations, delusions, thought disorders) and mood disorders (depression and/or mania). Each person’s course and symptoms vary, making it difficult to diagnose.

As you can imagine, receiving this diagnosis is traumatic. Who wants to hear that she or he has a serious mental health issue. Even the term itself, schizoaffective, sounds damning. Remember what Bobby said about dealing with the death of his father. He could become bitter and mad, but he chose “use this to the best of my abilities to make a difference.” He stopped drinking, which had been a form of self-medication, and chose to seek treatment, take his medication, and then use his natural gift for gab to be a positive influence to make people aware of mental health issues.

Recently he took another step toward health, which brings us back to his 10-mile run around North Park Lake. He decided he could use his illness and influence to raise money to help others. He set up a GoFundMe challenge for people to sponsor his run around the lake to raise money for Samaritan, as well as the Schizophrenia and Psychosis Action Alliance.

He raised over $6000 that Saturday morning, which included $3000 for Samaritan. But he did more than that. He raised awareness of mental health issues with so many people. Over 200 people have watched his interview in just the week it’s been posted, and many more have been touched through his Instagram and Facebook posts about it. Even more, he used his own generosity to improve his own mental health.

Generosity, gratitude, enthusiasm, passion, possibility, joy, faith, service, and so much more make a difference in our mental and spiritual health. We are so appreciative of what Bobby has done for Samaritan, but even more for what he’s done for himself and others. By being generous in sharing with others his diagnosis, challenges, and response, he is leading others to discover how they can make a difference for those struggling with mental health issues. His gift, as well others’ gifts, to Samaritan are a tangible way to make people’s lives better.

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Have you ever been in the presence of someone who lives in a truly grateful way? I mean someone who is grateful to be alive, grateful for the people in her or his life, and grateful for God’s presence, and sees the world around her or him with appreciation and joy?

I’ve had the privilege of meeting quite a number of these people as a pastor, spiritual director, therapist, and more. What makes them special is that when we’re around them, they have the ability to make us feel good about our own lives.

I had a simple realization years ago about the difference between hopeful and cynical people: cynical, pessimistic people suck energy out of us. Grateful, appreciative people give energy to us. You’ve experienced this. Think about times when you’ve had to listen to someone crab about his or her life—about politics, religion, people, bosses, spouses, teachers, his or her lot in life. You get trapped listening to them as they gain more and more energy from their growing anger, while you become more and more drained. Now think about the times you’ve spent with someone who is truly grateful, joyful, and positive. You feel more energized, more hopeful, more… possible. Gratitude gives energy. Cynicism sucks energy.

When I think about living a grateful life, I think about Sallie, a woman whose funeral I did years ago when I was her pastor. I had visited her often as her health declined over a ten-year period. Even in declining health she was an absolute joy to be around. Her arthritis and other ailments made it very hard for her to get around. Still, no matter how bad things got for her, she never complained. Even in the last years of her life, as macular degeneration took away her ability to read (her living room was stacked with cherished devotional books and magazines), she still had hope. She once told me that even though she couldn’t read, she still took comfort from all that she had learned from them.

Sallie was a bright light. Whenever I visited her, I tried to bring her some sense of comfort, but in reality she gave me more comfort and joy than I think I ever brought her. I often drove home feeling as though I had been in the presence of a great sage.

Her outlook on life was rooted in a deep sense of gratitude. She was grateful for her life. She was grateful for her children. She was grateful for her husband who had died so many years earlier. Sallie lived a life of gratitude even in the midst of difficulty.

I don’t want to give the impression that people like Sallie are perfect and live pain-free. They aren’t and they don’t. They make mistakes, parts of their lives can be messed up, and they struggle just like everyone else does. It’s just that people like Sallie choose to react differently to the struggles of the world than most of us. They can go through severe struggles, but they grow from them each time and they find meaning and purpose in them.

I look around and I see a world filled with miserable people. They’re not necessarily miserable because of the conditions of their lives, although their conditions often contribute to their misery. I see an attitude of misery reflected in the darkness of present movies, television, and novels nowadays. I see it on social media as people argue, complain, criticize, and crab about everything, especially during this pandemic. I see it in parents who constantly criticize their children, only seeing what’s wrong with them, what they don’t do, and how disappointed they are in them. I see this same dynamic in too many marriages, where over time it becomes easier to be critical of our spouses than complimentary. Life wears us down, as do relationships. Still, cynicism is a relationship killer. Good marriages, parenting, and lives are built on laughter, smiles, appreciation, and gratitude. Bad marriages are built on indifference, cynicism, and criticism.

The struggle of life is to see it with appreciative eyes rather than depreciative ones. Depreciative people diminish life by only seeing what’s wrong in the world around them. They’ll justify their cynicism and negativity by saying that we live in a hard world, and that they’re just being realistic. The reality is that they aren’t living in a cold, hard world. They’re just choosing to make it cold and hard.

Parts of life can be cold, ugly, and hard, but it still is wonderful, beautiful, joyful, and hopeful. Many people truly live in horrific, terrible conditions. At Samaritan we do our best to help these people make choices to transform them and their conditions. It’s hard work. Part of what we also do is help people see with different eyes, helping them to see what’s right, not just what’s wrong; what’s good, not just what’s bad; what they can do, not just what they can’t; what’s light, not just what’s dark; what’s possible, not just what’s impossible.

In my life I constantly return to what a great spiritual writer, David Steindl-Rast, says in his book Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer: “What counts on your path to fulfillment is that we remember the great truth that moments of surprise want to teach us: everything is gratuitous, everything is gift. The degree to which we are awake to this truth is the measure of our gratefulness. And gratefulness is the measure of our aliveness . . . In moments when we are truly alive, we experience life as a gift. We also experience life as surprise.”


The Rev. N. Graham Standish, PhD, MSW, MDiv, MA

Executive Director

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