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Looking Back: This is my story

The last few months have become a time of personal introspection.  Not quite sure why.  Perhaps it is that for the first time in years I don’t feel the pressure of having an overwhelming schedule.  Having “officially” retired from Pastoral ministry has been an incentive.  A lingering bronchial and sinus infection have often kept me inside when the weather had been appealing to walk on those few sun lite days.

Some of it may derive that last week I shared my personal story of coming to faith with a group of friends.  Since then I’ve taken the opportunity to look at the last five decades of my life and reflect.  Looking back has not been an introspection of how bad it was, but that the grace of God was so evident, even in the hurting and lost times.  What is called prevenient grace.

This past September it has been 48 years since Jesus Christ came into my life.  Not that I didn’t know about God, or was ignorant of the Bible or the story of Jesus.  Church was central in our lives:  Sunday morning worship, Sunday night youth group, Cherub choir as a child then adult choir when I turned fourteen. I remember Della Turner and Rachel Watson teaching us the books of the Bible when we were only six years old. But Church was just something everyone did in the 1950’s.  It was ritual and tradition.

Without going in to details I have always considered growing up as a deeply lonely time.  Typical for a middle child. My parents worked six and seven days and we were often left to our own resources.  Sports had never been of any interest.  The only sport I ever tried out for was a washout, being dropped from the team as there were not enough uniforms to go around.  Didn’t even get a participation trophy. High School wasn’t much better. I worked evenings from the time I turned sixteen and never even made it to football games.  The only group of friends I had were a table of us who had nothing in common except we ate lunch together in the cafeteria. None of us fit into the “social groups” common for the teenage years. I called us the lost boys.

Thought at best a mediocre student in High School I had been accepted in the Architectural School of Design at N.C. State. But they only took 35 students a year and I was number 37.  Their advice was go to a Junior college, get my liberal arts classes behind me, and come in the third year after others dropped out. At the time, it was a disappointment. But it turned out to be one of the best things to happen in my life. Infrequently I wonder what life would have been like if that had been the course taken.

Not wanting to speak ill of those who have gone before, but growing up I don’t remember a lot of love.   Not that my parents didn’t try. But it wasn’t something expressed with emotion. In some ways, it was a great life.  We traveled, spent Sunday afternoon skiing and picnicking at my Uncle’s place at the lake, had a great yard and neighborhood with the usual dogs, cats, and even a crocodile.  When other kids were going to Myrtle Beach, we went to the World’s Fair.

Today my father would be diagnosed with sever P.T.S.D.  His World War II medical records show he was described as having Combat Fatigue. Mother had grown up a hard scrabble life as the next to last in a large family. By the time she was five her older brothers and sisters had already moved out of the house.  Later I recognized she was a typical co-dependent to my father’s aberrant behavior.

So, going to college was as much an escape as an education.  In a sense, I was running away from home. Did not know I would be running straight into the arms of Jesus. The summer before was probably the most I have felt lost in my life. Graduation night was filled with too much celebration.  Not being a believer I had no deterrent to indulge in alcoholic endeavors.  It wasn’t until the blue lights flashed in the rearview mirror that I was aware of having crossed a line. So, for the summer I had no license, no car, no friends.  That week I went from the grocery store to the cotton mill.  Early morning starts gave little incentive for late night ramblings.  Even if I had someone with whom I could ramble. So, hanging out was replaced by long walks in the evening, feeling even more friendless and lost.  In all honesty, I had not one close friend in High School.

For college I had chosen a small church school in the mountains.  My roommate was a jerk, so, after beating everyone on the floor in chess I moved to another dorm. Yes, I was a nerd. It was there I met a new kind of person, Christians.  These guys and gals weren’t just your Sunday morning vanilla church goers. They went Sunday night to a Bible Study in town, Tuesday night a prayer meeting at another home, Wednesday night study with the Church Pastor, and weekends, going to Shoney’s in Asheville for Strawberry pie and talk about Jesus.  They carried these big huge Bibles with crosses engraved in the leather.  The pages were marked with underlined words and notes in the margin.  I didn’t understand, but for the first time in life I felt loved by a group of people who did not judge me.

Only four weeks into the first semester some visitors from England came to campus. It was on no one schedule.  The mother of another student had heard them and arranged for them to spend their last day in the States at Montreat.  That night a group of about 35 students and five or six faculty came together to hear them speak and sing.  Andrew and his wife sang some songs none of us knew. Then Terry, a bank teller who played a tambourine, spoke about his journey of faith.  At the end people were invited to raise their hands and show they wanted to know Jesus Christ.  Nearly all the students responded.  I wasn’t one of them.  I didn’t understand.

After the meeting, everyone went down to Pastor Thielman’s house for refreshments.  There was laughter, happiness, and joy that night.  I didn’t feel such exuberance.  My mind was confused, disorganized, and isolated.  Soon everyone jumped up and went into the dining area.  I remained, sitting there in front of the fireplace on a braided hook rug (ah, the details we remember for significant events.)

Not knowing how, I cried out to God.  No one sat down and prayed with me.  There was no Roman Road or Four Spiritual Laws.  Surround by a crowd I was essentially alone.  But in those moments, I felt a love I’d never before experienced.  This wasn’t church, it wasn’t even religion.  But, as John Wesley described in his encounter, “I felt my heart strangely warmed.”  But in this case, it wasn’t a knowledge of salvation, but of love.  A love which flooded heart and soul.

No one in that room knew what was going on as I continued to sit there.  But when I finally stood up, I was a different person, forever changed.  Jesus had entered the wounds of my heart, healing the hurt and loss.  Giving me a joy and relief.  Taking my darkness and giving light.

I’ve never looked back.

Respectably submitted,

Robert C. Peurifoy

Bipolar Doesn’t Define Me

The Empty Chair

stock-photo-bipolar-disorder-word-cloud-concept-249222136#inhonorofcarrie  In 1977 I saw the first of the Star Wars movies on the day it opened. Something I would do for most of the Star Wars movies which followed. At the time I lived in Baltimore.  After making some hospital visits one day, went by this old run down theater where the movie had just opened. Believe it or not, I was about the only person there. The multiplex’s and long lines were unknown that day. No one knew what this new science fiction movie was about.  It was so different from other movies. It portrayed an unreal world in a realistic way. The characters seemed so human with their faults and flaws.

So it was with Carrie Fisher. Early in life she was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.   She used her fame as Princess Leia as a platform to make bipolar disorder visible, to bring it out of the…

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Bipolar Doesn’t Define Me

stock-photo-bipolar-disorder-word-cloud-concept-249222136#inhonorofcarrie  In 1977 I saw the first of the Star Wars movies on the day it opened. Something I would do for most of the Star Wars movies which followed. At the time I lived in Baltimore.  After making some hospital visits one day, went by this old run down theater where the movie had just opened. Believe it or not, I was about the only person there. The multiplex’s and long lines were unknown that day. No one knew what this new science fiction movie was about.  It was so different from other movies. It portrayed an unreal world in a realistic way. The characters seemed so human with their faults and flaws.

So it was with Carrie Fisher. Early in life she was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.   She used her fame as Princess Leia as a platform to make bipolar disorder visible, to bring it out of the dark shadows. Mental illness has always had a stigma  Carrie Fisher demonstrate you could live with a mental illness and not just survive with it, but thrive. As she has quipped  “I’ve received more awards for being bipolar than anything else.”

I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder at age 53.  The symptoms were all there, waiting for the pieces of the puzzle to be put together. It took ten years for the pieces to fall together.  1996 had been a stressful year.  As a pastor there were the usual duties pulling at you in dozens of directions.  Then there was the year where I held 60 funerals.  For one 9 week period I averaged a funeral every three days. On several occasions I had two funerals a day.  There were times of going from the cemetery back to the hospital where another church member, a friend, was dying.  After this to say I was depressed was a misnomer.  It was then that the demon of depression began to rear it’s head.

There is more to bipolar disorder than depression. It is too often over diagnosed.  But by 2005 my life was falling apart.  I didn’t know what the problem was.  Didn’t even realize their was a problem.  I wasn’t a drug addict or alcoholic. Didn’t smoke.  On the surface I was rather successful.  But my desk was a mess, addressing issues became difficult, debt was the norm. My ability to think things through was impaired.  All symptomatic of bipolar.

Bipolar disorder is not a disease, it’s a disorder.  You’re not sick, your brain is broken.  It is often genetic in nature. The brain is often unable to focus and concentrate.  I’ve followed it’s trail through five generation of my father’s family, from parent to child, cousins, Aunts and Uncles, my Grandfather and Great-Grandfather.  The last time I ever met with my Father’s Doctor I asked him point blank, “Should he have been diagnosed with Bipolar disorder.”  He just looked at me and said, “Of course.”  It was only later that I wanted to hit him for the years my Dad suffered.

It can’t be fixed, but it can be controlled. Unfortunately many people have difficulty with the medications.  I’ve been blessed from the time of my diagnosis to have gotten the right mix of med’s.  It can’t be healed, but the grace of God can get you through it, and move beyond it.

Today I remember Carrie Fisher, and her mother Debbie Reynolds, and Patty Duke and Robbin Williams and all those other silent sufferers from Bipolar Disorder.  #inhonorofcarrie.

 

The Promise of Messiah

And he shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isaiah the Prophet

At this time of the year the above is one of the most familiar prophetic scriptures of the Advent and Christmas season.  Part of it’s popularity is from the Oratorio by Handel, “Messiah.”  It has been said that when Handel was preparing the music for the oratorio Messiah, he was inspired with such passion that it was completed in only twenty-four days.  So moved was he that meals went untouched, visitors unnoticed, and sleep unknown.  The music of Messiah still moves people today.  When the chorus of Hallelujah begins people stand to Honor and Worship Messiah Jesus.

As is usually translated, at least in English, is a four phrase statement.

“Wonderful Counselor,

Mighty God,

Everlasting Father,

Prince of Peace.”

But it must be asked, is this what the Prophet said.  The Hebrew has no punctuation, no spacing, no structure.  Just a line of letters. If we were to take this passage and write it as found in the original scriptures it would look like this:

Hewillbenamedwonderfulcounselormightygodeternalfatherprinceofpeace.

Try to pick this apart.  What if it was phrased a different was

He will be named (called)

Wonderful,

Counselor,

Mighty,

God,

Eternal,

Father,

Prince,

Peace.

This is different.  Here is an explanation of how we should look at this passage of scripture.

And He shall be called:

  • Wonderful – root, “wonder” or “full of wonder.” Think of the word Awe, as in awesome. Those who see Jesus come to be filled with awe at his work, his wonder, his wisdom, his love.
  • Counselor – “one called along side of you”. Jesus promised His disciples he would send another comforter (counselor in many translations), the Holy Spirit.  God’s Spirit is there to comfort, counsel and guide us in the Christian life.
  • Mighty – Strong when we are weak.
  • God – God as in God, not any god out of many god’s or some abstract god, but the God who created the heavens and the earth, who caused the stars to spin in the sky yet hold you in the hollow of His Hand!
  • Eternal – Always there, never fails. You are never alone.
  • Father – A loving one who cares, provides, protects, directs, and guides us in the journey of life.
  • Prince – not common, born of the royal blood line as the Prince of Judah. A person worthy of respect and love.
  • Peace – the end result of walking with God, peace. Not just the end of war as we are promised a struggle in life. Shalom, peace of heart and life.  This peace is the peace which passes all understanding.  A peace in the midst of the struggles of life. A peace which only Jesus Christ can give.

For many believers today God is too small, too limited, to distant. This is not about non-believers, but those who do accept and know Jesus Christ as lord.  We might believe otherwise, but actions speak louder than words.  Our daily routine does not reflect a God who is present with us. Our prayers are not of hope but self-center appeals for our personal well being with an occasional word lifted up on behalf of those beyond our personal sphere of friends and family. When was the last time you spent vigorous prayer for the people of Syria, the missionaries working the slums of Guatemala, or the lost people in your own community? Have we considered that the Almighty, Eternal God of all creation is able to handle the problems of this world.

May your Christmas be Merry, and the year to come be filled with blessings and peace.

 

Report from Baton Rouge, August 2016

20160831_095213It Is now mid-week since arriving in Louisiana to work in the flood zone.  The time has been busy but well spent.  Our luxurious accommodations are twelve men in a Church Sunday School room.  All together tonight there are 132 volunteers on site, plus the 12 chaplains. The two shower trailers are very busy from the time the teams return in the afternoon till late in the evening when the chaplains are allowed some personal time.   By Friday it is expected there will be 209 volunteers at this site.

There is a team of twelve chaplains working out of this one site in East Baton Rouge.  Two other sites, one in Lafayette, LA and another in Gonzalez, LA. are also operating. The chaplains are all members of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rapid Response Team.  All of us have had training for working in trauma and disasters areas.  Our purpose is to offer emotional and spiritual support to people in need.  We are a ministry of Jesus Christ.  In the last three days just my partner and I have prayed with over 100 people.

Some of those we meet have been in very difficult situations.  There was no warning of flood.  Monday a flooded elderly couple shared they literally woke up in the morning and stepped out of their beds into a foot of water. Houses has from 12 inches to 7 feet of water in them.  Of course there had been rain.  It had been raining for weeks.  No one expected 20 to 30 inches in twenty-four hours.  Today has been the first day with no rain.

Samaritans Purse was one of the first disaster relief agencies to arrive on scene.  In the last two weeks, this site, has completed over 300 house clean outs and mud outs.  There is currently a list of over 1,300 work orders. The list grows daily. SP has committed to being here into November.

It has been asked, “what criteria is used to decided who receives help?  This is a working class community where many people worked in the chemical and petrol industry which line the lower Mississippi.  Many are retired.  Those who have the number one priority are emergency personnel:  Firefighters, police and law enforcement, EMT’s. Then come elderly and homebound, single mothers with children, the ill and infirm, and then others in need.  There is NO cost to the homeowners.  All these volunteers have come at their own expense to share the love of Jesus Christ. The expense is paid through donations to Samaritans puse.

Remember is was just in July that several police officers where shot and killed here in Baton Rouge.  Our RRT chaplains were also here to follow up that event.  Two tragedies of massive proportions in one month.

Tomorrow I hope to share what we as chaplains actually do in our work.  Pray for our work here.  It is 90+ degrees with a 90+ humidity.  Pray for the volunteers as they go out and perform sometimes dangerous acts of love. It is all done in the Love of Jesus Christ.

Disaster Relief: The Joys and Sorrows

Part of my life has always gone toward working beyond the local church to those those suffering trauma, loss and disaster.  It began with a suggestion from a former Pastor as I was moving to Robbinsville.  He simply said, “Join the Fire Department.”   It turned out to be good advice.  There was literally nothing else to do. No movie theater, no mall, closest grocery store was 45 miles away.  Unless you really liked football, (for which 5,000 people would show up in a county of 7,000) the options were few. I ended up a fire department chaplain for twenty-two years, serving four departments before officially retiring.

Five years ago I was accepted as part of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association Rapid Response Team. My first deployment was to New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy. Due to caring for my mother, then other personal issues, have not been able to be respond as I wanted. This year I’ve been invited to go as a chaplain to a number of places: Houston, TX and Mississippi for Floods, Canada for the severe Fires.  This was the first opportunity I have had to be deployed.

Might add, while known for their natural disaster work, The RRT have specially trained volunteers for domestic violence:  In the last two months our teams have been in Houston and Baton Rough for the police shootings.  We had 45 chaplains in Orlando following the shootings there. The RRT chaplains have responded to every major shooting since Newtowne, CT. There are French speaking chaplain in France and Europe who have responded in Paris, Munich, and Nice.

In 35 years since becoming a Fire Department Chaplain as well as 41 years as a Pastor I have seen both the joys and sorrows, the good and bad, and yes, the ugly, very ugly.  The time recently spent in West Virginia was so typical.  Met good people helping each other.  Volunteers from all over the country:  Pennsylvania, Michigan, Florida, Idaho, Georgia, and Virginia, to name only a few. Met a couple who were team leaders.  I knew him from somewhere.  We both had each made our first mission to New Jersey following Hurricane Sandy. The Church in Charleston not only opened its door for 100 people to sleep and eat, but also came in each morning at 5 am to fix breakfast.  Some were still there at 7 that night cleaning up.

Then there was the not so good.  The trauma of so much loss, of neighbor not helping neighbor, looting (saw a lot of open carry of weapons.)  People who lost so much getting no help while others over run with too much help.  People going from relief distributor to relief distributor and taking supplies, only to have them discovered at the local Flea Market selling piles of it.  (Many of the relief agencies have taken to marking their items for non-resale.)

Over the next few sessions I want to share of my experiences.  Not sure how as for the moment some of the sorrows outweigh the joys.  But in it all, God is still God.   God’s kingdom has not fallen.  Evil has not triumphed.  Jesus is still lord.

Robert20160718_110109_001