Responding to Loss by Suicide: The Beautiful Example of Ashley & Wynonna Judd

*Trigger Warning: Discussion of suicide.

For the past several weeks, I have been quietly grieving the headlines rolling across our news feeds. Chelsie Kryst. Katie Meyer. Sarah Shulze. Lauren Bernett. And, on April 30th, Naomi Judd. All of them beautiful, talented women. All of them lost to suicide.

What the world does not need is another commentary. We know our mental health resources are not enough. We know that the stigma needs to end. What we do need are more people using the language of mental health and suicide that is helpful, empathic, and compassionate. Last week, Ashley and Wynonna Judd did that beautifully. I’m honored to highlight them.

Anne Rulo Responding to Loss by Suicide: The Beautiful Example of Ashley & Wynonna Judd

Offered below are reflections and excerpts from Ashley’s May 12th interview with Diane Sawyer (video here) as well as the formal statement released by the family on the day Naomi died. Each contains powerful words about the experience of mental illness and losing someone to suicide.

  • “My mother is entitled to her dignity and privacy.” With the Judds’ very public platform, there is some information they could protect and some they could not. Even without a public platform, many people who lose someone by suicide find themselves the subject of curiosity or, at worst, gossip. She did a beautiful job of highlighting this tension that so many families face. In response, she offered what she had to and protected other details that will remain their private memories.

  • “She was seen and she was heard in her anguish. And, she was walked home.” Gracious. This may be the most succinct way I have ever heard someone talk about supporting someone who suffers from mental illness. Whether we saw warning signs or not, for all who have lost someone to suicide, please consider it wasn’t that our love (or theirs) wasn’t enough. In fact, it may be that love let them live longer. Even with their mother’s life ending the way it did, they know they loved her well.

  • “When we are talking about mental illness, it is important to be clear and make the distinction between our loved one and the disease. It’s very real…it lies…it’s savage.” “Our mother couldn’t hang on until she was inducted into the hall of fame by her peers. That was the level of catastrophe of what was going on inside of her because the barrier between the regard in which they held her couldn’t penetrate into her heart. And the lie that the disease told her was so convincing. The lie that you are not enough. That you’re not loved. That you’re not worthy. Her brain hurt. It physically hurt.”

    If the earlier quote encapsulates supporting someone with mental illness, this one is about understanding it. As a therapist, I have sat with several people who wanted to end their lives. Did I think that was the solution? Of course not. Could I understand why, in the pain of their circumstances, they wanted to? Absolutely. The experience of mental illness is quite literally a filter that turns positive messages and experiences on their heads. And, in some forms, it is mentally, emotionally, and physically painful. It needs empathy. She clearly articulated her mother’s years-long struggle to survive in that condition. This is likely why she used the phrase, “…my mother chose not to continue to live” and in the formal statement as a family, “We lost our mother to the disease of mental illness.”

  • Toward the end of the interview, Ashley read a letter from her sister, Wynonna. “I need to take some time to process and I need this time to myself. I’m not ready yet to speak publicly about what happened. So I know you understand why I’m not there today. We will do this piece differently…I’m here.” I loved this so very much. They are handling the loss of their mother differently and honoring the other’s choice to do so. People can journey together through loss in very different ways while still serving as support for one other.

Ashley’s interview closed by doing two things I have seen people do over and over again when they lose someone to suicide. She highlighted her mother’s incredible qualities. She reveled in the memories. In effect, she offered what so many survivors say, “Please don’t forget what an incredible person they were.” “Don’t let their exceptionalness in life be canceled by the manner of their death.”

The other thing she did was ask people to seek help and offer resources, which is exactly how I will end as well. While many people have the experience of feeling suicidal at one point or another, many get the help they need and never feel suicidal again. There are local resources you can access through work EAP, insurance, or self-pay. There are online resources like BetterHelp, TalkSpace, and Faithful Counseling. There is a national suicide hotline at 1-800-273-8255 to talk or to chat. And, in July 2022 a national three-digit number (988) will connect anyone who needs to talk to local, trained helpers who can help someone through a crisis.

Reach out if you need help and reach out if you think someone else does too. And, thank you, Ashley and Wynonna Judd for how you’ve honored your Mom and undoubtedly helped others. I hope your grief journey is blessed by the great love you showed her and that which she shared with you.

Photo by Ian Taylor on Unsplash, used with permission

It’s Hard to Be Present in Our Fast World

In our fast-paced world, I feel like I am constantly trying to set personal and family “busyness boundaries.” I am so grateful for the improvements in our technology that allow us to cook faster, go more places, instantly communicate, or get the information we need. But, the hustle is also confusing.

It’s confusing because it is hard to know what is a helpful hurry and what is a damaging one. And, it’s also hard to separate ourselves from the endorphins that come from checking off lists, padding accomplishments, and avoiding the discomfort of waiting. Believe it or not, that “ding” in our mental slot machines from getting “just one more thing done” is pretty addictive. So, even when we have the space and time to slow down, it can feel uncomfortable.

In a recent, relevant example from my own life, I take you to Walmart. I had several errands to run that night, one of which was making it to Sam’s before it closed at 8:00 pm. These stores are only a stones throw apart so when I checked the time at 7:20, I certainly had plenty of time. At this same moment, my children asked if they could read a book. Like, take a book off the shelf, sit their booties down in the aisle, and read the whole thing. So, because we had the time I said, “Sure!”

Anne Rulo It's Hard to Be Present in Our Fast World

At first, I was pleased. Who doesn’t want kids to read, right?! And, because the aisles were not crowded, they weren’t hurting a soul by plopping down and reading whatever caught their eye. Truth be told, I was rather proud of my chill. Unfortunately, that unraveled pretty quickly.

For the first few minutes, I was good. I checked my e-mail, social media, sent out a text or two. But then, I noticed I was growing uncomfortable. Nothing had changed. My children were still reading quietly and I still had plenty of time to get to Sam’s—but I started feeling anxious. Not anxious like nervous but anxious like I couldn’t sit still. I just couldn’t seem to get comfortable “being in the moment” because I wasn’t moving forward with tasks, purpose, and checking off of the proverbial list.

Thankfully, despite being uncomfortable I managed not to hurry my kids and we still made it to Sam’s in plenty of time. However, the whole situation caused me to reflect on how conditioned I am by the world’s pace and how I could stand a bit of reprogramming.

This pursuit of presence is not a new theme in my writing, but its repetition suggests how hard it is to accomplish sometimes. And, I know I’m not the only one who struggles with feeling so hustled by all the things that it’s hard to turn it off when we actually have the time and space to do so.

In the days ahead, my hope is that we can each take some time literally practicing being still. Being unstimulated. To test the boundaries of our to-do slot machines that don’t need to “ding” quite so often. While we are certainly designed to do work, we were never designed to operate at the levels the world will tempt us into if we chase every convenience, notification, and final drop of midnight oil.

Be still. At least sometimes.

When You Can’t See What God is Doing

Writing over at The Glorious Table today about a sweet little lesson I learned from the 2017 eclipse that swept the United States. See below for a preview or link here for the full post.

I am typically an “in-the-moment” kind of gal. I’m all about spontaneous adventures, being present, and looking for magic in the little things. But when a solar eclipse was on a path to be witnessed by a huge swath of the United States in 2017, I found myself completely underwhelmed. Definitely not like me.

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I just thought the whole thing seemed overblown. For weeks, there were T-shirts in Walmart and commemorative cups at work. I received endless communication from my kids’ school, telling us how they were going to let them safely witness the event without destroying their retinas. Of course, the headlines about it were everywhere.

Don’t get me wrong. I generally thought it was neat and understood that it might be a once-in-a-lifetime event. But, was it really going to be so cool that it deserved all this hype? Fast forward to August 21, solar eclipse day.

At the time, I was working on a college campus, and everyone received a little packet of solar-eclipse-related swag. It included the aforementioned commemorative cup, as well as sunglasses and a little screen-printed towel. We all left our offices and headed out together, pulling up chairs and blankets around the campus football field. The time the sun was in partial eclipse was long, nearly an hour and a half, but we were told “totality” would last only about a minute. I chatted with my coworkers and prepared to think, “Well, that was neat” and move on, underwhelmed. I could not have been more wrong, but not for the reasons you might think.

Anne Rulo When You Can't See What God is Doing

As I lay there on the grass, the darkness of “totality” was quick. It was shocking how dark it got, and I could hear the gasps of surprise from the hundreds of people around me. The most incredible thing was not the eclipse itself, or even the darkness, but the response from the natural world around us. As the sky went dark, the birds and bugs went absolutely bananas, making all the noises of nightfall. It was not just normal nighttime loud—it came on like a roar, all the natural things responding to this unique event.

Isn’t that interesting? The focus was a visual event, but because we couldn’t see it safely, instead, we had to pay attention to the awesomeness of everything around it, echoing how they were affected by the event.

In the time since the eclipse, I’ve felt foolish about my pooh-pooh attitude toward the whole thing. But as he does any time we don’t meet a moment with the right attitude, God has used that experience to teach me. One, to check my gratitude, and two, to show me how he doesn’t just show up in ways we can (or should) directly see. Sometimes, we only get to witness his awesomeness by paying attention to other signs.

Here are just a few of my own real-life examples:

  • I can’t look directly at this pandemic and see the good in it. However, I can see how it has prompted several family members and friends to quit jobs, change careers, and take risks that have benefited their lives in immeasurable ways. I can see how people have been forced to pause and reevaluate their lives.

For more examples, link to the full post here…

Women’s History Month: Celebrating Women in Mental Health

Closing out Women’s History Month with some neat “mini-bios” I got to write about female pioneers in mental health! Please see the preview below or link to Missouri Partners in Prevention for the full post.

As is common in history classrooms, sometimes we don’t always learn a complete representation of all the pioneers who contributed to a particular subject or science. This trend holds true in mental health where names like Freud, Pavlov, Bandura, and Maslow lead the way in many of our psychology and education classes. While these men were brilliant thinkers in their own right, our understanding of mental health care is only enhanced by learning about some of the brilliant women who also contributed in a time and culture that may not have been as welcoming to their leadership, ideas, or work.

Below are brief descriptions of just a few women who made incredible contributions to the field of mental health as well as links and resources to follow if you would like to learn more about them and many others not mentioned here.

Women Pioneers in Mental Health

Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence, photo credit NY Presbyterian Health Matters

Dr. Margaret Morgan Lawrence: After losing her brother to a congenital condition, Dr. Lawrence was the only African-American student in her class and among only ten women at Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. After beginning her career as a pediatrician, she later returned to school and became a psychiatrist. For 21 years, she served as the Chief of Psychiatry for Infants and Children at Harlem Hospital, accomplishing countless firsts not only for women but for African Americans in psychiatry.

Dorothea Dix, photo credit Wikipedia

Dorothea Dix: This exceptional activist transformed the profession of nursing through her work during the Civil War and later toured hospitals across the country, reporting troubling findings about the treatment of mentally unwell people. She later established asylums in several states and advocated for improved care for the mentally ill throughout the remainder of her life.

Anna Freud, photo credit Britannica

Anna Freud: Being the daughter of Sigmund Freud must have had an influence, not the least of which was introducing Ms. Freud in a very close way to the emerging field of psychoanalytics. Not only did she become an influential psychologist in her own right, she also was a pioneer in child psychoanalysis and an advocate for the expansion of children’s mental health care.

Nellie Bly, photo credit Wikipedia

Nellie Bly: Beginning her career as an investigative journalist, she learned of horrendous conditions endured by patients at a New York State asylum. She then posed as insane, lived within the walls of that facility for ten days, and then wrote an expose that led to mental health reform. Her experience is also detailed in a book, “Ten Days in a Madhouse.”

For the full post including additional mini-bios on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Elizabeth Packer, link here.

If Jesus Wasn’t In a Hurry, Maybe We Shouldn’t Be Either

As a child, I have distinct memories of a specific thing I used to do with my eyes when things were moving quickly. For example, any time I was laying on the floor below a ceiling fan I would try to visually catch one of the blades and follow it around at least once if not a few times, based on how quickly it was spinning. I was also the kid who would look out the car window on the highway, trying to keep my eyes fixed on some point in the distance as we flew past. Of course, with each of these, I was more successful seeing something when we were moving slowly and far less successful when we were moving quickly.

Anne Rulo If Jesus Wasn't In a Hurry, Maybe We Shouldn't Be Either

This childhood visual has stayed with me as a metaphor in our oddly “efficiency-obsessed” world. Yes, I am very grateful for microwaves, my family may not eat otherwise. Of course, I am super pumped that I can deposit my checks through a mobile app, especially since I don’t have a bank in my small town. And sure, I am fully on board with the no-more-commercials version of watching television. It’s awesome.

And yet, it is difficult to have efficiency in certain areas of life without being tricked into the belief that it is always a good idea. Because it’s definitely not. To that point, here is my best and most enduring example. The Big Guy Himself.

Jesus Was Not in a Hurry Physically

I cannot find a single example in the Bible where Jesus was in a hurry. In fact, if anything, He was decidedly unhurried and present in whatever He was doing, not allowing even death to change His pace or focus (ex. John 11:1-7 & Mark 5:21-43). I know that He didn’t have the same information or transportation technology we do but, He could do things like make the blind see (John 9) heal someone’s withered hand (Mark 3:1-6) and, transfigure into light (Matt. 17:1-13). Something tells me if Jesus had thought it helpful to bippity-boppity-boo Himself along from place to place He would have done so. But, He didn’t. There’s a message there.

Jesus Was Not in a Hurry Emotionally

As a mental health professional, this one is even more powerful. As much as I love that Jesus didn’t physically hustle His sandals all over the Middle East, He also didn’t hustle Himself or others along emotionally. In a culture that is notoriously pain-avoidant, we often don’t have good models for how to sit with pain. Instead, we often try to get past, over, around, under, or numb it to make it go away.

In contrast, Jesus seemed to understand that some emotion needs to be endured, rather than avoided or hurried. Nowhere is this more obvious than in the Garden of Gethsemane. In His final hours before being arrested, Jesus was clearly distressed. And yet, rather than avoid or hurry through, the account suggests that he spent at least three hours engaged with His emotions, in prayer, asking for help, eventually arriving at a space of acceptance for what lay ahead.

This example, while a powerful exclamation point, servs as a continuation of the pattern He had shown in previous moments when He didn’t make a woman stop crying, instead letting her wipe His feet with her hair (Luke 7:44-47) and crying with His friends when their brother died (John 11:32-35). He cried and let people cry. That’s pretty brave stuff.

Slowing Down Helps Us Love Ourselves & Others Better

While I know our culture and technology are different, Jesus’ example of patience and presence is a really powerful message. And, if implemented, it can also be a really valuable ministry for us. If we are not in a hurry we are better able to notice what is going on inside of ourselves, better able to bring it to our consciousness and prayer life. And, for others, we are more likely to notice suffering and be present enough to stop and help or at least support them while they hurt.

This world moves really, really fast but, that doesn’t mean we have to. We need to move slow enough to make sure that our eyes and hearts can catch what’s around us, rather than having it pass by in a blur. No one ever leaves this life saying, “I’m so glad I got everything done so efficiently.” But, we might just end up with the privilege of saying, “I’m so glad I slowed down and got to really live and love the world around me.”

Blessings on your braking.

Photo by Timon Studler on Unsplash, used with permission

The Hidden Ministry in Garage Sales

I must say, this has to be one of the strangest, most random blog titles I’ve ever chosen, and yet, it fits perfectly. Welcome to a quick reflection on the upcoming “garage sale season” and ways it can help us love, serve, and honor one another’s stories.

The inspiration came last summer when I added things I didn’t want to move to my friend’s sale. The day dawned cold, rainy, and we weren’t sure if anyone would come by. But, true to garage sale culture, people still showed up. However, the even bigger surprise was finding ourselves in the midst of so many incredible opportunities to connect with others.

You see, garage sales are one of the only times people are just going to show up at your home, unannounced and unknown, to look at your stuff. Depending on your set-up, they are not just in front of your house but likely in your driveway, garage, or possibly even inside. It is a socially intimate stretch for the garage sale-er and the garage sale-ee existing within the physical, emotional, and psychological space normally reserved for family and friends. Maybe this is why the really cool conversations happen sometimes.

As I’ve not done many garage sales, I was not prepared for the number of people who came to shop but, also to talk. As they made their way around the tables, they didn’t just ask about prices. They also sometimes asked about purpose, history, and what memories it brought up for them. As examples, I want to share about two people we met that day. We’ll call them Mike and Carol.

Mike, a thin gentleman in his 60’s, asked about a yellow bike. He shared that he had recently lost over eighty pounds following gastric bypass surgery and hoped to continue his health journey. Then, pausing briefly and tearing up, he also mentioned it looked like his Dad’s bike, and he missed him very much. It was so neat to hear his story, congratulate him, and offer comfort to his Dad’s memory at the same time. He walked that bike to his car with a smile.

Anne Rulo The Hidden Ministry in Garage Sales

Carol, a grandma, was definitely not typical grandma age. She looked, patiently searching for toys and books for her seven grandchildren. Of the seven, she shared that only one was biologically related. Even so, she had recently taken all of them in to help support her now-sober, getting-her-degree daughter-in-law after a tough start in life. She was clearly proud of all of them and there was no suggestion of a burden. I was touched by her generosity and helping her love them with “stuff” we didn’t need anymore.

In addition to the exchanges from that day, I’ve also enjoyed some items and stories from garage sales as well. Things like baby items for my son after learning I was pregnant. Fifty-cent toys for nieces and nephews who got to hear about “who used to use that toy.” And, the “big kid bike” conversation that happened because the seller’s kid was now past the stage mine was entering. In short, all of it was more than a transfer of goods. It was the honoring of one another’s journeys.

So, as the days grow warm and neighborhood garage sale days arrive, let us not go out “just because.” Instead, may we enter those driveways and welcome people to ours with intention. Whatever items we are done with not only leaves us with “stuff” to offer, but also leaves us with storiesand maybe even some wisdom and love to pass along too.

It is in this exchange of connection, not simply things, where the hidden ministry in garage sales is found. May we keep our eyes open for all the dealsand the opportunities.

Photo by Charisse Kenion, used with permission

Nothing is Too Messy for God

Last year, our family moved to a home in the country. Cows next door, can’t see my neighbors, beautiful views in every direction. It has been a place of deep rest for this introvert, regularly thanking God as in Psalm 18:19 for “bringing me out into a spacious place.”

I paint this picture of our rural Eden for the contrast ahead. As you might imagine, some of the roads around here are gravel, as is the case less than a half-mile from where I live. One of my very favorite things to do is take a walk down that road until I get to a high bridge overlooking a peaceful Moreau River. Most days this is where I pause, offer a brief prayer and intention for the day, then head back.

Of course, the very first time I ever walked to this bridge I didn’t know what I would find. I didn’t know I was going to pass a beautiful farm. I didn’t know there would always be two horses, one sway-backed and speckled, one sleek like Black Beauty. I didn’t know about the gurgling creek or the funny flock of turkeys. But, most of all, I didn’t know that in the middle of all this beauty I was going to have my brain and eyes seared by the graffiti that “decorates” this bridge overlooking the beautiful river.

Y’all, I am not kidding. I could sit in a room for hours trying to think really filthy thoughts and I wouldn’t come up with some of the stuff on this bridge. There are curse words everywhere. The racist and sexist language and images are at the least upsetting, if not disturbing. And the (ahem) anatomy. My heavens. It’s a full-on lesson in human sexuality. I’ve never seen anything quite like it.

So, why am I sharing about a graffiti-covered bridge over a beautiful Missouri river? Because God created such a sweet moment for me last fall, likely while I was standing smack on top of a rather colorful adaptation of drugs or genitalia.

Anne Rulo Nothing is Too Messy For God

That day, as I looked upriver with the early mist still rising, a deer stepped down from the bank. I’m really not trying to over-spiritualize it, but it was truly breathtaking. The song from Psalm 42 began in my mind, “As the deer panteth for the water so my soul longeth after thee” and I snapped a couple of pictures. She crossed slowly, stepping out on the other side, disappearing just as quickly as she arrived.

I stood there for quite a while, thinking about the beauty of that deer contrasted with the mess I was standing in on the bridge and teared up just a bit. It just felt like God was saying, “Nothing is too messy for Me, my child. I can always come to you, wherever you are.” Because, while this girl may not be spending time defacing bridges, I’m for certain making mistakes and messes somewhere. Of course, we all are.

Dear reader, today was just an opportunity to remind us no matter what mess we’re in, God can meet us there. We’ve never needed to be cleaned up for Him to show up. And, we’ve never needed to be anywhere near perfect for Him to cross right in front of us when we need Him most.

“As the deer panteth for the water
So my soul longeth after Thee
You alone are my heart’s desire
And I long to worship Thee”

Blessings on your beautiful, messy day.

Coping as We Wait for Spring

Writing over at The Glorious Table today about waiting for spring literally and in the “winter seasons” of our lives. Turns out, the ways that we cope in both of those “winters” can be similar. Read below for a preview or link to the full post here.

The changing seasons are one of the most tangible ways we regularly witness God’s design. Each year begins with the dark, cold months of winter, wherein nothing seems to be happening. Thankfully, those months eventually give way to spring, filled with bright green shoots of life and budding trees. The following warmth of summer feels abundant, with lush foliage, bright flowers, and temperatures that let us get out and enjoy our surroundings. Then, predictably, the temperatures drop, descending through the fall months into winter again. And so it continues, the seasons as they have always been and will always be, until the Lord comes again.

We experience this literal waiting for spring each natural winter. However, we also experience it figuratively in the “winters” our lives. Being a human in this broken world means each of us will occasionally have winter-like seasons. These times can last anywhere from days to years, sometimes making the wait for “spring” incredibly difficult to endure. Let’s consider some different ways “winter” can manifest in our lives.

Anne Rulo The Glorious Table Coping as We Wait for Spring
  • Winter is getting an odd test result and knowing you won’t know the full truth until next week.
  • Winter is a broken relationship and hoping it will someday be restored.
  • Winter is applying for a desperately needed job, school, or opportunity and not knowing when you will hear back.
  • Winter is a long health battle and being unsure which side of heaven the victory will be on.
  • Winter is a difficult career season and not knowing when or if you will enjoy your work again.
  • In short, winter is a hard season of waiting and hoping that spring will come as soon as possible.

Given that we all experience “winter” seasons when the world feels a little dark, cold, and lifeless, it is important that we explore ways to make it through. Rather than giving up in despair, these winter-like experiences are a time for “coping and hoping,” trying our best to believe God is doing his work out of sight just as he does with the natural world each year. In these difficult “winter” seasons, coping may look like:

  • Calling on friends and family like we do during the holidays and coming together for support
  • Hunkering down for a time as during a snowstorm and waiting for the worst to pass
  • Gathering our creature comforts, favorite foods, comfy clothes and finding enjoyment where we can
  • Treating it as we might during Advent, focusing on the hope that spring will surely come at some point
  • Making sure to celebrate when and what we can, even when the future is unknown
  • Remembering that all seasons are temporary
  • Reminding ourselves of the truth that God is always working, even when it’s dark and cold
  • Knowing that hope, in view of all that seems hopeless, is the stuff of deep faith

To assure you that these strategies are not just flippant suggestions from a carefree woman, I will share that my own life has only recently emerged from a lengthy “winter” experience. After years of transition and some career mismatches, our family finally seems to be entering a time of fruition and stability we have not known for a long time. I am so deeply grateful to be in this new spring season but, I remember all too clearly how hard that winter wait was, even as people reminded me spring would someday come.

To finish reading the full post, along with some encouraging verses, link here.

5 Reflections for Ash Wednesday

I must admit, I feel a little funny offering a reflection on Ash Wednesday. It is such a sacred day in some denominations. But, because it has never been a part of my own church experience, I somehow feel unqualified. Oh well, as out-of-place as I may feel, this day has become important to me. May this reflection bless you, offer gratitude to those who welcomed me in their traditions, and gather us all toward the coming glory of Easter.

It was years after I became a Christian when I had my first experience with Ash Wednesday. While I was (vaguely) aware of Lent, Ash Wednesday specifics were completely unknown to me. When I showed up at the Catholic school I was serving in at the time, I found myself completely confused as to why all the kids had black smudges on their heads. Imagine my embarrassment as the “adult” in the room who definitely had to have teenagers teach me about the ashes they received.

Anne Rulo Ash Wednesday 5 Reflections

My second experience actually took place at a non-denominational event when someone placed ashes on the foreheads of those in attendance. I remember really liking the symbolism. And, I remember feeling like I was part of an important ritual, somehow beautifully and mysteriously tying me to my own (many, many) long-passed Catholic ancestors.

The last (and ongoing) influence has been through the church my husband was raised in, a Lutheran congregation. It is there where I have learned so much about the specific days and rituals practiced by so many Christians throughout Lent (the 40 days before Easter, not including Sundays) and Eastertide (the 50 days after Easter). I have written many times about how my own Easter experience has been blessed and enhanced by their approach to days in this season such as Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday.

The Beauty of Ash Wednesday

Whether ashes land on our foreheads or not, the beauty of Ash Wednesday lies primarily in two things, perspective and reflection. As we near the two-year anniversary of a worldwide pandemic, and watch with tears the horrors that are taking place in Ukraine, we are uniquely positioned to be aware of our own mortality. We do not (and are not meant to) last forever. So, what does that mean for us?

A few verses often used in Ash Wednesday services:

Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Gen. 2:7

“By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” Gen. 3:19

“All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return.” Ecc. 3:20

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust.” Ps. 103:13-14

As much of a downer as these verses may sound initially, there is truly such a gift to be found in the recognition of our mortality. Let’s consider just a few:

  1. When we reflect on how short our time really is, it focuses us. We are less likely to spend time or energy on trivial things, instead clarifying our ideals and practices to match what truly matters.

  2. When we get how frail our bodies are, we can stop obsessing over our appearance. Yes, take good care of your “temple” but our outward appearance was never meant to be idealized or worshiped, it was meant to be used in service to others.

  3. When we grasp what we came from, and what we will return to, we can let go of all that unnecessary self-importance. Yes, we are immeasurably valuable to God but we also think way too much of ourselves sometimes. Living in this paradox is our lifelong battle between humility and pride.

  4. In Psalm 103 above, we hear God’s love for us. In our ever present struggle to “have it all together” He says, no need, I got you. Follow Me, for I know how hard it is in that dust-bound shell of yours. It is My compassion that will get you through these years.

  5. Most importantly, the reflection and embracing of our mortality sets us up for a celebration of Easter like nothing else. How much more the joy of that day when we realize how the love of Jesus will be with us long after these human bodies are gone.

Well, there you go, folks. An Ash Wednesday devotional from a non-denominational gal who has come to love the symbolism of this day. Whether you attend a formal service to recognize the start of Lent or just step out your door and run your fingers through the earth, I hope your experience is a blessed one. From dust we came and to dust we will return. Pumped to see you someday on the other side in glory.

Photo by Ahna Ziegler on Unsplash, used with permission

Teens & Farmers: Encouraging Mental Health News

Each month, I receive a newsletter from the American Counseling Association filled with industry headlines, opportunities for continuing education, etc. While reading one recently, I noticed some encouraging mental health news for two of my favorite groups, farmers and teenagers. As a therapist and high school coach’s wife in a rural community, these definitely have a piece of my heart.

Texting Your Teen Can Actually Help Them

Teenagers, phones, and texting. Sometimes frustrating, right? But, let’s back up and consider a few things developmentally. A generation ago, when people had trouble talking with teens, they were encouraged to try less “socially intense” options. Counselors suggested talking with teens in the car, over an activity, at night when the lights were lower, etc. The idea was it was easier for teens to talk sometimes when the environment was less intense.

As strange as that may sound, it makes sense developmentally. In the teen years, a young person’s not-yet-fully-developed brain is in “gas-on-pedal” mode, navigating a huge amount of growth, learning, and emotion. It can help us, and them, to remember they think differently than adults. Therefore, alternate modes of communication can be helpful and effective.

Anne Rulo Teens & Farmers Encouraging Mental Health News

So, what does this have to do with texting? Think of it as the digital version of talking while not looking directly at each other. As much as we would love face-to-face conversations, we have to remember that these kids are “digital natives.” Their entire existence has been shaped by technology and their brains are literally wired to receive digital communication as real and authentic. So, when you text a supportive message to your teen it feels real, it matters, and this research shows it can decrease the risk of anxiety, depression, and suicidal ideation for young people at risk. Telehealth, virtual counseling, and texts from good ol’ Mom and Dad can all be effective ways to help our teens in the digital age. (See below for more resources.)

Farmers: More Willing to Talk About Mental Health

As we jump from teens to farmers, I could not be more excited about the trends in a recent survey by the American Farm Bureau. Farmers have some unique risk factors for mental health issues and, specifically, suicide. The reasons for this are many. Farmers are part of a cultural narrative that promotes self-sufficiency, masculinity, and “just work harder.” Of course, those ideals are not negative in and of themselves. However, if they are held above reaching out or getting help when needed, it works against them. By nature of their jobs, many farmers are isolated, often working under difficult circumstances that impact their livelihood. Additionally, many also check several high-risk boxes associated with suicide as middle-aged white men with access to firearms.*

*Please note, the point about firearms is not against ownership. But, no matter how you slice it, statistics hold that firearms are how half of all suicides are completed. One of the primary ways to prevent suicide is to create space and time between the suicidal person and access to the means of death. Put simply, farmers are at increased risk simply because, if they find themselves in a mental health crisis, a gun is probably familiar, accessible, and nearby.

Anne Rulo Teens & Farmers Encouraging Mental Health News

Well, gee lady, that all sounded pretty tough. What’s good news? I’m glad you asked. Read this excerpt from this December 2021 American Farm Bureau’s survey:

“Nearly half of rural adults and two in five farmers/farm workers say they are more comfortable talking to their doctor about personal experiences with stress and mental health compared to a year ago. Four in five rural adults (83%) and 92% of farmers/farm workers say they would be comfortable talking about solutions with a friend or family member who is dealing with stress or a mental health condition. And, significantly, the percentage of farmers/farm workers who say they would be comfortable talking to friends and family members has increased 22% since April 2019.”

Here are a couple takeaway points: 1) These incredible, hard-working people are becoming more and more likely to seek help with stress or a mental health condition when needed and 2) they are still usually going to friends and family first. Farmers (and most other populations) are more likely to end up on your doorstep or phone line than mine. Remember how important you are and offer a listening ear if the time comes. Your help is more important than you know.

For farmers, teens, or anyone else who may need help, here is a list of resources you can check out for support:

Photo by Daria Nepriakhina on Unsplash, used with permission
Photo by Jed Owen on Unsplash, used with permission