Friday, July 30, 2010

Back Home in Southern Illinois

Hazel's 94th Birthday Party July 2, 2010

Our family has gathered in our ancestral home land of Southern Illinois. Karen was reared in Pinckneyville and we will have Hazel's funeral service there tomorrow at Pyatt's Funeral Home.

For those of you that have forgotten your American history or never learned it in the first place, Colonel Pinckney was a hero that was in the Revolutionary War. In Southern Illinois, being heroic along with General Washington is enough to name your city for.

I come from Ina, a village of some 300 souls when I was a child. I attended Mt. Vernon High School located in the county seat a few miles from Pinckneyville.

Down here in the coal country, the culture has a particular bent to it that makes us unique in all the world. That is one of the things that gives us so much pleasure as we gather at weddings and funerals because we can regale each other with stories about our past that seem hilarious now but were dead serious then.

Hazel pretty much outlived everyone else she knew and loved back here, including four or five of her pastors that she had asked to do her funeral service. When she asked Chaplain Dick Sedgwick to officiate at her funerals we warned him that he was six or seven Ministers who died before Hazel. He asked for our prayers.

A funeral is a combination of a party, family reunion and a nostalgically sad time of remembering the dearly departed. Hazel was a fascinating interaction of faith, fun and flippancy. In fact, she was the queen bee of about every community in which she ever lived.

The service tomorrow will be a great time of telling Hazel stories, God stories and family stories. It will be a blast.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Crisis in American Society

Peter Drucker was one of the smartest and the wisest men of the 20Th century. He is the "father" of what is now called, "Management and Organizational Development", the study and leadership of organizational health.

Bob Buford is a very successful businessman and a committed Christian. He writes a monthly newsletter about faith, business, leadership and healthy organizations. He also studied under Mr. Drucker and often adds one or more of his comments to the newsletter.

This month Bob Buford added the following Drucker comments.

I vividly remember a dinner I had during the 1990’s with Peter Drucker. He said, “What we had in the 30’s was a healthy society sitting on a sick economy. What we have now is a sick society sitting on a healthy economy (the 90’s).

My question now: “What do you do when you have a sick society sitting on a sick economy?” Oh, how I miss Peter’s wisdom in these turbulent times.

I also miss Mr. Drucker's wisdom, but I am not so sure I agree with him on one point. I certainly agree that we had a sick society sitting on a healthy economy back in the Nineties. There is no doubt that we Christians need to ramp up our intentional efforts to bring healing and growth to the individuals, families and organizations in which we live and work.

However, did we have a sick economy and a healthy society during the Thirties? I do not think so but we did have a confluence of values that allowed many people to advance economically and socially. Today we do not have that consensus.

Never the less, our greatest need today is not money but spiritual, emotional strengthening. Dr. Robert Fogel, the Nobel Prize Winner, wrote about this in his book The Fourth Great Awakening. Can Christians be as aware of the need as a Jewish Economist like Fogel?

As a Family Therapist I read the current literature about family life, functionality and dysfunction and societal trends. There seems to be an agreement that we are seeing a precipitous stage of regression in healthy family functioning. I agree.

This issue is close to my heart because I have been personally, organizationally and a teacher in healing and growth for many years. Christian leaders who are not concerned about advancing the healing ministry of Jesus but who are concerned about the moral, ethical and relational dysfunctions they see are barking at the moon not really making a difference.

It is a mystery to me why Pastors, Evangelists, Teachers, Missionaries and Peer Helpers are not focusing more on healing the broken hearted and setting the captives free. Do you know why? Write your thoughts on this issue.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Hazel's Arrangements

We will go back to our ancestral home in southern Illinois to have the funeral service for my wife, Karen Sweeten's mother, Hazel Guriel. The funeral service will be at the Pyatt Funeral Home Saturday morning, July 31st. For details, go to Pyatt's web Pyatt Funeral Home to see the service times, obituary, photo, etc. in Pinckneyville, Illinois.

Pinckneyville is a beautiful town not far from St. Louis. Karen and her sister Toni Smith grew up in Pinckneyville and graduated from that high school. They are proud Panthers.

We will have a special worship service at The Mason Christian Village sometime later. We will let you know all the details as they emerge. The staff and residents of MCV have been such wonderful friends, extended family and professional care givers that we cannot leave them out of an opportunity to remember Hazel's life.

Greatie Hazel and Great Grand Kids


Hazel invented her own unique name for the Great Grand Kids to call her. She coined the term, Greatie, because, as she reasoned, "These children already have Grand Parents so they ought not have to call me 'Grand Mother'".

This photo is a wonderful representation of how we can all teach our offspring to "Honor your father and mother so your days on this earth will be prsoperous". Ephesian 6:12 These kinds of values are more caught than taught and our children, Greaties' Grand Children and their children learned it well. They loved and honored Greatie.
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Thursday, July 22, 2010

A Wonderful Mother in Law

At approximately 7:30 PM July 21 my Mother in Law reached a lifelong goal. She met Jesus face to face. Hazel Guriel was born on July 2, 1916, in Perry County, Illinois. She was the mother of Karen Mayer Sweeten and Toni Smith. Gary and Karen have two children Julie Sweeten Knispel and Timothy Sweeten, four great grand children, Jacob and Lily Knispel and Jack and Emma Sweeten for whom she created the name for them to call her: Greatie. It is an appropriate name.

Hazel spent her last days on earth in the Mason Christian Village where the entire staff showed her such love and grace that her life was extended by months and maybe years. From the Doctors and Medical Team to Nurses, Aides, Food Staff, Housekeeping Staff, Activities Department, Chaplain and Administration along with Hospice Hazel was enveloped in the soft comfort of human nurture and spiritual power of a Spirit filled community. She fought against heart disease and had victory, combated cancer and finally stopped fighting against death to meet Jesus.

The last days of Hazel Guriel were spent with Toni, Karen, David and Julia Knispel, Tim and Shelley Sweeten and a loving family of grand kids and great grand kids. They were joined by many from the Mason Christian Village staff and friends in the community such as Oscar and Doris Perkins and their son Jeff and grandson Aaron. Her last day on this earth was a wonderful day of singing, praising the Lord, telling Hazel stories mixed with hugs, kisses and statements of affection. She was a fighter that overcame extreme poverty, loss of three husbands and managed to be a single mother while running a small business. The combination of faith, hope and love with music and remembrances gave her permission to stop fighting and open her arms to the everlasting God and Father.

What we experienced personally was much like what we might see in a movie or read in a novel as a perfect way to meet our Maker. It was a scene that matched perfectly the research on how a family best faces the end of our journey on earth and begins a new journey in heaven. There were tears of laughter and tears of grief. Praise to God for 94 years of perseverance on this earth and shouts of anticipation for what is to come.

I have seen research on the power of touch, affirmation, nurture and worship to heal, release and strengthen. But never before had I experienced it so greatly in person. I was absent from my parents when they met Christ and was never privileged to be in such a warm group of worshiping people when the end came to a fellow traveler. It was a touch of heaven on earth.

Hazel was healed but not cured. We often mistake healing and being cured. There is no cure for dying. All of us will die sooner or later. However, God often heals us of emotional, physical, spiritual and relational troubles. The last four years Hazel spent at Mason Christian Village was an almost constant series of healing even when she was fighting cancer, pain and fear.

Thank God for the community of love and power at Mason Christian Village. It lives up to its name.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Power of Love at the Death of a Loved One

My Mother in Law, Hazel Guriel, just celebrated her birthday on July 2 at the Mason Christian Village where she has lived since early in 2006. Hazel was joined by her family to remember God's love and grace for the past 94 years of her life.

Today Hazel lies in a coma at MCV and is near death. She has faced death down several times in her life and we have seen her come back time after time. Here is some of that battle that I have seen first hand. It is a testimony that encourages my faith and affirms the stuff I have taught about faith, hope and love for forty years since I did a doctoral dissertation in 1975 on what "works in counseling and caring relationships".

Last Sunday morning I was scheduled to preach at The Horizon Community Church. The topic was, ironically, on the importance of Grand parenting to family life. Karen, her sister and our daughter and her daughter were in Disney World enjoying a well deserved vacation.At about 8:20 as I was getting ready to leave the house for Horizon, my telephone rang and it was a nurse at MCV. She was a dear care giver who had loved and served Hazel for four years and her voice was filled with concern as she said, "I think you need to call Karen in Florida and get over here as soon as possible."

I immediately went to MCV and saw that Hazel was in deep distress. Her breathing was labored, and halting and her skin looked very bad. I had visited her often that week and she had been about as spunky, alive and interactive as any 94 year old I knew. Now she was in very bad shape. When a person this age has any trouble it can be fatal.

Hazel continues to cling to life and has actually improved in her vital signs but remains in a coma. Over the past few days Hazel's room has seen a constant stream of resident, friends, nurses, aides and relatives coming and going with hugs, kisses, stories and prayers as well as songs and tears.

Although Hazel cannot speak, she has shown nonverbal responses to many if not most of those caring interactions. For the past forty years I have studied research about the power of caring touch and warm verbal comment to bring physical, emotional and spiritual improvements in others. For the past four days I have seen the truths of that research played out in the life of this wonderful friend.

In one example, one of the Food Managers named Tim was a real favorite of Hazel. They teased each other and hugged each other almost every time they met in the cafeteria or dining room. Haze's running joke consistently poked Tim about his girl friend and the fact that she wanted to dance at his wedding.

Tim came in to visit her Monday at the low point of her vital signs. With an oxygen count of 65-67 and blood pressure that was getting lower by the hour, Tim hugged her and joked about getting better so she could dance at his wedding. Almost immediately her levels went up with oxygen at 84-85 and BP rising.

Jeff Perkins, son of Hazels next door friends, came by and prayed, sang and chatted. Her vitals got better and she relaxed dramatically.

There is no substitute for love, hugs and prayer. Plus, it is free, easily done and there are no bad side effects. To think that pills are the answer removes from possibility the basic answers God has outlined in the Bible. Praise the Lord we who follow Christ can do all of the above.

If you want to grow in faith, hope and love go to my Sweeten Life web page and download my book, Hope and Change for Humpty Dumpty.

Students Don't Care

There are research studies on almost every conceivable topic. Some topics are seemingly important and some seem trivial. A recent research study seems to be very important to us as a nation. Dr. Keith Ablow wrote on this recently on the Fox News Web. He said:

A University of Michigan Study of nearly 14,000 college students has found that they have less empathy than college students did during the 1980s or 1990s. In fact, today’s college students scored about 40 percent lower in empathy than their counterparts did 20 or 30 years ago.

If accurate, this study has important implications for America. As I wrote in my last post, "Empathy is critically important to healthy relationships." I suggest you go to the Fox News web or to Dr. Ablow's web Living the Truth to read how he characterizes this issue.

If America's youth are losing the ability to EMPATHIZE with others, we are really moving into troubled waters. Without EMPATHY, we will move farther away from good parenting, caring for hurting people and the ability to understand how to correct bad habits. This skill is foundational to an orderly society. Take a look at the drug cartels in Mexico if you want to see what happens when EMPATHY is destroyed.

If you build your life on a house a cards it will fall when the storms of life come and blow on it. Jesus the Messiah

Can You Hear Me Now?

The ability to hear and understand other people is essential to healthy
relationships. It does not take a Doctorate in Counseling for bright people to figure that out but it did take a Doctorate for me to see how important understanding is to good family life, successful businesses and effective teaching. It is, of course, also core to good therapy.

The ability of one person to truly understand another is called, EMPATHY.

The story of Jesus and the man born blind reveals why some people cannot understand. Here is a man who received his eyesight and could see objects for the first time in his life. Just imagine how exciting and thrilling that would be for the man and his family to say nothing about his friends and neighbors in that small village. They all knew him and saw him and talked with him. They had known him from the day of his birth. They had debated why he was born blind. They asked, "Was it because his parents had sinned?" Or, "Was it his hidden sins" that brought such a terrible disability into his life?

If this miracle occurred in the life of one of your family members how would you feel? Would you feel joy, awe, fear, relief or jealousy that he was blessed and you weren't? Would you be able to tune into his feelings and be EMPATHIC with his feelings and thoughts? Or would your own inner reaction be so strong that it would filter out an appropriate response to him?

Review the story and make a list of those who had EMPATHY for the man that was healed and a list of those who did not seem to be able to tune into his situation.

Who did not EMPATHIZE with the man?

What did they do?
What did not not do?

Who did EMPATHIZE with the man?

Why do you think they did or did not show EMPATHY to the man?

Monday, July 19, 2010

Do You Love to Serve?

My last post was the story from from John 9 that told about Jesus healing the man born blind. He not only broke the traditions of the time by healing this man he really threw the cat in with the pigeons by doing it on the Sabbath.

As you read this post, write down the various characters you see and describe them as to their personalities and focus. Who was compassionate? Who "Loved and kept the Sabbath pure? Who tried to escape notice by acting like Sergeant Schultz by saying, "I know nothing?"

Who took stands for truth but was persecuted? Who had faith and who lacked faith? Who best represented you in the story?

Friday, July 16, 2010

Jesus Healed and Others Hated

John 9 (The Message)

With whom do we identify in this story?

1-2 Walking down the street, Jesus saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked, "Rabbi, who sinned: this man or his parents, causing him to be born blind?" 3-5Jesus said, "You're asking the wrong question. You're looking for someone to blame. There is no such cause-effect here. Look instead for what God can do. We need to be energetically at work for the One who sent me here, working while the sun shines. When night falls, the workday is over. For as long as I am in the world, there is plenty of light. I am the world's Light."

6-7 He said this and then spit in the dust, made a clay paste with the saliva, rubbed the paste on the blind man's eyes, and said, "Go, wash at the Pool of Siloam" (Siloam means "Sent"). The man went and washed—and saw.

8 Soon the town was buzzing. His relatives and those who year after year had seen him as a blind man begging were saying, "Why, isn't this the man we knew, who sat here and begged?"

9 Others said, "It's him all right!"

But others objected, "It's not the same man at all. It just looks like him."

He said, "It's me, the very one."

10 They said, "How did your eyes get opened?"

11 "A man named Jesus made a paste and rubbed it on my eyes and told me, 'Go to Siloam and wash.' I did what he said. When I washed, I saw."

12 "So where is he?"

"I don't know."

13-15 They marched the man to the Pharisees. This day when Jesus made the paste and healed his blindness was the Sabbath. The Pharisees grilled him again on how he had come to see. He said, "He put a clay paste on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see."

16 Some of the Pharisees said, "Obviously, this man can't be from God. He doesn't keep the Sabbath."

Others countered, "How can a bad man do miraculous, God-revealing things like this?" There was a split in their ranks.

17 They came back at the blind man, "You're the expert. He opened your eyes. What do you say about him?"

He said, "He is a prophet."

18-19 The Jews didn't believe it, didn't believe the man was blind to begin with. So they called the parents of the man now bright-eyed with sight. They asked them, "Is this your son, the one you say was born blind? So how is it that he now sees?"

20-23 His parents said, "We know he is our son, and we know he was born blind. But we don't know how he came to see—haven't a clue about who opened his eyes. Why don't you ask him? He's a grown man and can speak for himself." (His parents were talking like this because they were intimidated by the Jewish leaders, who had already decided that anyone who took a stand that this was the Messiah would be kicked out of the meeting place. That's why his parents said, "Ask him. He's a grown man.")

24 They called the man back a second time—the man who had been blind— and told him, "Give credit to God. We know this man is an impostor."

25 He replied, "I know nothing about that one way or the other. But I know one thing for sure: I was blind . . . I now see."

26 They said, "What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?"

27 "I've told you over and over and you haven't listened. Why do you want to hear it again? Are you so eager to become his disciples?"

28-29 With that they jumped all over him. "You might be a disciple of that man, but we're disciples of Moses. We know for sure that God spoke to Moses, but we have no idea where this man even comes from."

30-33The man replied, "This is amazing! You claim to know nothing about him, but the fact is, he opened my eyes! It's well known that God isn't at the beck and call of sinners, but listens carefully to anyone who lives in reverence and does his will. That someone opened the eyes of a man born blind has never been heard of—ever. If this man didn't come from God, he wouldn't be able to do anything."

34 They said, "You're nothing but dirt! How dare you take that tone with us!" Then they threw him out in the street.

35 Jesus heard that they had thrown him out, and went and found him. He asked him, "Do you believe in the Son of Man?"

36 The man said, "Point him out to me, sir, so that I can believe in him."

37 Jesus said, "You're looking right at him. Don't you recognize my voice?"

38 "Master, I believe," the man said, and worshiped him.

39 Jesus then said, "I came into the world to bring everything into the clear light of day, making all the distinctions clear, so that those who have never seen will see, and those who have made a great pretense of seeing will be exposed as blind."

40 Some Pharisees overheard him and said, "Does that mean you're calling us blind?"

41 Jesus said, "If you were really blind, you would be blameless, but since you claim to see everything so well, you're accountable for every fault and failure."

The Message (MSG)

Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

Advance God's Healing

I am re-reading my book, Hope and Change for Humpty Dumpty because we just uploaded it for a free download on my Sweeten Life web page. I sat in the Gold Star Cafe eating a cheese coney and looking over the book Steve Griebling and I wrote while we were training the Cell Group Leaders in Singapore how to integrate care, coaching and healing into group life.

It is designed to help Pastors and Pastoral Care Ministers train Peer Helpers. (We do not call Peers Counselors or Psychologists. Those terms are legally used on for licensed professionals.)

Let me change that. We were teaching the Cell Group Leaders how to EFFECTIVELY integrate care, coaching and healing into their groups. they had been trying to do that with some success before I arrived in 1994 but they had a lot to learn. And learn they did.

I was and am very impressed with the people we met in Singapore, Taiwan and other Asian countries. They are real Christians with a very deep faith and an unbelievable commitment to advance the Kingdom of God. However, it takes more than motivation, compassion and hard work to effectively minister to hurting people. It takes some skills and it takes knowledge of the transformation and change process.

I suggest that you go to my web page and take a look at some of our materials. Download all you are interested in and make a donation if you can. I promise that you will learn more about how to car, coach and heal than you ever thought possible.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Is Prayer Natural or Supernatural?

NEW YORK, Oct 26 (Reuters Health) -- Prayer may reduce the number of complications experienced by hospitalized heart patients, researchers report.

"This suggests that prayer may be an effective adjunct to standard medical care," Dr. William Harris of Saint Luke's Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, and colleagues report in the October 25th issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Heart patients who were prayed for by others, but were not aware of being the object of prayers, had an 11% reduction in medical complications or the need for surgery or medication while in hospital, according to the investigators.

The authors examined the medical charts of nearly 1,000 heart patients, following their health histories between hospital admission and discharge.

All patients in the study received standard medical care. But unbeknownst to the patients, Harris and colleagues provided the first names of about half the patients to 15 teams of five self-identified, practicing Christians. These individuals prayed daily for the healthy recovery of selected patients for a period of 4 weeks. The remaining patients were not prayed for as part of the study.

The authors report that the prayed-for patients had significantly lower complication rates than those not prayed for in the study.

The research team effectively ruled out patient bias as a possible factor behind the benefits associated with prayer, since both patients and hospital staff "were completely (unaware of)... the very existence of the trial."

Indeed, they say they have no "mechanistic explanation" as to how the prayers of strangers might have helped speed patient healing. The odds that chance might explain the findings are about 1 in 25, according to the authors.

Instead, they refer to the theories of those who believe that "natural or supernatural" causes may be behind the 'healing power of prayer.' Believers in the 'natural causes' theory propose that some as-yet-undiscovered natural force is "'generated' by the intercessors and 'received' by the patients," according to the researchers. On the other hand, those subscribing to a supernatural explanation point to the existence of God or some force "beyond the ken of science."

Other, smaller studies have provided conflicting results regarding the power of prayer. However, the largest -- a 1988 trial involving 339 San Francisco patients -- found results remarkably similar to those of the current study. The combined results have led Harris and his colleagues to suggest that experts "explore the role of prayer as an adjunct to standard medical care."

The research team effectively ruled out patient bias as a possible factor behind the benefits associated with prayer, since both patients and hospital staff "were completely (unaware of)... the very existence of the trial."

Indeed, they say they have no "mechanistic explanation" as to how the prayers of strangers might have helped speed patient healing. The odds that chance might explain the findings are about 1 in 25, according to the authors.

Instead, they refer to the theories of those who believe that "natural or supernatural" causes may be behind the 'healing power of prayer.' Believers in the 'natural causes' theory propose that some as-yet-undiscovered natural force is "'generated' by the intercessors and 'received' by the patients," according to the researchers. On the other hand, those subscribing to a supernatural explanation point to the existence of God or some force "beyond the ken of science."


C.S. Lewis tells of a woman he knew who did not believe in ghosts and then she saw one. Asked if her personal experience had changed her mind she replied, "No! I still do not believe in the supernatural".

Prayers for Healing Needed

I am on several lists of old friends and professional groups. Sometimes one of the members will post a prayer need on a list and ask for prayers. That is a good thing in many ways but sometimes I fail to take the request seriously enough to stop and focus on that person. I am trying to improve in that regard because I know that prayer can have a very positive effect on a patient.

Notice I did not promise that every patient for whom we pray gets cured. In reality, many people die even with prayer. As one of my favorite writers says, "Mortality is 100% all over the world". Yes, everyone dies and some sooner and some later than others. But as a rule, prayers, even at a distance, do make a positive difference in the patient's quality and sometimes the quantity of life they live.

I was most recently reminded of this when a former high school friend wrote to alert us to the fact that a little six year old girl was very ill with cancer. The chemo was working in some ways but its side effects were also close to killing her. The chemo treatment is so strong that it could take the child's life.

That often happens in the case of cancer and can happen also with heart disease and other serious maladies. One of the best things about prayer is the total lack of bad side effects. With God we always get the good with no bad.

I vowed to pray for this little child, Miriam, each time I saw a posting from my high school list. That may be hard to do because some days we get a lot of postings. But here goes for now. "Dear God our heavenly Father, pour out your health and blessings on Miriam today. Protect her from the chemo side effects and reduce her tumors. In the Name of the Great Physician, Jesus. Amen."

See my blog post on distance prayer research.