Staying Faithful with Mental Illness: Howard Chang

Our guest today is Howard Chang. Howard is from Southern California (So Cal, as the kids call it these days). Howard graduated in 2014 with a bachelor's degree in molecular biology and a minor in religious studies from Pomona College. His blog is called Redemptive Suffering. I read a post there called, “Spiritualizing Mental Illness: The Peril of Reductionist Thinking in the Church.” I sat down with a mug of Guatemalan java at Wegmans and we have the following chat. My words are in italics.   + + +   Can you briefly describe any personal experiences you have had with mental illness? I think that the term "mental illness" should be used with a high degree of caution, and since mental health nomenclature is such a complicated and sensitive topic, perhaps we shouldn't venture into that territory today. With that said, I have never had what I consider to be a "mental illness," [...]

Staying Faithful with Mental Illness: Howard Chang 2017-05-30T15:01:45+00:00

The Cruelty of April

 April is the cruellest month, breeding Lilacs out of the dead land, mixing Memory and desire, stirring Dull roots with spring rain. (from The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot) It's April 26 now. The sun is shining. 68 glorious degrees. A reassuring cool Spring breeze. Cruelty is as distant from this day as the East is from the West. But the nascent scent of lilacs blends with the stink of liquid manure. Unspoken hopes and mislaid dreams float on the surface of the ruddy lawns. April this year has taken a desperate toll on my body and has sapped the strength of my psyche. The 30 pounds I lost the preceding six months have returned with a vengeance. The number alone does not trouble me, but the fact that I find it physically challenging to get out of bed does. A more serious concern is the gripping chronic pain I now [...]

The Cruelty of April 2017-05-30T14:10:38+00:00

How Can I Best Respond to Someone Who Is Depressed?

I had coffee and scones with a good friend this morning. One thing I greatly value about our friendship is that we quickly dispense of pleasantries, moving right to prayer and the sharing what is deepest in opur hearts. I told him that after a lengthy period of emotional and spiritual high, I had fallen into a depressive low. At my peak, I was spending as much as three hours a day in intensive prayer and Bible study. Lately, however, my time with God had become desperately pleading for some sustenance in a verse or phrase of Scripture – “Get up and eat,” “Jesus wept,” “God is love,” and the like. My friend, who has some close loved ones battling mental health issues, asked me a very sincere and poignant question, “How can I best respond to someone who is depressed?” I thought back on my own dark seasons and [...]

How Can I Best Respond to Someone Who Is Depressed? 2017-05-30T14:10:23+00:00

Devoted to the Word with Mental Illness: Susan Irene Fox

The mission of Delight in Disorder is to share the hope of Christ with persons who have troubled minds, and to shatter stigma towards mental illness within and beyond the church. One of the best ways I know to do this is to tell our stories. Susan Irene Fox describes herself as a “Jesus follower, peacemaker, unfinished human.” She recently celebrated her ten year anniversary “since I walked into the embrace of my Father’s arms.” Me:  How did you mark your ten-year anniversary? Susan: I looked back at some things that occurred right after I accepted Jesus. One of the biggest things was six months later, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was almost as though the devil had been lurking for an opportune time to tempt me into forsaking God. But I never went there, never even went into fear. I just knew God was holding my hand [...]

Devoted to the Word with Mental Illness: Susan Irene Fox 2017-05-30T14:10:07+00:00

Leaving Affinity

Six days ago, I checked into Affinity Place, a peer-run mental health respite/retreat house. Tonight is my last night. Looking back over the week, I'm reflecting on how the Spirit has moved in this ministry of Affinity. I can think of three specific ways: First, the Lord has provided refuge for me. I had reached a critical juncture of mental instability alone at home. I was particularly vulnerable during the nights I couldn't sleep. Here at Affinity, a staff person is on site 24/7. When my sleep was disturbed, I simply came downstairs and talked about it with someone who knew first-hand what I was going through. Next, I have renewed my commitment to valuable spiritual disciplines, particularly morning Scripture reading and prayer. At home, I had become lax in these practices. I was not starting my day talking to and listening for the Lord. While at Affinity Place, God [...]

Leaving Affinity 2017-05-30T14:09:53+00:00

Good Friday: Life at Affinity Place

Good Friday. The day Christians around the world mark the death of the One equal with God, who died a horrific death on a cross so we might live with him forever. John Witvilet says this about the day: "Making peace through the blood of his cross" is like saying that a nuclear missile has become an olive-branch, that Guantanamo has become a garden of healing, that a sword has been turned into a plowshare, that a tank has been turned into a tractor. The very thought of it leaves us weak in the knees with astonishment. ("A Crescendo of Wonder," Christianity Today) Good Friday is only good because of what happens on Easter. Death is swallowed up in victory. Christ who died becomes Christ who is Risen so he can be Christ who comes again. I'm not attending a Good Friday service this year. I planned to, but evidently [...]

Good Friday: Life at Affinity Place 2017-05-30T14:09:43+00:00

The Cost of the Cross, Much More than a Free Smiley Face

The symbol of Christianity is a cross, not a smiley face. I write this on the Tuesday of Holy Week, the week we remember the final earthly mission of Jesus Christ, culminating in his sacrificial death and glorious resurrection. When I was a pastor, I would silently refer to this as “Holy Hell Week.” I was expected to do four times as much ministry and all with a cheerful demeanor. It was only by the grace of God that I did, at least to the degree that I did. Easter, of course, was designed to be the spiritual peak, the week you could reach many more folks than the rest of the year. People came to hear the Good News that “Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed.” Because Christ is risen, we have the hope of new life in Christ. Very few from the Easter crowd had come to [...]

The Cost of the Cross, Much More than a Free Smiley Face 2017-05-30T14:09:33+00:00

Hiding From the Power of God

Over the past six months, I have witnessed God's amazing power in so many ways. My father survived intricate bypass of his carotid artery. Then a stent placement. Then a bypass of the bypass, which had become clogged with scar tissue. I made a commitment to healthy eating and exercise. I lost 30 pounds in 3 months and felt the best I can remember. My step-mom pulled through a delicate spinal implant. I was rear-ended and wound up spending 5 days in the medical-behavioral unit to address both physical and psychological needs. As a result of the injury, I have chronic neck and back pain. But it could have been much, much worse. My 94-year old grandmother, who very much wanted to let go of the burdens of this life, passed into the next in a beautiful way, in her room, within the house she helped build. Surrounded by loved [...]

Hiding From the Power of God 2017-05-30T14:09:18+00:00

Prayers Answered: Sometimes Yes; Sometimes No; Sometimes Wait and See

At age 55, my father-in-law was diagnosed with an advanced stage of colon cancer. He received an aggressive round of chemotherapy. Inexplicably, he went into a coma. We recruited prayer warriors throughout the country. In just a few weeks, one of his medical interns happened to read a case study that perfectly fit my father-in-laws profile. They adapted his treatment. He returned to full function. He is now 85 and enjoying life to its fullest. Prayers answered, "Yes." Five years ago, my wife and I separated after 20 years of marriage. I desperately wanted to reconcile. I sought intensive counseling for over a year.  I met with church elders and deacons. I prayed. My family prayed. My friends prayed. My church prayed. After 5 years, it became clear marriage reconciliation would not happen and we got a divorce. Prayers answered, "No." I served in pastoral ministry for twenty years while [...]

Prayers Answered: Sometimes Yes; Sometimes No; Sometimes Wait and See 2017-05-30T14:09:05+00:00