Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness

How could I serve in pastoral ministry with a serious mental illness? How could someone riding manic highs dipping to deadly lows promote stable growth for a congregation? How could someone who hears voices pretending to be God presume to interpret God’s Word?   How could I serve as a pastor with bipolar disorder? These questions stir my mind and stab my heart. My mind says yes -- I served as a pastor battling bipolar for almost two decades, a good dozen of which were quite fruitful. My heart grieves that my illness has progressed such that I am now deemed disabled from service. The story I want to share here is not what led to my decline but what, by the grace of God and with the help of the church, allowed me to flourish as a pastor with a serious mental illness. Persistent Prayer Partners I fell into the [...]

Mixing Ministry with Mental Illness 2017-05-30T15:07:51+00:00

Budding Faithful Friendships with Mental Illness: Eric Riddle

Our guest today is Eric Riddle. Eric and I first met in March, 2014, a week before the release of my spiritual memoir, Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission. We went on to form a faithful friendship that, well, I’ll let Eric tell you about it.. (My words are in italics.) Thanks for joining us, Eric. We’re here to talk about faith and mental illness, two subjects I know you are passionate about. First tell me how you came to faith. I was raised in the church. As many who grow up in the church, I was following in my parent's tradition. I became more serious about my faith after my daughter was born. Going on a "Walk to Emmaus" retreat was a turning point in getting much more serious. I’ve heard those can be very transformational. Yes. The retreat was for men only and about 40 guys representing many [...]

Budding Faithful Friendships with Mental Illness: Eric Riddle 2017-05-30T15:00:51+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

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

A Child Is Born: March 28, 1992

There was a shift change when you entered the world. A cheering crowd of scrub-clad women there to see your red raisin skin, hear you cry out at the shocking light and cold air, and breathe in the fresh scent of new life. Your life. I was 25 at the time, the same age you are today. Unlike you, however, I was ill equipped to become a parent. I was less than a year into my career as a pastor, working hard in a field that was hardly working out. I had become tangled in a web of depression. Your mother and I were already seeing a therapist for deeply-entrenched issues from our not yet three years together. Not only did I not feel equipped to become a father, I still had doubts about bringing a child into the world, wicked as it was. I was still somewhat under the [...]

A Child Is Born: March 28, 1992 2017-05-30T14:08:33+00:00

Life and Death with Bipolar

A friend of mine, who also has bipolar, was in an auto accident when she was in college. She was taken to the emergency room where she had an x-ray and cat-scan. Neither showed any physical damage. She called her resident adviser to come to the hospital to pick her up. By the time he got there, she was livid with the staff, crying out to anyone who would listen, and many who wouldn't, that she was paralyzed. Three doctors and several nurses examined her and found nothing physically wrong. As the night wore on, however, she became hysterical. She said she had a massive inflammation in her spine. She was admitted to a medical-behavioral unit where she was diagnosed as having an acute manic episode. She was given psychotropics. They also performed an MRI and found a mass in her lower spine.  Another cat-scan also revealed a mass in her [...]

Life and Death with Bipolar 2017-05-30T14:08:15+00:00

A Close Encounter with a Combative Commentator

My dad is in recovery from his 8th vascular surgery in 6 years. The surgeon said it went as well as could be expected. He is now awake and responsive. There is a palpable sense of peace permeating the air in this expansive waiting area. I'm here with other close family members,. We are sitting in solitary solidarity. All is well. All was not well two months ago, the last time dad had surgery. We were shoehorned into a cubbyhole with what seemed like hoards of masses of thousands of other families. and clans and troops. Fox News was blaring over the airways. One man in camo jacket, tube socks and scuffed penny loafers did the commentary: On International Affairs: "Who cares if he has personal relations with the Russians? I say keep your friends close and your enemies closer." On Health Care: "They say health coverage is a right. [...]

A Close Encounter with a Combative Commentator 2017-05-30T14:08:02+00:00

Flight Risk

3.23.2017; 12:10 pm; Delta Flight 3750 As I wait for take-off, my mind drifts to flights gone by: December, 1983 to Kansas City. I become jazzed for Jesus at a New Year's Eve prayer party sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ. I return and discover all my possessions had been taken from my apartment. I spend the night at a local IHOP, witnessing to the waitress. For a tip, I leave two quarters and a tract, all I have left to give. March, 1988 to Boston. I visit a woman I met on a mission farm in Georgia. I spend the days reading The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the nights belittling her for being an upper-class liberal. October, 1992 to San Francisco, with my wife and infant daughter. I became so driven to write a book on faithful fathering that I leave them with the in-laws while I go off [...]

Flight Risk 2017-05-30T14:07:43+00:00

Cracked Pots

“… the jar he was making did not turn out as he hoped, so he crushed it into a lump of clay again and started over.” (Jeremiah 18.4, NLT). Some months after I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I returned to work as a pastor. It was difficult at first, but with much prayerful support, our ministry became fruitful. People who had hidden mental health issues for fear of judgment, now confided in me and together we grew in grace, offering our whole selves in worship and outreach among those who sought healing for body, mind, and spirit. I was asked to serve as a mentor for students preparing for pastoral ministry. One weekend, they brought together mentors throughout the state for training on how to best equip persons for service in what can be a consuming career. Many topics were addressed: spiritual growth, emotional well-being, financial fitness, etc. During [...]

Cracked Pots 2017-05-30T14:07:31+00:00

I Ain’t Got No Home

Lately, I have felt an all-too familiar sense of exile. As a pastor, I moved around a good bit and was encouraged by my ministry supervisors not to put down roots. Now that I'm retired, divorced, and living on my own, it is easy to given in to the temptation to withdraw, to isolate myself, which leads to a vicious depressive cycle from which it's hard to escape. While it does not replace face-to-face contact, I appreciate the community I  have come to know through social media. Often, I read posts that give voice to my unexpressed feelings and help me feel less alone. The post "My Father's House,"  from Mama's Musings is a reflection on how mortality impacts our desire to "come home." Today has been a long and emotion filled day. I have spent time with two people close to me who are near the end of their [...]

I Ain’t Got No Home 2017-05-30T14:07:12+00:00