2018 began with modest expectations. It is ending with endless possibilities. Along the way, God has blessed me with new new opportunities, new friends, a new life partner. I still experience chaotic mood swings that require diligent treatment such as medication and therapy; but with a caring network of family and friends and a strong connection to Christ’s body, my sanity is maintained and I can contribute to the common good. Most particularly I offer friendly counsel to those like me who have troubled minds by sharing the inspiration of God’s word and the encouraging Way of Christ.
Now that the year is winding down, I thought it would be good to look back at the journey. Below I have 12 featured posts (one/month) with a brief excerpt. The titles contain a link to the posts. I hope you will review these and enjoy reading through the blessings of 2018.
“Resolve to Be Loving, Kind, and Just” (January 1)
So, what is my resolution for 2018? It’s not to accomplish great things, to win acclaim, to build a wealthy empire. My resolution is to act justly, love mercy, walk humbly. To show intentional kindness, like my friend here. It is to reach out to people who also hear voices of condemnation. People who have been hurt by broken relationships. People whose hopes have been persistently dashed, who wonder if maybe it would be better to just give up. Reach out with the good news that God’s love in Jesus Christ is not based on what we achieve, but on Whose we are.
“Jesus Talks to Me; Do I Have a Mental Illness?” (February 16)
Those of us who hear delusional voices have a unique challenge. How can these voices be silenced so we can hear what God is saying to us? Psychotropic medication can help quell the voices and loud thoughts. Therapy can provide some clarity as to what is real and what is an intrusion into reality. There are also vital spiritual practices that help us distinguish between what is from the true God and what is from false imposters.
“World Bipolar Day Meets Good Friday” (March 30)
No one has suffered quite like Jesus, a totally innocent man executed for the crimes of others. Many, however, bear crosses put upon them by a culture fearful of what can not be known and controlled. People converting from other religions are being threatened and tortured for their faith. Persons with mental illness are thrown into soul-stealing prisons rather than rehabilitating hospitals. In the Spirit of Christ, we can speak the Truth that nothing, not even the threat of arrest, torture. even death, will separate us from God’s love.
Faithful friends. Invigorating walks. Inspiring music. These are three things the doctor inside of me prescribes.
How about you? What things can you do to care for the self God cares for?
“Briley ‘The Biscuit’ Roberts” (May 30)
Lying in bed last night I started thinking about [adopting Briley] and wondered if I had made the right decision.
Am I ready care for another life?
Can I offer a stable home?
Will I be able to respond to non-verbal needs?
How will I pay for it?
My chest hurt with a weight of worry. Then I looked over the bedside at Briley. I called her name. She looked at me with what I know to be her smile. She licked my fingers gently.
And I knew all would be well.
“The Exuberant Life” (June 27)
I stayed up reading poetry one night. And the next day. And into the next night. And the following day. A poetry marathon. And the more I read the more enthused I became. Each poem put a longing in me to read the next. I felt so alive. My skin tingled. Pathways to my brain that had been blocked for almost 25 years were cleared. A lightning bug floated in the air around me, dancing with the illumined sparks on the screen that spoke inspired words to me.
The next day a friend asked me, “Are you manic?”
Maybe, I thought. Or maybe I’m just excited. Enthused. On fire with life.
“Van Gogh & Our Vocations” (July 26)
By the grace of God, I managed to maintain a career in pastoral ministry for almost two decades. At times, working together with many faithful parishioners, much fruit was borne. Other seasons were quite barren. I’m confident that as a minister, I faithfully presented God’s Word weekly and daily represented (in my own weak way) the Spirit of Christ.
I am grateful that, again by God’s grace, this career provided materially for me and my family. But I confess it was more consuming spiritually than fulfilling and took a tremendous psychological toil on my already fragile mind.
Now, I am pursuing another vocation within the realm of faith and mental illness. Were it not for the generous patronage of people God provides to support my efforts, I could not go on. But with God’s help and support from the community of faith, I will find my way to best offer myself as a living sacrifice to the glory of the Lord.
“He Was in Heaven Before He Died” (August 2)
I wrote this story about a decade ago. It is not based solely on facts. I did have a Grandpa George and this was pretty much how he lived and died. But I didn’t make it to the funeral. Instead, I was in a hellish heaven of my own on the psych unit of Columbia Presbyterian.
“10 Reasons to Leave Your Psychiatrist” (September 6)
I have Christian friends who advise me to steer clear of psychiatrists who do not share my faith. I believe though, God can use even atheists to promote healing should God choose to do so. I’ve had some excellent psychiatrists and some real stinkers. During one period where it seemed I was getting one bad psychiatrist after another, I wrote a list of 10 ways to tell it might be time to leave your psychiatrist and I’d like to offer these to you, free of charge…
“What If My Pastor Has a Mental Illness?” (October 26)
Last week, I invited readers to submit questions about faith and mental illness. My intent is not so much to give advice, as to share portions of my own story that could be helpful. One reader sent me a question about what to do when your pastor is displaying symptoms that could indicate a mental illness. After praying about it a good bit and revising draft after draft to sift out personal opinion, this is what I wrote…
“Honoring God by Loving Others” (November 15)
You may not think of someone with a mental illness as your enemy. But, then again, you may not have any friends who are so afflicted. Our human tendency is to favor our friends, people who are like us and who we like. When we consider mental illness in the abstract, we can begin to fall prey to erroneous stereotypes that expand unwarranted stigma. The media projects images of the violence of madmen and we can internalize these. When we encounter a person in public behaving in a way we don’t fully understand, it is natural to be afraid.
These are the very ones we are to love. The woman with chronic depression who hasn’t showered for weeks. The man with schizophrenia talking back to voices you can’t hear. The teen with bipolar intensely telling you about grand schemes to save the world.
The best way I know to shine the light of Christ toward such persons is to befriend them. When you do, God will be glorified. And who knows, their symptoms might even become more manageable.
“Suicide and Salvation” (December 16)
“I have a friend who was the first person to share Christ with me. Until about a month ago, I would say she had the strongest faith of anyone I know. Then suddenly she started doing strange things. One day, she scrubbed her church’s gymnasium floor with a tooth brush. The next two days, she didn’t get out of bed or allow anyone in her room. Then, she did a group project herself and got an A- . She broke into wailing tears as she asked each person in the group for forgiveness. Finally, at Youth Group, the pastor was talking about hospitality; she interrupted with a 20 minute lecture on God’s eternal judgement. They had to gently guide her out of the room.”
That night she overdosed on her parents’ medication. They took her to the hospital, pumped her stomach and revived her. She spent a couple nights on the psych unit, was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, and given some pills to keep her emotions under control. I visited her yesterday. She looked like a dead soul. I told her I was praying for her. She shot a look straight through me.
‘Don’t bother. I’ve committed the unforgivable sin. God has turned his back on me. Forever.’
What about 2019? What would you like to see?