On June 13, 2009, I was driving along the scenic shores of the Finger Lakes region of New York wondering what I was going to do with my life. I was 45. I had spent most of the last two decades serving as a pastor while battling bipolar disorder. At my best, I had time and energy left to enjoy family life with my wonderful wife and four beautiful children. At my worst, I either laid under the covers in a dark bedroom or frantically pursued plans ill-conceived and left undone. I looked out the window and prayed for vision.
Suddenly, it came to me. I would write a book about bipolar and the faith that either fuels us to distraction or saves us from self-destruction. In less than 20 miles, I conceived of a collection of devotions, inspired by the Psalms.
That journey that began along the shores of the Finger Lakes led me to the compose and publish my devotional memoir: Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission. It took me almost five years, but it was labor of love. It has introduced me to countless people all around the world with a passion to bridge the distance between faith and mental illness to better promote healing.
That was then. This is now. Ten years later.
So what has God been doing in my life?
People started asking me even before the ink was dry when I would write another. I toyed around with the idea of exploring other genres and topics far beyond faith and mental illness. But I kept coming back to what I believe is my primary vocation — to share the Good News of Christ’s love for those who, like me, have unquiet minds. I sensed the first step would be to create a blog for people sharing this same passion. Out of the dialogue that flowed from this, I could better discern where God was leading next.
On March 8, 2017, I published these words, in this blog:
For almost twenty years, I served as a pastor with bipolar disorder. I have journeyed with this illness from manic (even psychotic) peaks to dark valleys of despair. At both extremes, I have flirted with death—coming very close to ending my life and doing great damage to those around me. For no good reason except the mercy of the Lord, God has kept me alive, saving me from certain destruction.
Yet, I have also found genuine delight in my disorder and this is the story I tell in Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission.
How can we delight in an illness that has contributed to a divorce rate of more than 90% and leads over half of those diagnosed to attempt suicide? Countless times, when I have been driven to the edge of a cliff, God has rescued me and set me on level ground. Why would God do this? Because God delights in me even in disorder. Delight is first an expression of God’s love for us. Since God delights in us, we have a “delightful duty” to share in God’s joy.
Over the past two years since establishing this blog, God has done many delightful things in my life and ministry.
- My journey led back to Columbus, IN where I had the support system of family and friends.
- I rejoined the faith-based mental health support group I had co-founded.
- I began co-producing & co-hosting the podcast, Revealing Voices.
- I met and married the woman who has become a loving partner in life and ministry.
- I became a Faith & Mental Health Advocate at St. Peter’s Lutheran in Columbus, Indiana.
Writing another book has, quite honestly been the furthest thing from my mind. But people kept asking and it got to the point where all I could say was “We’ll see.”
Well, we now see…
On Friday, May 31, 2019, at a patio table outside of Gramz Coffee Bar I penned what would become the working title for my next book:
From Despair to Delight: Musings from a Bipolar Soul on Living Purposefully with a Mental Illness
I was then led to start writing sort of a story-style stream of consciousness, which I think may be included in a prologue. It concludes with this:
My primary purpose in this book is to share the Good News that having a mental illness does not mean we are doomed to misery. There is much misery in the world and mental illness can accentuate this, particularly if external stigma becomes internal shame. But there is hope. Hope for healing, in some form. Hope for wholeness, in spite of our distorted brains. Hope for a cure? Maybe. Maybe not. Maybe not yet.
The Apostle Paul writes of a “thorn in his flesh” that caused him great turmoil and hardship (see 2 Corinthians 12:1-10). We don’t know what his thorn was. But I know what mine is. You may know yours. So, what can we do about our thorns?
Well, certainly. Prayer gets results, even when they are not the results we want. Many godly people, like Paul, pray for healing and it doesn’t happen.
So what do we do?
The best we can do is what Paul does. Recognize that God’s grace is sufficient and lean on this grace as we make the most of our lives. Our thorns sap our strength such that our lives lack meaning and purpose. But God’s grace helps us wake up each day and carry out our calling in spite of this.