Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Grinding away

Over the past several days I've had my nose to the proverbial grindstone, editing my book. The end of this big project is in sight, though there is still much work to do before it's where I want it to be. This is SO exciting.

I'm amazed at how focused I've been and wonder now and then whether I might be getting a bit high on all this. Have had some pretty early mornings lately, waking up at 5am or even earlier. But last night was good. I was able to sleep to my normal 6:30.

Hypomania has been a mixed blessing that has come upon me frequently over the past couple of years. In fact, it was hypomania that first gave me the inspiration to write this book. I remember how, during those first few months, the ideas flooded in. Not wanting to lose any of my thoughts, I would stop whatever I was doing to write it all down. I wrote in darkened theaters, had to stop my car to write, took breaks in the middle of my workouts to write. I often woke in the middle of the night, ideas tumbling out. I always had a pad of paper and pen handy.

So now, here I am, 26 months later, almost ready to look for a publisher. I pray I will find a good one. This book is important. It will be the best tool I have to help churches understand bipolar disorder. It will help them learn how they can support people with mental health issues.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Having purpose: an overwhelming demand?

At our Living Room group yesterday I introduced the journey we would take, discovering what we're here for - or, our purpose. An interesting discussion ensued with much stuff to think about.

One person raised the concern that the book we'll read, The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren, would be putting too much pressure on us. It sounds to her like the book is going to tell us how to accomplish big and wonderful things. How can we who live with severe mood problems, possibly do that when it's hard enough just getting out of bed to look after our children? Maybe the book will end up making us feel worse about ourselves than we already do.

She has a valid point. Our challenge will be to read this book and get something out of it for the individuals we are at this point of our life. Does life's purpose have to be something grand for everyone? Doesn't the mother looking after her child in the best ways she is able, fulfill a purpose that is as valid as the missionary working in Africa with aids infected mothers and children? We each do what God made us capable of doing. God needs workers in every little corner of the world - in the home as well as in exotic places.

One conclusion we came up with was that one of the things that gives us most fulfillment is to give to others - whatever we can. In an e-discussion I had with my pastor, Don, he said

"While I think there are things we are gifted for and called to do, I try to live every day on purpose from the sense that wherever I am, whatever I'm doing, I simply want to be in some way the presence of Jesus. That may mean being friendly in the restaurant when the waitress is having a bad day and is a bit snarly. Or it may mean holding the door open for a mother with a baby stroller, or helping someone put the 20 kilo bag of flour in their grocery cart. And then sometimes there are bigger things, too.

"I think our purpose is summarized in the Great Commandment - love God completely, love others compassionately, love ourselves correctly."

I think Pastor Don's last line pretty well sums it up.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

What are we here for?

I'm excited about the meeting our Living Room group is having tomorrow! We'll be starting a four-session series of discussions: A spiritual journey to discover what we're here for.

Whoever is interested in joining the journey (I suspect it will be everyone) will be reading a chapter a day of Rick Warren's Purpose Driven Life. Then, each meeting we'll get together and compare notes on what we're discovering - what we're learning about the purpose of our lives.

There was a time in my life when I used to hear the words to the old Peggy Lee song repeating themselves in my head: "Is that all there is? Is that all there is?" There didn't seem to much point to my life. But things have changed a lot. I have found a purpose - actually, a whole family of purposes. My life has meaning. I love getting up in the morning; there's so much I enjoy doing.

I think that having a strong sense of purpose for my life - knowing what God made me to do - helps keep me well. I think I'm able to fight off mild depression easier than I used to. Of course, bipolar is a medical illness, and having purpose does not make all my moods magically disappear. But, somehow, I think it helps.

"I know the plans I have for you," says the Lord. "They are plans for good and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope." Jeremiah 29:11

I believe that even my strong moods are part of God's plan for me. Without the highs and lows I've experienced I would not be who I am today. I would not be as creative or as passionate. I think I might be quite a bore. I thank God for making me who I am - even if I DO have a mental illness.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Compassionate people?

I'm always angered when I hear stories of "un-compassion" amongst Christians, especially when it is focused on people with mental health problems. Hearing another one today motivated me to write this. I've been wanting to write about love; this is a good time.

For the most part, Christians are a pretty compassionate bunch. They believe in following Jesus' teachings to love your neighbor. And many - probably most - Christians do a good job of that.

But, there are far too many who do forget - especially when they're faced with someone who doesn't fit in with their own familiar circle. They have a hard time accepting someone they don't understand, and they're slow in taking the trouble to learn to understand. They are quick to judge, and slow to show compassion.

Those who believe in the Bible need to take to heart Jesus's words in Matthew 25:35-40:

"For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me....whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mind, you did for me."

If you are a follower of Christ, please learn what causes the suffering of those many of us who live with mental illness. Please try to understand us and realize that we need your acceptance and love in the same way everyone does.

That lonely person in the pew who looks so unfriendly and unapproachable might need some relief from her aloneness. A friendly smile and warm handshake may be just what she needs to restore her.

May the love of God live in us and flow out to others.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

A compassionate God

I took this picture many years ago in a school playground. When I was asked to show my photographs and talk about them at a camera club, I found that easy to do. But whenever I tried to say something about this picture and what it meant to me, I felt tears well up and I couldn't say anything. It puzzled me. (This was before I decided to follow God. God's love was foreign to me.)

Around this time I decided to search for God. I could no longer handle the suffering on my own. I wondered to myself, "Is this God people speak about - the God I rejected in my teens - truly able to do what people say he does?" I longed for peace. I longed for rest.

Gradually I did find God and - at the age of 42 - I began to go to church and learn about Jesus. Though I had gone to Sunday School during all my childhood and teen years, nothing had sunk in. I had to learn everything the Bible said all over again - this time with an open heart.

Now when I look at this picture, I know what it was that touched me so deeply. Now I recognize what I saw in it. In the girl's face I saw the love of Christ, expressed so beautifully. And the child in the wheelchair was me, broken and suffering.

I discovered how great God's love is, and I continue today to learn more and more about that love. The picture is no longer a puzzle.

How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! (1 John 3:1)

Friday, January 19, 2007

I AM back, Sarah!!

Thank you all so very much for wishing me a happy holiday. We DID have a good time in Mexico, lying on the beach (only a few times - we're not sun worshippers), trying out interesting foods, and looking through the colorful souvenir shops.

And - best of all!!! - I got lots done on my book. I spent several hours every day - except for one - working. I think I love work more than relaxation.

And I read lots as well, including Philip Yancey book, "Where Is God When it Hurts". As I read, I got so many ideas of things I want to blog about. So much I want to share. He talks about suffering as being beneficial in many ways. I love this stuff. There is so much in the Bible on this as well.

While I was away Numnum responded to a post from a l-o-n-g time ago, asking some very tough questions about the church's views on mental illness - demonic possession, spiritual bondage, deliverance ministry, and all that nasty stuff that has so often made me seethe inside. I'm going to "try" to write about that, though I do not in any way consider myself someone able to "answer" those questions. But explore a bit...I could do a little of...maybe.

...and I want to talk about LOVE, better that faith and hope, but encompassing faith and hope. Next to our medication, love is THE most important ingredient for our mental and spiritual well-being.

I can hardly wait to get back to my blogging...I just have to be careful not to trip over my own feet as rush back in. As I said, friends, we have SO much to talk about.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

Up, up, and away!

I want to let you know that I'll be away for ten days, until the 18th. One thing I hate about a holiday like this is missing you and the blogging that has become such an important part of my life. I'll be thinking of you all. I have a list with all of you on it, and will pray for you. And, if possible, I may be able to do some blogging where I'm going.

But I did promise that I was going to deal with one more question about faith: What is the difference between living by the faith and living by faith?

Living by the faith suggests living by a set of rules, dictated by religion. We might think that belief in God depends on us following those rules. Often people will follow the rules because they think it will make God love them.

Living by faith is to follow his rules because we know he loves us and that makes us want to please him. Living by faith does not change what we do, but it changes how we do it.
Living by faith is to have a relationship with God. It is to trust him. It is to release the grip we have on our own will and following his will. His will is revealed to us as we pray and read his Word.

My favorite Bible verses - ones that have given me tremendous peace over the years of struggle I've dealt with, are these words from Jesus:

"Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke fits perfectly, and the burden I give you is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)

When I took on Jesus' yoke, I found freedom. He showed me a way to live that has given me joy. Through following him, I found a purpose for my life. I love the work I do.

Friday, January 05, 2007

The Christian who does wrong

Some comments came out of my last post that I felt I needed to cover in a post all their own. Dream Writer talked about the pain she feels about her mom, someone who has faith in God, yet self-medicates with alcohol. Bipolar Girl talked about believing in God, yet the need to deal with the excruciating pain that prompts her to use alcohol to withstand it. She believes God would forgive and be ok with her doing that. I conferred with my cool guy pastor to help me sort this out.

The big thing is that God loves us, no matter what. He is not into condemning people for the bad stuff they do, but that doesn't mean that he wants us to keep doing it either. He loves the sinner, but hates the sin. In John 8:3-11 there is a story about a woman who was caught in adultery. Can't tell the whole story here (look it up, it's neat). Jesus ends up telling her that he doesn't condemn her but says, "Go now and leave your life of sin."

God sent his son to save (or rescue) us from the harm and danger caused by our sins. He doesn't okay sins like over-drinking. Addictions cause great problems. There is medicine for bipolar disorder, but there is no medicine to treat addictions. To drink too much or take drugs is playing with fire. God would never accept that, no matter how much we're suffering.

God is always ready to forgive. He understands our pain - in fact, he feels the pain with us. But that doesn't mean we should do things that are bad for us. We can learn to trust him - to learn to grasp how great his love for us is. This will provide us with peace and comfort. He can help us live with our disorder.

Next instalment (I hope) will be: What is the difference between living by the faith and living by faith? Does that confuse you? It's actually quite simple, but they are two very different things.

(We are packing for a trip - leaving on Jan 8th and coming back on the 18th. Will so miss you all.)

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

I don't believe in "If" anymore

"...faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see." Hebrew 11:1

A leap of faith, from not believing in a God to trusting in him - someone I couldn't even see - was like allowing myself to fall backwards, not absolutely sure there would be something there to catch me when I fell. But when I did that 18 years ago, it made a huge difference to my life. I want to share something I wrote for my upcoming book, A Firm Place to Stand. It describes the new coping skills I received when I began to follow God at the age of 42. (I had lived with bipolar since the age of 19, relying on my own strength and inadequate medication.)

With the greatest determination I could gather, I used to cling to what was left of my mind's composure. I would feel as though I were hanging from the edge of a high rooftop, white-knuckled, a panicky fear slowly developing. 'How long can I hold on like this? Can I maintain my strength? What will happen if I let go?' Exhaustion overwhelmed me. Deep below was the hard ground and no one to catch me if I fell.

...But I did fall - quite a few times. These were devastating experiences and difficult to recover from. The support I received from family, friends, and my doctor was helpful. But my inner life was alone in the battle.

For twenty-three years I tried to live out Rudyard Kipling's lines from his poem, If: "If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew to serve your turn long after they are gone, and so hold on when there is nothing in you except the Will, which says to them, 'Hold on!'" I tried with my best willpower to survive the mental turmoil when it overtook me. I was determined to be strong, hanging on to whatever I could, but not finding much of substance. They were times of anxiety and fear.

It wasn't until I reached the part of my life when I could no longer deny that God is real, that coping with crises changed for the better. I realized that it wasn't up to me to hold on. I could relax my grip and trust in Someone a great deal stronger than myself.

The faith I learned to have in a God who loves me too much to let me go, helps me cope better with stress. Extreme difficulties no longer develop as often. Sometimes I still have fears of falling - and reasons for them too. But today I have a Bible that tells me,
"Don't be afraid, for I am with you. Do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you. I will help you. I will uphold you with my victorious right hand" (Isaiah 41:10) Remembering this gives me comfort when I need it. I am not as afraid anymore.

Challenging periods will always be part of my life. There will be times when I'll have trouble. I may even fall. But I know that when I do, there will be Someone there who will catch me and stay with me as I recover. I'll never have to be alone.

I have a photograph hanging on the wall across from my bed. A child's small hand rests comfortably on her father's big hand. Underneath are the words from Proverbs 3:5,
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."

During tough times, I look at that photograph and feel a sense of peace. No longer is there a need for white-knuckled fists - no longer a need to rely on my own inadequate strength.

marja bergen

"The fundamental fact of existence is that this trust in God, this faith, is the firm foundation under everything that makes life worth living." (Hebrews 11:1, MSG)

Ain't that the truth!

Monday, January 01, 2007

Living to make a difference

My pastor gives wonderful sermons. I like them so much that, when I'm away, I make sure to get a cd of the service so I can catch up. Yesterday he started a series called The Dash in Between. (You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. James 4:14)

I'd like to share with you some of the key points of his talk, hoping that you will be inspired, as I was. Now this pastor is a cool guy - not a boring person at all - so I hope you'll bear with me as I share. And I hope that I will not be a bore either.

The series is about Faith, Hope, and Love. Today I'll talk about those three, and next time I'll talk a bit about what it means to live by faith.

So many good things seem to come in threes:
  • An artist uses three basic colours: red, yellow, and blue to mix and create masterpieces;
  • Architects and engineers use triangles, squares and circles; lines, angles and curves.
Similarly, we need three basic things to live a life that will make a lasting difference in the world: These are Faith, Hope and Love...and (as the Bible says) the greatest of these is Love.

Psalm 103:15-16 says:
Our days are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die. The wind blows, and we are gone-as though we had never been here.

Now I know that sounds kind of depressing. But the thing is, though we can die at any time, we can - with faith, hope, and love in our hearts - create a life that will leave something enduring behind. We can make a lasting difference, even when we're not remembered anymore. God made us for a purpose. And even if we ourselves don't think we're getting anything accomplished, we could be laying a foundation for others who come after us. We can do this by:
  • Living by faith (will talk about this next time);
  • Having patience to endure and have hope for ourselves and the world;
  • Doing work that is prompted by love.
As someone who struggles with bipolar disorder, I've found comfort, direction and strength in living by faith, and with hope and love.

Life doesn't have to be just one long series of useless ups and downs. We can use these three spiritual elements to help change the world for the better. God can help us make a difference, not only in our own lives, but in the lives of others.