Saturday, March 29, 2008

...and in a snow storm yet

First of all, thanks to all of you: Jim, Paula, Dream, Nancie, and Jena for your comments on my last post. Looks like the topic of waiting is a good one for all of us to think a bit about.

Amazingly we had a big snow storm here in the Vancouver area. Huge snow flakes falling thick and fast...and we're almost into April! With all that snow I expected we would get a smaller turnout to Living Room than usual. It was sticking to the grass and to the trees, but fortunately the roads remained bare. Yet I made only 30 cups of coffee this time instead of the usual 36. That was not a good decision because we ended up with a record turnout of 22 people. They just kept coming. We had to make the table bigger to accommodate everyone and, even then, we were packed together pretty cozily. (We push 5 very long tables together to make one huge one, so we can all sit together.)

We ran out of coffee, we ran out of hot water, we ran out of cold water, and we ran out of meat and veggies. Yet there was plenty other stuff left to eat and I don't think anyone went hungry. Wonderful Cob's buns and Cob's apricot bread. Tilamook cheese, fudge brownies, and lots of other stuff. Such fun to get these lunches together!

After introducing the "waiting" topic (see my last post) and after everyone thinking about it for a while, making notes on their paper, we opened it up for discussion. One member eagerly shared what she was waiting for and amazed us with her story. Although everything we discuss is confidential, I'm not mentioning any names here. You have no idea who this person is, so I think it will be alright to share this with you:

Her family has been renting the same house for forteen years, their kind landlord never raising the rent during that time. Now he's selling the house and they may have to move to more expensive accommodation, which they can't afford, or to a much smaller place which would be cramped for them. But this person's take on it was this, and I'll try to remember what she said:

"I'm excited, looking forward to see what God has in store for us. We may have to move to a two-bedroom apartment or something, but if we do we'll get triple high bunkbeds or something. But I know everything will work out. I trust what God will do for us, He's always come through in the past. God is good. It will all work out."

This person's faith and trust in God was something to behold. I felt as though we didn't need to go any further with the discussion. But we did, and many people joined in, something I was very happy about. I think we all managed to encourage each other very well. What we realized was that the important thing when we wait is to keep praying and to partner with God in bringing about a good end to the wait. We don't just wait for God to do for us. By praying we are encouraged to do have the right attitudes and the courage to live our lives in such a way that we can wait with patience and trust.

There was a happy, joyful atmosphere through the whole meeting. Lots of laughter. Lots of support for each other. Living Room is a wonderful thing. I'm so grateful for it.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Waiting games

Living Room tomorrow. Yes!!! I'm so looking forward to it - so looking forward to seeing who all will be there. Will some people who haven't been for a while surprise me?

Our devotional will be about waiting. All our life seems to be filled with a long series of waiting games, doesn't it? As a child we waited to grow to adulthood. We wait for our first car. We wait to be able to pay off the car. ...and on it goes.

We will list some of the things we are waiting for and what the waiting feels like. Are we waiting expectantly, excitedly, or - in cases of illness or depression - with a sense of hopelessness? Are we able to wait patiently? What does it mean to be patient?

One of my favorite psalms is Psalm 40:1-3. I start my new book with this:

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit; out of the mud and mire;
He set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.

Unfortunately, being patient and hopeful is pretty difficult during times of depression. It's the nature of depression to take away hope. And we often don't feel God's presence at times like that either, so it becomes hard to trust Him. Fear takes over.

It's good at times like that to have a friend who has a strong faith, a friend who would have faith for us, who will show God's love to us. If we can sense God's love through another person it will be easier to hang on and to be comforted and encouraged.

As we wait for things, we need to keep praying...though I know that this can be difficult in cases of depression. But we should try to pray realizing that - in the end - it is God's will that will be done. Instead of forcing our own will, we submit to God's. We need to do what we can, emboldened by our prayers, but then we put what we are waiting for in God's hands. That's where trust and patience come from.

If we can wait in that way - prayerfully doing what we can and leaving the rest to God - we will be transformed, as the Psalm above describes so well. It happened to Abraham (waiting for the son God had promised him), Moses (waiting to deliver the Israelites from Egypt), David (fleeing King Saul's army for ten to thirteen years), and Jesus himself (in the wilderness resisting the temptation of the devil).

...those who wait on the Lord will find new strength. They will fly high on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

I do hope we get a bit of a discussion going around this theme tomorrow.

Monday, March 24, 2008

It's not what we want

We came back from our holiday on the Oregon Coast last night. Had a great time: walking on the beach and on the park trails and doing lots of reading...and thinking. So good how being away helps give you a fresh perspective on life and on the things you want to do. I hope to have more of these get-aways in a couple of months when the weather is better. The weather for us wasn't great, but we did see the sun a bit and even sat outside in our chairs a couple of times, enjoying the fresh air.

One book I've been enjoying very much is Philip Yancey's Prayer. I had read most of this book about a year ago but became overwhelmed. Amazing how much Yancey finds to talk about on one topic. Recently I started again at the beginning, this time doing the reading in small bites. It's a lot easier to digest that way.

One neat thing I read that had a big impact on me was how prayer is not necessarily answered as we envision. In the end it's God's will, not our will, that will be done. Even Jesus, when he prayed at Gethsemane prayed "Your will be done" at the end of his struggle with God, asking God for a way out of the crucifixion that awaited him. It's a submission to God's will.

Yancey said, "In the end, I learn that God has ordained prayer as a means of getting God's will done on earth, not ours. Yes, God hears and responds to my requests. Yes, God somehow incorporates those requests into a plan of action on earth. But as many martyrs have learned, including God's own Son as well as Christians in the persecuted church today, we do not always get what we earnestly desire."

Yancey quotes Eugene Peterson: "Praying most often doesn't get us what we want but what God wants, something quite at variance with what we conceive to be in our best interests."

But we need to continue praying. We need to keep the relationship with God a close one by praying often. It's in that way that we will learn to discern what his will is and we can do our part in bringing that about. Yancey continues discussing further in his book, we are partners with God. "God does very little on earth without the likes of you and us."

For me, prayer helps me find direction for my life and my work. Prayer has helped me find courage to do things that used to scare me.

Today I'm praying that my publisher will decide to publish my new book. I have done all I can to try to make that happen. But if it doesn't, I will just have to accept that it wasn't God's will for them to do it. I pray, waiting with expectation, but also in a state of surrender. It's in God's hands now.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Freedom and love

When I think back to my Living Room devotional on Friday, I can see that I must have confused some issues. I was trying to talk about the importance of love in our lives - both receiving and giving love - and how those can help us cope with depression. But somehow I brought freedom into the discussion - sort of jumped to it in an illogical way.

Pastor Don today talked about the freedom Christ's dying on the cross has made possible for us. I'd like to share some of his thoughts with you. I will share this post with my Living Room gang, hopefully unconfusing them a bit...hopefully giving my blogging pals and Living Room pals some Easter-timely inspiration.

A portion of Pastor Don's message - though not in the order he presented it: "We all serve something or someone and we all choose who we serve. If we serve only ourselves we'll soon find ourselves in bondage, subject to the culture around us that invades our life, slaves to materialism and to everything around us that calls for our attention. The paradox of the Christian life is that we find the greatest freedom in service to God. We only live truly as free people when we live our lives not for ourselves but for God and his purposes."

And from last Sunday's sermon: "When you begin to live to be the kind of person God intended you to be, you experience freedom."

And here is where my love topic comes in: God intends us to be people who live out of love for God and love for each other.

"For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don't use your freedom to satisy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love. For the whole Law can be summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" Galatians 5: 13-14

And what gives us that kind of freedom? Accepting that Jesus died for us on the cross and becoming his follower. He gave himself as a sacrifice, a payment for our freedom from captivity to sin and all that hurts us. Pastor Don said that if we can understand the cost of this sacrifice we will understand the great value we are to God.

You are a person of great value and worth to God. He loves you in a huge way, more than you could ever imagine.

This will be my last post for a week or so. We're off to the Oregon Coast for a holiday. Time to relax. YES!!!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Good times

I'm feeling amazingly uplifted, ready to tackle my housework today, something I'm never very good at. Is it the Living Room meeting yesterday that put me into this good mood? I wouldn't be surprised. Those meetings always do wonders for me - in a magical sort of way.

We had a smaller turnout yesterday than we've had in past months - only twelve of us. I was a bit frustrated that we couldn't get a better discussion going around finding meaning in the midst of pain. I thought it was such a good topic, but everyone was so quiet. Is this such a foreign topic to most people that they haven't thought about this before? Am I alone in thinking along these lines?

Glad that my son and his wife are coming for dinner tonight. Glad that we're going to the Oregon Coast for a little holiday next week (hope the weather is good). Glad spring is coming. Glad my mood is up. I feel a freedom - an ambition to do some of the many things I've been putting off. Energetic. Thank you, God!

This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Puttering along

First of all, I want to thank all of you who commented on my last post. Sorry I'm so long getting back to my blogging and responding to you. Why is it so hard sometimes to get down to it? Why does life have to be so complex sometimes? - actually, most of the time.

In a week and a half I'll be seeing my psychiatrist. I'm thinking of what I'll be telling him when I fill him in on the three months since I last saw him and I can see life HAS been very complex for me: helping my mother-in-law live her last days (and all that needs to be done when someone dies), my tv appearance (resulting in contacts from people far and wide), my best friend leaving town for two months (resulting in high anxiety and threat of depression), giving support to a suicidal friend, and large turnouts to Living Room meetings. Many mood altering events.

I don't have anything wise to say today. Just want to ramble a bit. Just need to talk about a bunch of nothings.

One thing I do want to tell you is that my publisher has promised to look at my book proposal by the end of this week. I'm scared. What if they decide it's not suitable for their list? I'm running out of options.

A Firm Place to Stand: Finding Meaning in a Life with Bipolar Disorder
is a much richer book than Riding the Roller Coaster. It was written by a more spiritually mature me. I wrote it to help Christians understand that it's possible to be a faithful Christian and yet have a mental illness. I wrote it to help Christians understand better so they could learn how to be supportive. I wrote it to dispel some of the stigma in the Christian community.

A Firm Place to Stand is important in the work I'm doing. If you are a person who prays, please pray that my publisher will make a favorable decision.

I got up at 3:30 this morning. Could not sleep any more. Nothing bothering me, I just want to get going on the day. I have lots to do in preparation for Living Room tomorrow. Buy some groceries for lunch, photocopy the handouts, call some of the members, go for a workout, clean a very messy house, answer some emails, blog. But this is a day I'm looking forward to. Tomorrow is a day I'm looking forward to. I have some neat stuff to bring to the table for discussion: "How do you find meaning when you're in pain?" and "How can we prepare for the depressions that we know will invariably return?"

"This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it."
(This is something I start the day with when I'm high. But no, I'm not high today.)

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Love and depression

Did I ever have a flu! One like I haven't had in years! I was too sick to sit at the computer, but had plenty of time to think. One thought I had repeatedly was, "At least I'm not depressed." Very few things are as bad as depression, don't you think? At least I knew the flu would be over soon. Depression takes away hope and you wonder if you'll ever come out of it. Today I'm still weak and my stomach is still queasy, but I'm strong enough to blog. So glad about that!

I want to continue the thoughts I posed in my last post: What makes some people choose life over death when they're severely depressed? Had lots of time to analyze that - mostly drawing from my own experience.

In New Light on Depression, Harold Koenig writes how we need a supportive ally who will say, "I love you, and there's nothing you could do or say that would change that. I am with you now, and I'll be with you as long as you need me. I believe in you. I know that your depression has placed a great chasm between the person you really are and the person you feel you are. But I will try to help you bridge that gap with love - mine and God's - for he loves you and believes in you too. We three are in this together - you, me, and God. And when this is over, together we'll find a way to use the pain to help others."

One thing Koenig said that has always resonated with me is that "Love - unconditional love - is the ultimate long-term antidote for depression, for at its core love is connected with faith and hope."

I always read this unconditional love to mean the love we receive from God and others. However, I'm seeing more and more how it's even more important to give love to others. A friend from Living Room, as well as Merelyme in her comment on the last post, have told me how the love they have for their family and friends keeps them from taking drastic action when they're severely depressed.

And when we're giving of ourselves in love to others, we tend not to become depressed as easily. We tend to overcome the threat of depression and work our way out of it more effectively. When we concern ourselves with the needs of others, our own needs are not as great. As we think about others we don't think as much about ourselves. We know we're needed and it feels good to be needed. How could we possibly end our lives knowing that?

I truly believe that sharing God's unconditional love with others is the very best long-term antidote to depression.

Wednesday, March 05, 2008

Meaning in the midst of suffering

I have been thinking of why some people who have depression decide they want to die and then take the drastic action to commit suicide. Others with depression - though suffering - choose to live, no matter how dark their life has become. What's the difference? How can we persuade those who want to die that life is worth living? How can we persuade them to choose life, not death? How can we help them find meaning in life?

In 1946, as a result of his experiences as an inmate in a concentration camp, Viktor Frankl wrote a book called Man's Search for Meaning. Frankl concludes from his experience that a prisoner's psychological reactions are not solely the result of the conditions of his life, but also from the freedom of choice he always has even in severe suffering. The inner hold a prisoner has on his spiritual self relies on having a faith in the future, and that once a prisoner loses that faith, he is doomed.

Frankl quotes Nietzsche: "He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how."

We who live with the highs and lows of bipolar disorder can learn from this. We know that we're going to hit depressions. Depression is for us unavoidable. What we need to do is to create a life for ourselves that is meaningful. During the times we're well we can build purpose into our lives, purpose that will be so important to us that we will hang on to the hope it gives, even during times of depression. We can choose to create a life for ourselves that will be so rewarding that we would not want to lose it, no matter how difficult the struggle becomes.

Personally, I have found meaning in facilitating Living Room, my faith-based support group for people with mood disorders. Now when I get depressed, I try to learn from what I'm going through so that I can share insights with members of the group. Even the bad stuff has value in it, though it may at the time be difficult to see. I know that this is God's work I'm doing and I have faith that he will help me do it, even when things get tough.

Everyone has gifts they can use to create a rich life for themselves, one they would never want to give up. But we have to work on building that kind of life while we are well.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Sacred space at times of depression

Susan of Bipolar Wellness has spoken a number of times about how she needs friends around her who will be with her when she's depressed, understanding that she may not want to - or be able to - talk much. I also feel that is the best kind of support a friend can offer. With the help of author Peter Scazzero, I've come to think of that quiet space between friends as "sacred space."

In his book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, Scazzero talks about how we need to recognize the uniqueness and separateness of other people and how true relationships "can only exist between two people willing to connect across their differences." And how true this is when one person is depressed and the other isn't! What a gulf there is between us at times like this! How can we bridge that gulf? How can we connect?

When I've been with friends who are depressed, I find the best way to be with them is to talk little, but to allow for lots of quiet time. We have gone for walks and I encourage them to talk about how they're feeling and respond a bit. But I allow for a comfortable quietness as well. That's the kind of presence I long for from my friends as well, when I'm depressed.

Scazzero writes, "When genuine love is released in a relationship, God's presence is manifest. The separate space between us becomes sacred space." When a friend will spend such comfortable quiet times with me, she cuts through the isolation I feel. What's more, a beautiful intimacy develops between us. And I sense God's presence.

Sunday, March 02, 2008

A lonely place

Depression is a lonely place to be. The loneliness and disconnectedness we feel must be the worst part of it. We long for someone to reach us through that wall we have around us. We long for love to touch us and bring us out. We long to sense God's presence. We know God loves us, but we can't feel it. We are cold and alone. In limbo.

What can we do to re-connect? How can we find help?

At times like this I long for a call from a friend. I long to hear that someone is thinking of me and praying for me. I long to know that someone cares. That would, I think, in a small way break through the isolation I feel. That would, in a small way, cut through the wall and help me feel some warmth.

I need a friend who will listen to me and just be with me for a while, without making me feel bad about being the way I am. I need a friend who will not tire of sticking with me as I work my way out of the hole I'm in. I need a friend who will love me, no matter how ugly I feel. I need someone I can count on. I need someone who will remind me that God is there.