Saturday, February 28, 2009

Agape love at Living Room

I've been blogging so little. I'm sorry about that, but I've been finding myself expressing my thoughts in emails to friends and that seems to be sufficient. Nevertheless I should share some things here once in a while and I know I should visit you once in awhile too. And once in a while I will.

We had a Living Room meeting yesterday and the meeting left me with the wonderful deep joy I so often feel after.

I will copy here part of an email I sent to my pastor afterwards:

"Tonight I'm getting to the end of the book Helen (my friend) lent me: Mark Buchanan's Hidden in Plain Sight. The second part of the book focuses on 1 Peter 1:5-7, discussing the meaning and significance of goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (agape love). I'm presently starting to read about love.

Buchanan quotes G.K. Chesterton talking about "Beauty and the Beast": "Unlovely things must be deeply loved before they become lovable." in the way Christ loves us: "While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us."

And I think of how much I love my Living Room people and how even the most seemingly unlovable become so very lovable. And in a strange way I come to love the seemingly unlovable even more than those who might seem more easy to love. Does that make sense? I thank God for giving me that love to love with. Such joy it brings with it! The love of God is very present at Living Room. His presence is there and we are free to come before him the way we are - totally open, not needing to hide anything - no guilt or shame. At Living Room everyone becomes lovable. What a beautiful thing!"

At Living Room yesterday we talked about how to find meaning in life, though we might be disabled - not able to work. Towards the end I suggested starting the day with the following prayer: "God, please fill me with your love and help me to share that love with others." I believe that when we pray that prayer with sincerity and believe God can answer it, we will sense God's love and share that love and we will find our life becoming meaningful.

I hope and pray you will have a day filled with meaning and love today.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Hurt feelings

Just want to throw a question out for people with bipolar disorder: Do you think bipolars get their feelings hurt easier than people who are emotionally healthy?

Doesn't take much sometimes to get me down. Usually social situations. Things to do with my friendships.

How is it for you?

Friday, February 20, 2009

Nothing is impossible...

...with God. I truly believe that this is true. "Nothing is impossible with God." (Luke 1:37)

I've found that to be true in how Living Room has developed. My own Living Room group has become strong and there are at least eight other groups going right now - and maybe more. More are in the works. And this could never have happened if I hadn't thought of it as God's work - not Marja's work. All I do is the footwork. All I do is pass along what God gives me to say. I put myself in His hands.

Often I felt so very small for this. How could I possibly do something as big as this? But I learned to trust that God is at work and all I had to do was follow. And how I have grown through it! And I learned that nothing is impossible when we trust in God and let Him lead the way.

And now I think of this hypomanic idea I've come up with: this relay march across Canada. Is it a God-size idea or a hypomanic-size idea? Or are the two one and the same? I just know that if God is in this, it can happen. If God is in this, I need to be obedient and follow. But I've also learned not to rush into things like this. I need to wait for my mood to even out and see if I still feel so strongly about it. Perhaps all that will be required from me is to cast the vision. Perhaps all I'll need to do is talk to a few influential people.

If you're puzzled about what I'm talking about here, please read the two posts I wrote yesterday - written - I know - in a bit of a hypomanic fervour. And yet such fervour has led to good things too, hasn't it? I must not throw this idea away as pure lunacy. It would be great if this dream could truly happen.

Today my mood is more even. I've drawn back. Was even downright down for awhile last night and this morning. And this morning I've done nothing much but think. That's not a good thing. Thinking without action is unhealthy for a bipolar.

It's almost lunchtime for me. After lunch I will work on some photographs of a baby I took awhile ago. Focus on something creative.

A couple of years ago I gave up photography, choosing to put all the energy I had into mental health work. But recently I decided it would be healthy to start up again. I need a more balanced life. I need to do something creative. The gift I have of photographing young children is God-given. To reject it would be a sin I think. So now I'm re-discovering the joy I always found in this work. Perhaps I will post one of the pictures next week, once I get permission from the mom and dad.

The sun is shining in spring-like fashion here in Vancouver. The birds were singing early this morning. God has given us a beautiful day.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Why do we need to walk?

"All the forces in the world are not so powerful as an idea whose time has come." Victor Hugo, History of a Crime

I'm still feeling frustrated that my plan to walk/march for mental health research is something that would be beyond what I can presently do. I so wish someone would take this on because I think it would have a huge stigma busting impact.

Why am I so passionate about this right now?

I am showing some mild symptoms of tardive dyskinesia and am worried about it. The meds I've been taking have been great, but are amongst those that can cause this awful side effect. And I've been thinking of what the alternatives would be. Olanzapine was always good for me, but causes weight gain and has been the direct cause of diabetes for many. Much more research needs to happen to find more acceptable drugs.

I've for many many years been frustrated about the puny amount of money going into mental health research - puny when you compare it to cancer and heart research. The direct reason for this is the stigma. When no one is willing to talk about it, nothing gets done.

A walking relay across Canada - and for our American neighbours, a walk across the US - would draw attention to it. It would draw attention to the need for research dollars; and it would draw attention to the needs of those who live with mental illness. I'm sure if someone took the initiative to work on this, he or she would get lots of support from the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Pastor Don spoke on Sunday about "The Power of a Shared Vision." He said, "Vision is the ability to see what should be and to imagine what could be."

I have a vision of great groups of people - people who live with mental illness and those who support them - marching across Canada in relay fashion. Starting in Vancouver and moving east, passing a talking stick from one to the other, speaking out about their needs. By the time we reach the east coast, I believe the public will have learned a lot and funds for research would have been raised. Each group will encourage the next. We will be encouraged to come out from the shadows.

I have a vision that one day mental illness will be talked about more and there won't be so much stigma. Those who suffer from the illness won't need to also suffer from shame. More of us will go for help. More help will become available.

Can you see it? Can you - will you - share in my vision?

Pastor Don quoted Peter Senge from The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization: "A shared vision is not an idea, but rather a force in people's hearts that is unrivalled in its power to transform and accomplish."

A resounding "NO"

It has been awhile since I've written. Just can't apply myself to blogging like I used to. So many other things going on. And yet I value this place - this blog. It's such a wonderful place to share stuff.

I want to share a dream I had: The Mental Health Commission of Canada wants to raise an army of volunteers to raise funds for mental health research. I'm so happy about that. For years I've thought there should be campaigns for this kind of research in the same way there are high profile campaigns for cancer and heart research. There is so little research going into mental health - such a puny bit when you put it next to support for cancer. And why? It's because of the stigma.

I have long thought that someone needs to do something grand for mental health. We need a Terry Fox. We need someone who will lead a march across the country, drawing attention to mental health issues.

So my dream lately has been to get a walk going - a relay walked by people from across the country, passing a talking stick from one to the other. These would not be single people, walking alone. No. It would be groups of people walking together, picking up fresh people as each group tired out. Each group would be led by someone taking the talking stick, someone willing to talk about the needs of those who live with mental illness. The groups would consist of people living with mental illness and their supporters. All of them willing to be counted. All of them willing to come out of the shadows.

For a some time now I've been thinking about organizing such a thing. But I've waited, wondering if that wouldn't be too much for me. Would Living Room not suffer to have me tied up with yet another project?

This morning I woke up very early with all this on my mind. I thought of talking to friends, hoping they would be dead honest with me about my plans. Is this wise for me? Or is it another bipolar-size plan? Instead I asked God, writing my questions to him in my journal:

"Am I nuts to be thinking of doing a big walk for mental health research? Somebody needs to do it. Should it be me Lord? Or do I already have enough on my plate? Is this a bipolar size plan? Is this beyond me?"

And God's answer was clear. A resounding "No." Shucks!!

I need to keep my focus on Living Room. Don't want that to suffer. And I need to maintain some margin in my life - time to help friends when they need me - time to work my way through the moods that come upon me now and then.

I just wish someone would do such a thing. Is there someone waiting in the wings who would be up to this?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Understanding people who don't understand

I was just puttering - looking through some old articles I wrote - and came upon this one. I don't think I've ever posted it here.

As a person living with bipolar disorder, I used to feel frustrated that so many people do not understand mental illness. I was angry that, because of the stigma that surrounds these diseases, people didn’t even try to empathize. But through my writing and educating others, I’ve learned that the problem does not lie only with healthy people who do not understand. It lies as well with those of us who live with mental illness. We share the onus of making the world a friendlier place for people like ourselves. This piece is for us.

I try hard to understand the people who do not yet understand. This helps me educate others on mental health issues, whether through my writing, speaking, or meeting with others.

We who live with mental illness need to go beyond thinking that others should understand us. We need to understand them as well. Understanding is a two-way street. All of us should understand each other. Those of us with mental illness should empathize with healthy people who need to be encouraged to learn what mental illness is and is not. We need the patience to educate them gradually. With help, they will learn, step-by-step, to cut through the stigma that so heavily surrounds mental illness.

We would like to see healthy people put themselves in our place, with empathy. But we with mental illness must also put ourselves in their place, to understand why they have so much trouble empathizing. We need to learn how to build empathy where it doesn’t exist. And we need patience with those who can’t identify with us—not anger or frustration, but love, showing them love in the same way we want to be loved. In this way, we will gradually remove the stigma.

If we believe in ourselves, without shame or guilt, others will not be able to hurt us as much with their unsympathetic attitudes. We will learn to ignore snubs and not return them. We will reach out to others who have trouble reaching out to us. We will learn not to internalize the stigma. We will not accept the stigma, but will live instead as though it doesn’t exist.

I’m fortunate to have a husband who has always supported me. I didn’t have to worry about keeping my disorder secret from unsympathetic employers. I had the freedom, ten years ago, to start educating the public by writing about my illness, trying to build empathy and compassion. My church friends gradually learned from me what it means to live with bipolar disorder. Today I enjoy a church environment in which mental health issues are an acceptable topic of conversation. The faith-based mood disorders support group, Living Room, that I started has become a much-loved ministry for my church.

Most people want to feel compassion for others. All they need is to understand our illnesses better. For that to happen, the stigma that causes fear and prevents people from learning must be reduced. And the only way to reduce stigma is to talk openly about these issues. When we talk naturally about mental illness, it’s amazing how many people with these problems come out of hiding. Others become more supportive, and suddenly sick people no longer need to suffer alone and in silence.

Though I’m still angry at the stigma, I no longer feel as angry about the misunderstanding. Today I try instead to understand people who don’t understand, knowing they need time to learn. If we educate with patience, one person at a time—loving them as we want to be loved—the world will become a better place.

As the Bible says, “…live in harmony with one another; be sympathetic, love as brothers, be compassionate and humble.” (1 Peter 3:8)

And that goes for all of us.

Saturday, February 07, 2009


I'm celebrating - happy - joyous!! Tonight I had a call from a lady in Victoria, telling me that her church had its first Living Room meeting today. Another group is born - the tenth. Praise God, eh?

This particular group will be serving people with all kinds of mental illness, not only mood disorder. It is also not quite ready to do outreach work. Members so far are only from the host church.

What delighted me was that the facilitator was so truly happy to be doing this. And the participants are very grateful for the group. Now they'll have a place where they can be open about both - their faith in God and their mental health issues.

Thank you, thank you, God, for the work you are doing through Living Room!

Friday, February 06, 2009

Out of our brokenness

And now on with some more of what Pastor Don talked about a couple of Sundays ago:

Don said, "It's out of brokenness that God births a vision in your life....If God breaks your heart about something, He's saying, 'Do something about it.' ...Long before God gives you a vision He has been preparing you - He's been at work in your life - long before you even knew there was a God out there."

"...You may have had a painful life, experiences you wish you could forget. But if you give your life to God, no matter how bad - if you surrender your pains to God - God can work good things out of bad."

"...A vision given by God will always demand courage and boldness from us. ...If we think we can do it, it's probably way too small and not from God. A God idea will always stretch our capacity to think that it's possible. A God idea will always be beyond the resources we see available. A God-given vision is always bigger than our perception of our own human ability."

But the comment has been made by a couple in the congregation: "I've never had a vision from God. Surely not everyone is going to receive such a grand vision." Some people feel there's something wrong with them. They lead good unselfish lives, doing things for others, yet don't feel they've ever had one of these God-sized ideas. Some are feeling guilty about that. Some are feeling there's something wrong with them.

From my limited experience, I have seen that some of the greatest visions have come to those who have experienced the greatest pain in their lives. Don has also said, "Out of the source of your greatest pain, [God can bring forth His] greatest work." But, as he said, we need to surrender our lives to God.

Have you ever had a God-size vision? Do you feel that's possible for you? Shouldn't it be enough to be a help to others in whom a vision is birthed? Let's talk about it. How are you feeling about all this?

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

What do you live for?

I've been struggling. Wanting to write another post, but knowing it would not be an easy straight forward one to write. I want to continue writing about things my pastor Don has talked about - things that I've found very inspiring. Maybe I'll do this in bits and write two or three posts on the topic. Small bites are so much easier to chew.

Don asked, "Are you ever moved by something that grips your heart? Do you take the time to allow yourself to be moved by something, or do you live a too-busy, too self-centered life?" Everyone has something that bothers them deeply. Is there something - even a small thing - you can do to make things better?

"Do you have a sense that your life counts for something? Do you have direction?" Don quotes Seneca who said, "If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind." If we can take the time - quiet time with God - to chew on the things that bother us and look for a way that we could help, perhaps we could find direction for our lives. Life would become meaningful.

Many years ago now I was very bothered by the stigma that's attached to mental illness. This discontent would not go away. I was angered by it, knowing that mental illness was not anything a sufferer could help. It just isn't fair to be saddled by shame, as well as the symptoms of a painful disorder.

Bill Hybels wrote a great little book called Holy Discontent. The description of "holy discontent" on the back cover reads:

"What is the one aspect of this broken world that, when you see it, touch it, or get near it, you just can't stand? What reality is so troubling that it thrusts you off the couch and into action? This is what Bill Hybels refers to as a holy discontent: a personal 'firestorm of frustration' that, although sparked by that which is terribly wrong, can catalyze fierce determination to set things right. It is often during these eye-opening heart-hungering moments of engagement when you will hear God whisper, "I feel the exact same way about this situation. Now, let's go solve it together.'"

I had a discontent that would not go away. God lit a fire in me that won't die. The result has been many articles, two books, and the founding of Living Room, a faith-based support program for people with mood disorders.

Does it bother you too that people with mental health issues don't get more acceptance and better support from the church? Do you also feel such a "holy discontent?" Would you too like to form a Christian support group for people with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders in your church?

I never thought I'd be able to facilitate such a group. But I found out that when God is in it, He will do the work. All we to do is to share His love with others. You'd be surprised at what can happen.

If you're interested in joining me in God's vision to create a good place for Christians with mood disorders to meet together, I hope you'll check out the Living Room website and get involved.

Monday, February 02, 2009

Canada's best blog

I'm very proud to say that my daughter-in-law, Jeannette Ordas's popular food blog, everybodylikessandwiches, has been one of five finalists nominated as best Canadian blog. I'm so very proud of her. Please check her out and if you like it, could you vote for her? Today is the last chance to vote.

All the best, Jeannette. We love your creativity.