Thursday, December 30, 2010

Making a hobby out of a chore

Such a neat thing when something that was a chore becomes a hobby!

Through most of my marriage cooking was a hobby for me. I enjoyed trying out a wide variety of recipes, eager to see the results. My thinking was that if I had to cook every day I might as well make a hobby out of it. I might as well make it fun.

Now this truly spoilt my husband because, over the past few years it has become something I had to do - a chore. My time and energy went into other things. My husband felt I was failing him. He was so accustomed to having interesting meals - something different almost every day of the month.

Now that I've decided to gather all our favourite recipes from those years into a cookbook, I've become almost obsessed about cooking...well - pretty high on it, anyway. What fun it is to go through my boxes of cookbooks and uncover all those recipes for things I used to cook! I always made it a habit to put remarks with the recipes I tried, because if I didn't I'd never remember what was good, or excellent, or not worth making again. That's making it easy going back now.

The fun thing about cooking good meals is that you want to be able to share them with people. Now I'm starting to dream up dinner parties with various people.

Next week Wednesday my son is coming over for his birthday celebration. I'll be making his all-time favourite, Six O'Clock Twist. Rotini with a very cheesy sauce including bacon. He's been raving about it to his gourmet-cook wife. I remember him telling his Grade Two teacher about it over thirty years ago and bringing her the recipe. Hmmm...I wonder if he'll still like it as much as he did then, now that he's grown accustomed to his wife's great cooking. We'll see.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My splintery platform

Several weeks ago I turned over leadership of my Living Room group at Brentwood Park Alliance Church to my co-facilitator, Mark. I thought my emotional health was too unstable and wanted a strong facilitator for the group. My on-again off-again depression was proving to be too much. Thought I should have a break and return when I was stronger. (I attended the last meeting, but left everything to Mark to run.)

I've had a good rest, turning my energy to cooking and to spending more time with my husband. Now I'm wondering whether I'm ready to return to full leadership. I hesitate because I still have down times. I'm still not stable. But - I wonder - will I ever be completely stable? I expect not. Does that mean I should not lead a Living Room group? I don't think that's the case.

I think facilitators who deal with mood disorders are always in danger of falling into depression or rising to mania or hypomania. When these problems get bad it's so good to have a co-facilitator to take over for awhile. But I'm learning that I'll never be perfect and I should take back the leadership when I've started doing better - when I've had a chance to have a good break.

A friend gave me Dear Jesus, a devotional book written by Sarah Young. Those devotionals are proving to be the perfect thing for me to start my early morning quiet times with.

This morning's devotional helped me in my struggle to decide whether or not I should return to leadership. The author - and I along with her - asks Jesus:

Dear Jesus,
"I want to be available for the display of Your Power and Glory. But I feel more like a splintery, unfinished platform than a polished ready-to-use stage. I may not even be safe enough for Your performance, since some of my boards aren't nailed down properly."

and Jesus answers:
"Beloved, no matter how polished you might become, you could never be good enough for the display of My radiant holiness. However, I have chosen you to reflect My Glory, despite your imperfections. Moreover, your weakness is the ideal stage for the exhibition of My Power. Your part in this drama is to look away from yourself and gaze at Me in My awesome splendor. Forget about your unworthiness and delight yourself in My glorious Being. Watch while I perform great things for you."

Yes, I need to look away from myself and my imperfections and look at Jesus. I need to forget about the feelings of unworthiness that have been plaguing me and think about Jesus and what He can do...and all He has done. I need to say to myself, "Forget yourself, Marja. It's not about you at all."

I'm preparing my heart for our next meeting on January 14th. Looking forward to sharing Jesus with others who suffer from mood disorders. Looking forward to sharing how He can work in us and through us, in spite of our imperfections. As Jesus said,
"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." 2 Corinthians 12:9

Friday, December 24, 2010

Blessed Christmas time

What a blessing my strategy to fight depression by planning a cookbook project! Although I've struggled with on and off lows, I've been motivated to cook and bake - to gather all our favourite recipes from the over forty years we've been married.

Taking up a new creative project has been my coping technique for dealing with depression almost since I first started having bipolar disorder. It helps me keep my head above water. It gives me a purpose for the day - something more colourful than the chores - more colourful than the things I have to do.

This is my third day in an up mood. So good to feel this way! Today I'm baking Stollen, an involved recipe, but I've reserved most of the day for this job.

My husband gave me a wonderful early Christmas present, Brian Doerksen's new CD, Level Ground. I believe his songs have in large part been responsible for bringing me up, for encouraging me. How the words speak to me! They are perfect for people who deal with mood disorders. On his website, Brian says,

"Worship is not always about bringing God our best and brightest. Sometimes it's about bringing God our pain and grief. Sometimes it's coming just the way we are! God wants to give us more than permission to feel - he wants to step into the middle of our feelings and be present with us; even in our suffering . . . even in the middle of our emotions. So let the tears flow . . . let the laments be sung . . . and don't even think about apologizing!"

I'm feeling so well that I'm tempted to invite my Living Room group for an open house. Someone has to eat all those cookies! But a friend and my husband are warning me against it. My road has been far too rocky lately. How can I be sure I will be well enough to handle the stress?


Nevertheless, I will enjoy what I do have planned. My son and his wife and my mother are coming to have a turkey dinner with us. And we're planning on having a couple - old friends - over for New Year's Eve.

We will have a good Christmas. And I hope you will too.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

My prayer

I read a prayer written by Max Lucado in his gift book called Shaped by God. How that impacted me! How I want to make that my prayer! How I would like to be drawn from the fire - well again, firm and solid so that I can be God's instrument! But you know what? I think it's starting to happen.

Lucado writes:
Ah, to be your instrument, O God,
like Paul to the Gentiles,
like Philip to the eunuch,
like Jesus to the world, be your instrument.
To be like a scalpel in the gentle hands of a surgeon,
healing and mending.
To be like a plow in the weathered hands of a farmer,
sowing and tending.
To be like a scythe in the sweeping hands of a reaper,
gathering and using.
To instrument for noble purposes.
To be honed and tuned,
in sync with your will,
sensitive to your touch.
This, my God, is my prayer.
Draw me from your fire,
form me on your anvil,
shape me with your hands,
and let me be your tool.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Jane's letter to God

Jane from startingitover sent me a comment to my last post that I think would be better published here as a separate post. I thank you very much, Jane, because I found great encouragement in it.

Jane wrote, "When I was in the hospital, I wrote a "letter to God" when I felt in the state you are in (I had posted it on my blog)... and it's a letter of pain, but one that pleads of hope. I'd like to share it with you."

"Letter to God"

I am going to believe that you haven't created depression and you haven't left me. I am going to believe that even though all I see is darkness all around me, that you are beside me and you are light. I am going to believe that you love me and care for me and I am not alone because you are with me, even though I feel more alone than I have ever felt. I am going to believe that you keep your promises to us to have a life full of hope and purpose instead a life full of damnation and suffering. But just because I believe all these things, it doesn't mean that I feel them.

I feel the opposite of what you promise. It makes it difficult to want to be alive. I feel worthless and confused. I feel hopeless and insecure. I feel sad and scared. I want to run and hide. This darkness... perhaps it's a gift to hide the terrible emotions that are attached to my very soul. All the sleep... perhaps it's a gift to ignore the voices I hear when my mind is tired. All the withdrawal from others, perhaps it's a gift to others that I am not spreading my negativity and a gift to myself from creating a bad impression.

There is no conclusion. I am going to believe that you wrote a good end to this story and that in time, i will be exposed to the ending that you have in mind, not the ending that i have in mind when i'm in this destructive state. I guess for that, healing needs to take place. I know you heal. But i don't understand your timing or ideas behind healing. I guess one day I'll find out.

Love, Jane

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


I can see why most people isolate when they're depressed. People don't know how to respond to you when you're untalkative and glum. And it's so difficult to pretend to be cheerful when you don't feel it inside. It's so hard to be sociable. And you feel so unlovable, though you need love so badly. So...what do you do?

You hide and suffer in silence.

I've tried reaching out, but it doesn't feel good. I feel I'm a bother and am putting a damper on everything for everybody.

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
Look on me and answer, O Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death
(Psalm 13:1-3)

David sure understood. What a comfort to read psalms like this and realize I'm not alone with such thoughts.
"But," he says "I trust in your unfailing love"

At least, you understand, God. You have compassion. "Thy compassion it fails not." I pray that I'll find sufficiency in the knowledge of your love.

Not for myself alone

Several weeks ago, when I was in huge depths, feeling very bad about myself - feeling ashamed for how needy I had become - I read something that encouraged me. In a Yancey book I was reading he said something like "We don't just live for ourselves alone." And this reminded me that I shouldn't think so much about myself - about how I feel and about how I'm behaving so pitifully. I can reach out to others with what I'm learning through all this. Perhaps not at this moment, but sometime in the near future.

This morning I read something I had underlined in my Bible:
This is how we know what love is: Jesus laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers. (1 John 3:16)

That's how I would like to be. How I hate what this disorder does to me when I think so much about myself! It's not how I want to live. I want to be other-centered. And I pray this morning once more that God will help me be that for others. To live for others, and not just for myself.

This morning I'm not feeling great. Plans I had made to make peppernuts with a little girl would, I think, be too ambitious a project for me. I don't know if I'd have that kind of energy. I don't know if I'd be a cheerful companion for her.

I will focus instead on helping my husband with a project of his - bottling some wine. I can be myself with him and he would appreciate my help and my company. If I'm going to be there for others, I need to start with my husband. If I only have a little bit of energy to put out, I need to spend that energy on him. To live for him, the partner God gave me. That man who has given me such great support for 41 years.

Monday, December 13, 2010

With thanksgiving

I continue to struggle some days, and other days feel like I've turned the corner, only to find I haven't. But this morning I feel good. And for that I'm thankful.

Yesterday, as I was dealing with anxiety issues and searching for God, so wanting to feel Him close, I stumbled on an old Living Room devotional about practising God's presence through giving thanks. I quoted Mark Buchanan from his book, The Rest of God:
"The best way I know to embody...Godward orientation is thankfulness. Thankfulness is a secret passageway into a room you can't find any other way. It allows us to discover the rest of God-those dimensions of God's world, God's presence, God's character that are hidden, always from the thankless."

I've been thanking God this morning for my ability - in spite of the way I've been feeling - to find satisfaction and a sense of accomplishment in cooking and baking. And my current interest in cooking is encouraging me to invite close friends over to share meals with us. Nothing fancy. Just a basic meal is what they'll be getting. But I WILL use recipes that are special for us. Favourite dishes that will go into my cookbook.

This morning I think of my dear husband who is so enjoying my cooking and showing his delight. How fortunate I am to have him. He's so patient with me as my moods keep shifting. So comforting when I'm feeling low. The way to his heart is definitely through his stomach. You should have heard him chatter eagerly as he ate his supper last night. A neat thing from a man who doesn't generally talk a lot. Such a good thing that I'm able to cook right now! Thank you, God, that in spite of my low moods I'm able to do this.

I've been reading Philippians 4:6-8. How true Paul's words are! How I need to take them to heart! " everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present [my] requests to God." and think about all good things: "whatever is true...noble...right...pure...lovely...admirable-if anything is excellent or praiseworthy-think about such things."

Praise God! This morning I'm thinking good things.

Friday, December 10, 2010

You hem me in

Such a comfort it was this morning to read Psalm 139. Isn't it neat how reading scripture will affect you in different ways each time you read? Depending on where you are emotionally?

I'm thankful this morning that I feel like tidying the house. I really feel like doing things. Not with a lot of energy or a lot of joy, but I want to have things in hand so I can continue on with the project that is giving me a sense of purpose right now - the cookbook project. That's what I'm hanging onto right now.

...and it's high time I prepared our house for Christmas. I need to do some decorating - get in the spirit.

I love Psalm 139 - where David says:
Where can I go from you Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.

Yeah, off and on lately, I've been making my bed in the depths. But this Psalm promises that He is there with me. I can rest in that assurance.

It's a Living Room day today. I've turned over the leadership to my co-facilitator until I'm feeling stronger. Right now I feel I need to be supported and don't feel as strong about giving support. So glad I have someone in place to take over that role.

I will focus on doing the things I feel I can best do. Putter around the house. Try to make Christmas happen as well as I can. One day at a time. Just very thankful that I feel up to things today. Very thankful to know that God is with me - through all my ups and downs.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

My response to God

I had a good day yesterday, a blessedly good day. The day before had been an awful one - one of the worst. Yes, I seem to be going up and down again. Better than having every day a bad one though, eh?

Yesterday I went for a workout and baked two batches of Christmas cookies. I felt so encouraged. And I prayed hard that this upswing would continue. I begged God to help my good mood stick around.

But this morning - as I'm not feeling quite as positive - as I'm feeling a worn-ness, I wonder if begging God for wellness was really the right attitude to take. Shouldn't I just have faith that He WILL help me overcome? Rather than this begging, shouldn't I just trust?

In his book The Land Between, Jeff Manion wrote how "Our response to God while in the Land Between [the trials we go through] is what will determine whether our journey through this desert will result in deep, positive growth or spiritual decline." As the Israelites, wandering in the desert, needed to trust God to provide, I too need to trust God...daily.

God is with me, whether I'm up or down. I need to find encouragement in that knowledge. I need to realize that, even if I don't "feel" his love, it IS there. And I need to rest in that knowledge and wait patiently for Him to lift me out of the mire and mud of my low times.

Ah, but it's the nature of the disease to forget all about that, isn't it? It's the nature of the disease to feel like things are hopeless. What a tragedy!

And I will trust. I will have faith. God is good and He will provide what I need for today.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

When a glimmer comes

As I'm riding on waves of depression, I'm reminded of how important it is to take advantage of the occasional glimmer of light that comes along - those times when I become interested in doing something that might offer a way out.

I felt good about myself a couple of days ago when I managed to bake my husband's favourite cake for his birthday. Then I came across an old recipe for a favourite meal I used to make years ago. I cooked it up for his birthday dinner and had my son and his wife come and share it with us. I felt good about myself. Quite a switch from the way I had been feeling.

Stumbling on that old recipe reminded me of a project I started years ago, putting together a collection of our favourite recipes. And, I thought, maybe changing gears will get me out of this funk. Maybe I should pick up that old project again and publish a little cookbook. My 65th birthday is coming up next year. What better way to celebrate than to gather together all my favourite recipes from a lifetime of cooking?

I remember many years ago how I often picked up a fresh new project whenever I felt depression coming on. Quite often that was exactly what I needed to get me interested in life again. And two Christmases ago, during a particularly bad time I put together a calendar using my flower photography. That helped make my mood a little less black. Yes, I believe creative projects can do much to help a person through those bad times.

So tonight, after spending half the evening in bed, feeling quite miserable, I got up and started looking through old recipes. I picked out some that needed to go into the book for sure. And I picked out others that I'll have to test again to make sure I want to include them.

What is particularly good about this project is that it will help me get interested in cooking again. And I know for sure that will make my husband very happy.

Yes, when that glimmer of interest in something comes, we need to take advantage of it. Grab hold of it and do it. Just do.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Unforced rhythms of grace

My pastor pointed out Jesus' words in Matthew 11:28-30 to me yesterday, verses that have given me great encouragement in the past. The NIV version reads:
28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

How often I've felt burdened and stressed and needed that kind of rest! So encouraging that Jesus promised us a yoke that is easy to bear. These words help me so much to want to follow Jesus - to do as He did; to live as He did - as much as I can. These words are comforting and give me a feeling of peace. They promise that I can follow Jesus without stress. Not like I have been doing lately - the kind of stress that burned me out and caused such depression.

Eugene Peterson's version in the Message has an even greater impact on me:
28-30"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly."

Yes. I've been tired and worn out. Burned out. I want to recover my life, to get my passion and energy back. And all I have to do is to walk with Jesus and live the way He did. Actually, not such an easy thing to do. But there's a promise here that a better way to live can be learned. Jesus promises not to lay anything on me that is too heavy or ill-fitting. How comforting to know that!

God has equipped me to do a work for Him that only people like me, those who have lived with mood disorders can do well. And that's to comfort others who suffer as I do. That kind of work is not heavy for me. It fits me well. But I need to walk close to God. I need to keep company with Jesus.

Unfortunately, my bipolar disorder causes me to have moods that make all this hard to do. During episodes I start feeling and thinking in ways that I truly cannot help. I'm so thankful though to have friends who will help remind me of the way God wants me to live. Friends who will help kick me out of depression by reminding me that I'm loved. Friends who will help me regain proper perspective. This kind of support is priceless.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Great is Thy faithfulness

Last night as I talked to a friend about how depressed I've been lately and the hopelessness I felt, she reminded me of how it is teaching me how to be sympathetic to others who suffer as I do. And that provided me with a glimmer of something positive that I know will come out of this. Because yes, it's compassion that has provided me with the most meaningful work I've had in this life - the building of a Living Room ministry.

This morning I once more sat - as David so aptly described it in Psalm 139:8 - making "my bed in the depths." Feeling quite sorry for myself. Feeling quite hopeless.

A friend's email woke me up when she said, "Which verses are you going to lean on today?" and "...what are you going to do today that will help you be more positive? What is something you can do today that will give you a sense of enjoyment and fulfillment?"

My thoughts went to my other friend's comment last night about compassion. Another glimmer of hope. And I thought of the hymn that always draws an abundance of tears from me when we sing it in church:
Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with Thee;
Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not;
As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.

I am reminded of God's great compassion and love for me - something these lyrics always bring home so clearly for me. I am also reminded of Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 1:3-5;
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God. For just as the sufferings of Christ flow over into our lives, so also through Christ our comfort overflows.

At this moment I feel encouraged. I don't always have to be a victim of this illness. I can turn around and use what I learn to help others.

I just pray that during the waves of negative thinking I've been experiencing the encouragement I feel at this moment will last. I pray that this will provide the food I need to keep me going.