Thursday, December 29, 2011

A long-distance race



Dear blogging pals:

So long it has been since I wrote last! Such a change since I started blogging in 2006 and I had promised myself I would write a post every other day! And I did too, for a long time. It was a blessing to do so.

What has happened?

I guess life happened. Many things have changed for me. I ended up starting a ministry that is reaching far and wide. I'm grateful for how far God has taken Living Room.

Lately though I've been wondering how long I can keep leading this ministry. I've been having a lot of troubles. Loss of memory; disorganization; having normal or high moods followed very quickly by depression - often with suicidal ideation. Doesn't sound very good for the leader of such an important ministry, does it?

And I wonder: Is this the way it's always going to be for me? Is this a permanent condition caused by old age setting in? That is indeed a worry. But I mustn't just worry about this. I need to consider what can be done.

How I would love to find someone to take my place! Someone who I could at least groom to take over leadership from me.

My pastor recently very wisely pointed me to Hebrews 11 and 12. And I can see how with Living Room I blazed a trail like the Biblical figures described. What a great privilege that has been!! But I might not realize my goal. I never did actually expect to reach my goal of destroying stigma. All we can hope for is to reduce it, isn't it?

Yet I did hope and pray to have Living Room groups in churches readily available to as many people as possible. I hoped to start a movement towards reaching that goal. That was my prayer, whether voiced or not.

My prayer is that this will indeed be a movement that will catch fire. I pray that the Living Room candle that God helped me light will become a blaze of enlightenment in churches everywhere. I pray that all Christians living with mental illness will find themselves able to talk comfortably about their troubles with their church friends. I pray that they will be able to truly be themselves - truly authentic members of their church families, open about who they are and what they deal with. I pray for empathy and sympathy - the elimination of feelings of shame. I pray that the church will be a source of comfort for people dealing with emotional difficulties. And, if the source of the problem is medical, I pray that it will be recognized as such and that the church will - somehow - work with medical staff in seeing that needs are met. I also pray that medical staff will work alongside the church where spiritual help is needed.

Erasing stigma is a long-distance race, one I will personally not give up fighting as long as I am able. I'm sure I will not see the finish line in my lifetime. But I have faith that - with God's help - a better life for Christians with mental illness will be possible. In the way God has helped me, God will help others carry the cause to the finish line.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Stigma - how it makes me feel

I'm sorry for pursuing this topic just a bit further. But it's in my thoughts, and when it's there I must share. What better time?

Yesterday I felt much better about life. I was able to cast off the pain I had felt the previous day. God led me on a beautiful walk with Him, leading to a sense of gratefulness to Him. My time with God took me to a beautiful old hymn, one I love very much: How Great Thou Art. Hope you will have a listen. I shared the thoughts that led to this with friends. I wrote encouraging emails to people. All in all, it was a wonderful time and a sharing of God with people who were important to me.

Actually, as I write this post, I'm reminded of another wonderful song of praise. Great is Thy Faithfulness. Both of these songs easily draw tears from me. They so very much mirror how I feel about God.

But back to that ugly thing called stigma. Although I was up yesterday, this morning some thoughts brought me down again - though I don't plan to stay there. This morning I was able to pinpoint exactly what it feels like when I'm stigmatized. When people make comments like my friend did - the comment I wrote about in my last post, I was made to feel she doesn't think I'm worth anything. Like I'm not as human as other "normal" people. The things I do that are good don't count for anything. The good things about me are ignored.

Thing is, I know that I'm worth a bundle to God. He loves me just as much as everyone else and has blessed me by giving me a big job to do for Him. At times I feel too small - even unworthy - to carry such a load, but He has entrusted this work to me and I feel very grateful. Because it's obvious He does think of me as a person of great worth. How humbling that is and how I need to take care of myself so that I can continue working! How important to rest in Him in spite of the big commitments I have made, in spite of so often feeling overwhelmed!
How important to cast off this pain and to ignore people who are so in the dark about the truth!

I will pay no attention to this kind of treatment. I will keep my distance from the people who stigmatize me and cause me pain. And when I need to talk with them about something, I will treat them as warmly as I can, in the way I would want to be treated. Maybe one day they will come around. I will have to pray for them.

In my last post I mentioned that there were only three people who support me. But in that dark state I forgot many things. Looking at it today, I can see that there are many people in the church who love me and appreciate me. Yes, the church as a whole is very supportive. They see me as a worthy human being, a person worthy of their love. Most members of the church know what I deal with and will openly talk with me about it when we have one-on-one time. And they feel that they can talk with me about their problems too.

No way would I want to leave this church. It offers everything I need and believe in. I thank God for this wonderful Christian community.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

The pain of stigma

I had always thought that I had been fortunate - that I had not been touched too much by the effects of stigma. But in the last little while, I've been deeply hurt a number of times by stigma and gross understanding about what it is to live with bipolar disorder. And one of the worst things is that the hurtful remarks were made to me by friends who I had considered supporters.

If it weren't for the friendship of three people in the church - people who are compassionate and caring and offer strong support, even though they might not always understand totally - I might have be tempted to leave this church, though it has done so much to encourage me and Living Room. I had just yesterday lauded the wonderful work of the church in supporting people with mental illness and how that has led to many Living Room groups.

But the poison of the remarks has been so very painful - more painful than the effects of the disorder itself. They are affecting me deeply. Though maybe it's the disorder - the severe moods - that make me especially sensitive. Never-the-less, it sickens me to have my pain and the pain of others who live with mental illness so grossly misunderstood.

What led to this post - amongst other things - is something a friend said to me this morning in response to my current problems with rapid cycling. She said "Your husband deserves a medal. Most husbands would have been out of there long ago." This isn't the first time she said this to me. She has said almost the same thing a number of times before and does it ever hurt! It has hurt me deeply.

By saying that she suggests that all I've been to my husband is a drain. That I haven't given anything to him. That I don't give anything back. And that is so completely false.

The truth is that I give a lot to my family, my community - and even the world. But when she said this it was as though that didn't count for anything. As though the only thing worth looking at was my mental illness. As though mentally ill people never give anything back.

As much as I'm able I pour out all I have in love for others. I pour out until I have almost nothing left to give. Then I have to refresh myself at the never-ending fountain of Jesus' love. I rest; I recover; and then I am ready to start working again. And resting is what I'm trying to do now.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Christmas: a time to be still

I recently came across a blogpost I wrote four years ago and thought you might like to hear it. This will be our devotional at Living Room today. So...even if you're far from a group, you too can take part with us. I hope you will be blessed by these thoughts.


THE AWE AND WONDER OF IT ALL

(From a blogpost written by Marja (http//marjabergen.blogpost.com) on
December 4th, 2007):

Last year's Christmas was a stressful time for me. I truly suffered from all the negative aspects of the season: the huge number of fliers coming to the door irked me; the full parking lots at the mall overwhelmed me; the stores with the Christmas music and the pushing of goods bothered me. The materialism of it all - the having to live up to all the traditions, when I wasn't in the mood - the pressures of going to parties and having to entertain family at home were more than I could bear. I saw it as a chaotic time, one I wished I could escape.

But - blessing of all blessings - this year is different. I feel at peace. I don't feel pressured. I'm enjoying the season. And this started happening even as I was struggling with depression over the past few weeks. That's truly amazing! Thank God!

So I went to church this Sunday - the first Sunday of the Advent season - eager for Pastor Don's sermon. He didn't let me down. He talked about how Advent should be a time of quiet waiting - a time to look forward to Jesus' coming.

Unfortunately Christmas has become a time of chaos for many of us, when it should be a time of awe and wonder. Just think of it: the child Jesus who was born was God, come to earth to walk amongst us. He came to show us who God is and what he's like. He showed us God's great love and illustrated his amazing grace.

Christmas is very much a time of fantasy and nostalgia, a time when we try to recreate feelings we had in the past. But recreating those feelings can be difficult in the lives we're living today. We often end up with pain when we can't do it. But if we could remember to focus on Jesus, the whole reason we are celebrating, perhaps we could escape the pain and lighten the expectations we put on ourselves. Perhaps we could escape all the noisy stuff and the chaos.

The time leading up to Christmas should be a time for stillness, a time for peaceful reflection. Think about what a mystery God's coming into the world was! Think of the awe and wonder of it all!


Why make a big anxious fuss over Christmas, the season where we talk about peace and joy? Do what feels is best for you in the mood you’re dealing with at the time. Spend time with family and friends. But, most of all, spend time with God.

God says to you and me:

“Be still and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:10 (NIV)

“Step out of the traffic! Talk a long, loving look at me, your High God…” Ps. 46:10 (MSG)


Unfortunately, it's difficult for me to even focus on Christmas at all this year. My 97-year-old mother isn't doing very well and, other than the care she receives from her nursing home, I am the only family member who cares for her. The only one who visits. That's sad. But you know, there are many things in her attitude that inspire me. I do enjoy my visits and must try to do so often - no matter how busy I am.

She came up with such beautiful words a few days ago. When she was in the ER, she missed her crochetting so much. How she wished to have it there with her while she waited those many hours to be tended to! She referred to her work as her "sweet comfort." What a wonderful way to describe what creative activity can offer us!

And then, a day or two later, back at the care home - happily back at work again - she told us how her "willpower won't leave her alone."

What a wonderful message this is for those who are willing to listen to this lady. And how much those who don't visit are missing!!

Perhaps I should forget a lot of my busyness - at least, simplify as much as possible - and focus on celebrating Christmas with Mom. Spend quiet - with God time - along with her.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Burn-out?

I've felt very tired lately. Bordering on burn-out maybe?

My open house last Saturday did not go as I envisioned. Not nearly as many people turning out as I had thought would. But the weather was horrendous - lots of rain and wind. I was touched though every time I saw someone arrive, braving that weather. How good it was to see them! Quite a few of my Living Room gang. And the living room was almost always filled with people - lots of good visiting. Although I didn't sell much we had a wonderful time - and that's most important, isn't it?

I'm trying to rest now. Trouble is, every time I try to rest my mind runs away with me. I'm doing far too much thinking. And when I think things, I feel a need to share. I end up making phone calls and writing emails. Thankfully I haven't called anyone too many times, though - I don't think. One person I called three times yesterday. But I think she understood the need and she knows that she was helping me. Good for a person to know when they are helping you. Good not to just complain about your feelings but to show you're willing to listen to a person's advice and take it to heart. Friends don't want to feel like they're helpless to help you. They want to feel they're able to do some good.

I always try too to learn what my friends are going through. I want to pray for them too. I'm not the only one with troubles. Everyone has some kind of troubles. Some kind of burden. I don't just want my friends to be there for me. I need to be there for them too. Support is a two-way street. We need to be friends to each other.

And...listening to others about what is happening in their lives helps take my mind off myself. A very healthy thing.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Talk went well, although...

Have to let you know that the talk at Regent went well. I felt calm - exceedingly calm. Not nervous, not shaking as I had been the couple of days before the talks. And I knew it was because people were praying for me and I prayed for myself. Trouble was - and I feel bad about this - I'm pretty sure I talked far longer than I should have. Sharon ran out of time and at the end had to cram an hour of material into half an hour. I feel bad about that.

But my presentation at the very end of the lecture, where I talked about Living Room, went much better. I was able to cram everything into 5 minutes and yet feel I said all I needed to say. The note I ended on was that it would be so wonderful if the whole church could be like Living Room. A place where people can be authentic and not have to hide painful things they live with because of shame.

My mood is still very unstable. Literally up and down like a yo-yo. And I worry. What am I going to be like on Saturday - that day for which I invited probably over 100 people to my open house?

How I need to surrender these anxieties and trust in God! Think I'll go to bed with a mug of cammomile tea and focus where I should. On Jesus and not on me.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Manic high but trying to hold steady

Just checking in to let you know things are...well, kind of high. Please pray that I'll be able to stay connected, feet safely on the ground. Finding my "firm place to stand" in God. Yes, every time I do stop to think of God and who He is and what He means to me, I come together a bit... Till I get busy again.

But I take comfort in the knowledge that people are praying for me. I don't think most people understand what exactly it is I'm dealing with. Physical pain is so much easier to understand, isn't it?

Tomorrow I take part in Sharon Smith's lecture at Regent College, speaking to upcoming pastors. I will tell them what it's like to live with bipolar disorder. I will describe what my life is like now-a-days. Can I help them understand? Even a little bit? Enough so that they'll be compassionate towards others who have bipolar disorder? Enough so that they'll know how to offer support?

Then, on Saturday, I'm having an open house to show my photographic work in the form of bookmarks, notecards and framed prints. In typical enthusiastic manic fashion, I must have invited a hundred people. I'm working hard at staying organized enough to get ready for that.

I need to stop worrying, though. I need to trust that I CAN stay organized. Everything is on track so far. My husband is supporting me. God is with me.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Everyone needs compassion

As some of you know, I write letters to God - most days - whether I'm up or down. And this morning, while I was writing I was reminded of a song that we often sing at church that starts with the words, Everyone needs compassion. Those words always speak to me in a big way when we sing them.

And, as I went to my computer to find the song on youtube, I reread my last couple of posts. How honest I was! I was shocked by my honesty. And yet, you know, it was a comfort to share with someone. Few people understand what a person like me goes through. Most don't want to hear about it, thinking I talk too much about myself. And yet, how will people know how to pray for me if I don't share when I'm going through tough stuff? So often I've heard from people who had loved ones die by suicide say, "If he/she could only have told me! If only I'd known!" Yet before the actual act, people don't want to know, do they? Not the average person.

In the end, it's only Jesus who has true, pure compassion, isn't it? It's only He who truly understands. And how we need to be sure to stay close to Him! How we need to keep the communication between ourselves and Him open!

I had a friend email me this morning, telling me she had read my last posts. And she was sorry she hadn't been praying for me. But that's ok, she had a lot of her own things she was dealing with. And that's how it is for most people. But you know, neat thing: as the result of my honesty, she was honest with me and told me what she had been dealing with! I so appreciated that! It's such a privilege when people share with me what they're dealing with. And, you know, it takes my mind off myself and that's such a good thing.

I wish when I share openly with people they would see it as permission to share their tough stuff with me too. Then I'll feel that I have a true friend. Someone I can share with. We can pray for each other.

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Fellowship with Jesus

Although I hesitated to share my last post with you, wanting you to be able to trust me as a leader, I did need to be honest. My readers need to understand the effects of bipolar disorder on us. If I'm going to be honest - which I always try to be - I need to share the hard stuff too.

But please know, that in my quiet time this morning I've come to a different place.

Shortly after I wrote my last post I emailed my pastor saying, "[my good friend] would probably be reminding me that it's the evil one getting me down. He likes to attack at times when he feels his own work most threatened. I need to fix my eyes on Jesus and remember how He suffered but did not give up. He died and rose again. And I must rise again - up from the death - the lifelessness and emptiness of depressed feelings. I must take God's hands and arise again - up from what was like a death bed last night. There's work to be done. Yes, I'm reaching for God's hand this morning."

My pastor has often quoted Philippians 3:10-11, his life verses - something I've in the past had a lot of trouble understanding. But this morning I fully understand them:
I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his suffering, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Depression - not self-centeredness

I dived down into the depressed part of my cycle last night. And all I could think of was a wish to die - how I would like to end it all.

Self-centered? Some people would say so. But how can you be otherwise when you can't think of the possibility of living beyond this moment in time? When you can't bear the thought of continuing this life. It has become too hard.

And yet, earlier in the day I made special brownies that my celiac friend will be able to eat. And I looked forward to surprising her with them today. It's not like all I think about is myself. I also coached an immigrant in English conversation, talking lots about her - not just myself.

No. I don't think it's self-ceneteredness that is bringing me down. I don't think other-centeredness is preventing me from going there. The moods come - unbidden.

Last night all I could think of was how I would like to swallow a bottle of pills and just go to sleep forever. I'm tired. Tired of the constant ups and downs. I want to get off the roller coaster.

Today - thank God - I'll be seeing my counselor, a Christian. Finally someone who I can talk with about this. Someone who's a Christian.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Self-centeredness

One of the things we talked about at Living Room yesterday was our tendency to become self-centered when we're depressed or when we're high. How can we try to start thinking of others at times like that? Is it possible to become other-centered by thinking of how we can help others with their needs?

I know I've tried many times. But the success has been short-lived. Sometimes I'm able to help my depression improve a bit by trying to do things for other people - by trying to put myself in their shoes and seeing their needs. But the better feelings are usually only temporary. Of course, much depends on the depth of depression I'm experiencing. When depression is only starting to descend, I may well pull right out by turning my attention to the needs of others.

One person present, a person who does not have a mood disorder himself, suggested that having a good friend show us how we're thinking too much of ourselves might be the best kind of support we could have.

But, I responded, "You have to be very careful how you tell a person that. I've been told that by a number of people in the past and it made me feel awful. It made me feel even worse about myself than I did before and deepened the depression." I believe it could even drive a person to take his life, especially if he's told so in a way that he might consider uncaring or critical. After all, self-centered thinking is not something a person with depression can easily control. It is one of the symptoms of this illness.

My best support comes from a close friend who does not in so many words tell me that I'm thinking too much about myself. Instead she helps me search for things that I could do to bring me out of myself - get me out of my negative thinking pattern. Play a game with my husband, do a Sudoku puzzle, go for a walk with a friend, work on a creative activity.

It takes a very special person to know how to help a depressed person, especially if this person has himself never experienced depression. How hard it must be to understand if you've never been there yourself!!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Other-centeredness

This morning I was thinking how a life lived only for yourself is an empty life, a bit of a continuation to what our Living Room devotional tomorrow will focus on. We will start our meeting with the following Scripture from the Message. Such a good thing for us to think about! Do you find you do better emotionally when you spend some time thinking of others' needs and responding to them, instead of thinking of your own needs alone?

A Full Life in the Emptiest of Places

"If you get rid of unfair practices,
quit blaming victims,
quit gossiping about other people's sins,
If you are generous with the hungry
and start giving yourselves to the down-and-out,
Your lives will begin to glow in the darkness,
your shadowed lives will be bathed in sunlight.
I will always show you where to go.
I'll give you a full life in the emptiest of places—
firm muscles, strong bones.
You'll be like a well-watered garden,
a gurgling spring that never runs dry.
You'll use the old rubble of past lives to build anew,
rebuild the foundations from out of your past.
You'll be known as those who can fix anything,
restore old ruins, rebuild and renovate,
make the community livable again.”

Isaiah 58:9-12 (the Message)

Friday, October 21, 2011

How things are changing!

I remember a time not too many years ago, before I wrote A Firm Place to Stand, before Living Room, when I tried to interest various seminaries in town in having someone speak to their counselling students about mental illness. Nothing happened. There was no interest - or maybe I didn't have the credentials - no clout to have my thoughts seriously considered.

But how things are changing!! On November 9th Dr. Sharon Smith will be presenting a three-hour lecture at Regent College in Vancouver on mental health recovery in the church. Caroline Penhale and I will be speaking as well. I will tell my story and will talk about the Living Room support ministry.

Faith communities are more and more starting to see that they have a role to play when one of their congregants struggles with mental illness. And the medical community is more and more starting to recognize that a person's faith plays a big part in his physical and emotional well-being. Sharon Smith of Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries is playing a big role in creating better understanding in both worlds.

How I welcome these changes!! Thank you, God!!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Harnessing the passion

That talk Dr. Kathleen McGarvey is giving tomorrow night about mental illness on the streets has me all riled up. And all I've seen is the poster! I haven't even heard her speak yet!

Last night I so passionately felt I needed to do something - to write something that might make a difference! But I was too overwhelmed to do anything at all.

I just so feel there are things we can do to prevent people from becoming homeless! There are ways we can support and encourage them. There IS hope. Maybe not for each person, but for many. What can Christians do about this problem? How can Living Room help?

I talked to God this morning and have come up with some ideas to harness my passion and actually do something useful - small as it might be in the big scheme of things. But if each of us did something small, wouldn't it add up to something significant?

This morning though, God showed me that I'm still rapid cycling. The announcement of this event alone shot my mood way up. Another trigger. And I was hoping I would be able to avoid triggers!

I've decided I should not go to that event tomorrow night. I would just be asking for trouble. I'm high enough as it is.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Mental illness on the streets

I'm doing so much better. Have I stabilized? We'll see. But for now I'm good and I thank God that I can continue working, unencumbered by a lot of negative emotions. Not high and not low.

On Thursday night I'm going to an event sponsored by the Mood Disorders Association of BC. The title of the topic is Mental Illness on the Streets: What can we do about it? What a worthwhile thing to discuss!

Psychiatrist Dr. Kathleen McGarvey will tell us that a person with a serious mental illness has a 70% possibility of being unemployed and may face discrimination from landlords when seeking rental housing, both of which may result in living with their illness on the streets.

Dr. McGarvey is on the Assertive Community Treatment Team (ACT), part of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

What I'll be interested in is "How can I help?" "Is there anything that we as individuals can do to create a better world for those who live with mental illness?"

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Rapid-cycling

I've been getting myself into a lot of trouble lately - easily triggered to flare up. Sometimes with over-the-top joy and excitement. Sometimes with pain and deep sadness. And I'm sure my husband and friends must find me pretty hard to deal with now-a-days.

Last night I was so grief-stricken with something that happened that I couldn't do anything at all, though I have so much to do. I was hungry, but even eating would have been too much trouble. I couldn't see how I could possible prepare a devotional for Living Room tomorrow. Just not in the right frame of mind.

I've been very busy with creative activities, things that brought me comfort and joy. Yet there have been roadblocks put in my way to selling them. I had hoped to raise some much needed funds for church ministries. But my church doesn't believe in fund-raising. It leaves me with little I can do to support the projects financially, something I feel very bad about.

Creative projects bring me much joy, but part of the joy comes from the knowledge that I'll be able to share them in some way. Part of the joy comes from knowing I'm doing something useful. I don't get much joy from creating photographic work if it's only for myself. I want to share. I want to use it to earn money somehow - money that I can donate to a good cause.

Fortunately I have a good friend who understands emotional pain. She has been there many times herself. She gave me some Psalms to read and they have drawn me closer to God. They have helped me talk to God, though that had been so hard to do.

One passage she led me to was Psalm 116. It's proving to be beneficial to me and I will share it at Living Room tomorrow. There might be others experiencing pain in the way I am. Together we will seek God's presence.

Friday, October 07, 2011

It all started in november, 2006

I did some research this morning to find out when exactly the idea for a global Living Room initiative came to be. What I found was a post I wrote on November 26, 2006. How passionate I was back then!! I'm still passionate, though I think some of the frustration and anger I felt back then has disippated. Today there are 16 Living Room groups and more are in the process of forming.

I'm republishing that post here, because there may be some who might benefit.

I BELIEVE

I was going to tell you about how amazing Living Room was yesterday. I was going to tell you about how at peace I felt when I came home and how I felt God so close. He is really at work in this group. There were 12 of us and we connected so well. It was hard getting everyone to go home so I could lock the church.

I was going to write a whole bunch about this until I read Misha's post tonight. It got me all riled up - though not in a bad way. The fiery determination welled up again, to continue working at what I believe so strongly in: better support by the church for people with mental disorders.

The Living Room group is an example of how the church can provide tangible support for people with depression, anxiety and bipolar disorders. I believe our group is a germ of something, something I hope will spread to other churches (even many?).

A snapshot of our meeting: At our group we start out by helping ourselves to lunch - all finger foods - and we sit around a big table, covered with a tablecloth with a sunflower pattern. Usually we have a flower arrangement in the center. Yesterday we had candles. For extra nibbling, there were cookies, grapes and, as always, a couple of dishes of chocolates on the table. We gradually get into the meeting. The atmosphere is so good.

But I'm describing. And that wasn't my intention. I wanted to talk about how I believe that the body of Christ, the church, will eventually learn how to help those of us who struggle with mental health issues. God is so much at work in Living Room. I know this is the kind of thing God wants us - and all Christians - to be doing. Calls are trickling in every week from people who are interested in receiving faith-based support. There have been others showing an interest in starting groups at their own churches.

This would be such a wonderful way to reduce stigma.

Guidelines for a group: The groups need to be facilitated by someone who has a mood disorder himself. When the group leader shows his vulnerability, talking briefly about his own struggles and how God works in his life, others are encouraged to open up. This kind of facilitator is the key to a good group. Churches need people with these problems to work with the pastor in organizing such a group.

And there should be a connection with a secular mental health agency which would make sure the medical angles are appreciated. This is to discourage totally spiritualizing the problems members face. There has to be an appreciation of the medical AND spiritual. This is of UTMOST importance.

I believe we're onto something. And I pray for God's continued guidance. It's He who helps me want to persevere. I know it's Christ who taught us to love each other unconditionally and I believe that Christians want to do that. They only need to learn HOW to give the support we so desperately need.

So...I've ended up describing Living Room after all. I'm glad I did, because I feel good about my group...and maybe this will inspire others.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Humility and vulnerability

I sent a letter to Living Room facilitators tonight, as well as those who have indicated they might like to start a Living Room group sometime. I'm going to share it with you here, because you never know what leaders might be hiding out there - maybe some who haven't even realized such work might be for them:

Over the past two days I attended the Willow Creek Leadership Summit, a conference featuring some very inspiring speakers, each addressing a facet of leadership. Patrick Lencioni and John Dickson had some things to say about "humility" and "vulnerability" that I would like to share with you. These two qualities are, I believe, very important for Living Room facilitators to have. Those qualities can make all the difference between having a so-so group and a truly successful and vibrant support group.

Dickson said that humility is "the noble choice to forgo your status and use your influence for the good of others before yourself....Humility is beautiful...We are attracted to the great who are humble."

Lencioni told us how we are called to vulnerability - to being real - to being honest about who we are. "That's how we draw people to us."

Isn't it Jesus' amazing humility that draws us to Him? Isn't the love He showed to all - us sinners and the outcasts of His day - that makes us love Him so much? As followers of Christ, we are called on to imitate His humility.

One of my favourite Bible passages is in Philippians 2:

"...in humility consider others better than yourselves....Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.
...he humbled himself and became obedient to death - even death on a cross!"

Dickson explained to us how we consider a humble person trustworthy. Through story he showed us how humility can inspire us. And don't we all trust Jesus? And aren't we all inspired by Jesus' great example?

One of my favourite books on leadership is In the Name of Jesus by Henri Nouwen. I'm tempted to quote long passages from it here, though it's just a small volume. But I'll try to control myself. Nouwen writes:

"When the members of a community of faith cannot truly know and love their shepherd, shepherding quickly becomes a subtle way of exercising power over others and begins to show authoritarian and dictatorial traits. ..The leadership about which Jesus speaks is of a radically different kind from the leadership offered by the world. It is a servant leadership in which the leader is a vulnerable servant who needs the people as much as they need their leader."

Yes, as facilitators of a peer support group, we have needs in the same way that the people we serve have needs. We should not hide those needs, but be open about them, as we expect group members to be open. We need to model the kind of authenticity we expect others to have. When we as leaders are real and don't hide things, others will follow our example. I try to do that in my own group, and how freeing it is to be able to be myself with them!! How freeing it is not to have to look like I've got it all together!

May God bless you in your work.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Me? Elderly?

One thing I really can't get used to about getting older is having people offering me their seat.

It happened yesterday. My husband and I were in a restaurant waiting for a table. A younger couple was sitting on the two chairs provided for people waiting. And the girl asked if I would like her seat.

Do I really look that old? Do I really look that decrepid and weak? Heck! I'm only 65 years old!

65 is not that old! I'm still able to stand. I'm still able to walk long distances.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Today's prayers

This morning all I can think of is a good friend who is in hospital. She's in such very poor shape. Needed transfusions both of the last two days and, last I heard, she was having trouble breathing. I'm so worried about her, but all I can do is pray - for her and her husband.

Things have been a bit weird for me lately, my moods up and down, but not really badly.

And there are other things on my mind:

I've decided that the open house/craft sale I will have at my home in November will be for the benefit of the Living Room ministry. We're needing funds to ensure that we will be able to do our work - our work of spreading the Living Room movement - promoting groups everywhere.

I'm encouraged. This month a new group is starting up in Winnipeg and another in Langley. Please pray for Lorna and Jeffrey, the facilitators of these groups.

But we need many more. We need groups available to all people living with mood disorders and wanting faith-based support. Everyone should have the opportunity to talk freely about their mental health issues and their faith - in one place - knowing they will be accepted, not stigmatized as too often happens.

We are already at work, preparing for our presence at Missions Fest in January. This will be an opportunity to engage many of the thousands of Christians who come in discussion about mental health problems and what they can do to offer support. We'll have to work hard to make the most of this opportunity. It will take prayer and some creative planning. Just glad I'm not doing this on my own. Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries will be helping out. They are also planning on doing a seminar at the conference.

But it's costly being at Missions Fest. The booth is expensive. And it costs money to do the display. It will cost money to have materials printed to have available at the booth. I will work hard to create notecards, bookmarks and framed prints to sell at my sale in November. It's a good healthy thing for me to do. It's work I love to do.

But if you're not near Vancouver - not able to be at my sale - and would like to support the Living Room movement, don't forget, you can always donate via the Living Room website. Your donations would be hugely appreciated.

Yes. Lots to pray about today. My friend, my creative work for the open house, and Missions Fest. So good though to have a Big and Loving God to go to.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Soup for the gang

I'm feeling so good today. So energetic and creative. Don't know why. A bipolar thing probably.

Connections Coffee House, our church's new venture opened last week and this is an exciting time. Almost twenty volunteers from the church have been trained to be barristas. But it's not enough to fill all the shifts that we would like to have open. So quite a number of people are working double duty, including Pastor Don.

Unfortunately, I'm not able to be one of the volunteers. Given my problems, the work would be a bit too stressful for me. Actually, it's not so much the stress that's my problem, it's my tremors.

I'm trying in every way possible to be a support though. I've been making notecards and bookmarks to sell. And in between things, I've been knitting dishcloths. I'm also producing a calendar with the title, "The Awesome Wonder of it all!" Fund raising efforts, though at this point I still don't know if the church is going to allow me to do what I would like. They don't really like to have a lot of fund raising going on and are still trying to draw up a policy surrounding that. Very frustrating for me who would just love to use my God-given gifts to help out. But I guess I'll just have to be patient and trust their judgment. I've put in a word on my behalf and am sure they will consider it.

This morning I woke up with notecards on my mind. I found a site online selling blank cards much more reasonably than I can get them in the store here. So I ordered 200. Too outrageously many maybe? Maybe. But that's the mood I'm in.

Then I emailed the Connections team, asking if I couldn't sell notecards at the shop. It would be my donation. All proceeds going to Connections. I just pray they will let me do that.

In the early afternoon I took a break, spending some time with God. What could I do to be of help? It occurred to me that with so many people busy at Connections and my pastor and his wife having a missionary family staying with them for two weeks, there was a need for food. People so busy and possibly tired could use a hand preparing meals. I could make some soup! I can think of all kinds of people who could use some soup around now.

So now I've got a triple batch of hamburger soup simmering on the stove. A huge stock pot full as well as a Dutch oven full. Good thick soup with lots of meat and vegetables. I'll have lots to share.

Late this afternoon I had word from the printer that the proof for the calendar is ready for me to look at. Exciting times!

Yes, I feel good.

Monday, September 05, 2011

Radical

We had some friends over a couple of nights ago - nonbelievers. And one of them fell into a discussion with me, expressing his problems with religion and Christianity. He felt very strongly about the apparent narrow-mindedness of Christians.

But, I told him, we shouldn't believe in religion. Religion is man-made. It's what people have put together. The rules are man-made and yes, many are narrow-minded and have lost their reason for being. What we need to look at is Jesus, not religion.

Jesus was a radical. He Himself was against the religion of the day and fought against its narrow-mindedness. The Pharisees and Sadducees could only see their own way. It was like they owned the law, rather than God Himself. They felt threatened by Jesus who tried to show them a better way.

Jesus taught how the most important law is to love God and love our neighbours, even if our neighbours turn out to be our enemies. All the laws of God were wrapped up in this one thing.

If people who feel turned off by Christianity could only look past the religion, and zero in on what's at the center - Jesus Himself. It's Jesus we're called to follow, not religion. And this probably means that we ourselves have to become somewhat radical as well.

There's nothing boring or narrow-minded about following Jesus.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Dish cloths - a God thing

We came back from our fishing get-away last night. Had a good time with not too many mood problems. It was good to be with others at the beginning of our trip. People to socialize with. Not so much time to think about myself and the way I was feeling.

On our long drive out to Fletcher Lake I had lots of quiet time to think. I realized how good it would be to be knitting or crocheting dish cloths in my free time, something I hadn't done for many years. I would sell them to benefit Connections, the coffee shop our church is opening up for the community. So in Williams Lake we stopped to buy some cotton yarn and a crochet hook.

Now, lo and behold, this was truly a plan planted within me by God. I'll tell you why it was a real God thing. My husband's friend's wife, someone who I don't have too much in common with, had - unbeknownsed to me - also brought a crochet project along to work on. This gave us something we could share in while the men were out fishing. Such an unbelievably good thing this was! God knew exactly what I needed at that time.

I'm happy now for this activity for those times when I feel like withdrawing. It fills a hole for me and helps me feel contented. I can knit and crochet while I visit my mother, someone who herself is always crocheting. It will give me something to share with Mom in as well.

Another thing I'm happy about is that my husband has agreed to let me have an open house in October to sell photographic items and other crafts (like dish cloths) - again for the benefit of Connections.

Right now I'm feeling very useful, with lots of creative projects to fill my time. I have an activity for every mood!

Creativity really is such a good thing to fight adverse mood problems! I've only felt the need to withdraw a few times while we've been away, and it didn't stick around. Thank God!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Roller coaster life

I gave my first book the title of Riding the Roller Coaster and how apt that was. Have I ever been riding a roller coaster of moods and emotions over the past few weeks!

Yesterday I felt like a butterfly, newly released from its coccoon. I felt wonderfully free and prayed to God that this feeling would last for a while.

But it didn't happen. This afternoon I've been feeling like coccooning myself all over again. I want to withdraw - turn within myself, safe in my leather chair or on the bed.

I wish I could just sit and live in my own little world. But I have a fishing trip to prepare for. Tomorrow we'll take off for a week, spending some of that time with a friend of my husband's and his wife.

It was only a few days ago that my husband had to take my pills for safe-keeping. I know, that sounds pretty drastic. But people with bipolar depression can easily become suicidal - even though it may seem their life is wonderful and they have everything to live for. That's one of the crazy things about this disease. That's one of the tragic things that causes 30% of all people with bipolar disorder to take their own lives. It can happen all too easily.

I feel like writing - lots. And I've been peppering a close friend with many emails, confiding in her all the things I'm thinking and feeling. It feels good to share with someone who I know cares about me. It's less lonely. And I feel I need for someone to understand me.

This afternoon I've been wondering if I couldn't - somehow - turn this roller coaster into something good. Could I write something that would help others? Perhaps another devotional? But to do that, I have to learn something from all this, and at this point I'm not sure I'm learning a thing.

On my way to my mother's this afternoon, I was remembering what I had read in a book by Erwin McManus (I think it was him). "God pursues us with His love." What a wonderful thought! I'm a love sponge and am needing a lot of love now-a-days while I'm going through all this stuff. I will try to spend our time away seeing God's love expressed in everything I can: In what God whispers to me in my quiet times; in my husband's presence for me; in the beautiful things I see around me.

And, you know, I feel God's love most when I'm loving towards others. His love then reaches my heart in a big way. I will try to show my love to my husband and to his friends while we're gone. By giving love I will receive it too. Isn't that the way it always works?

But first I'll have to come out of my coccoon.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Thinking big

The Living Room global initiative team held a meeting this morning. One of the questions I asked them was "Are we thinking big enough?" If we want Living Room to become a true movement, we've got to get out there and do everything within our power to promote it. Are we doing enough?

One of our members pointed out, "Yes, we are already thinking big." We have a workshop planned for September 17th. And we will have a booth at Missions Fest in January. Yes, I guess it's me pulling on the bit again. Wanting to do things before we're truly ready. Wanting to get everything done at once. This kind of work can only be done in little bits at a time.

She pointed out how we can gauge from interest at Missions Fest what to do next. Step by step, we'll gradually accomplish our goals - to help decrease stigma and help churches learn how to give support. Step by step, as God leads.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Our need for love

In the end - to see us through our mood glitches - isn't all we need, to be assured that we are loved? And when that reassurance of love isn't forthcoming, we start to doubt God's love, don't we? We start to feel isolated and abandoned. And isn't that the worst feeling of all?

I believe the worst thing for Jesus wasn't the physical pain of the cross. It was that He was abandoned by His friends. Those to whom He had revealed all He was.

At least Jesus understands. And that's a source of comfort.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Finding meaning - part 2

A long time ago I wrote an article that said some things that I feel might have been misunderstood. How I regretted saying some of the things I did!

I expressed my regret in a comment on the article. As a result, the director of Christian Info Society invited me to write a Part 2 where I could explain myself better.

That article is now online. I do hope you'll visit the Canadian Christianity website and have a look.

Wow! I feel so much better to see it there!

Monday, July 25, 2011

This is the day

My off and on glitches of bad mood continue. Last night was not good. But this morning I was on the patio by 4:45, listening to the birds as I watched it get light. Such a wonderful time with God! Nice and quiet. Too dark yet to read or write. All I could do was sit in the stillness and sip on my coffee. This is the day the Lord has made.

Isn't it wonderful how God makes every day new? Isn't it neat how a good night's sleep will allow you to start fresh in the morning?

Then some quiet time with God, gathering strength and encouragement for the day. God is good.

This evening I have the promise of spending some quality time with a friend who means a lot to me. How I look forward to that! She doesn't very often have time to do this, so this is very special. I'm very grateful.

Yes, as we concluded at last Friday's Living Room meeting, we do need friends too. God wants us to have friends to whom we can reach out when we're in trouble.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Oh to be a David!

I've been running into glitches - at least I hope that's all they are. Last week I felt depressed for an evening and a day and today I am once more. I'm doing all I can to try to escape. Trouble is, in my effort to stay afloat I reach out to friends and I think they're probably getting tired of me. They have enough problems of their own.

If I could only do what I will be talking about on Friday - the devotional I shared in yesterday's post! If going to God would only be enough for me!

But no, I feel a need to cry out and complain to people "with skin on," wanting to make sure I'm heard (and felt sorry for). This past couple of hours though, I've been reading and praying the Psalms. The psalmists have such good ways with words, describing exactly the way I feel. By reading the Psalms I'm encouraged to believe; I'm encouraged to trust. If only I could be a David, and talk to God the way he does and trust so whole-heartedly the way he does.

What consoles me is remembering something I've said a number of times: "I almost have to experience depression once in a while if I'm going to do the work God has given me to do." If I'm going to be a good facilitator and understand fully the people I work with and for, I need to remember what it's like to suffer in that way, don't I?

And that makes me feel there's a purpose to all this pain. It's not for nothing.

Jesus said, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:8) At times like this I understand fully what He meant.

I just pray that all this will translate into a good, heart-felt delivery of the devotional topic on Friday - "Intimacy with God." I pray that God's power will be made perfect. And I pray that I'll go to God first while I go through this. I also pray that this is not the beginning of something bigger. I need to try nipping this in the bud in whatever way I can.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Intimacy with God


I've been working on the devotional for Living Room for this Friday. As usual, this one grew out of my own experience, combined with the reading I've been doing.

A while back I was reading Traveling Light by Max Lucado. And I noted how he said that "loneliness is the absence of intimacy." He went on to say how loneliness could be looked on as a gift from God, because when we're lonely and have no one close who we can be honest and intimate with, we would be forced to go to God. He'd be the only one left to go to.

But I so disagree with him and I feel it was a somewhat insensitive thing to say. So many of us living with depression have a hard time going to God when we're in the depths.

I so very much need people with skin on too. A person I can have a coffee with. A person who will respond to what I have to say. I need more than God alone. I need the love of people who represent Him. I need a regular "fix" of people like this. The best are from my church family - people I worship with, people who are spiritually on the same page as me, people who will support me and who I, in turn, can give support to.

There are times when I'm so lonely. Often when depression threatens and especially when depression has taken hold. God seems further away and then I really do need to be reminded I'm loved. And I have found that God does love through people. People can, and have been, God's hands for me. I don't think loneliness is a gift as Lucado claimed.

In his book, One Life, Scot McKnight says, “The dream of Jesus [the kingdom of heaven] never lets anyone dwell in solitude.” So maybe it’s not so bad to need your friends? …but I suppose to rely on them is a bit different, isn’t it? In the end, God is the only one we can truly rely on, isn’t He? People will at times let us down. Our friends are needy as well at times. They can’t always be there for us.

But God is always there for us, even though at times He may seem distant. In fact, He longs for us to reach out to Him. We always long to feel God’s presence, but have you ever thought that God probably longs for us more than we long for Him? Brennan Manning even wrote a book called The Furious Longing of God. By “furious” he referred to the enormous vitality and strength of God – loving us with intense energy. How God wants us to spend time with Him!

A verse that really spoke to me and gave me a lot of comfort some time ago when I was going through a long and deep depression was Zephaniah 3:17:

The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save.
He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love,
He will rejoice over you with singing.



Only thing was, I was too down to be able to think of God rejoicing, singing, or taking delight in me. I left that part of the verse out. Mostly what I focused on during those painful days, was "He will quiet you with his love."

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

What can your church do?

Today we launched the Eventbrite page, publicizing the workshop Living Room will be having on September 17th. If you know of anyone who might be interested in attending could you pass this info along to them?

Mood Disorders: What Can Your Church Do?
Creating a "Living Room" Peer Support Group

Saturday, September 17, 2011, 9AM–1:30PM
Burnaby, British Columbia | Brentwood Park Alliance Church


* Receive a better understanding about mood disorders.
* What does it mean for your church?
* How can your church help with the need in your congregation and community?
* What is a “Living Room” faith-based peer support group?
* Is a “Living Room” peer support group right for your church?
* Does your church have someone who could facilitate a group?

For detailed information check:
A workshop for church leaders and people with mood disorders

We'd so much like to see more people have access to faith-based mood disorder support groups.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Gone fishin'


Just want to let you know I won't be around till July 4th. We've gone fishing. Well, at least my husband has. While he's out in the boat, I will have my head in books. I find it so much easier and better to read when we're away with the motorhome. Wonderful times I have then.

I also plan to work on completing a second book of devotionals to post on the Living Room website. Maybe I'll even get a third book started? Wouldn't that be nice?

Today we have a Living Room meeting, covering the second part of the devotional, "What is Your Dream? What is Jesus' Dream?" I hope everyone will get the message that God will take us further than we could dream of going. All we need to do is trust Him and follow where he leads.

And tomorrow...down the road we'll go. Yay!!

I'm including another picture from our Greek trip here. This is one I received a gold for at camera club last week.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Sanctuary mental health ministries


I had a meeting today with Dr. Sharon Smith and Caroline Penhale who started Sanctuary Mental Health Ministries. They are giving workshops, giving church congregations the tools they need to deal with those amongst them who live with mental illness. Living Room is partnering with this new organization.

An exciting thing this partnership is. These two professionals are able to broach the problem of stigma in a way I'm not able. However, I'm able to fight stigma in a different way that they're not able to do. We come at the problem from two different perspectives and balance each other out. It's a great arrangement. We're gradually learning how we can best work together.

On September 17th Sharon and Caroline will come and speak at a workshop we're having to introduce churches to the Living Room concept. We hope this will lead to new groups for the Vancouver area.

Just for fun - something not having anything to do with mental health - I include another picture from my trip to Greece. I find it kind of mysterious: a wall that's not attached to anything and stairs, seemingly not leading anywhere. I think it should mean something, but I don't know what. What does the picture say to you?

Saturday, June 18, 2011

Photographic interlude



Last night I had such a wonderful time looking at my pictures from Greece and printing a few of them. I'll include my favourite one here. I wasn't able to print it very big, because it's only a small part of the original image.

Hope you enjoy.

Being creative is such a pleasure and such a good coping strategy for depression! Trouble is, the housework starts piling up. I need to do some work for an hour, and then reward myself with an hour of creative work.

Good plan?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Self-consumed

At Living Room last Friday, someone brought up how self-consumed she always felt - both when she was depressed and when she was high. And it's so true. We do tend to be that way, don't we, though we don't want to be? It just seems to be part of bipolar disorder. One of the symptoms. All we can think of is our pain. Or, in the case of mania, our grandiose plans. So drawn within we become! Can we learn to control this tendency?

My husband and friends often tell me that they think I'm too consumed with Living Room work. Sometimes that's all I know to talk about. A case of hypomania perhaps? Other times I'm withdrawn, only able to think of how I have failed, of how I'm unworthy. Wrapped up in my emotional pain. All I want to do is sit and putter at little things, endlessly doing sudoku puzzles. Can't reach outside myself to even clean up a messy kitchen. So hard to reach outside myself!

Is this tendency something we can avoid and then not become depressed? From my experience this seems hard to believe. I'm always reaching outside myself, trying to think of others. But is it enough? Maybe I'm spending too much quiet time - too much thinking time - too much analyzing time, as my friend often tells me.

Rudyard Kipling, in his poem "IF" said, "Think, but don't make thoughts your aim." How I've had to remind myself of that over the years! And - being the writer and philosophying person I am - I do spend a lot of time thinking. But that's not all bad, is it? Yet I need to balance the thinking time with doing time.

Today - and once in a while in previous days - I've felt on the verge of depression. Can I ward it off by reaching outside myself? Is it possible?

Friday, June 03, 2011

Mental illness and Christians

I recently received an email from someone who had some questions for me - questions that are not easy to answer. However, I would like to try, and I will do it here on my blog, hoping that others might want to join in the discussion.

This person wrote the following:
"...lately I've turned to Christ in a more serious way (in the past I was so disintegrated that I simply couldn't grasp what faith in Christ meant on a heart level). I know I'm saved now, especially because the Holy Spirit has turned my thinking upside down to a more Christlike view. My soul is literally changing, reflecting the fruits of the Spirit. The problem is, the physical/emotional systems remain unabated. I'm somewhat catatonic, with most of my life spent in front of the TV in a fetal position when things get really bad. Suffice it to say I'm not literally experiencing the peace, love and joy promised by the Scriptures.

Question: How do you handle your pain and issues when things really get bad? How has it affected your Christian walk? And if I remember correctly from the excerpt from your book, you suffer from off again - on again bouts of bipolar disorder. Are there times when you simply shut down? Do things get so bad that you feel that you can't handle it anymore? I've been doing lots of online searches to find people's viewpoints on these issues, but so far they have been elusive."


John (not his real name) talks about how "the Holy Spirit has turned [his] thinking upside down to a more Christlike view. [His] soul is literally changing..."

This is such a good thing, John. You are going through a transformation - the kind of transformation that happens when you start to follow Christ in a real way. But transformations happen slowly and there will be setbacks when you suffer symptoms of your illness. But what I've found is that every time I go through a hard time, even to the point of considering ending my life, I come out - at the end - being a stronger person - especially when, as I go through the bad stuff - I try to hang on to God's hand. I keep trying to trust, though it can be hard. (sorry for this long sentence)And, each time I recover, I've changed a bit - I've become a bit more transformed.

Jesus suffered in a great way too. Consider what He went through at Gethsemane. God fully understands what we go through and we can gather comfort from that knowledge. We're not alone in our suffering. He will help us carry it. Try to hang onto that promise.

Over the past few years, I have prayed much for an other-centeredness. A not-thinking-so-much of myself alone. These self-consumed thoughts and feelings are natural to have when you're suffering and you shouldn't feel bad about yourself having that tendency. However, if you can, it's great if you can try to think of others - of their needs - of how you can be of help to them.

I fail at this when I'm having a really hard time. And yet, during my last big depression, I read in a book about how we don't live for ourselves alone. And how that comforted me! It's not all about me! And for a short while I was encouraged. Likewise, when I was suicidal, I asked my pastor to please remind me of why I should live. He responded, "The reason you live is so that you can give others a reason to live." That encouraged me greatly and I tried to hang onto that thought.

2 Corinthians 1:4 has come to mean a lot to me.
"Praise be to God...the Father of compassion...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."


As you become more and more transformed, John, you will find an ability to be more and more compassionate to others who suffer as you do - more and more Christlike. You will have the ability to help others bear their suffering, because you'll understand them better than anyone else could. You'll be greatly blessed as you share of yourself with them. You will experience the peace, love, and joy promised in the Bible.

But the road will be rocky. Transformation does not mean you'll never suffer again. You will have many setbacks where you will have to hang on for dear life to your faith in a loving God. But each setback should eventually lead to making you a bit stronger.

Surround yourself with people who will be able to support you as you go though those rough times. I pray that you will be able to find friends in your life who will be God's hands for you, when God Himself seems far away.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Leaving for awhile

Just want to let you know that my husband and I will be off on a holiday for the next three weeks, so I won't be online.

My son and his wife and I were talking last night about what blogging should be. And, I'm sorry I haven't done very well at it lately. Not only haven't I posted; I haven't been visiting other people's blogs. I'm so very sorry! Don't know what's happened to me. Just haven't been able to focus on it. Too much off-line stuff in my life, I guess.

And yet, I know how important it is to keep those on-line ties. They were so important to me at one time. I made so many friends. And I know the blogging ties would still be important to me if I would just keep them up.

Ughh!! Sometimes I wish I had several lives that I could live: child photographer, Living Room organizer, peer counselor, writer, good wife, and fantastic blogger.

Maybe I should quit the blogging altogether. Maybe Facebook would work better for me at this stage of my life.

...thinking...

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Representing God

A few days ago someone told me about a friend with a mental illness who had lost her faith in God because she had been rejected at church.

How that upset and angered me! How sad that is!

Why would Christians be so unloving? Don't they remember that it's Christ they're supposed to be following? Jesus, God on Earth, the One who showed us what love truly is.

God loves us through people. If we are Christians we are called to be God's representatives. Do we represent Him well?

In his book Soul Cravings, Erwin McManus talks about the level of trust we need to be able to have with others who are part of an authentic community - which the church should be. He said, "Honesty is the only context in which intimacy can develop." We need to be able to be honest with God's people, all of us recognizing that each of us is a flawed human being. "It makes it easier for me to remember that God will never reject me because I'm not good enough and that any community that has His heart will embrace me as I am. Jesus invites us into a community where imperfect people can find acceptance, love, forgiveness, and a new beginning."

If every church community could only be like this! Welcoming honest sharing. Welcoming people, though they might be different. Reaching out to people who need to be reminded that God loves them.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Good Friday, five years ago

I sent the following to Living Room facilitators and would-be facilitators, as well as Living Room supporters. Thought it would be good to share here as well. Never know how many would-be facilitators might be out there.

Happy Easter to you all!

My thoughts have been turning back lately to the Good Friday exactly five years ago when Pastor Don invited me to read a bit from my not-yet-published A Firm Place to Stand. With the reading I shared some of the emotional battles I had faced and how I could see that Jesus fully understood those battles. In a different way, He had faced similar battles. He fully understood my pain. What comfort that gave me! It's so important to be understood, isn't it? And then to be able to share that pain with God, the greatest Comforter of all!

After that reading, three people came up to me to tell me their story of pain. They could relate to me too!! And they found comfort in knowing that I was a "safe" person to talk to. Neat what happens when you share your personal emotional battles. It gives others permission to share their own battles as well.

And that's the beauty of our Living Room groups. That's what we do at Living Room.

I was amazed how good it felt to have those three people be so honest with me. What a privilege it is to have someone share in that way with you! As I wrote in my book, I felt a lot like Patch Adams did in the movie when he found out he could connect so well with the people in the mental hospital where he himself was a patient. "I connected to another human being!" Like Patch Adams, I found out that I too reallly wanted to listen to people and learn about them. I wanted to help them with their troubles. And I wanted to do more of that. I wanted people with mental disorders to have the freedom to talk about their problems in a Christian setting - safely. This is how the idea for Living Room germinated.

I gave a speech yesterday for the Reformed Church's Eirana Support Service's organization. Afterwards, a man who told me he struggled with depression came to talk to me. He told me how he would like to be part of a Living Room group but did not feel he could facilitate. Yet he also told me how he was sitting on a park bench awhile back when a person - out of the blue - told him her life story and her struggles. He told me how good it made him feel. Without knowing it, he was doing Living Room work. In my estimation, he's a person who could facilitate.

Yet I know how scary it can feel. I was scared as well before I started my group the first time. Could I do the work?

But I came to think of it as what it really is. It's not my work at all. It's God's work. All I have to do is to be His feet and hands. All I have to do is follow Him. All I have to be is His footsoldier. And then the work comes naturally.

At this Easter time when we are thankful to God for giving us Jesus - this anniversary of the germination of Living Room - I wish that attitude for all of you. Can you look on the work you want to do with Living Room as God's work? It isn't yours at all. All the power comes from Him who gives us strength. We only need to follow Him.

And then, how wonderful it is to serve Him!

All the best to you. And Happy Easter! May the sun shine on you and within.

marja

Friday, April 08, 2011

Back to photographing



I had the delightful opportunity to photograph a friend's 3 1/2 year old grandson. Such a good, but busy time it was. He's an active little guy, so not easy capture at times. The neat thing about him was that he was almost always smiling. I managed to get a good series of him while his grandmother was reading to him, his expression constantly changing as he delighted in Winnie the Pooh.

As often happens, I did not feel I was doing particularly well capturing images, and yet - when I came to editing the ones I had - I still had a good bunch of successes, with good variety.

Good to be distracted a bit from my Living Room work. The photography helped bring the balance I need in my life. At times I tend to get obsessed with Living Room, but - thank God - I'm presently able to do a wide variety of things.

This afternoon I was engaged in a Living Room activity. I visited the group in Abbotsford and talked about my life and how the Living Room concept came into being. It was a most enjoyable time I had. I was able to express myself the way I wished and I think some of the people may have been inspired by what I had to say. I pray that I left them with a message of hope...I think I did.

My next project will be to finish up my cookbook. Should tell you, though, the cookbook has evolved into a book called "Happiness is...: Celebrating my hobbies. Sharing from Marja's kitchen and camera." ...or something like that. I'm still working on a good title. All the recipes are entered and now the fun job of inserting photographs will begin.

But...I must keep my life balance and can't sit at the computer all the time. The sun is shining in Vancouver and I must get into the outdoors as well. I need to get out and walk...and my muskoka chair is waiting.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Reaching out

I had a call from someone I didn't know last night. She had huge anxieties and depression and was reaching out. Looking for someone who could give her an answer to her problems. Looking for someone who could alleviate the pain. And yet, all I could do was to listen with compassion. I could have prayed with her as well, and am sorry I didn't. Somehow I didn't feel I understood her well enough at the time to be able to pray. I should have tried though. But I was tired and all I could do was listen.

She reminded me of myself when I'm deeply depressed. Then I also reach out, looking for someone who might be able to help me. Looking for someone who can take away the pain. And yet, there is so little we can do for each other in cases like that, isn't there? Except to show each other we care and to remind each other of God's love. And assure each other that this pain won't last forever. That doesn't help much though. When you're deeply depressed it feels like it will never go away. Hard to believe otherwise. You cannot see the light. You cannot feel hope.

How we long for someone to just fix us when things are so bad! It's so hard to trust in the pills, in the doctor...and even in God. So hard to believe in a better future! And yet it is trusting - it is believing - that does help you recover. It takes time and patience.

This morning I'm praying for this lady out in the Valley. I'm praying she will recover soon. I'm praying she will believe that she will recover. That God is there for her, looking after her. Just wish I'd done that last night, while she was on the phone with me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

God's gift of creativity


On Friday we'll be discussing creativity at Living Room. This is one of my favourite subjects. Such a juicily interesting thing to discuss!

I'm a very creative person and it's mysterious to me how ideas and inspiration come to me. I'm often in awe of what God has helped me produce. Not that I'm such a wonderful artist. I feel very little has to do with my own efforts. Yes, I put forth the time and energy, but I know the actual creativity - the talent and ability - come to me through the Holy Spirit.

Look at the cookbook idea that I've told you about in an earlier post. That was such a good idea, I know a good thought like that could not come from me alone. The inspiration for it was planted within me by God. Spoken into me by the Holy Spirit. I simply cannot take the credit for as good an idea that. That project has benefited me so much! I'm enjoying cooking again. I'm sharing recipes with friends. I'll be using photography in it, another activity that's important for me to keep up. And, it has been good for my marriage. The way to my husband's heart is very much through his stomach :))

And how the Holy Spirit is alive within me as I work to capture candid photographs of children! The process is exciting, captivating and satisfying.

God gives every one of us creative gifts. He has made us in His image, and - being the greatest Creator - creativity is part of what He passes on to us. Creative gifts include more than just arts such as painting, music and photography. Planning a party or other event, decorating a home, cooking dinner, are all creative pursuits.

How we need to be thankful for the creative gifts God gives us! We need to use them and develop them. Life truly becomes meaningful when we use our gifts to serve God and others. But, don't forget to simply enjoy what God has given you too. Praise God for your gifts and use them to enjoy all aspect of life.

What creative gifts did God give you? Are you using them?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A goal for living room



Hi everyone,

I feel so bad that I don't write here more, especially when I'm reading neat stuff and thinking neat things I would love to share, if I could just take some time.

Pastor Don also gave an inspiring sermon on boldness I wouldn't mind sharing more about. But I'll let you hear it yourself. The sermon can be heard on the Brentwood Park Alliance Church website, here. The questions Don opened with were:

What is it that you would care enough about to take a stand regardless of the risk or the cost to you personally?

What would be your motivation to take such a stand?

There is one thing I absolutely do need to share with you at this point though. The Global Living Room initiative which is dedicated to giving access to as many people as possible to Living Room groups, now has its own fund set up. We can now accept donations and will have a "donate" button on our website soon. This will mean more freedom to really get to work spreading the word about this form of faith-based Christian support for people with mood disorders.

Two days ago we set a goal - an ambitious goal - but I believe one that is within reach. We want to see Living Room in all communities in the Greater Vancouver area and the Fraser Valley by the Fall of 2013. At the same time we will continue reaching out to the world beyond this corner of Canada, encouraging such Christian support in communities elsewhere.

A group started recently in Miami. And another group is close to starting in Atlanta. A young adult group will have its first meeting tomorrow at Simon Fraser University. Please pray for the facilitators of all these groups. Please pray for the many people who could benefit from this faith-based support.

Tonight I'm going to camera club and will enter the picture above in our print competition: Bougainvillea from a Greek isle.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Finding meaning...revisited


“Mental illness is not all bad.” That’s how I began an article about finding meaning in a life with bipolar disorder several years ago. How I regret having written those words today! I know the message I was trying to convey with the piece, but using those words tend to make it look like I was making light of disorders that I know from experience are serious and cause unbearable pain.

Mental illnesses ARE bad, as some of the comments on this article pointed out. But I also know that we need to adopt a positive and hopeful view.

At the time I wrote the piece I was thinking of what the apostle Paul said in Romans 8:28: “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” I truly believe that and have experienced it in my life.

Yet we need to recognize the honest truth. Mental illness can be devastating. As many as 20% of people with manic depression (as bipolar used to be called) take their own lives. It causes break-downs of relationships. Many lose the ability to support themselves. And then there’s trying to deal with people’s misunderstanding…the stigma…!

I have found meaning in life. Abundant meaning. But that doesn’t take away the suffering mental illness causes me and so many others.

Last year was very unstable for me, with much rapid cycling – periods when my moods shifted rapidly from low to high. Many times these shifts would happen within hours; sometimes within days. I never knew how I was going to be. There were sleepless nights and almost total loss of appetite. Eventually the rapid cycling gave way to solid depression and anxiety. Often I felt riddled with feelings of shame and guilt. I didn’t like the needy person I had become. I had to cancel out of commitments, feeling terrible to have let people down. I became suicidal at times, at one point asking my pastor to please remind me why I should live. Such is the loss of reality and perspective depression can bring on.

But I continued spending time with God daily and in between the bad times found much joy and comfort as well. At sunrise one morning I made one of the most meaningful photographs I’ve ever done. I considered it a gift from God, revealing to me His awesome nature. Yet I continued to be unstable. The effects of bipolar disorder are not easy to shake.

At times my husband didn’t trust leaving me on my own, giving up two or three fishing trips he needed for his own enjoyment and emotional well-being. His usual patient and laid back attitude gave way to emotional struggles of his own. Our relationship suffered. For the first time in our 42 years of marriage we needed counselling. Thank God, the counsellor was a good one who helped us learn how to weather the storm together.

In early December I had an idea to gather all our favourite recipes from our life together. These will become a little book to share with friends and family. This project helped me focus on cooking and made what had become a difficult chore into a hobby again – a source of enjoyment. This healthy activity did much to stabilize me. I can now see how such inspiration did not come from me alone. It was very much a gift from God.

I don’t think I would have appreciated such a gift without having gone through some tough times. I don’t think I would have as great reason to be thankful. I, along with the psalmist David, can sing “…and yet I will praise him!”

In New Light on Depression, (Zondervan, 2004) the book David B. Biebel, D.Min. wrote along with Harold G. Koenig, M.D., he said, “Having one's capacity for serenity and joy restored is little compensation for the agony of despair, much less the 'despair beyond despair.' The only true compensation for depression has to do with the sense of purpose and fulfillment that comes from redemptive involvement with others in distress, sharing the comfort we've experienced. This is the true route to joy." [emphasis mine]

How true that is! I’m now able to give support to others who live with mental illness through my faith-based Living Room support ministry for people with mood disorders. I can share with others what I’ve learned about God’s unfathomable love. I can offer heart-felt compassion because I understand the pain of depression. How good that makes me feel! That’s my compensation.

Paul's words in 2 Corinthians 1:4 hold true for me as I work with my ministry. I praise God “who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received.”

This is how I found meaning…and joy.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cringing with regret

In 2007 I had a piece published at canadianchristianity.com with the title "Finding Meaning in a Life with Bipolar Disorder." This also happens to be the subtitle of my book A Firm Place to Stand.

Since then 19 people have commented on that article, some of them quite upset with me, especially with my opening line, "Mental illness is not all bad." I have often wished I could rewrite that article, leaving out that line. Because, as people commented, it IS bad. It's like saying cancer isn't all bad. I guess what I was trying to say was that good can come out of trials.

But I agree with those who commented, bipolar disorder is a horrid disease. I believe I myself said in a recent post how I hate this disorder. Last year was a very bad year for me.

This morning I wrote a comment on my own article, saying how I would like to eat my words. I was so wrong to talk the way I did.

I've been invited to write a follow-up article and think I will do that soon. A good project to keep me occupied while I'm without a voice.

I would love your feedback on the article and any thoughts you might have on the topic.

Monday, February 21, 2011

I can't talk

Hi everyone. Over the past week I've had a doozy of a cold. And now, starting yesterday, I completely lost my voice. All I can do is whisper. What a strange feeling to try and say something to my husband and have almost nothing come out. When I want to tell him anything in the least involved, I email him. Weird, eh? I hope I get over this soon because this is really slowing me down.

While I've been sickly I've worked on making Spanish bookmarks for a mission team from our church to take with them. My goal is to make 500 with 15 or so different designs. A lot of work, but I know they're well appreciated, so it feels good to make them.

But what I really want to get going on is working to help more Living Room groups get going. I want to explain Living Room to church representatives, getting them enthused about the ministry. I have some ideas, but first I need a voice so that I can discuss them with my team. How frustrating when you really want to move ahead but things get in the way! Ah well! I need to have patience, don't I?

...And yet, I always feel a sense of urgency when there are things that I see need to be done. I've been reading Chasing Daylight by Erwin McManus, previously published as Seizing Your Divine Moment. McManus writes about the importance of passion. On the back cover the book is described as
"a call to live a life of blazing urgency. We have but one life. We are given one opportunity to pursue our dreams and fulfill our divine purpose. Every moment counts, and we must engage them with fierceness and zeal. Put an end to passive observation, paralyzed by the need for perfect opportunity, and start seizing the raw, untapped potential of your life with God."


That sounds like the recipe for a life of adventure, doesn't it? And that's what Living Room has given me - a life of adventure. I thank God for the journey. I thank Him for the privilege.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The best anti-stigma tactic

On February 9th the Vancouver Sun published an article on the difficulties of removing the stigma of mental illness. Amongst other things, he wrote about the World Psychiatric Associations anti-stigma pilot program conducted in 1996. The program tried out various approaches but found that although people became better informed about the biological basis of mental disorders, their attitude did not change significantly.

Some of the things McKnight does report about the program's findings are very encouraging to me and make me realize that perhaps I'm on the right track with my personal efforts to reduce stigma amongst Christians.

McKnight writes:
"...the pilot program found that by far the most effective way to change attitudes was to engage people in an emotional experience, and the best way to do that was to establish contact between people with mental illness and other members of the public."

"...it's important for members of the public not simply to have contact with psychiatric patients, but to see and hear from successful members of the community who have battled mental illness. ...most members of the public only see mentally ill people when something negative happens, and this is something anti-stigma campaigns must counter.

"Beyond that, the research suggests that campaigns are most effective when they're relatively small, manageable and sustainable, and when they're targeted to a specific audience. Different groups of people differ in their attitudes, after all, hence the best programs are ones designed to address specific attitudes."

This points out to me how important it is for Christians who have - or have had - mental illness to be open about it and educate their church families. Those who are doing well in life would especially be doing a great service if they would tell about the struggles they've had with mental illness.

But, given the stigma that exists, this takes courage. There is always the danger of alienating your Christian friends, especially those who harbour a deeply ingrained stigma or belief about mental illness. It takes a person who is passionate about making the world a better place for those who suffer with mental disorders. It takes compassionate people who want to see these people benefit from a loving and accepting Christian attitude. It takes someone who cares enough to make it possible for suffering people to be encouraged - not discouraged - in their faith.

Are you one of these people? Are you a respected member of your church community who has in the past lived with mental illness? Do you want to take part in making the world a better place?

Tell your story to your church family. Once you've made the topic an ok one, you'd be surprised how many people will come out of the woodwork.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Collaborating with God

I've always wanted to live in God's presence - aware of Him, moment by moment. Yet it's a hard thing to do. The world is so with us, isn't it?

The devotional I've been reading every morning has some neat thoughts on it: Living in God's presence is like collaborating with Him. Our work becomes infused with His presence. "It is not longer laborious but delightful: more like play than work." Hmm, sounds like my cooking now-a-days. Last night I even enjoyed cleaning up my kitchen because I played some neat worship music while I did it. Yes, that was living in God's presence. The work became like play. And all of my kitchen work has become part of the cookbook project - the creative pathway God has planted in me.

Over the next few weeks I'll be collaborating with a psychotherapist, constructing a recovery narrative. This is part of a University of British Columbia study to discover the impact of personal narratives. We had one session already. And that - because it's collaborative - is turning out to be like play as well.

The writing process involves me telling my story to the therapist and her getting it down in note form and on tape. Then she transcribes it and sends the results to me in bare bone form. I then edit the results, writing in my own voice.

Now, I've done lots of writing on my own. It's hard work trying to formulate thoughts and getting them down. But the rewriting and editing I did yesterday on what I had done with the therapist was fun - more like play - not work at all. Collaborating with someone made it easy.

It's that way when we make God part of our day to day life, isn't it? It's that way when we follow His leading - the pathway He shows us. It becomes easy. In Matthew 11:30, Jesus says, "For my yoke is easy and my burden is light."

My devotional has Jesus saying, "Whatever you do, do it for Me - with Me, through Me, in Me. Even menial tasks [like dishes] glow with the Joy of My Presence when you do them for Me."

How true!