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.


Annie said...

Hi Marja,
Sounds like the enemy is doing a job on you, making you think you aren't capable of continuing well in your ministry etc. This is a lie, though you may need others to come along side you to help out with it as it grows - and you know it is growing!
It is normal for those who desire to serve the Lord to experience depression, discouragement and even despair at Christmas. When I find myself giving in to it, the Lord leads me to Habakkuk 3:17-19.
Since the joy of the Lord is our strength against the foe - even though nothing good "seems" to be happening in our lives, forcing ourselves to rejoice in Him anyway is a big help. Don't let this negativity steal your Christmas joy. You are a blessing and will continue to be by the grace of God.
Believe! Love, Annie.
P.S. You are not losing your memory; you just have a lot going on in your mind right now.

marja said...

Hi Annie,

Thanks for the encouragement. However if you could have seen me a couple of weeks ago, you would know how serious my problems are at times.

I'm not giving up work on this ministry. As I said, I will continue as long as I'm able. But I do need more help, especially someone who could take over from where I leave off. I'm not getting any younger.


Cathy said...

Hi Marja,
I think your piece is a realistic, profound observation, as something you've wrestled through with yourself and God.

Yes, you are a pioneer, who's pushed through into new and difficult ground. The sheer logistics of it all are breath-taking. However, as I've sat in your Living Room group the past several times, I am amazed that your heart seems to shine brighter than ever. That love is the secret to the success of your group and I've been paying attention! Really, what's you've done over the last ten years was impossible for many reasons. But God has met you with great love and you were compelled to share his love for those with mental illnesses. That's the point we're all supposed to get- he wants us to experience his generous love and to learn how to give it away.
You may have to hand over some of the practical duties you've carried, but may God enable you to continue to share the love he has given you. You do it so well.

This year, may you experience God's tender loving presence even more than ever.

love, Cathy

marja said...

Oh Cathy! Thank you so much for your affirmation. You are such a wonderful friend and supporter!

Yes, God has met me with His great love. And it's the love God has shared with me through His people, especially my church family.

May all people who live with mental experience such love so that they too can comfort others in the way they have been comforted.

Love, marja

Anonymous said...

Your fight against 'stigma' has even reached down under. Keep on keeping on as the Lord gives you strenght and direction,learning from all your experiences both good and testingly difficult.It is an important work and many seeds have been sown by you that the Lord will give growth to.


marja said...


What a beautiful comment to receive! Thank you!!

I pray that there will indeed be a lot of growth. The kind of growth that only God can provide.

Sharon said...

Oh, Marja, I just found your blog through another link sent to me by my middle son. We are suffering over the realization that my youngest son has bipolar disorder. I myself have suffered with depression...possibly bipolar also...for many years,though treatment has helped. Your words have touched my heart and I love you and want you to know that the love of the Lord reached through you to me. You are doing a beautiful work....I have long felt the awful stigma and now wonder what my church family would say and how they would react to my son's disorder. We all need the love and support that our church families should give us, but instead we are afraid...afraid of judgments, gossip, misunderstanding, and pious suggestions. You have blessed me and given me courage to stand and speak out and speak up for those in mental anguish. Maybe I can be the starter where I am. God bless you, Marja! You have used your pain to understand and help others. I want to do the same!

Annie said...

Hi Marja,
Hope you're just too busy to blog and not unwell. I'm inviting you to take a look at my new blog that I just got up and running, and to consider being a member. I deleted my old blogspot that was only there in name only.

marja said...

Dear Sharon,

Comments like yours make me realize that what I've been working towards has been well worthwhile. May God bless you in your work as He's blessed me in mine.

Take care,

Janet said...

Hi Marja,
I have enjoyed your reading your blog and your looking at your photography work. I also enjoy photography. I just wish I could find a way to make a living at it:)

I was recently diagnosed with bipolar, I am 43 years old and have been dealing with depression for 22 years. It is somewhat of a relief to finally find out what the problem was. I never knew what 'manic' was until I came down from being 'manic'. It scares me to think it may happen again considering the things I did and the anguish I put my family and friends through.
However, I have faith that it will NOT happen again.

I am on medication now and it seems to be helping. Are you on medication?

My counselor recommended group therapy but I can't even talk to her about some things much less a whole group of people.
I am still concerned about the 'stigma' I suppose. It is really great that you started a group session that is blessing others and yourself. I hope to get to the point soon where I can help others and be able to speak out. Actually I have started my own writings about 'living with bipolar' and was considering a blog which is how I found yours.
How long did it take you before you could actually speak out to others about your disorder?
Hopefully I can help one day with the growth of your group sessions in church. My faith is all that is keeping me together right now, that's for sure!! "No weapon formed against me will prosper"

Keep being a blessing and don't worry about someone taking your spot, God will take care of that when the time comes:)

Stay blessed..and keep taking beautiful pictures:)


marja said...

Hi Janet,

Thank you for the lovely comments. They encouraged me.

I think I started speaking openly about what I'm dealing with when I read what someone called Dr. Varsamis said about the importance of being open so that stigma will be destroyed.

He said something like this: If everyone who suffers from a mental illness would explain what they deal with to their friends and family members, stigma would soon be a thing of the past.

That inspired me greatly and I decided to not worry about telling people. When I talk to people about it I do so as though it's the most normal thing in the world. I'm totally open and don't show shame - because I'm not ashamed. Why should a person be ashamed just because her brain doesn't work like others'.

I've never been sorry that I started speaking out. And I hope that one day you too will find the courage to do so. I don't think you'll be sorry.