Friday, February 29, 2008


It has been a few weeks since my mother-in-law died. Looking back on those last three weeks we spent with her seems surreal - a most uncommon time. I am glad we were able to spend her last days with her but, looking back, it wasn't easy.

I remember the weird feeling I had when I saw her slippers standing beside her bed when I knew she wouldn't be able to walk in them anymore. I remember how everything about her died, a little at a time: not being able to get up on her own anymore, not able to sit without getting dizzy; not able to eat solids - and then not able to swallow even the pureed foods. Her sight gradually went; her ability to speak and be understood left her; and gradually she fell into a sleep from which she didn't awake. We watched all this happen little by little. We let her go little by little. That was probably a good way for it to happen. Lots of time to let her know we loved her - too much to leave her alone at a time like that.

Boxes of her stuff are piled, untouched since the day we cleaned out her room. I need to get at them; I need to clean up. But it's hard to get started. It's hard for me to discipline myself to do anything that really "needs" to be done. We still have stacks of papers that need to be attended to as well. They've been piling up since we started staying at the home with Mom. There are unpaid bills hiding in there. I've been reading lots and spending time with friends, but it's hard to get motivated on the clean-up jobs.

And every time I walk through the room where we have Mom's stuff piled, I see the afghan that I covered myself with when I slept in the room with her during those last weeks. It brings me back to that surreal time.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The joy of "Living Room"

In her blog, Nancie talks about the joy CH Spurgeon's wife, Susannah Thompson, found in her ministry. A semi-invalid, confined to her home, she found something she could do to benefit others - something that benefited herself as well. Please check out her story as told by Nancie on her "Believer's encouragement blog".

I've often talked about Living Room here, and I will continue to talk much about Living Room. This support group for people with mood disorders which I founded and facilitate is an important part of my life. My experience with this ministry is similar to Susannah Thompson's experience with her ministry. It brings me great joy and is benefiting others as it benefits me.

At our group we start with lunch, then we have a devotional time. I draw the devotional from my own experience with struggles...and with joy as well. I talk about how God can work in our lives with mood disorder. Most importantly, we have a discussion surrounding this to see how this is true in the lives of the others around the table.

We have been having large numbers out to the meetings lately - twenty-two at the last meeting. So after the devotional time, we split into four smaller groups and have a sharing time. Members then have a chance to talk about how life is going for them. It's good for them to have a safe place like this to talk - and to find out that they're not alone in their struggles. We end the meeting by praying for each individual.

No matter what I'm going through, I find things I can bring to my devotionals to encourage others. This is God's gift to me. Through the trials I experience, and by staying close to God, I can find something helpful to pass along.

I often pray that God will fill me with his love and help me share that love with others. And he always answers that prayer. The best and most important thing I do at Living Room is to pass along this compassionate love to others. And what a joy that brings me! After almost every Living Room session I go home feeling great joy. It is an overflowing, but quiet joy. I've come to refer to it as holy joy.

Living Room is good for me and I know it's good for the participants as well. Unfortunately, this month there will be three weeks between meetings. I'll miss it. There are things I'm struggling with - sadness and anxiety. It would be good if I could have a devotional to pour myself into right now, in the process finding out what I can learn through dealing with it - finding what God has to teach me through this. But maybe I could blog about it instead. Maybe we could have an online Living Room!

If you think you might like to start a Living Room group in your church, do check out its website:

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Enlarging your soul through grief and loss

Merelyme has opened a topic on her blog about suffering. This is a topic I also like to talk about, because I've suffered a lot of pain due to my bipolar disorder, and yet I know I've grown much through this pain as well. I don't like the suffering and do everything I can to not go through it, and yet I know that each time I do I come out richer at the end.

Yes, I did want to talk about this growth I've experienced through my suffering. And yet, I think I'm going to do an about face here and talk instead about the pain I've been feeling as a result of the loss of my mother-in-law and knowing that I'll be without my friend for two months. This is probably a different kind of pain than the pain we experience from illness. Yet grief can lead to depression, even more so for people who suffer from mood disorders already. It can be a trigger for a mood swing.

I, along with others in my church, have been studying a book by Peter Scazzero, called Emotionally Healthy Spirituality. This book teaches how it's impossible to be spiritually mature, while remaining emotionally immature. Part of being emotionally mature is that when we go through the pain of grief and loss (as we all do) we should not try to cover it up. We need to feel it; we need to go through the process of dealing with it. Many try to numb the pain by denial, minimizing, blaming others or themselves, rationalizing, addictions and avoidance. (I don't want to go into the details of each of these. You'll need to read the book.) The thing is, we need to embrace the pain when it comes.

Scazzero says, "Loss marks the place where self-knowledge and powerful transformation happen - if we have the courage to participate fully in the process." He illustrates this, using the story of Job.

I think the loss of my friend for two months has actually hit me harder than the loss of my mother-in-law. I'm much too attached to this friend. I tell her everything; she is a soul-mate. So having her far away for so long will be painful. She has done this before and it put me into a deep depression. The difference that time, though, was that I felt shame for feeling so badly about her leaving; I felt guilty for missing her so much. I felt there was something wrong with me. This time, I've told her that I'm not going to feel ashamed of my feelings. I have every right to feel badly when someone I love so much is gone for so long. This time I faced the pain; I embraced the pain. And I was on the edge of depression once more.

But, as Scazzero's book and my pastor Don have pointed out, feeling broken does not mean I'm emotionally immature. Wholeness can be found, not by eradicating the brokenness but by finding wholeness in the middle of brokenness. As I've shown in a previous post, I've actually come to understand God's love more as a result of the pain of the past two weeks. I've come to understand the great pain he feels over us. To love much means to hurt much. And God loves us more than we could ever understand. Over the past couple of weeks I've come to feel more secure within the love of God. My soul has been enlarged. On Sunday Pastor Don said, "We are transformed by surrendering to God's love." And I did; and I was. And I am pretty sure I've now escaped the threat of depression.

I am now drawing most of my comfort from being there for friends who are in trouble. Eugene Peterson's version of 2 Corintians 1:4 in the Message says, " He (God) comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us." Coming alongside others is healing. It leads to wholeness.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

The wounded healer

The Catholic theologian Henri Nouwen believed that our wounds can be a source of healing for others. Not only do they help us to become compassionate, but they humble us. As we work toward healing in our own lives, we can help bring healing to others.

I'm finding that so true for myself. Over the past week, as I was battling anxiety and depression, I worked on a devotional to bring to Living Room. The topic was "Coping with our Pain." As I worked through my own pain, I found ways of helping others with their pain. I searched for healing and, through the pain I felt as I listened to last Sunday's sermon, I gained a new level of understanding of what God's love is like. This encouraged me and yesterday I did my best to pass on my understanding to members of the group. (a whopping 22 attendees yesterday - Wow!)

But in the evening, with it all behind me, I did not feel the usual joy I feel after
Living Room. My depression was more severe and, what's more, I had nothing I could do with it. In anguish I emailed my friend. I'm not one to isolate during depression. I have a huge need to reach out - to grab something that will keep me from sinking. Talking with her helped.

This morning I had a good quiet time with reflection and prayer. I decided I need to do my best to help others deal with their emotional pain, in the process finding healing for myself - always keeping God's great love uppermost in my mind and heart - always sharing that love with others. I will be getting together with a few
Living Room people over the next while, sharing with them, encouraging them as I encourage myself. We can encourage each other.

Henri Nouwen wrote a book called the Wounded Healer. Think I'll pick up a copy soon. It sounds like something that might encourage me - something that will help me remember I can do worthwhile things with my pain.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Abandonment issues

This is a piece I wrote for my new book, A Firm Place to Stand. I dedicate this post to A Voice in the Matrix, someone who knows what a feeling of abandonment is like - someone who recognizes that Christ understands, because He's been there.

My Ultimate Source of Support

…God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

My worst moments are occasional feelings of abandonment. I usually experience these at night. I have a sense of doom, a chilly emptiness. There is nothing to hold on to. No hugs are tight enough to take away my sense of disconnectedness. I’m filled with a huge sense of insecurity. I cannot sleep.

I don’t know where these feelings come from. Are they part of my bipolar disorder, or are they the result of multiple separations from family due to illness and hospital stays when I was young? Could they be Satan’s work? But the cause doesn’t really matter, does it? All I know is that at times such as these I need to go to my Bible. I need to pray. I need Jesus.

Some of the worst suffering Jesus endured was the sense of abandonment he felt in the Garden of Gethsemane as he tried to come to terms with the cross he knew he had to face. While he was in emotional anguish, his closest friends slept. Even Jesus, the Son of God, needed support from his earthly friends. “Can’t you understand that I need you?” was in essence what he cried out to his disciples as they wiped the sleep from their eyes. They had no idea what he was dealing with. Neither do my earthly friends when I’m in need. How can one person possibly understand what is happening in the mind of another? Only Jesus understands. He knows pain.

I can’t fathom how horrifying it must have been to deal with abandonment in the face of having wrists and feet nailed to a cross and being left to die a slow, excruciating death. I’m sure the cross would not have been as painful had he known there were friends below, expressing love and concern. But his friends deserted him. The people for whom he was dying mocked and ridiculed him. “He saved others, but he can’t save himself!...Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him!” (Matthew 27:42) Eventually he was even abandoned by his Father in heaven. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46) he cried.

When I’m in pain, I have Christ I to go to. Jesus did not have a Christ to turn to. He had to deal with the agony of the cross on his own, without friends and, for a time, even without God. He bore the weight entirely alone.

His great love for us made Jesus willing to walk to the cross. Love allowed him to endure the torture. Even as he hung there, wracked by physical pain, loneliness and humiliation – all because of us! – he begged his heavenly Father to forgive us: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) he prayed. He went through all of this because he knew we would then have everlasting life. Because of his sacrifice, I don’t have to suffer as much as I otherwise would.

When I need to talk to someone and no one is home, or when phone lines are busy, Jesus is always there, waiting for me. When I feel I’ve been deserted, I search my Bible and pray, and Jesus hears my cries. I can pour out my heart to him, and he fully understands.

I cover myself warmly, lay my head on the pillow and sleep peacefully once more. I know that I’m taken care of.

Thank you, Jesus!

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

A sadness wrapped in love

When I was looking after Mom I looked often at this picture which hung on her wall. I had photographed these cosmos flowers a few years ago in the rain and the water droplets make me think of tears. It's kind of a sad picture, but it's beautiful as well. There is a beauty in some sadness, don't you think?

I think that sadness that is wrapped in love is a beautiful thing, because love is beautiful. And love comes from God. To lack that sadness would not be beautiful at all. There is a kind of gentle richness - a bittersweetness - when someone has lived a long life and then closes that life. There was a bittersweetness about spending those last weeks with Mom, hearing her last precious words. One thing she expressed a lot was her gratitude to my husband and I and to others for looking after her at that time. I'm so glad we were able to do that.

There is also a kind of beauty in the sadness I feel surrounding my friend going away for two months. This, too, is a sadness clothed in love. And if you love deeply, you hurt deeply.

All of you, my blogging pals, have been amazingly supportive. I thank you very much for that. You've all - each in a bit of a different way - helped me deal with things.

Jim: Thank you for reminding me that suffering will bring transformation.

Anne: Yes, I just need to go through the pain because doing that it is a road to emotional wholeness. (My therapist looks like she's going to be a good one. She believes she can help me with some of the feelings of anxiety I have surrounding my friend being gone for so long.)

Susan: I'm so glad you are here and for your ability to relate to me.

Nancie: I am learning to understand God's love on a new level and that's exciting.

Cathy: We have new things we can talk about, don't we? Hope to see you and to share a big hug at Living Room this Friday.

And Merelyme: I just got your response as I was writing this post. Thank you for missing me. I've got to get back to your blog - and everyone else's real soon. I love my blogging family of friends.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Blogging to heal

Ohh, do I ever need to blog - to share with you some of the stuff I'm going through! But first I need to thank all of you who were so kind in sending your condolences when my mom-in-law died. I truly appreciated your thoughts.

I coped fine with everything until the day after the funeral. Then I found out that my best friend will be away for the months of March and April. This is someone I love very much, a kindred spirit, someone I talk to almost every day....and yes, someone I'm probably far too attached to. For the past few days I've spent much of my time in tears.

I guess spending most of three weeks at my mother-in-law's bedside as she lay dying took a toll on me, even though I thought I was handling it okay. Now my emotions are raw. I don't know what I'm most sad about, my mom-in-law's death or my friend's leaving. Can't distinguish. I just feel terribly sad.

I guess this is what grief is. Now I just hope that this grief does not turn into depression. I can't get depressed, especially while the support of my good friend is not here for me. Especially when there is so much I need to do. I'm going to do my darndest to not get depressed. Tomorrow I'm seeing a counselor, someone I've never seen before. I hope she'll be able to help me. I hope I'll like her. I hope she's good.

The sermon at church today was about love. One thing Pastor Don talked about was how great the love of God is. He talked about the "scandalous love of a father", the father of the prodigal son. The father welcomes the son back so eagerly, even running to meet him - something grown men at that time never did. (running would mean having to lift your clothing and showing your bare legs!) In spite of how the son had turned his back on him, the father threw an extravagant party for him. How much that father loved him and how it must have hurt him when this son first left! How he must have missed this son! The father in the story is meant to portray God and gives a good picture of just how great God's love for us is.

And when I think of the terrible pain I'm feeling right now, I can see the pain God must feel when he loses one of us. God understands the kind of pain I'm feeling now.

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The end of a long life

I want to thank everyone who has been thinking and praying for my mother-in-law and for my husband and I as we looked after her. On Wednesday she passed away, safe in the arms of Jesus. We are relieved and had prayed that God would take her. Over the last few days she was no longer responding and truly ready to go.

My husband and I spent most of the past three weeks close by her side. I found out what it's like to live in a care facility, spending many nights sleeping in a cot in her room and eating there. Tabor Home was a good place to die. Mom was loved and respected by all the staff and they truly showed her their love as they cared for her. It was like dying at home. We're very thankful for the care she received.

The funeral arrangements have all been made, everyone has been notified, and now my husband is preparing the eulogy. During the open mike session at the reception I also plan to say some things. I want to say how thoughtful Mother was of other people, even as she lay dying. Several times she reminded me to call her sister-in-law to see how she was doing in her fight with cancer. She had me buy a 90th birthday card for her sister and dictated a note for me to write, explaining how things were for her and saying goodbye. When another resident who had not been well came into the room, she asked her if she was feeling better. Although she had a hard time speaking, she said several times, "I just want to thank everybody." This was a lady who was completely other-centered - a grateful lady. She was an inspiration for all whose lives she touched. And now, at the age of 96, only a few weeks after her last quilting session, she is at peace. She will be missed by the many people who loved her.

Soon my life will be back on track. I have much to do. Many emails have come in response to my TV interview and I need to get to answering them. There is interest in starting other Living Room groups and interest in finding churches that are supportive to people with mental illness. Much work to do. I look forward to the challenge and very much want to promote church support in whatever way I can. I will need to do more writing; I will need to have an info session for church leaders and a workshop for new facilitators.

I thank God that I am well. I thank God for allowing me to have spent Mother's last weeks by her side, knowing that I did all I could for her. And I pray that he will be with me as I go on to the next chapter of my life.