Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Having a vision for your life

I want to reflect in this post and the next - and maybe more - on the sermons Pastor Don gave in church over the last couple of Sundays. He has been doing a powerful series that should be of interest to anyone who is looking for meaning in life. And when you have bipolar disorder and a full life is not as easy to achieve as it might be for healthy people, it's important to find a way to find something meaningful to do, isn't it?

In this post I've quoted Don loosely, using some of my own wording. Hope that's okay, Don. Don asked, "Do you have a vision for your life?"

It's important to live with vision - with a dream for the future you want for your life - having a picture of what you hope for your future...or the future of the world. What matters to you? Is there something that bothers you enough that you'd like to do something about it? What does God want you to do with your life?

For me it's been fighting the stigma attached to mental illness. Working towards this - with the help of God - has been very fulfilling.

When you have vision you will have direction and a sense of purpose for your life. It will clarify what you should be doing and not doing. Vision gives meaning to even the most mundane things in your life. Working towards your vision will mean that you need to stay healthy. You will be motivated to look after yourself - eating healthy foods and getting excercise. After all, if you're to accomplish things, you'll need to be strong and healthy, won't you? It's all part of the bigger thing. Vision will inject passion and motivation for what you do. You'll be excited about life - eager to get up in the morning. Where there's a vision good things begin to happen. Where there's vision there's passion and joy.

How does God birth a vision?

Realize that God's vision is bigger than ours. He lives with a bigger perspective than we do. Vision is birthed in those who are concerned with what concerns God. We hear from God and are led by God when our interests are in more than just ourselves. Does what breaks the heart of God break your heart too? We need to live a life that is bigger than ourselves.

Proverbs 29:18 (NASB) says: "Where there is no vision, the people are unrestrained." (in other words, anything goes) You live blindly, without any real sense of purpose or meaning.

When we start following Jesus we're called to deny ourselves - to stop focussing on our own little lives. God's concerns become our concerns. We allow God to let our heart break over something. If you think you can carry out your plans on your own, it's not from God. If it's from God it's overwhelming.

What is breaking your heart today? Are you ready to let God lead you to join Him in the work He's doing?

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Finding fulfillment

My husband and I got back from our holiday last night. We had a wonderful time - a true true rest. Something I needed. Now I feel refreshed and eager to get back to work. I was even making a list of all the things I wanted to do when I got home...while I was still on the cruise.

Just before we left I was corresponding with someone who has bipolar disorder and hasn't been able to work for awhile. She wrote:

"I personally feel discouragement, a loss of identity, and a lot of shame & guilt having been off work for this long."

I can well remember similar feelings - actually throughout most of my adult life off and on. For many years I scoured the Help Wanted pages of the newspaper on a daily basis, hoping to find work I'd be able to do. I wanted to earn money. I wanted to feel I had some value. But the two or three times I tried to work at part time jobs, I couldn't keep it up longer than two months. Always ended up in tears. The stress was just too great.

I was constantly trying to find something meaningful to do - something that would make me feel that my life had some value. With my photography I tried to earn money; I tried to become famous. Though I did earn a bit of money, and though I did receive a good reputation for my photography, neither of these were fulfilling in the long run. "Is that all there is?" I would repeatedly think to myself.

As I got older I gradually learned what was most important to me. Now I love what I'm doing and don't feel I need to be rich or famous. I just want to help people with mental illness - just get a good feeling from doing so. I want to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. My life has become meaningful.

But it was a long road to get here. And, even now, there are times that I wish I could earn some real money, even though my husband supports the both of us well enough.

It IS tricky to find a life that is meaningful when bipolar keeps you from being able to make longterm commitments. And I do still have trouble comfortably doing that. Episodes still come along and I cannot trust how I'm going to be from month to month.

My book A Firm Place to Stand deal with a lot of these questions and the struggles I've had over the years. I found out that it IS possible to find a fulfilling life. It's tricky, and it will take a lot of work, a lot of trial and error. A person needs to do a lot of searching to find out what is most important to her and where her talents lie.

The person I quoted also made another comment:

"I'm wondering How can I actually feel OK about accepting this new life, and be at peace with it."

And it does start with accepting our disorder and the limitations it puts upon us, doesn't it? Yet I believe we can create a rich life, in spite of these limitations.

How do you feel about all this? Where have your struggles taken you? Have you been able to find hope in spite of your disorder? I'd love to hear your stories.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Off on a holiday

Just want to let you know my husband and I are going away tomorrow, coming back on January 19th. Will miss you all, but it will be good to get a rest in the warm sunshine - a Caribbean cruise of all things. We've never cruised before and may never have the opportunity again, so I look forward to the experience.

See you when I get back!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Further thoughts on God's plans

I need to write some more on this. Just re-read my last post and realize how hard it must be to accept for many. Did you find it discouraging or encouraging?

Personally, I'm just so excited that I can be doing something today to make tomorrow's world a better place. I know how hard it is to overcome the stigma attached to mental illness. I realize that it probably won't happen in my lifetime. But to think that things might be different for the next generation! To think that how I live my life today might help future generations!

I don't have to give up fighting for this because I can't see the results. Every little thing I do to work towards this will count something for the future. Pastor Don said, "The future is bigger than your lifetime. You can do something with your life that is bigger than your wildest dreams." (Actually, God can do it and we can be His hands and feet and mouth.)

Now isn't that thought encouraging? Doesn't it just make you want to do your best to work for what you believe in?

God's plans for us

Pastor Don Dyck's sermon yesterday inspired me so much that I want to share a bit with you. I've just come off a roller coaster of ups and downs and am not even absolutely sure whether I'm off it yet. There were times I didn't want to live anymore, times when I called the crisis line and a prayer line in the middle of the night. Yet this sermon spoke to me, helping me realize it may not all be for nothing. It helps me realize that God is there with me in the middle of it all and that this is all part of His plan (not that He made me suffer, but knew that I would).

Don focussed on Jeremiah 29:11, a verse that is loved by so many. I know it has often encouraged me:

"For I know the plans I have for you," declares the Lord, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

Taken in context, the way Bible verses need to be considered, these words might not be saying what we think them to say. We should realize that God is speaking to the Jews in exile in Babylon. Their lives are in turmoil and they think life is hopeless. The verse prior to this one says:

This is what the Lord says: "When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place."

So...God does not necessarily promise our welfare immediately. When we're in pain - in exile - we may not experience God's promise anytime soon. It may not even happen in our lifetime! (Bipolar will be with me all my life, I know.) Yet verse 12 to 13 tell us: will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. "I will be found by you," declares the Lord, "and will bring you back from captivity."

God is at work. He is with us in the middle of any pain we might be facing. And how we live our life - no matter how hard - will affect future generations. The future God has planned for us is larger than our own lives. God's plan for us extends beyond our own lifetime. Even Moses, and many others with strong faith did not see God's plans fulfilled in their lifetime. But their work helped future generations.

I want to share Pastor Don's prayer with you because many of you are suffering as I so often do. And this prayer spoke so powerfully to me. I hope that you too will find hope here.

Father, you are an all-knowing God who sees our lives from beginning to end. You see every day of our life before it's lived. You read every page of the story of our life before it's written. But you also put the pen in our hands to work with you to write out our stories.

Sometimes we're trying to make sense of our experiences that don't make sense. Sometimes we're trying to find you in the middle of experiences where we can't see you. But I think that all of us want to find you, and you promise that if we seek you with all our hearts we will find you.

And so today we lift up all those who are experiencing painful circumstances in their lives - who feel they're in exile and feel this isn't going to end...and maybe it won't end anytime too soon. But I thank you that you promise to walk each step of the way with us. You never leave us. And you give us the privilege of being your presence in each other's lives as well.

So may we go into this year with sights lifted up and looking even beyond this year. As we engage fully in this life knowing that, and live fully this life with a sense that our life matters greatly and is more important than anything that we could ever begin to imagine or think. And that through us you could be laying - and are laying - the foundations of different things you want to do in the world beyond our lifetime.

Thank you for your work in our lives. In Jesus' name we pray. Amen.

Saturday, January 03, 2009


Last night we took the tree and all the decorations down. A further release from the Christmas season. I can breathe easy again.

Turns out a lot of people at Living Room yesterday shared my feelings of relief. Too bad, isn't it, that a celebration that should be beautiful carries such stress with it? How can we possibly avoid that? Will have to make a serious attempt next year to avoid that.

It snowed again last night. Don't know if I've ever seen such an ongoing snowy time before. Not where we live. Kind of crimps your style. There are people who haven't dug out from the last few snowfalls yet. Can't get out of their lane - or find it difficult and dangerous to do so.

This limits my visiting times with Mom. It's hard to find parking at the home with the piles of snow on the sides of the street. Hard to find a spot in the parking lot. But I'll try to get there today and take my chances. She called a couple of days ago telling me she's feeling lonely.

The cruise will be nice. Warm weather. Worries all left behind. Only a few days to wait now.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Christmas and expectations

A Happy New Year to everyone! I hope you've all survived the holiday season. I, for one, am looking forward to a more normal pace of life.

At Living Room on Friday we're going to talk about how Christmas was for all of us. Why is it that it's such a difficult season?

I've been thinking a bit about that and realize it's the expectations we put on ourselves that makes it so hard. Put that on top of what is already a busy and complex life, and you have a lot of stress - stress that causes mood disturbances.

I wonder if that's why I haven't been able to work throughout most of my adult life? Going to work and measuring up to what is expected from me - and me always wanting to give it my all - has always given me so much stress that I've had to quit the part-time jobs I did try. In each case I found I had no energy left to do my own thing - to be creative, to cook for my family, and to do all the other things that I felt I needed to do to have a complete life. Each time I tried a part-time job I would end up in tears two or three months after starting. I had no freedom to lead my life in the way I wanted to and needed to. No time for the photography that was so important to me, no energy to cook proper meals. I was not able to live up to the expectations of my employer and me. Working caused me too much stress.

I like what Merely Me said in her blog and feel the same way: "Can I tell you that I am simply giddy that it is over? It's's twue! Christmas is over...YAY! I can breathe easier."

Except for having to prepare for the cruise my husband and I are taking, I am free to do what I want. Before Christmas I always feel like everything I do has to contribute to Christmas preparations. I don't feel free to do the things that are really important to me. Dare I say, Christmas puts me into a kind of prison - one I can't escape, no matter how I try. The result is a lot of stress and depression.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not a "bah humbug" sort of person. On the contrary, I always loved Christmas. I enjoy the carols and the baking. I like to buy gifts. But I want everything to be perfect. And maybe that's the problem. My expectations are too high and that creates a lot of stress.

I have high expectations of myself for the mental health work I do as well, but that's work of my own choosing. I go at my own pace, as the mood strikes me - and the mood strikes me often. It's truly what God made me to do. I'm free to make of it what I wish.

I'm glad to be standing on the brink of a new year. Time to start afresh. I've decided to start photographing children again and that's exciting. That work has always given me such joy. My life will be busy, but more balanced. My husband is happy because he was always sorry that I gave up this creative pursuit. I'll go to camera club with him again. We will share a common interest again.