Monday, April 30, 2012

A tree planted by the river

Lord, I feel like I’ve been arguing with you and I don’t feel very good about it. I set out to find your truth and all I did was look for loopholes. I wasn’t open to listening.

Ever since I started following you I have found you and your Word trustworthy. You have helped me so much – when I’ve been stable, but even more so when I’ve been in trouble. Forgive me, God, for throwing so many questions filled with doubt your way.

I want to focus instead on the tree you talk about in Jeremiah 17.  How much more uplifting it would be to talk about that tree!

This is what you told us in verses 5-8:

“Cursed is the one who trusts in man,
    who draws strength from mere flesh
    and whose heart turns away from the Lord.
That person will be like a bush in the wastelands;
    they will not see prosperity when it comes.
They will dwell in the parched places of the desert,
    in a salt land where no one lives.
“But blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord,
    whose confidence is in him.
They will be like a tree planted by the water
    that sends out its roots by the stream.
It does not fear when heat comes;
    its leaves are always green.
It has no worries in a year of drought
    and never fails to bear fruit.”

That fruit in the last verse reminds me of the fruit Helen talked about. The fruit of joy we experience when we stay connected to you. The fruit we have when we keep trusting you. You promise we will be like that tree, planted by the river, its roots easily reaching down to water. Even in years of drought, we will stay alive and produce fruit in season.

…and now I need to question you again, Lord: What about the long depressions some of us go through – depressions that last several seasons – when it really seems impossible to produce fruit? When we even start wondering why we’re living. Some of us never escape the illness. Will our roots be able to keep drinking from the water where they’re planted? Will you help us find reminders of your presence?

I believe you will, Lord, with others’ help. If we can reach out to godly friends maybe they will help keep our roots planted by the river. Trouble is, I know that many depressed people who follow you, don’t have friends like that who will be understanding and compassionate. That’s the tough thing.

Pastor Don quoted Gordon Fee yesterday during his sermon: "Joy does not mean the absence of sorrow but the capacity to rejoice in the midst of it." We can have that capacity if we keep trusting in you, like trees firmly planted by the river.

That kind of reminds me of David as we see him in the Psalms. In many of his writings he is obviously having a hard time - probably depressed - and yet, in most cases he ends by rejoicing in God.

If all of us could only be like David!

Thursday, April 19, 2012


Dear God,

I don’t like myself very much right now. Who do I think I am anyway, making such a big deal over something my pastor said? Am I actually cut out to be an activist, a shit-disturber as my husband Wes likes to call me?

Somehow I don’t think all this disagreeing and fussing over things makes me a very attractive person. Why can’t I just be sweet and easy to get along with? I worry that some people are getting tired of me, especially my pastor. I write him far too many emails. What a nuisance I am! I’m embarrassed, but can’t seem to change. He's one of the people to talk to about spiritual things.

I’m not the person I used to be: quiet and submissive, respectful, not getting too upset about things. What happened, God? Is the person I am today the person you intended me to be? I’ve changed so much from what I used to be!

Looking back I can see I became a different person 25 years ago when I decided I couldn’t do life on my own anymore. I made you part of my life. That’s when all the changes started to happen. It’s all your doing. Amazing all the things that have happened!

Lord, without you I would not have had the courage to start my writing career with Sick, But No One Brought Me Flowers for the Vancouver Sun. In one fell swoop everyone in my church – everyone who knew me – learned I had spent time in a mental hospital. You made it possible for me to start writing honestly about things people had for far too long kept silent. You took away my fears. You made me the teacher I always wanted to be, educating the public about mental health issues.

In you I found someone I could trust and lean on when things got tough. I was always unsure of myself, shy, but you made me into a leader. How encouraging it is now, during down times, if I can remember that I don’t live life for myself alone.

I became healthier. I don’t remember too many psychotic episodes since that time. Of course, that’s largely due to improved medications too. But didn’t you make those possible as well?

I thank you, dear God, for all you are. I thank you for your boundless love. I thank you for giving me a life worth living. It’s really you doing all this work I’m part of now, isn’t it? It’s not me at all. I’m only your instrument – your pen, your voice, your hands and feet. And I hope I have a bit of your heart in me too. How can we work for you without your heart?

Maybe I should not dislike myself so much. You, God, made me into the person I am. I guess it’s ok to get angry about injustices. You do that too. It’s probably ok to disagree with my pastor. He’s wise but not infallible. Maybe I should be proud to be a shit-disturber. Not a very polite handle, I know, but wasn’t your Son one too?

Saturday, April 07, 2012

This is the day...!

This morning I was thinking how wrong it was that I had been thinking so much about depression and suffering. That's all I seem to have written about lately. It would be so much healthier to think and write about joyful things.

Good Friday was truly "good" for me. Pastor Don had us focus on all the things I've been meditating on lately. His prayers helped me come to terms and talk to God about them.

But now it's time to think of Easter and the resurrection. It's time to focus on joy. The daffodils are blooming outside and the sun is shining beautifully. Time to start writing about happier things.

I wonder if I'm even capable of that. Writing about joy is something I haven't done for a long while. Yet I must try. For my health's sake, I must try.

Then I thought of a verse from the Psalms that has always meant a lot to me. This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it. Perfect to focus on at Easter time. And - at the same time - I thought of an activity that brings me almost more joy than anything. I LOVE marrying my photographs with favourite Bible verses, making bookmarks with them, and then sharing them with others. Two favourite things coming together: photography and Scripture.

So...I've made a bookmark to celebrate Easter. We will put one in each of the bulletins at church tomorrow. In every way a source of joy for me and - I hope - for others too.

Thursday, April 05, 2012

An attitude of joy?

Lord, I’m confused. And every time I think I’ve sorted things out, I find someone or something that says I haven’t. Yet I’d like to be clear about things like this, because how can I pass understanding on to others if I don’t have it myself?

My pastor recently said that “our attitude in the face of hardship and suffering reflects our confidence in God (or lack thereof).” He had been talking about the “joy” expressed in the letters Paul wrote from prison. Joy, in spite of hardships.

I started thinking about the depression my friends and I often face. How would it be possible to have an attitude of joy at times like that, when all you’d like to do is to die?

Does Pastor Don consider that I don’t have confidence in you when I’m in the midst of depression? I feel a strong need to defend myself. I consider myself a fairly good Christ follower. Can I help it when depression comes upon me? Can I help it when all I can do is think negative thoughts? And I remember with compassion the people in my support group who feel at times that you have abandoned them. Their pain is immense.

In times past I’ve bravely thought how I need to go through depression once in a while if I’m going to do the work you gave me to do – if I’m going to follow my calling to support people who, like me, have a mood disorder. It’s true, I know how to be a good supporter and advocate because I’ve struggled with depression myself. And, I suppose being able to do this gives me joy. It has given my life meaning.

Yet over the last couple of years my experience with depression and the desire to die has been worse than I would ever want to experience again. It was impossible to have an attitude of joy. Even when the episodes were past, I wondered if the benefits were worth what I paid.

But am I thinking of myself too much, Lord? The central purpose of Paul’s life was you and his desire to serve you. He wasn’t concerned about himself. …and I would like to be like Paul. I too want to serve you. The purpose of my life is not me or my own well-being…at least I try not to let it be. But maybe too often it is?

You endured unimaginable suffering as you hung on the cross. You also felt abandoned, crying out “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46). No joy there, was there? Yet you willingly endured it, knowing the good it would do: the transformation, or redemption, of humanity.

So, if I’m truly your follower shouldn’t I willingly endure depression, knowing it will eventually help me have greater compassion? It will enable me to help others in a special way. And in that there’s joy.

Lord, help me have the courage to withstand future episodes when they come…because they always do come. Help me to follow you wholeheartedly, even when it hurts.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Waiting patiently

I had a coffee today with a friend who's depressed. She told me about a course she's taking at a mental health facility. At this course she's being taught to accept depression when it happens - to go with it and not fight it. Not that you don't look for a way out, but just don't get all upset about it. Accept it as a fact for your life at this moment.

It makes a lot of sense to me. When I've been depressed it's the fighting it - looking for a way out but not finding it - that makes me feel worse. This attitude is most likely to bring on thoughts of suicide.

I'm reminded of what David wrote in Psalm 40:
1 I waited patiently for the LORD;
he turned to me and heard my cry.
2 He lifted me out of the slimy pit,
out of the mud and mire;
he set my feet on a rock
and gave me a firm place to stand.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the LORD
and put their trust in him.

It's all about waiting patiently, isn't it? Waiting patiently while trusting God.