High Anxiety – Affliction, not sin

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“Some people feel guilty about their anxieties and regard them as a defect of faith. I don’t agree at all. They are afflictions, not sins. Like all afflictions, they are, if we can so take them, our share in the Passion of Christ” – C.S. Lewis

By: Jana Greene

Oh, C.S. Lewis. How I would love to go back (or forward) in time and pick you brain. Your thoughts so messy, yet austere. I just want to smoke a pipe (vanilla tobacco, please) beside a lit fireplace at a table for two – the kind of table that’s too small to eat a meal on, but too big to be a nightstand. And I want to say, “THANK YOU!” Thank you, that you did not regard anxiety as SIN (which seems to be, unfortunately, a consideration of the modern church proper.)

Dear readers, if you don’t already know, I suffer from anxiety, depression, ADD and OCD, and it’s been a life long issue.

I think I was born anxious.

When I was a five-year old frozen in fear just walking into the kindergarten class, I wasn’t sinning.

When I display compulsive behaviors, I have no evil intent. (Oh, and being diagnosed OCD was SUCH a shock – not because I knew it was true, but because I thought I hid it from the world so WELL.)

When my heart will simply not beating 125 beats per minute, it’s not a demon makin’ it tick.

When I cannot focus on one thing for 10 seconds, God is not disappointed in me.

When my brain confuses being chased by a T-Rex with emailing a resume, it’s not sin – it’s out of my control – fight or flight.

Anxiety is what led to my alcoholism. It took the edge off, eventually it took me past the edge.

I thought it was a wonderful thing because all of my mom friends drank wine – I just drank mine out of a Big Gulp cup. With a lid. And a straw. I do not suggest this method of anxiety quelling, it’s highly non-sustainable. I didn’t know when to stop, and that’s why I don’t do that anymore. Haven’t for 15 years, hallelujah!

But I still contend with depression/anxiety/ADD/OCD. I just do it sober now. And it can be very difficult. I really don’t care who knows it because it is what it is and I try to write authentically.

What does anxiety feel like to me?

It feels involuntary. SO involuntary.

It feels like asking Jesus to take the wheel, but being sure the steering fluid is low.

It feels like you are the only kid in class who forgot to get her permission slip signed, and now you can’t go to the museum.

My body reacts to a crowded aisle in Walmart as if I were a wolf willing to chew my own leg off to escape the trap. (For some reason, Walmart just does me in.)

It feels like I am too awkward to inhabit a planet with normal people who don’t have panic attacks on the regular. Plus, I forget what to do with my face a lot.

It feels like a stutter in your soul.

It feels like abandonment. Remember a time when someone walked away from you for good? That feeling. The first five minutes after it occurred to you that the person was never coming back. Now replay those 5 minutes in an endless loop.

It feels like I’m sorry for being this way!

It feels overwhelming. Worry, doubt, pray. Or is it pray, doubt, worry? See? I just can’t get it straight.

It feels like DOOM. Not just regular doom, but DOOOOOOOOOOM.

It’s being certain nobody likes you, because you are, well, weird.

I have been prayed over, prayed for, where two or more are gathered or two dozen are gathered. I have felt like a sub-par Christian because my healing didn’t ‘stick’ – and that’s a really crappy feeling, ya’ll. It is pouring gasoline on a fire.

So now, I’m anxiety-ridden AND my faith is too puny to do any good?

Nobody judges the diabetic whose insulin will not bow at the feet of the cross, but people will drown you in holy water trying to get depression to go. (By the way, I do believe depression can be a spirit, but I also believe early childhood trauma, genetics, or just plain chemistry can rile up a good baseline anxiety.)

I really fail to see how mental illness is any different.

I would rather not battle mental illness, but if I must, I will try to consider it from your point of view, Mr. Lewis (‘May I call you C.S.?”)

My Abba circuited my brain just as He pleased, and did so for a reason. There were environmental events that tightened the screws. He allowed things to shape me, just as He is shaping YOU. I believe that all of it – the janky humanity in us – I believe Jesus walks with us and in us, and that’s what His heart really longs for. It isn’t the ‘alphabet soup’ disorder that defines me, it’s that I’m His.

So sometimes I freak out, and its scary because I don’t even totally understand it, but always, always I feel God’s presence, even when I can’t calm down. My anxiety doesn’t scare Him away.

He is less concerned in having a vast army of perfect people – a master race of Christians who pray away anxiety, and never say a potty word. Followers who have gotten it ‘all together.’

I believe He loves all His misfits right where they are.

How much more passionate might we be with the mentally ill if we considered their affliction as sharing in the Passion of the Christ?

Kind of flips things up, no?

Our share of the passion.

Thanks, C.S., for the reminder.

God bless us, every one.

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Hurts, Psalms, and Healing Balms

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By: Jana Greene

A long time ago, when I had retrospectively minimalist problems, I used to read the Psalms out loud in my morning devotion time. Until recently, I’d forgotten how much power is invoked in reading them aloud.

It’s 4 a.m. right now. And it’s me, it’s me, it’s me, Oh Lord…..standing in the need of prayer. I’ve been up all night with gargantuan aches, pains, and the like –  that seem hellbent of keeping me awake.

The Bible says that biblical David was a man after God’s own heart, but if you read the scripture, it seems that David was a bit of a whiner at best, and a real drama queen at worst. I mucked up a lot, made a lot of mistakes, and STILL God knew his deep and abiding love for him. I absolutely love Kind David. He GETS me.

Yesterday, I got some medical news that I suspected was coming. I’d warned my mind and body about it (as the symptoms had already revealed themselves to said mind and body), but my Spirit put up quite a fit upon learning what’s going on. Renal issues. Enlarged Liver issues. Chronic pain and more migraines to expect. Fatigue as the order of the day forthcoming. And leg and foot cramps that make you want to cry uncle at the top of your lungs at 2 a.m. (My poor, poor husband, I KNOW he is losing sleep…..)

Oh, and did I mention mental health issues arising from dealing with the stress of all of the above PLUS childhood trauma that has never been dealt with, and a whole lifetime of untreated depression? As I lurch forward in treatment for mental health issues, I’m feeling black-and-blue, my heart beat up badly, and bones and soul, too.

Which brings me back to the biblical David, bitcher of circumstance, beloved man after God’s own heart (is it possible to be both? I’m kind of counting on it….) Like David, I am on the cusp of digging deeper in my faith. Like David, I’m getting ready to clean out my closet and make room for fresh hope.

The Psalms are best read aloud because you can better capture biblical David’s desperation aloud. He is one of my favorite biblical characters because he can slay giants, become a mighty king, loves God with all of his heart, and seemingly and impulsively throw it away for a hot chick in a bathtub. Hey, who am I to judge?

Here is a man who knows frustration. Here is a man who gave us authentic prayer of the highest order.

Pray it aloud when you are at the end of your proverbial rope:

1-2 Please, God, no more yelling,
    no more trips to the woodshed.
Treat me nice for a change;
    I’m so starved for affection.

2-3 Can’t you see I’m black-and-blue,
    beat up badly in bones and soul?
God, how long will it take
    for you to let up?

4-5 Break in, God, and break up this fight;
    if you love me at all, get me out of here.
I’m no good to you dead, am I?
    I can’t sing in your choir if I’m buried in some tomb!

6-7 I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed
    has been floating forty days and nights
On the flood of my tears.
    My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes;
    nearly blind, I squint and grope.

8-9 Get out of here, you Devil’s crew:
    at last God has heard my sobs.
My requests have all been granted,
    my prayers are answered.10 Cowards, my enemies disappear.
Disgraced, they turn tail and run.  Pslam 6:1-10 (MSG

Read this aloud when imploring the Lord, perhaps in times you feel forgotten:

 

13-14 Be kind to me, God;
    I’ve been kicked around long enough.
Once you’ve pulled me back
    from the gates of death,
I’ll write the book on Hallelujahs;
    on the corner of Main and First
    I’ll hold a street meeting;
I’ll be the song leader; we’ll fill the air
    with salvation songs.” Psalm 9:1-10 (MSG)

And then this. Pray it out loud. Pray it so that the devil can hear you. Pray it so that the cells wrapped in pain in your body can know it’s true. If we don’t get healing this side of the kingdom, we get it eventually and in full, and forever! In the meantime, pray it LOUD:

And this after-God’s-own-heart, keeping it 100, plea from an authentic David to God:

“Oh, God, my Lord, step in;
    work a miracle for me—you can do it!
Get me out of here—your love is so great!—
    I’m at the end of my rope, my life in ruins.
I’m fading away to nothing, passing away,
    my youth gone, old before my time.
I’m weak from hunger and can hardly stand up,
    my body a rack of skin and bones.
I’m a joke in poor taste to those who see me;
    they take one look and shake their heads.

26-29 Help me, oh help me, God, my God,
    save me through your wonderful love;
Then they’ll know that your hand is in this,
    that you, God, have been at work.
Let them curse all they want;
    you do the blessing.
Let them be jeered by the crowd when they stand up,
    followed by cheers for me, your servant.
Dress my accusers in clothes dirty with shame,
    discarded and humiliating old ragbag clothes.

30-31 My mouth’s full of great praise for God,
    I’m singing his hallelujahs surrounded by crowds,
For he’s always at hand to take the side of the needy,
    to rescue a life from the unjust judge.(Psalm 109:25-31)

And here, finally, we see the AHA moment in which David sees the light, so to speak. He is at that pivotal place we all need to find ourselves in, in order to keep running that most challenging race set before us:

“Don’t put your life in the hands of experts
    who know nothing of life, of salvation life.
Mere humans don’t have what it takes;
    when they die, their projects die with them.
Instead, get help from the God of Jacob,
    put your hope in God and know real blessing!
God made sky and soil,
    sea and all the fish in it.
He always does what he says—
    he defends the wronged,
    he feeds the hungry.
God frees prisoners—
    he gives sight to the blind,
    he lifts up the fallen.
God loves good people, protects strangers,
    takes the side of orphans and widows,
    but makes short work of the wicked.

10 God’s in charge—always.
    Zion’s God is God for good!
    Hallelujah!” Psalm 146:3-10

Lift up us fallen ones, Abba. We are so tired.

But even in our sickness and sadness and end-of-our-rope-ness, we are are a people after your own Heart!

God bless us, every one.

 

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The Privilege of Focusing Elsewhere

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By Jana Greene

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ and he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” –  Mark 4:35-41

Yesterday as a super weird day. Ever feel ‘off’? Ever feel ‘unhinged?’ That was me yesterday, all day.

I woke up upset about the state of the world – the terrorist attacks in Paris, more specifically.  Then I got more and more upset about how improperly people were responding to it.

People I love dearly, suggesting we all basically sit in a giant circle around the globe and sing Kumbaya until mean people stop being mean. Honestly, that makes no sense to me. You’d think you would catch on to the ineffectiveness of that plan already. It’s not working.

Then I wrote about it on this blog, and poised my finger over the ‘publish’ button on WordPress. It was a stellar piece, really. Full of common sense and righteous indignation, and I really wanted to post it. I wanted to post it and share it so that I could stick some facts and impassioned logic in the faces of people who are just NOT getting it. People who make me wonder where the world would be if we applied tolerance liberally to the Nazi regime. (Spoiler alert: The gentiles among us would all be speaking German and the Jews would all have been murdered years ago….)

I am related to some very dove-ish people, they are hopelessly and unrealistically optimistic. I love them dearly, even in their perceived wrongness.

Finger poised over the ‘publish’ key, I decided to shut down the computer. I was simply too sad to even post it.

Now, although I reserve the right to publish it later (and probably WILL at some point) God had other plans for my spirit yesterday, plans put into motion by My Beloved. That man is a saint in sinner’s clothing, I’m absolutely convinced of it.

“Lets take a ride,” he suggests. Understand that I am alternately glowering and crying, slamming things around. I don’t feel like a ride. I feel like crying, and can you not plainly SEE this? But I know the plans he (my husband) has for me, and they are entirely good, always. So I ride along.

While we are driving down to Southport, a quaint little harbor town nearly an hour away, I am on my phone texting madly with my adult daughters. They are not upset enough at the right people my liking about the whole Paris thing, and I am going to MAKE THEM SEE the light. I am also having an internal conversation with God, who keeps insisting that maybe it’s time to trust Him with my daughters (and, um….everything else.)

But when a woman is high on anxiety and low on estrogen, there is no reasoning with her. In a group text, I reminded my kids about 9/11 and how dangerous it can be to try to reason with terrorists, worse even then reasoning with their hormone-depleted mother. They took offense, naturally, but I could not stop. I was going to make my point, dammit, for their own good.

It went abysmally, the whole exchange. They reminded me that they are adults and have their own opinions. I sometimes forget that.

MEANWHILE, as I’m furiously texting 90 words per minute, I am SOBBING. Absolutely just losing it. My poor husband.

Why is everything so SAD? Why don’t my kids GET IT? By the time we got to Southport, I’ve blown through an entire box of Puffs Plus. Little balls of snotty tissue littered the lovely leather interior of the car.

My Beloved pulls the car over at a little ice cream stand and insists I eat some ice cream. I look like a frog from crying hysterically and you think I want ICE CREAM?

Okay, I do want ice cream. So we sit out on the patio and I eat Mint Chocolate chip whilst crying. The kid at the counter looked so confused. I fought the urge to remind him to call his mother and be nice to her.

After the treat, My Beloved drove down to the water, and when we got out of the car, this happened:

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It took my breath away, the calmness. I didn’t welcome it at first. I still wanted to hold on to my hysteria because the world is upside down (as if that HELPS turn it right side up?)

But then I just rested my eyes on the whole scene in front of me. You would never know that the world is on fire, if you were sitting at this little spot by the sea. And then came peace.

You have to LOOK for the calmness, it won’t come to you first.

The truth is that while I am very upset about terrorism, I am also upset about everything else changing in my world. From job loss to depression to major surgery to empty nest syndrome to becoming a grandparent….things are weird and different and I’m scared of all the change.

It’s chaos, if I’m looking around me.

Today I told God that I was SO over this planet and everyone on it. And what is the DEAL with humanity being so freaking hateful and disregarding human life and Lord God, do you even SEE what is going on here!?

“Teacher, do you not CARE that we are perishing!?”

And then this happened. In the midst of being so OVER everything, because that’s where He shows up. Smack dab in the middle.

sunset1And this happened too.

Jesus

And then I say, “Okay, God. Now you’re just showing off.” But I’m not crying anymore.

My Heavenly Papa spoke to me.

“Hey you,” He said. “Get over yourself and look at this! Isn’t it incredible? I’m here, never left. Stop flailing about in worried hysteria. I’m still Me. This is to remind you where your eyes belong.”

I just love Him so much.

The world was still crazy when we drove back home. Real messed up. I tried not to watch the news at all. I was still hormonal and unhinged, but a little less weepy. I texted my children to ask them to please forgive my harsh tone and my expectation that they think like me. It’s unrealistic. If you’ve never asked your children to forgive you after a blow-up, it’s very humbling.

And they texted back that they love their mom and forgive her, just as they always do when I mess up. Just like I always do for them when they mess up. We try really hard not to let the sun set on our anger, no matter what. And this day, the sunset was absolutely spectacular (literally and figuratively.)

“Peace!” Jesus says. “Be still!'”

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Here’s a little insight: You cannot control a SINGLE act or reaction that another person exhibits. Not even a little bit. Don’t say I never taught you anything here at The Beggar’s Bakery.

But you can refocus your eyes. Even when it feels like God is sleeping.

Although pretty sunsets and ice cream don’t ‘fix’ what’s wrong, they can be a catalyst to changing your thinking, even for a while.

You have the right to look for calm in the midst of a crazy chaotic world. You have the right to use up a whole box of tissues in one sobbing sitting if you need to, but God gives us the privilege of refocusing on Him.

It’s a privilege.

Teacher, help us to be still.

Amen.

Christians, Meds and Mental Illness – We can do better

Credit: Adam4d.com via SaveALife.com
Credit: Adam4d.com via SaveALife.com

By: Jana Greene

This morning, I came across this on Facebook this morning, and I just HAD to share.

Please forgive me for climbing atop my Mental Illness Soapbox, but I feel really strongly about this.

Christians, please stop shaming people for taking medicine for mental illnesses.

Oh how I wish more believers understood THIS SUBJECT. If you have a minute, click the link below and read the comic that pretty much sums up the experience. And share it. Share it lots with as many Christian friends as you know.

What it’s Like Explaining Depression Meds to Many Christians

(A million THANKS to http://www.ToSaveALife.com!)

In my periods of depression and anxiety, I have been told that it wasn’t ‘going away’ because I wasn’t ‘letting God have it,’ or that I didn’t believe ‘hard enough.’ Look, I’m all about some supernatural deliverance and totally believe in it. I’ve experienced it several time in my life.

HOWEVER, sometimes God allows us to experience things for reasons He doesn’t explain to me, and you know what? I accept whatever He wills in His time.

It doesn’t help my anxiety to feel guilty for feeling anxious.

I can ASSURE you that nobody “holds on” to depression and anxiety.

And no, I have NO shame about suffering depression and anxiety. Jesus may still be allowing me to do battle with it on occasion, but I am completely FREE of the shame that too often accompanies a legitimate illness.

It is 2,000 times worse to pray for someone in depression and then spiritually guilt them for not immediately getting better than it is to not pray at all for that person. That’s kicking a dog when she is down, and not at all the Christ-like thing to do. Ditto medication, which helps people with brain chemistry deficits or disorders have the chance to experience life as you do with your ‘normal’ brain.

Thank GOD that medicines are available.

Sometimes depression is chemical. Sometimes its situational, but no matter WHAT, God doesn’t hold it against me if I don’t snap out of it. He walks with me THROUGH it, every single time. I wish I could say the same for some of His followers.

There isn’t a pill yet to help people stop judging others so harshly. If there were, I doubt the haters would ingest it.

Saint Paul had a ‘thorn’ to carry all his life and managed to minister to others like nobody else in history. I think we can all do WAY better to minister to the modern-day thorn-carriers. There are so many of us.

We can do better, Christians.

Okay, rant over.

Greene out.

Peace.

“If you don’t Understand” – A ballad from the hurting ones

God moves all obstacles between Himself and His children

By: Jana Greene

Every once in a while I come across a post on one of the many recovery boards I follow that just blows my socks off. A piece that is more than words, but a declaration and plea – a raw and personal effort to help normal folk who do not suffer addiction or mental illness to understand what it’s like to walk around in the skin of an addict or person struggling.

When I find that post (and get over wishing I’d written it myself!) I get excited about sharing it.

This is that post. And with the author’s permission, I am sharing it here.

I hope this post, with its’ chewy center of wisdom, goes viral. I hope Ashleigh Campora’s words echo in the minds and hearts of those who ‘don’t understand,’ and gives comfort to those who woefully DO understand, and need encouragement.

“If you don’t understand mental illness, good. Good for you. You shouldn’t have to understand. If you don’t understand why some people can’t get out of bed in the morning, good. I hope you jump out of bed every day, ready to take the world by storm. If you don’t understand how someone could drag a blade across their skin, good. I hope you’re never that desperate to feel something. If you don’t understand what drives someone to continually starve themselves despite everything they’ve lost in the process, good. I hope you stay heavy and present and real. If you cant understand why that woman avoids mirrors; why she just stares blankly, in anger. I hope you never look at yourself with such disgust. That you always see yourself for what you really are: which is beautiful. If you don’t understand why he won’t just go to church or rehab or find someone who can help him, good. I hope you always have somewhere to turn. If you don’t understand how someone can keep swallowing bottles of pills; tying knots in ropes; or standing at the tops of bridges, good. I hope you are never that desperate for relief. If you don’t understand, good. You’re not supposed to. It’s all f#cking sick.” – Ashleigh Campora.

The very definition of ‘stigma’ is “A set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something.” Those of us who suffer addiction and mental illness? We ARE that ‘something.’ And we know that we make no sense to those of you who do not walk in our shoes.

The only way to make stigma get up off it’s ass and move far away is by spreading these stigma-killing messages:

You are not alone.

You are worthy to be free of the oppression that binds you.

People can (and DO) recover.

God bless you, Ms. Campora.

God bless us, every one.

No Pain, No Gain – Chronic Illness and the Christian Church

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Because of the extravagance of those revelations, and so I wouldn’t get a big head, I was given the gift of a handicap to keep me in constant touch with my limitations. Satan’s angel did his best to get me down; what he in fact did was push me to my knees. No danger then of walking around high and mighty! At first I didn’t think of it as a gift, and begged God to remove it. Three times I did that, and then he told me,

My grace is enough; it’s all you need.
My strength comes into its own in your weakness.

Once I heard that, I was glad to let it happen. I quit focusing on the handicap and began appreciating the gift. It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness. Now I take limitations in stride, and with good cheer, these limitations that cut me down to size—abuse, accidents, opposition, bad breaks. I just let Christ take over! And so the weaker I get, the stronger I become.”

2 Corinthians 12:7 (The Message)

As I write this, I have the flu. I think I am on day six of it. Every once in a while, I get up to get water or crackers and notice that the sun has made an entire rotation around the earth since the last trip to get water and crackers. And one week prior to getting sick with the flu, I had a freak allergic reaction and infection from a spider bite. And three times previous to that in the past month, I have had debilitating migraines. I have a lot of horrible migraines, for which there are harbingers of auras, sensitivity to sound, and numbness of my face (always disconcerting, that one.)

I get sick a lot. My immune system is not terribly strong, and I have a lot of pain and inflammation issues. If you saw me, you might see a healthy middle-aged person, a little fluffy and dented,  but well. Illnesses don’t always show on the outside. Oftentimes, the erosion is on the inside, where you cannot see.

Some of my dear friends also suffer from ‘invisible illnesses’ – ranging from bi-polar to nerve diseases, diabetes to chronic fatigue. They are health issues that are chronic – meaning more or less constant. Many of them are followers of Jesus Christ, such as myself.  Chronic illness reminds me of alcoholism, in that I seemed to serendipitously end up as a member of a club I didn’t choose to join.

I do, however, get to choose my membership in the body of Christ, which needs to better deal with some of the realities on this planet – chronic illness being one.  I am not the only Christian who has felt awkward about her health problems in the Church proper (not my particular church, which kind of ‘gets it’ on the level … but the church in general.)

Many in the Christian community don’t really know what to do with chronic illness – of that I am convinced.

I believe in miracles all day long. I believe that signs and wonders abound every single day. Nothing is impossible for God – nothing! He can rearrange every cell in my body to work in perfect alignment. He does it for people all the time. Knowing that can make it especially frustrating to suffer.

But the reality of the matter is that some of us will not get the healing we imagine this side of the Kingdom. People suffer in innumerable ways all of the time, and die from disease every day. That’s the reality.

Our bodies are indeed the Temple of the Holy Spirit, but I don’t for a minute believe that God only takes up residence in the Taj Mahals among us. Jesus was not put off by hanging out where there was great pain and suffering – in the alleyways. In bodies like ours.

He can heal me, and one day he will. Until that day, one question usurps the pain, the fatigue.

“Do you trust me?”
Do I trust Him even in the debilitation and pain?

Either I believe that all things work to the good or I don’t. Either I know that His grace is sufficient, or I don’t. On especially painful days, it’s harder to come to terms with that.  If Jesus was not spared pain, why do we imagine we deserve to be spared the experience?

Sometimes we do not get healing that the world recognizes as whole. When Christians insist that you become healed in a specific way on an ongoing basis, a number of things happen to the sufferer, the church, and  most awkwardly, the world as it observes us.

And this makes us all uncomfortable. Let’s bring this thorny issue  into the light where we can deal with it.

The sick believer isn’t believing/praying/wanting wellness enough

Let’s be honest. After your friends have prayed for the same healing for you over a period of months or years, you might start to believe that you are just a dud. I know I have felt like a dud many, many times. The whole “believe harder” angle is so damaging, because it places the miracle out of God the bestower, into you the believer. And nothing we do or do not do causes the heavens to release power. It is all in Christ Jesus that we receive. It is our job to receive what is released – and when you are suffering, accepting and receiving can seem a whole lot harder than turning water into wine.

The sufferer feels embarrassed/ashamed that they have not been restored in the way they’ve prayed.

It’s no fun being run down or in pain. It sucks, badly. If you are healthy on a regular basis, praise God! Please don’t tell sick people, “Wow, you are sick again?” or “I never get sick.” I think I speak for chronic illness sufferers everywhere in saying those comments are not at all helpful. Ultimately, we end up lying to those around us who ask “So how are you feeling?” with the f-word. “Fine.” After all, who wants to hear the same story over and over? It feels shameful, but it shouldn’t. If we cannot be transparent in the church, where is it safe to do so?

If I don’t get healthy, my witness is damaged

This is a pretty persuasive lie, because it makes common sense. Who wants a piece of what I’ve got, if I’m sickly? Over and over again it has been confirmed to my spirit that the world needs to see faith in imperfect lives. Because all of our lives are imperfect, and nobody can relate to perfection. You are going through what you are going through, that is your reality.

“If it hasn’t happened by now, it isn’t happening” is never true

I will never stop asking for healing. I will never stop interceding for my friends who are dealing with chronic illnesses. As chronic as these conditions are, they are ultimately temporal. And God wastes not one single hurt I go through. He can use it all, and He can take it all away. What the devil means to use for destruction, our Father can easily use as a means to love. That’s a fact.

God is not punishing us

God is love in its purest form. He is not sadistic. He hurts that you hurt. His plans are much bigger than the pain. That is the foundation of my survival, because it is truth.

You don’t need to ‘get well’ so that ‘God can use you’

What kind of propaganda is that? Stop saying that, church!

If I am supposed to do a thing, but I cannot because I am sick, then I am not supposed to do the thing. My illness is not keeping God from doing HIS thing, which is the main thing. He equips me, and He knows my innermost being and what it is capable of. That’s the thing about it.

Run the race He has set before you. You are not responsible for running the courses set for others.

Jesus is not afraid of catching my ick

Although migraines are not contagious, it is easy to fall into thinking He is staying far away. But he is present in the pain, He doesn’t run from us when we are in the valleys.

I think about the paralyzed man who was healed by Jesus in a common setting – the one who was told to pick up his mat and walk. This is so easy for God to do – to enable that! Why would he not allow us all to pick up our mats? Why are some of us barely dragging our mats behind us? I cannot begin to understand.

I’m inclined to believe it has to do with the Bigger Picture. For the sake of the whole purpose have had life breathed into these bodies – so that someone else can be blessed by hearing “I know what you are going through, you are not alone.” If suffering comes at the price of one other person knowing that God is to be trusted even through the circumstance of pain, it is somehow more tolerable.

Until I get my full healing, I’ll tell you what Jesus does for me – He gets down on the mat with me and loves me to pieces. That’s what I think the church should do. Pray, always! But also bend down to the hurting people where they are – and love them to pieces in the midst.

We don’t always get restored the way we want, but we always have comfort available to us.

We should stop selling Christianity in a slick package that promises a specific healing

Guess what? People see other people get prayed for that still suffer and die all the time. It’s the circle of life thing. Christianity is so much more than surface healing – so much deeper than tissue and brain matter and physical vitality. It is relationship with the Creator….. SO much MORE. And so much better.

Never stop praying in the Spirit. But get down on the mat and love people where they are.

I know for a fact that other people have gone through pain before me,  so that they could impart that same message to me. So, in a way, I am grateful for the pain of others.I am glad  I can pay that forward. When I have a finite amount of energy  every day, and I can either use it to raise my fist to shake it at God – because I don’t understand this! Or, I can raise it to praise Him. I am about 50/50 with the fist shaking and worship through the pain at this point. But I’m getting better at the latter.

Love the sinner, hate the sin. Love the sufferer, hate the pain. Jesus does.

Come to me, all you chronic pain sufferers, and I will give you rest.

Come to me all you whose minds are tortured with mental illness, and I will give you a soft place to fall.

Come to me, all you exhausted souls, and I will give you my Shalom.

Not a single other human being on this planet might know how much you are hurting, what your body and mind are going through. But God does. Make room on your mat for Him until you can get up and run that marathon.

Are you weak and sick? Then you are strong!

… It was a case of Christ’s strength moving in on my weakness.

God Himself inhabits our puny, struggling flesh as if it were the most beautiful temple in all the land. Because it is.

Rest in Him.

Before His Miracle Arrived: Robin Williams and the specter depression

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These days, I feel I could re-wire my entire blog to write about celebrities ensnared in deadly addiction and depression (after writing about Phillip Seymour Hoffman in “Skewer the Stigma” in February…) and that makes me really sad.

For every well-known person who takes his or her life – or dies from an overdose – there are mothers, fathers, siblings, and friends of “real” people who lose the battle every single day. And that makes me more sad.  They are your Hollywood icons and musical geniuses – yes…but they are also your family, community, coworkers and clergy.

God bless the brokenhearted, and let the awareness spread.

It could save a life.

The news of Robin Williams passing hit me hard. I was checking my texts while walking out of a 12-step meeting when my daughter messaged me. The tears were immediate.

It was only weeks ago that I offhandedly posted on Facebook about his latest stay in rehabilitation in June. “Go, Robin!” I think I wrote. “Go, Robin – get well!”
After all, I felt like I knew him. Didn’t you?

Didn’t he make you believe in interplanetary rapport, as an alien in “Mork and Mindy”?

Didn’t he inspire you as the wartime DJ in “Good Morning, Vietnam” who brought smiles to soldiers in the midst of misery?

Didn’t he make you secretly wish he was your father-slash-nanny, as Mrs. Doubtfire?

Didn’t you just swoon at his prose-loving, word-weaving portrayal of John Keating, in “Dead Poet’s Society”? (Okay, maybe that was just me…)

Even as he made flawless comedy, there was a sadness behind his laughing eyes. It was palpable. In the mind from which flowed such beautiful, authentic art,  he no doubt felt hopeless. The news sources say that “rehabilitation came too late for him.” And this breaks my heart anew. I am not sure I believe that.  It is never too late for hope to take hold, and I wish Mr. Williams  had been in a place to realize that.

Didn’t he know that things always, ALWAYS get better? It is a law of nature – things get bad. And then they get better. But his spirit just ran out of the patience for the better to come.

He was – by all accounts – a good person. Being a good person has precious little to do with suffering depression and addiction. If anything, sufferers of both struggle mightily, since they are generally sensitive to those around them, attuned to sadness and anger and joy – all of the empathetic humors. Addicts and alcoholics self-medicate with booze and/or drugs in a futile attempt to stop feeling hopeless. Of course, more hopelessness ensues as the addiction surges like dragon, breathing more fire on the already-scorched earth of your spirit.

I’ve never attempted to take my own life, but I have battled depression a few times deeply enough to consider it. At one point, I remember thinking – very nonchalantly – that I just didn’t want to exist anymore…that I would honestly be doing my family a favor if I just ceased existing. And the most terrifying thing about that thought was the aplomb with which these thoughts presented.

I was all cried out, all screamed out, all worn out. And really tired of being disappointed. I could not imagine ever being in a non-exhausted state and living with an ability to get up in the morning and dress myself without resentment for having to do so. It is a dark, lonely place.

I hated living in this flawed body, with chronic pain – both physically and emotionally. And Neverland is only a place where reality has been plundered and ravaged. The flat, casual tone of my suicidal thoughts alarmed me enough to seek help.

I cannot tell you what would/should/could have worked for Robin Williams. Or you.

I can only tell you what works for me. (Notice I didn’t say ‘worked’ – mental illness is often not a one-trick pony – depression can and does recur.)

When the demon of severe depression rears its fiery head, I work hard to employ the same 12 steps that saved my life when I got sober…particularly those that focus on faith, surrender, soul-searching, acceptance, and a willingness to get well – a willingness to press on for One More Day. Even though things seem pretty shitty in the moment. (I attend Celebrate Recovery. If you would like to see the 12 Steps and their Biblical comparisons, click here.)

Take one single day at a time, because the law of nature is that things do get better. You just have to ride out one more day and rely on the God who says he loves you even in those times (especially in those times.) No matter who you are, He has a plan for your life that would just blow you away. The old “don’t give up before your miracle arrives” platitude? It seems there is truth to it. I have lived it firsthand.

Hopelessness is an illusion. There is always hope.

The world needs me, and it needs you. It needs your message and your energy, the fingerprint of your love influence on the lives of those who love you. God knows we could have used more of Robin Williams on this earth.

Rest in peace, Mr. Williams. I feel like I knew you.

Rest in peace, knowing you brought joy to millions of people…knowing you endeared yourself to countless people in your 63 swashbuckling years here on earth. The world needed more of you – even so, rest now.

God be with you and give you shalom everlasting.

Go, Robin – and be well.

Be whole.