Monday, November 27, 2017

Can Christians Truly Have Mental Illness?

Hey Friend,

I can vividly remember my dad asking me, "Are you still dwelling on that?" and then saying, "For Pete's sake give it a rest already."

When I would start a new job, even a simple job like working in a fast food place, I would get so anxious that I would literally get sick.  I was sure I was going to screw up.  

I intrinsically knew I looked at the world differently.  I didn't have as carefree an attitude that others seemed to have.  I was plagued with self doubt and was certain that anyone else, if placed in my shoes, would do a better job at managing life than I did.

During finals time in college, I would have to go home (about an hour and half away) to study.  I couldn't just focus on studying in the dorm with no other distractions during finals.  I wanted to jump out of my skin.  I had panic attacks.

Fast forward to my first child being born.  I couldn't wait for his/her arrival.  I loved this baby and was anticipating its coming....until she came and a dark cloud came in and settled over me.  Another friend, who gave birth around the same time I did, seemed to be enjoying motherhood.  I was a nervous wreck.  I had terrible thoughts like I wanted to give the baby back because I didn't like how I was feeling.  I wasn't the glowing happy mom that doted on this precious child the way others did.  Even writing this now, I feel horrid, ashamed, and embarrassed.  It's hard to think about, let alone write about it. 

I couldn't sleep even when my daughter slept.  I obsessively wrote down and tracked everything she did and when.  I couldn't go to bed at night without putting my hand on her chest and feeling her chest rise and fall.  I'd kiss her and exit the room, only to return seconds later to see if she was still breathing.  This process of checking her breathing, going back and forth, could last for hours. I feared she might die if I left her alone and didn't keep checking. 

I sank deeper into a sadness and despair at what my life had become and felt guilt and shame for not being more grateful for this gift that God had given me.  I would walk around the neighborhood in the wee hours when I couldn't sleep and one time I remember just running.  I was running and crying and I didn't know where I was running to, but I just wanted to run away.  I remember driving by myself and thinking I just wanted to turn and head into oncoming traffic so that someone would hit me and put me out of my misery.  What on earth was wrong with me?

I finally confided in my family doctor who said I was experiencing post-partum depression and as long as I didn't feel like I'd hurt the baby (which I didn't) that to just give it time and it would pass.  It was the "baby blues" and it was not unusual and given time I'd feel like myself again.

The trouble was that I didn't feel like myself again.  I did somewhat better, but I knew that I just didn't feel like I should. I loved and adored my daughter, but something bigger, greater was wrong.  

It wasn't until around my daughter's third birthday and potty training just about pushed me over the edge, that I was thankfully and mercifully diagnosed as having OCD (an anxiety disorder) and depression (a chemical imbalance in the brain).  

I started taking medicine (albeit with great hesitation) that worked on both the OCD anxiety and the depression.  It took awhile, but I began to feel like I could cope.  I wasn't as anxious about things - especially taking care of my daughter.  I didn't have that feeling like if someone said to me, "Could you pour me a bowl of cereal?"  It sounded like they were saying "Go climb Mt. Everest".  I began to feel joy return. 

I didn't like taking the medicine, however, because that meant I had to admit I had a mental illness.  Well meaning people told me that if I just read more scripture, or prayed harder, or had more faith then I wouldn't feel this way nor would I need to take medicine.  I was a Christian, after all, and medicine was a crutch.  

I felt flawed, less than, like my faith wasn't enough.  Surely, if I was just a better Christian I wouldn't be in this state.

These are the thoughts I wrestled with.  I remember going to a new dentist and having to check off medical history.  I would get to the part where it would list anxiety or depression and I'd have to check the little boxes.  Or sometimes it would say "mental illness".  That was the hardest part to check and then to have to list the medicines I was taking.  What would these people think of me?

Fast forward twenty five years and I now realize that Mental Illness is, just that, an illness!  It can be caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain or by extreme circumstances (like what many of our returning vets experience).  Sometimes it's a combination of chemistry and experience. It's also genetic.  Many people self medicate with alcohol, drugs, etc. 

The truth's not my fault.  It's not your fault.  You have an illness.

If someone had diabetes, you wouldn't tell them they didn't need insulin, but just needed to pull themselves up by their bootstraps, think happy thoughts, mind over matter and they'd be fine.  Perhaps reading more scripture would alleviate the diabetic symptoms?  Sounds silly, right?  But, this is how we treat the mentally ill.

I am a cancer survivor.  Cancer, though terribly scary, was something I could wear like a badge of honor that I survived.  No one talks about surviving mental illness in these terms.  When I hear about someone committing suicide and others saying things like, "How could he or she be so selfish to do something like that?"  All I can say is that unless you've lived the pain and suffering of depression or anxiety or intense fear or all other symptoms of mental illness like mania, or rages wherein you feel like a monster, or multiple personalities, you have absolutely no idea the pain and suffering that a person endures.  It is so bad, and if left untreated, I can understand that a person could get to a point that they are in so much pain, that ending one's life is the only way to make this horrid, unbearable pain stop.

Mental illness is no respecter of persons.  

Most people would not peg me as the poster child for mental illness.  I was the captain of my cheer leading squad.  I graduated 8th in my class of nearly 800 students in high school.  I excelled in college.  I held leadership positions and sat on Homecoming court.  I was a choreographer in my dance ensemble.  I was a natural leader when I got out in the business world.  I love to write and have been published.

Mentally ill?  No, those are the homeless people begging for money on street corners, right?

I am the face of mental illness.  I know what it's like to wear the gray glasses and have the dark cloud come in and settle over you.  I know pulling the covers over my head and not being able to get out of bed for days at a time.  I know pain so intense that all I can do is let the Holy Spirit groan, "Jesus" on my behalf.

A wise counselor once gave me this analogy for people (especially Christians) who suffer from mental illness:

It's like you are on a football team. God is the Coach and the Bible is His playbook.  In order to benefit from the Coach you need to first be able to get to the field so that you can hear the Coach's instructions from the playbook and practice on the field and get the encouragement and discipline.

The only problem that you can't even get to the field.  You are stuck miles away in a pit so large and so deep that you can't possibly climb out of it by yourself.  You need medicine or counseling or both to even be able to get out of the pit, to get to the field, to sit at the feet of the Coach so that He can coach you from His playbook.  You need to be able to get to the field first.

I needed and still need medicine and counseling - hand in hand - to get me to, and keep me in, a healthy place.  The good news is that there is help and there is hope!!  There is treatment for mental illness.  It's still not a cure.  I have my episodes with OCD and depression, but I am able to function and cope in this world. I can experience joy and can find hope in scripture.

I've learned that stress, and lack of sleep and exercise, and poor diet can all contribute to a greater likelihood of returning symptoms.  I know coping techniques like distracting and holding the lies I hear in my head (from the enemy) up to scripture and if they don't match up with scripture, then I need to take those thoughts captive to Christ and let Him cast them far from me.  I can call on my faith now, because I was able, thanks to medicine and prayer, to get to the field.  

Mental illness is the thorn in my side (like what Paul had).  The Lord has not removed it, but I have learned that in it - as in all trials - His grace is sufficient.  He has never left nor forsaken me and He has been faithful to walk with me THROUGH the valleys and has not left me stuck there indefinitely.  

I believe that I have a compassion for others that I would NEVER have had it not been for what I have dealt with and continue to deal with.  I would NEVER have the close relationship that I do with Jesus had I not had to call out to Him from the utter depths of despair and to know He was still holding onto me even when I couldn't hold on to Him.  

So why do I say all this?  Two reasons.  One is to let the world know that God is faithful.  He knows the pain of the mentally ill and is close to the brokenhearted that deal with this illness.

Second, I would like to erase the stigma of mental illness.  One day, perhaps NFL teams will wear bright lime green cleats, gloves, and mouth guards to bring awareness to the one in four people who suffer from mental illness.  

One day we might talk with ease about bipolar, panic attacks, anorexia, OCD, depression, schizophrenia, etc.

I will leave you with my life verses from scripture:  (Psalm 40:1-3)  My prayer is that people will know my life story and that my life arrow will always point to Jesus who has been my hope and salvation through this cross that I/ and many along with me, bear.

I waited patiently for the Lord;
    he turned to me and heard my cry.
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.
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.

I strongly encourage you that if you have felt or experienced any of the symptoms I've mentioned, or any that fall under the list of symptoms for the disorders listed above, that you PLEASE seek medical advice and counseling.  There IS help and there IS hope!!  We just need to talk more about it.  Take it from one who's been there....

Be blessed....

Do you suffer from mental illness?  If so, what would you like others to know?  If you don't suffer, how could you be of encouragement to someone who does?  What comes to your mind when the subject of mental illness is brought up?  Do you believe it's an illness vs. a flaw or lack of faith?  Let's get the discussion started....

ps.  Please grant me some grace if I don't respond right away or get around to your blog if you're a writer.  Just came from the doctor and it seems that I have pneumonia.  Prayers for healing welcomed.  Heading to bed.....

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

But, God...Never Stops Amazing

Hey Friend,

The year was 2012.  I was well into year three of a long, drawn out divorce.  I had lost my job due to downsizing. I was sitting in the recliner chair in the living room because I was only in week two of an eight week non weight bearing post surgery recovery for a meniscus tear in my knee and other complications.

I had read scripture, books, and magazines.  I'd watched movies and binged on Netflix.  I couldn't even go to the bathroom without crutches and the four walls were beginning to close in on me and suffocate me.  If I could have moved, I would have been climbing the walls. 

The only thing running were the tears down my cheeks.  "Why am I here, Lord?" I begged the question, "What good am I like this?  I really feel like a useless loser!"  Silence....

"Bev, do you remember writing poems about your dogs when you were a little girl?" I heard a still small voice.  "What has always been your first love?  What is your love language?  What flows out of you like spring-fed streams from the mountains?"  

"Words, Lord....words,"  I answered.

"Then write,"  He whispered.  "Do what you love and glorify Me with the gift I've given you."

I was sinking into despair....But, God met me there and gave me a new vision.

I began writing my blog entitled, "Walking Well With God" (kind of ironic because I wasn't walking when I started this writing adventure). Within six months, I found my posts reaching corners of the world that I couldn't even envision.  Many Christians live in countries wherein you cannot carry a Bible or openly ask about Jesus, or find inspiration, so many turn to the internet.  That's what happened with my blog.  

Maybe these Christians, in countries where they are persecuted, couldn't carry a Bible....But, God brought the Word to them through writers like me.

Through my writing I met a young, but wise beyond his years, reader who began asking me about my posts, my faith, and my mission in life.  In turn, he shared with me his dream to make education available to the orphaned, impoverished, destitute, and persecuted in his country which is in the Middle East. He taught children, who could not afford public or government schools, in a small home school environment.  Like them, he had grown up very poor without a father.  He knew their plight and the hopelessness they faced. He knew their fears with terror around every corner and evil rampant in the dark shadows.

Here we were - two Christians living worlds apart - separated geographically and culturally, yet there was a common thread.  We both knew the wonderful and saving love of Jesus Christ and wanted to bring the good news of Jesus to others and give them the hope that an education would provide.  We were an unlikely duo, BUT, GOD had BIG plans in mind.

Fast forward five years, four more surgeries, and a God who has a way of blowing our socks off.  We now have 52 full-time students in our school.  We are currently maxed out in our current space.  We have 20+ orphans on the waiting list.  

Children who couldn't read are now reading their Bibles and witnessing to others.  They are hungry to learn computer skills that will take them into the world beyond their small village.  They have memorized scripture, grasped math concepts, learned to read in their native tongue and in English, and are mesmerized by science, and invited to soar, creatively, through the arts. 

Girls, who would have never been able to attend school in their culture, are thriving and knowing they can make a difference in our world.

Their country tortures Christians, But, God has introduced them to Jesus and they are head-over-heels in love.

Tuesday, November 28th, is National "Giving Tuesday".  This is a movement that counteracts Black Friday, Cyber Monday and a culture that promotes self and commercialism.  "Giving Tuesday" says, "Let's thank God for our gifts at Thanksgiving and then, selflessly, give back to those less fortunate than ourselves.

Redeemer Christian Foundation, Inc. (a 501c3 non-profit ministry in excellent standing) could use YOUR help to expand our school so that we can get more children off the streets, out of harm's way, and into the safe haven that our school provides. Here is one sweet face on our waiting list.... 

There's two ways to give:

1.  Go online and check out our website:  Click HERE to go to RCF, Inc. website.  Read about our school, and then go to the "Donate" page to make a donation.  ** Tax receipts will be sent out in January so be sure to include your mailing address and mention this post**

2.  Send a check to RCF, Inc., 103 Silver Lining Lane, Cary, NC  27513.  Be sure to put "Giving Tuesday" in the memo line. **mention that you read this post**

Our goal is to raise $10,000 to expand to a facility that will enroll up to 80-90 children.  We KNOW our God is able, and with YOUR help we can do this!  "Giving Tuesday" donations accepted up through Christmas so it's never too late.

Dear Heavenly Father,  We praise you that you are in the business of building bridges - bridges that only a heart of love can build.  Help us to see our brothers and sisters, who live in terrifying places, and to let them know that they are not forgotten.  Help us to set aside some of our materialistic wants and needs and instead give to those who are so less fortunate than we are.  Move us to bring the light and love of Jesus to this dark corner of the world and to give these precious children the hope of an education, that until now, they could only dream of.  Let me make a difference, Lord.  In Jesus name I pray.  Amen.

Defend the weak and the fatherless; uphold the cause of the poor and the oppressed.  (Psalm 82:3)

Be blessed.....

ps.  Follow Redeemer Christian Foundation, Inc. on Instagram:

Monday, November 6, 2017

Whisper To Me, Lord

Hey Friend,

It's 3 am. and I can't sleep.  I toss from one side to the other.  I hear my husband, and even the dog, gently snoring away.  I throw the covers off to get air and then pull them back up close to my chin.  I can't find that comfortable place.  I try to pray, but there's too much on my mind.  The noise and random thoughts cloud out my prayers.  Finally I give in, put my robe and slippers on and slough off down the stairs in the dark.  The dog follows me downstairs as if knowing something is amiss.

I step out onto the back porch and let him wander in the dark.  Meanwhile I gaze up at God's celestial canvas and the night is full of stars and the moon casts a shadow through the tall tress.  The crickets and insects of the night are singing and the world is quiet and dark.  It feels peaceful.  

I call out to the Lord.  "Lord, hold me in your arms.  Clear my crowded mind.  Draw near to me as I need you to chase these thoughts out of my head that is spinning.  I need you to whisper to in the dark.  Whisper words of peace and hope that will calm my beating heart.  Lord, whisper to me....please I beg.  I need to hear you."  I feel so weak and then the tears begin to flow.  

"Lord, God....Jesus, help me."  

That's all I can muster and then I wait expectantly.....

"Bev, I know how you felt even before you spoke.  I love you.  I am right here.  I am with you.  I will always be with you.  I will never leave you."

I know this is true because I have been through so many trials and God has been faithful to see me through each one.  Though the time in the crucible is painful and sometimes God seems a million miles away, He isn't.  He is always close.  Sometimes my feelings lie and tell me He's not there....but He always is. 

"Bev, I have redeemed you from the pit.  I have set your feet on a solid rock.  I have rescued you from the muck and the mire.  I have put a new song of praise on your lips so that all may see and know that I am God.  I have done this because I love you and you are mine.  Your perseverance glorifies me."

Psalm life verse comes to mind.  Oh how gracious God has been to me to rescue me from the depression and anxiety that plagued me for so long.  He has been with me through so many trials.  He was there all the time...always caring, always compassionate, always filled with lovingkindness that He poured out on me.  For this reason, I will raise my Ebenezers (altars of remembrance and praise) so that I may always look backward to see what He's brought me through and this will give me hope to go forward.  

"Bev, I have hold of you with my righteous right hand.  I am never letting go of you.  You will not be shaken.  I will not let you fall.  I will walk with you into every situation you are facing.  I will go before you.  I will be with you.  I will come behind you and hem you in with my love.  I will guard you and surround you so that no evil will be able to touch you.  

You are my beloved.  I rejoice over you with singing.  I delight in you, not for what you've done, but simply because you are who you are and I created you.  I will always draw near when you call.  I will guide your steps and make the path straight for you....just take hold of my hand.  When you wander off the path, I will gently guide you back into my loving will for you.  I know you intimately.  I see your heart and I love matter what."

God knows all my fears and my doubts and even my frustration with Him, yet His shoulders are big enough to handle it all.  God doesn't ever get caught unaware.  He's always got whatever I'm going through under control.  He's got me...always. 

Nothing can thwart His sovereign will for me and in that I find peace.  Nothing is impossible for God.  Whatever worries me...God is more than able.  He has proven that time and time again.  I release my cares to Him.  I lift my arms up as if releasing everything that weighs me down.  His yoke is light and gentle.  I can cast all my cares on Him.

"Bev, hear my Truth about you and the condemning lies and thoughts??  Those are from the enemy.  I am greater than He.  Call on me when they plague you and I will cast them, along with your sins to the ends of the earth.  I know every tear you have shed and I have caught them all.  Nothing escapes me."

I pull out a whisper prayer from God by Bonnie Gray....I read it over and it speaks to me.  The moon lights the words.  I pause between verses to gaze up at the starry sky:

"If you say, 'Surely the darkness of my doubts about myself overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night, and no one recognizes my worth.'  I will answer you tenderly - even the darkness is not dark to me.  I see you.  All and every beautiful part of you.

And the night is bright as day.  Darkness and light are alike to me.  For I formed your inward parts; I wove you together in your mother's womb.  You are beautiful.  You were conceived in creativity and beauty deep in my heart.  I want you to shine.  You are mine."  (Inspired by Psalm 139)

I thank God that He doesn't measure me by what I've accomplished.  He loves me simply because I am His and I walk with Him.  He loves me in a way that nothing I could ever do or say will take that love away.  No matter how many times I fail Him, He will never fail me.  How gracious and compassionate is your love for me, O Lord.  

Thank you God for loving me, hearing me, seeing me.  Thank you that I matter to you.  Thank you for this time together and for how you whisper to me in the night because you never slumber nor sleep.  Thank you for bringing me to this time together - appointed and ordained by you.  Thank you for whispering your words of love to me in the dark.  

I pat my heart with my hand.  I touch my hand to my lips and then I point up to God.  It's kind of our secret handshake.  I go inside. My faithful dog, who's been standing guard, follows me.  It's still early, but I begin my day having heard God's heart of love for me.....

What about you?  Have you ever just spent time, quietly in God's presence and asked Him to whisper to you?  If you have, would you share what He whispers to you in that still, quiet space?  What Truth does He share?  If you haven't, will you ask Him to speak to your heart and thank Him for how He will answer?  Insert your name in God's whispers, and listen to Him speak to you...

Be blessed.....