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Jamison and Steel: Interviews on Suicide

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NAMI’s Interviews With Danielle Steel & Kay Jamison

Last year, Steel published His Bright Light, a memoir of her son, Nick Traina, who committed suicide at age 19 after a life-long battle with bipolar disorder (manic depression). More recently, Jamison has published Night Falls Fast: Understanding Suicide, combining research, clinical expertise and personal experience to explore one of the world’s leading causes of death.On February 8, the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Labor, Health, Human Resources, Education & Related Agencies will hold a hearing on suicide prevention that will include testimony from best-selling author Danielle Steel and Professor Kay Redfield Jamison, author of several academic and popular books on mental illness.

Interviews with Steel and Jamison have appeared in “Spotlight,” a special supplement to The Advocate, the quarterly publication of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI). Conducted by NAMI executive director Laurie Flynn, they offer a possible preview of Steel and Jamison’s testimony on Tuesday. Excerpts follow below.

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Dr. Kay Jamison

NAMI’s Interview with Kay Jamison
Spotlight (Winter 1999/2000)

NAMI: What do we know about the linkage between suicide and mental illness?

Jamison: The most important thing to know is that 90 to 95 percent of suicides are associated with one of several major psychiatric illnesses: depression, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, drug and alcohol abuse, and personality disorders. These are obviously treatable illnesses. Another thing people don’t think about enough or emphasize enough is that because cancer and heart disease hit older people, they are seen as lethal illnesses. Because the age of onset for mental illnesses is very, very young, people don’t tend to think of mental illnesses as the potentially lethal illnesses they are. It’s important for people to understand that they have an illness to begin with and then that they get good treatment for it.

NAMI: You have spoken specifically of suicide and college students.

Jamison: Yes. Suicide is the second major killer of college aged kids. It’s the second leading killer of young people generally.

NAMI: You also have pointed out that, worldwide, suicide is the second leading killer of women between ages 15 and 45. These statistics are staggering, yet most people don’t seem to be aware of it.

Jamison: Absolutely. Across the world. There are almost two million suicides a year worldwide. I think people just don’t have any sense of the enormity of it. Suicide unfortunately has been so individualized and, because of the early suicide movement in this country, so separated from mental illness. People working in the field of suicide concentrated on existential factors and vague sorts of things, when in fact the underlying science is very clear that they’re associated with a few mental illnesses.

NAMI: Knowing what we do about illness and its treatability allows us to be able to discuss preventing suicide.

Jamison: Right. [U.S. Surgeon General] Dr. David Satcher’s emphasis has been very strong on three fronts. One is public awareness. Secondly, intervention and all that’s involved in making doctors and others more able to ask the kinds of questions needed to uncover mental illness. And then, thirdly, to support the science that’s necessary to study suicide.

NAMI: What else can policy makers and public officials do?

Jamison: I think we have to have public officials talking about it. When you have someone like Jesse Ventura out there saying these outrageous things-I think it’s really beyond the pale-we’ve got to have the president of the United States saying look we’ve got a real epidemic here, and there’s something we can do about it. People are dying from not gaining access to treatment-or from having three days in the hospital, and then going out and dying.

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DANIELLE STEEL

NAMI’s Interview with Danielle Steel
Spotlight (Winter 1999)

NAMI: “His Bright Light” is a very personal story about a very painful subject, the mental illness and death of a child. What did you hope people would learn by sharing your story?

Steel: I hoped first of all that people would come to know my son, and learn what an extraordinary person he was. I wrote the book to honor him, and to share with people what a remarkable person he was, in spite of his illness. I also wrote it to share with people the challenges we faced, so that they feel less alone and less isolated with their pain, in similar situations. I wrote it to give people hope and strength as they follow a similar path to ours.

NAMI: What did you learn from this painful tragedy?

Steel: I’m not sure yet what I learned from the tragedy, except that one can and must survive. But from his life, I learned a great deal about courage and perseverance, and love.

NAMI: Lots of people in America might be facing signs of a mental illness in one of their children. What about Nick’s behavior made you realize that it was more severe than just the normal growing pains of a child?

Steel: Nick was different. Always. His moods were more extreme. I sensed from early on, that despite his many wonderful qualities, there was something very wrong. I knew it in my gut, as I think many parents do.

NAMI: How long did it take for Nick to be diagnosed as manic-depressive and receive treatment for that condition?

Steel: Nick was not clearly diagnosed as manic depressive until he was 16, a good 12 years after we began the pursuit of the causes for his ‘differences’. He received no medication until he was 15, and did not receive the most effective medications until he was 16. A long and very painful wait for all concerned!

NAMI: Prior to knowing of Nick’s manic depression, what did mental illness mean to you? Did you associate stigma with mental illness?

Steel: I don’t think I realized, before Nick, that one could still be functional, or seemingly functional, if mentally ill. I thought of it as something totally incapacitating, and of people who were shut away. I don’t think I realized how intelligent and capable mentally ill people can still be. I’m not sure I did associate a stigma with mental illness. It just seemed like a sickness, and not necessarily a shameful one. I just thought of Nick as sick, whatever it was called, and wanted him to be cured.

NAMI: How did Nick deal with the knowledge that he had a mental illness?

Steel: For a long time, Nick himself was in denial about his illness. And eventually, he accepted it. In the last year, he told people he was manic-depressive. Before that, when he felt ‘normal’ on medications, he believed he was cured. He had a hard time accepting at first that he would be manic-depressive all his life.

NAMI: Are schools able to cope with the mental illness of a child?

Steel: In most cases, I don’t believe they are. It is a huge challenge for all to meet, and certainly hard on the other kids to have one child acting out. We were very lucky, in Nick’s high school years we finally found a wonderful school that understood the problem, accepted him as he was, and was willing to work with him in a framework he could cope with. They were remarkably flexible and creative. But for most schools, it’s asking a lot to expect them to adapt to a mentally ill child.

NAMI: If you could tell a family member who is caring for someone who is mentally ill one thing, what would that be?

Steel: Never give up. Get the best help you can. Keep trying, keep loving, keep giving, keep looking for the right answers, and love, love, love, love. Don’t listen to the words, just listen to your heart.

NAMI: What do you think support groups like NAMI can do for families coping with the mental illness of a loved one?

Steel: I think groups like NAMI can provide support, both emotional and practical—the knowledge that you are not alone. And resources, where to go, who to talk to, what works. You need all the information you can get, and it is just about impossible to do it alone.

NAMI: Stereotyping the mentally ill as violent and dangerous is pervasive in America. How do we change this perception?

Danielle: Information. Obviously there must be some mentally ill people who are violent and/or dangerous. But I suspect that most are not. Nick certainly wasn’t either of those, he was gentle, loving, smart, funny, compassionate, extremely perceptive about people, and very wise. I cannot conceive of Nick as ‘dangerous,’ although ultimately he was a danger to himself. But for the most part, I think the turmoils of the mentally ill are directed within and not without.

NAMI: What do you think the average American should know about mental illness?

Steel: I think most people should know how common it is…I also think people should know how serious it is when it goes untreated. And how potentially lethal it can be. It is vitally important to get good treatment, the right medication, and good support. If you let a bad cold turn into bronchitis and then pneumonia, without medication, it can kill you. If you do not treat serious diabetes, it can kill you. If mental illness goes untreated, it can kill you.

NAMI: We know that having “hope” is important to battling any disease. What hope do you see for people with mental illness?

Steel: I see a huge amount of hope. The medications today can give people whole, happy, productive lives. There are lots and lots of people with mental illness holding down good jobs, even with important careers, happy family lives, and doing great things. It is possible to lead a good and happy life if you are mentally ill. If those who are doing just that would speak up, it would give great hope to all those who are still groping their way along in the dark.

NAMI: What is Nick’s legacy?

Steel: Nick’s legacy is the love we had and have for him, the word we have spread of what a terrific person he was. In his lifetime, he touched countless lives, with his warmth, with his mind, with his music, with his words. Through his experiences, others have and will learn. Through the Nick Traina Foundation, hopefully we can bring help to others, in his name.

 

For more information or assistance, please contact NAMI at: http://www.nami.org/

 

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depression, interview, medications, mental illness, mood swings, psychotherapy, Serving Mentally Ill Christians, talk therapy, Very helpful

Medication: An Interview with Andrew Solomon

What domedications you say to people who ask if you’ll eventually stop taking medication?

I say to people that they don’t expect a diabetic to stop taking insulin, or someone with a heart condition to stop taking blood thinners. I have a chronic, lifetime disease and the only responsible thing for me to do is stick with my medications.

People wonder about medications’ long-term effects on the brain. I explain that while the medications’ effects appear to be reversible as soon as you stop taking them, the long-term effects of having repeated depressive episodes appear to be absolutely dire. There is lesioning of the hippocampus, and brain cells die. And this is in addition to the havoc that such repeated episodes cause in your daily life.

Imagine you have heart disease. You’re prescribed medication, you do better for a while, so you stop the meds. Then you have another heart attack, so you go back on the medication to get better. Twelve heart attacks later, what kind of shape are you in? It’s obviously crazy. If you have recurrent depression, you are not being “courageous” or “genuine” to go off your medication. You’re being foolish.

Can you explain the importance of balancing therapy and medication?

Different treatments work for different people, and I am open to the endless possibilities out there. But for most people, a combination of medication and therapy is the surest-fire way to handle depression.

The medication alleviates the worst symptoms and lets you function again. It makes life and the world bearable. But once you have emerged from the horror, you need to learn skills for managing the illness. You need to understand where it comes from. You need to make your peace with the idea that you cannot be fully yourself without the use of medications or other support structures.

And you need someone capable who can keep an eye on you. Ideally, you also need to understand the structure of your own personality and who you are; this gives you a feeling of peace and allows you to get through a difficult time with dignity.

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AndrewsolomonBy his mid-twenties, Solomon established himself as a multi-disciplinary wunderkind, earning international accolades for his work as a novelist, journalist and historian. After the death of his mother, the then 31 year old Solomon descended into a major depression, rendering him unable to work or even care for himself. He was helped by a combination of medications and talk therapy. This experience formed the bedrock for his National Book Award-winning “Noonday Demon: An Atlas of Depression”, a tour de force examining the disorder in personal, cultural, and scientific terms.

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http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/takeonestep/depression/faces-andrew.html

http://www.noondaydemon.com/biography.html

 

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Can Faithful Living Exempt Me From Suffering?

By John Piper

Originally posted on July 23, 2002. The following is an edited transcript of the audio.

Can faithful living exempt me from suffering?

No. God’s grace through Christ on the cross has obtained for us a pass on eternal suffering. And if we get a pass on any suffering in this life, he has done that for us as well. But our faithfulness is a response to that kind of provision for us; and if we have to walk through suffering because of being faithful then we know that he has bought for us everlasting peace and joy.

So, no. We can’t live our way out of suffering.

In fact, the people that I’ve known who have been the best people have often suffered most. We know that is true for the Apostle Paul and for Jesus Christ. The two best people in the Bible—the Apostle Paul and Jesus—suffered most. So there is no correlation between my virtue or my faithfulness and my freedom from suffering.

Do you think the effect that suffering has on us is lessened the more we view this world as not our home?

It’s good to be careful about that, because even people who love heaven and love Christ suffer much. But I still want to agree with you and say that, if we didn’t feel like we were losing the most important thing when we got a terminal illness, we could bear it much better.

The Apostle Paul, when he knew that he was going to be dying, said, “For me to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). And if dying is gain then we will have tremendous help in losing the retirement, or marriage, or grandchildren, or standing in the community that we thought we were going to have, or some church we thought we were going to pastor, which is all gone now as we’re ready to die with this cancer.

But if death is gain—if we gain Christ, if we’ve cultivated a relationship to Christ where he is all and in all—then O how much pain will be spared us psychologically.


© Desiring God

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that you do not alter the wording in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. For web posting, a link to this document on our website is preferred. Any exceptions to the above must be approved by Desiring God.

Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. © Desiring God. Website: desiringGod.org

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Should I Take Medication? by John Piper

What’s Your Take on Christians Using Antidepressants?

by John Piper

Pastor John Piper

In the end I’m going to say that there are times when I think it is appropriate, but I want to go there cautiously and slowly, with warnings.

Depression is a very complex thing. It’s got many layers. I think we all would agree that there are conditions in which nobody would deny that certain people are depressed in a pathological way, because they’re immobile. They’re not even able to function.

And then there’s a continuum of discouragements and wrestlings with having an ‘Eeyore-type’ personality, which may or many not be depressed.

So that means that I want to be so careful not to have a knee-jerk reaction. When you come into my office and describe to me your discouragements, I don’t want my first response to be, “See a doctor and get a prescription.”

I fear that is way too quick today. The number of people on antidepressants as a first course rather than a last course is large.

And the assumption is that you can’t make any progress in counseling unless you get yourself stabilized or something.

So I just want to be very cautious.

As a Christian who believes that Christ is given by the Holy Spirit to deliver us from discouragements and from unbelief and from sorrow and to help us live a life of usefulness, what makes me able to allow for antidepressants is the fact that medicine corresponds to physical realities.

And the physical realities are that we get headaches that make us almost unable to think. Migraine headaches can put a man out. And we are pretty much OK if the doctor can help us find some medicine that would not let us get these immobilizing headaches.

And the headaches clearly have a spiritual impact, because they’re making me unable to read my Bible and function in relation to people that I want to love and serve. And so medicine becomes spiritually effective in that way.

So we apply this principle that we all use to depression, and then the fact that the body is included in depression. Whether we should use the terms “chemical imbalances”—I’ve read both sides on that. Some people say that there is no scientific evidence for such a thing and others say that it is a given. Whatever. Everybody knows that there are physical dimensions to depression.

If that physical dimension could be helped by medicine—in the short run especially, sometimes long term—then I think, in God’s grace and mercy, we should take it as a gift from his hand.


© Desiring God, desiringGod.org

John Piper is the Pastor for Preaching at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He grew up in Greenville, South Carolina, and studied at Wheaton College, where he first sensed God’s call to enter the ministry. He went on to earn degrees from Fuller Theological Seminary (B.D.) and the University of Munich (D.theol.). For six years he taught Biblical Studies at Bethel College in St. Paul, Minnesota, and in 1980 accepted the call to serve as pastor at Bethlehem. John is the author of more than 30 books and more than 25 years of his preaching and teaching is available free at desiringGod.org. John and his wife, Noel, have four sons, one daughter, and an increasing number of grandchildren.
http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/AskPastorJohn
/ByTopic/81/4233_Whats_your_take_on_Christians_
using_antidepressants/
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CT Interview with Brennan Manning

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The Dick Staub Interview: Brennan Manning on “Ruthless Trust”

http://www.brennanmanning.com/

Many Christians are still afraid to let God love them as they truly are, says the former priest, sober alcoholic, and author. This is just a small excerpt of an interview given by Mr. Manning to Christianity Today.

What is premise of this book about trust?

The basic idea is in one sentence: The splendor of a human heart that trusts and is loved unconditionally gives God more pleasure than Westminster Cathedral, the Sistine Chapel, Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, Van Gogh’s Sunflowers, the sight of 10,000 butterflies in flight, or the scent of a million orchids in bloom. Trust is our gift back to God, and he finds it so enchanting that Jesus died for love of it.

It’s what Jesus said we need to bring into the relationship.

Yes. Childlike surrender and trust, I believe, is the defining spirit of authentic discipleship. The supreme need in most of our lives is often the most overlooked: an unfaltering trust in the love of God no matter what goes down. I think this is what Paul taught when he wrote in Philippians 4:13, “There is nothing I cannot master with the help of the one that gives me strength.”

But how do we know if we’re really trusting? Most people would say they trust God.

The dominant characteristic of an authentic spiritual life is the gratitude that flows from trust—not only for all the gifts that I receive from God, but gratitude for all the suffering. Because in that purifying experience, suffering has often been the shortest path to intimacy with God.

I’d also add that biblical trust grows out of love. My trust in God flows out of the experience of his loving me, day in and day out, whether the day is stormy or fair, whether I’m sick or in good health, whether I’m in a state of grace or disgrace. He comes to me where I live and loves me as I am.

In John 17:26, Jesus says, “Father, I have made your name known. I continue to make it known. And I pray that the same love with which you love me may be in them and I in them.” The very same love that the Abba has for Jesus is the same love he has for us when he’s in our hearts. The problem is most of us aren’t aware of it.

So part of this is an attention problem?

I believe that the real difference in the American church is not between conservatives and liberals, fundamentalists and charismatics, nor between Republicans and Democrats. The real difference is between the aware and the unaware.

When somebody is aware of that love, the same love that the Father has for Jesus, that person is just spontaneously grateful. Cries of thankfulness become the dominant characteristic of the interior life, and the byproduct of gratitude is joy. We’re not joyful and then become grateful, we’re grateful and that makes us joyful.

But there’s suffering, too. In your book, tucked away between talking about gratefulness and beholding God, you talk very personally about how, if we’re truly going to learn to trust God, we can’t avoid the personal suffering.

When I was outside an alcohol and drug rehab center in New Orleans, and I was clutching a pint of Taaka vodka, what I did not want was the lifesaving treatment of detox in a 28-day program.

I kept on drinking, a drunken child crying out, “Jesus, where are you?” How do we experience trust in the midst of pain, suffering, heartache, and throbbing despair? I mean, is it possible to endure and eventually move beyond the bleak and melancholy landscape of evil and destruction, back to the experience of God as unconditional love? That’s the problem I ask Christians. Do you trust that God loves you? Everybody says, oh yes, I’ve known that for a long time. Then just watch the way they live. There’s so much fear, so much anxiety, and so much self-hatred. The best definition of faith I ever heard was Paul Tillich when he said, “Faith is the courage to accept acceptance.”

Meaning? Faith is a code to accept that Jesus knows my whole life story, every skeleton in my closet, every moment of sin, shame, dishonesty, degradedness darkening my past. Right now he knows my shallow faith, my feeble prayer life, my inconsistent discipleship, and he comes beside me and he says, I dare you to trust. I dare you to trust that I love you, just as you are and not as you should be, because you’re never going to be as you should be.

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Source/To read more, go to:  http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2002/decemberweb-only/12-9-21.0.html

http://www.brennanmanning.com/

For more Broken Believer teachings:  https://brokenbelievers.com/category/brennan-manning/

 

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Out of Darkness: The Kelly Willard Interview

kelly-willard-blame-the-one by Maryann B. Hunsberger | CT, originally posted 8/27/2007 

After a long absence from making music, not to mention a series of tragedies—including a divorce and her daughter’s suicide—CCM veteran Kelly Willard is back on the scene.

Since the early days of the Jesus movement, Kelly Willard has been a part of Christian music, recording with many of names associated with the pioneers of CCM before releasing her 1978 debut at the age of 21. With nine albums to her credit, Willard has also been featured on more than two dozen worship projects from Integrity Hosanna!, Vineyard, and Maranatha! Music. Now with the release of her new CD Paga, Willard is finally back on the scene, though she’s never been totally absent. She spoke to us from her Florida home about the things occupying her time for the last 15 years: her family, her recording career, her ministry, and a series of tragedies in 2004.

Your last album was in 1990. What have you been up to all these years?

Kelly Willard It was a priority to be home with my husband and children, since I home-schooled both children. And although I stopped recording my own albums and touring to raise my children, I didn’t stop working in Christian music. I lived in Nashville, so I continued to do session work. I’ve done background vocals for artists, and I’ve done solos on praise-and-worship albums. I’ve always followed what was going on in Christian music, and I’ve continued to do as much music as I could.

It sounds like life has been busy.

Willard Very busy. My mother had Alzheimer’s, so we took her in and cared for her for ten years. I was responsible for her health while my children were growing up. I was home-schooling and doing studio session singing while caring for my mother. I haven’t done much since 2004 because of what life has been like since then.

What happened that year?

Willard It was the worst year of my life. On Valentine’s Day, my father died of pulmonary fibrosis. Later, in March, my 29-year marriage fell apart. I worked so hard on the marriage, even going to counseling. But the marriage fell out from under me because the spiritual foundation of the home fell short. My parents were divorced when I was 13, and I said I’d never divorce. It was so traumatic, because my marriage and family were my life. It’s been hard for me to accept.

Then my 18-year-old daughter Haylie fell through the cracks—on August 29, she committed suicide. She had severe depression and she stopped taking her medication. The divorce was a huge factor in her death. It’s the saddest thing ever. Whenever I sang locally in Nashville, Haylie would sing with me, and mher. And in October, my mother died from Alzheimer’s. So, it really was the worst year ever y son Bryan would play bass. She wrote songs and loved the Lord. Too much sadness just overcame for me.

Did you struggle with feelings of failure during this time?

Willard Totally and completely. For your child to check out of life is just horrific. It’s unthinkable, unspeakable pain.

Does depression run in your family, since it is usually a hereditary illness?

Willard Yes. In 1987, when we had just released Message from a King, my fourth album, I was diagnosed with manic-depressive illness. The medication back then affected me badly, so I stopped taking it. In 2002, the diagnosis was reconfirmed, but with a new name: bipolar disorder. I got on a newer medication and it has worked well. It helped me get through the trauma of the last few years. I believe my mother also had bipolar disorder, but it went undiagnosed.

 How did your son handle everything?

Willard Bryan was out of the house already. He had gotten an apartment when he was 18 with his friend Phil LaRue and a couple other guys—he played bass with the group LaRue. Then he began to court his wife Liz and they married. So they now live in Nashville and have a daughter Ariel. He’s 24 now and such a strong Christian—a singer, writer, and worship leader, traveling and playing bass for Jason Upton’s band.

What have the last three years been like for you?

Willard It’s been a time of healing. It’s a slow process and it has taken time, but it is happening.  I moved to Jacksonville Beach, Florida for support from Beaches Chapel, a church that took me in and helped me move on after my life fell apart. Haylie and I had sung there in 2002 and they had a real burden for me. When things got bad, Pastor Steve McCoy could see how fragile I was. He would call me in Nashville. He asked me to come down for six months, so I did. I went into weekly grief therapy with a Christian grief counselor for 18 months. I also began taking classes at church. The accountability to my pastor and my grief therapist and Jamie kept me alive, as there were times that I honestly didn’t want to live. But, God hung onto me, even when I felt like I couldn’t hang on.

I read a lot of books about heaven, and I get really excited, because reading them helps me live the reality of what our faith is all about. Also, I met Jamie Wellington at church and he became a friend who stood by me. Eventually, he and I got married and I still live in Florida today. God gave me a brand new start in every way.

Which at last brings you back to recording a new album.

Willard I began working on it seven years ago. I thought I’d never record another solo album, but the Holy Spirit impressed on me to involve my kids in making an album with me. That’s my son Bryan rocking on the bass when he was barely 18. His buddies Miles McPherson and Rob Hawkins also played on it. Haylie, who was 15 at the time, sang a duet with me on “Beautiful Jesus.”

Your daughter had a beautiful voice. Is it hard listening to that song?

Willard I made myself listen to it once, just the other day. I saw her on the other side when I heard that.

Where does the title for Paga come from?

Willard I listened to a teaching tape by Jim Goll called “From Prayer to His Presence.” He explained how the Old Testament priests would take incense behind the curtain and burn it as an atonement. This is called “paga” in Hebrew and it means “to make intercession.” When Jesus became our sacrifice, he made the way for our prayers, praises, and worship to become like that incense to the Lord. I wanted this album to draw people to the Lord and take part in that intercession.

I like your cover of “Charity.”

Willard As far as I know, nobody has recorded that song since Jamie Owens Collins recorded it for her first solo album in the ’70s. Which is bizarre, as it’s a great song.

What changes have you seen in the Christian music world since the Jesus movement music in the ’70s?

Willard The ’70s brought a surge of Christian music with Love Song and all the groups from California. It was a great movement of music. But about 20 years ago, I remember Christian radio changing and sounding just like secular radio with DJs trying to act and talk cool, trying to be hip. A lot of the music seemed to lose something. Then, a little more than ten years ago, I saw a revival begin. Very fresh worship and praise music was coming out. Artists like Delirious, Jars of Clay, and Matt Redman were singing about relationships with the Lord again. It was encouraging to see a turn back to simple relationships with Jesus. That’s what everyone loved about early Christian music when people just sang about what Jesus was doing in their lives and they invited others to come along. It’s gotten back to that in much of Christian music.

For more information about Kelly, her music, or concerts:  http://www.kellywillard.com/index.html

 

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Devotions, [Eugene Peterson, Interview]

eugene-petersonInterview with Eugene Peterson

Why Can’t I Hear God? By Nancy Lovell

The musical group U2’s Bono quotes Eugene Peterson from the stage. Readers of the best selling Bible, ‘The Message,’ find themselves holding onto lines from his ‘fog-slicing’ Bible paraphrase, and many other works. For several years now, TheHighCalling.org has provided a daily prayer and reflection by Eugene Peterson. Recently, we asked the man himself: What are devotions and why do they matter in our daily work?

Why do so few people who believe in God bother to know Him?

The most obvious answer is that we’re in a hurry and not used to listening. We’re trained to use our minds to get information and complete assignments; but the God revealed to us in Jesus and our Scriptures is infinitely personal and relational. Unless we take the time to be quiet, in a listening way, in the presence of God, we never get to know him.

The same question is why so few married couples really know their spouses. People get divorced after 20 years of marriage, and the rejected spouse says, “I never knew this was coming. I thought everything was fine.” But there was not much listening in those 20 years. Devotions are the discipline of being quiet and listening for what we don’t hear in the streets, in the media, in the workplace.

What about people who sincerely set apart time, read the Bible, stay still, and hear nothing? They ask themselves whether God’s voice is anything more than their own thoughts.

We’re not good at this. We’ve had no practice doing it. No wonder we only hear our own thoughts. This is why the church is so insistent that we do this whether anything happens or not. Supported by 2000 years of history, we know that God does commune with us in our listening. But because we’re so unused to this way of communion, we don’t hear it. So it takes time.

How would you direct someone trying to start?

I would say: Get your Bible and find a place. If you can’t do this daily (some people can’t because of their life circumstances; mothers with young children are obvious instances), try for at least 20-30 minutes, two or three times a week, or four. Don’t make demands on yourself too high. Don’t ask questions about, “How long is this going to take?” Believe that something does happen in that silence—usually through Scripture, but not always—in prayerful, attentive listening, knowing that you’re in the presence of God.

I ask for a commitment of six months; so don’t come back in three weeks and say nothing’s happened. I’ve never had anyone who’s done this at least six months who came back to me and said, “I did it and nothing happened; I’m going on to something else.” Not many who give this a fair test ever say that nothing happens. Also, when I’ve asked people to do this as their pastor, I also ask them to worship regularly. This is a place where the whole community is gathered and listening and being in the presence of God.

Is that how you started?

I was lucky. In the family I grew up in, I started when I was about 14 …mostly with the Psalms, but all the Scriptures become part of it.

In your writing and speaking, you must have seen moments when a person realizes, “Yes, I want more and I want God.” What turns on the light for people?

Often the motivation is that people are tired of the way they’re living. They think there’s got to be more than just the motions they’re going through and the work they’re doing. There’s a craving and hunger that they identify with God. There’s enough pain or boredom or something to motivate them to do something that the culture’s not telling them to do. I got a letter recently from a friend of 40 years. She had been a parishioner of mine for a long time. Then she was ill, and divorced; and she quit, just gave up. She quit reading the Bible, quit going to church. Six months ago she wrote me a lovely letter that she was sitting with a group of friends and, in her words, “a rooster crowed”—it all came back and she was a Christian again and aware of the presence of God. Isn’t that a wonderful phrase? ‘A rooster crowed.’

Who knows what went into that statement of hers? Twenty years of unhappiness, pain, suffering, disillusionment …but still there was the need.She would have said during that time she didn’t believe in God. But the rooster crowed. That’s why we use the term the Holy Spirit to explain times like this. Given that it’s hard to discipline ourselves to silence, listening—and to daily time in quiet—tell us about your devotions on this website. I wrote those in the early morning for 20 years, maybe 25 years. And what I was trying to do was be present to the Scripture, listen to God, and to write as honestly as I could. I wasn’t thinking about anybody else but me.

It’s really hard to be honest as a writer. You get these wonderful ideas, and you love to manipulate words and see if you can make it sound good. It’s hard to be honest, especially working for God. That was the thing I was most aware of. “Eugene: Don’t say anything that is not relational, immediate, honest; stay present to the text and be honest before God.” I believed if I could be honest, I could draw some other people to honesty, too.

To read the rest of this interview, you will need to follow this link: http://www.christianitytoday.com/workplace/articles/interviews/eugenepeterson.html

 

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