“The Lord says, “At that time, I will gather the crippled; I will bring together those who were sent away, those whom I caused to have trouble. I will keep alive those who were crippled, and I will make a strong nation of those who were sent away. The Lord will be their king in Mount Zion from now on and forever.”
Micah 4:6-7, NCV
Thinking about the Thorton Wilder play, “The Angel that Troubled the Waters”. The play is based on the biblical verses of John 5:1-4. In this play the angel meets a physician waiting for a miracle by the pool.
After a protracted conversation, the angel makes a challenge to the desperate doctor;
“Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve.”
The Prophet Micah’s simple, thoughtful prophecy reveals a point that is singularly significant. For those of us who have been abused, and marginalized, now we have become accepted. Being an outcast, from ‘decent society’, has now at this moment become the ticket to a life in the very center of God’s will.
Our past is no longer a significant problem.
His Holy Spirit moves us out of our gross ugliness. He then places us out where we now become visible witnesses. This spotlight focuses on us, and we stand confused and exposed. We may protest over being ‘outed’ like this, but this is what He wants.“He desires truth in the inmost parts.” He has redeemed us, and we’ll never be the same. Never!
God loves losers. He steps in and with His special agenda, starts looking for all of us who are failures. In His heart, He pulls us together into His army of misfits. If you are wonderful and complete in your self, and oh so confident in your spiritual life– I am sorry, you haven’t been invited. Micah, hits the nail on its head. Sinners enter where “righteous saints” are left standing outside.
Those of us, who have stumbled so frequently and so often, we are escorted into the incredible deepness of His presence. We have failed, and we have been defeated. We don’t belong here, holiness is not our element. But we will stand, for we know our place. He intends on transforming us into His gallant army.
“It’s not about perfection; it’s about our intimacy with God, or our connection, our relationship with God. Once we get through that, once we realize that we can be imperfect, and flawed, and broken; It is these kinds of things are the ingredients of true spirituality.”
There are so many who are waiting to understand all of this. Being consummate losers should make us people with a deep grace. Because we are tender, we can call out to others to come and join the “spiritual loser club.”
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.
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.
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.
“It is through much tribulation that we enter the kingdom of Heaven.”
As a broken believer this happens. I breakdown, my faith is questioned, and I feel all alone. Issues like a simple hot shower and eating something seem impossible. I’m embarrassed to say I once went 34 days with a shower. I laid in bed unable to function. That is the insidious truth about chronic depression, I know it well. God seems far, far away from me. Life doesn’t matter anymore.
There is much I can do before it gets to this point. And although life seems insurmountable. Clinical depression kills people. It slowly devours “a sound mind.” It cripples before it takes away your life. There is nothing quite like it; people tell you it will pass, and that you’ll see the sun again. But at the time that seems to be the worst advice ever given.
“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.”
2 Timothy 1:7
Meds help a lot. I take Zoloft and that is a godsend. I never miss a dose. I know I’m not bulletproof. I’ve taken it for several years now. (It’s like insulin for a diabetic).
Afflicted souls are special to God. And that truly comforts me. Sometimes it seems like there is an invisible tether that holds from completely dropping off the edge. When I do pray, it is desperate and brief. More like a quiet scream for help. There are no frills and no eloquence, but I know I’m being heard by Him who guards my soul.
People for the most part, are of little help. I admit that my attitude can be less than stellar. “Unless you have been lost in this section of hell yourself, it’s best if you just shut up.” (I don’t really say this, but I’m tempted to.)
But there are a few that can speak. Almost always these are the ones who have been through some affliction themselves. They have been hurt and they ‘walk with a limp.’ I’m convinced that they can speak in direct proportion to the pain they themselves have suffered. I once woke up to another pastor praying prostrate on my bedroom floor. He didn’t have to do or say anything else. He left without saying some ‘pious’ word to me, what he did was wonderfully done.
“I will trust Him. Whatever, wherever I am, I can never be thrown away. If I am in sickness, my sickness may serve Him; in perplexity, my perplexity may serve Him; if I am in sorrow, my sorrow may serve Him. My sickness, or perplexity, or sorrow may be necessary causes of some great end, which is quite beyond us. He does nothing in vain.”
John Henry Newman
Take care of yourself. If this isn’t your first major depression, prepare in advance spiritually for the next. Identify those ‘dear-hearts’ who can help you in advance. Keep taking your meds, even if you think your o.k. And speak often with the Lord, and learn to listen to His voice. That “sound mind” is a promise for those who truly need it.
“Suddenly, Jesus’ words flashed through Peter’s mind: “Before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.”And he went away, weeping bitterly.”
Matthew 26:75, NLT
Three denials are followed by three reaffirmations.
“A third time he asked him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?” Peter was hurt that Jesus asked the question a third time. He said, “Lord, you know everything. You know that I love you.” Jesus said, “Then feed my sheep.”
The apostle Peter was a fervent disciple. He knew who Jesus was before most. He was always included in special times (e.g. the transfiguration, Gethsemane). He was favored by Jesus throughout times of ministry. I also believe that he was Jesus’ friend. Peter is known for:
being called on the shores of Galilee, Matt 4:18-19
‘almost’ walking on water, Matt 14:29-30
finding the tax money in a fishes mouth, Matt 17:24-27
having his feet washed, John 13:6-7
in Gethsemane– cutting off an ear, John 18:10-11
his remorse at denying Jesus, Matt 26:75
at the empty tomb with John, John 20:3-8
Peter’s own denials were of a serious nature effecting who he was, and who he was to become. Jesus astutely intervenes as they ‘breakfasted’on the seashore. There would be three affirmations; one for each denial. Peter needed to meet the resurrected Jesus, and speak with him about what he had done. Peter needed this.
Out of our own confusion, we realize that we deny Jesus. Perhaps frequently. A denial has different intensities and different situations. And none of us have an immunity as of yet. We deny the Lord when we refuse to speak of him to others. We deny the Lord when we fail to do what is right. Sometimes we deny him flagrantly, other times it is a more subtle attitude. At best, we’re still inconsistent, and at worst, apostate.
We’re not punished or abandoned for this behavior. Human logic would suggest that we should be. But instead we are gently restored. Given the opportunity, Peter the fisherman, would eventually become a wise shepherd to the young Church. I would also suggest that Peter’s personal weakness would serve him well as a gentle, and caring pastor.
Peter, near the end of his life, goes ‘full circle’ and uses a very precise Greek word foundin only two places in the New Testament. It is the specific form of the word “shepherd.” It is only used in John 21:16-17 in Peter’s restoration, and in 1 Peter 5:2. Peter encourages the Church with the same words Jesus himself spoke to him on the beach so long ago! Peter wrote:
“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing.”
“He cuts off every branch of mine that doesn’t produce fruit, and he prunes the branches that do bear fruit so they will produce even more.”
John 15:2, NLT
In order to become fruitful we must accept the knife.
It takes a sharp eye and a sharper knife to do the Father’s work of cutting. He slices to the quick, and all that is not useful falls to the ground. The vine will produce grapes, and every bit of “grape-energy” will be used productively. Fruitlessness will be cursed, and sterility is condemned. It takes a decisive heart, as well as a wise hand to prune God’s own vineyard.
Fruitless believers may become fruitful ones. Understand, the vine dresser does not attack the vine. He is not malicious or vengeful. All that He does is for the good of the vine. He is motivated to produce fruit. That is what He thinks about; you could say that He is preoccupied with that singular end.
Pruning and fruit are concepts that we vacillate over, some days we understand and other days we blow it off. After over 30 years, I’ve heard every “John 15 sermon”. And most of the time I turn down my spiritual hearing aid. That is tragic, and shows my heart has become hardened.
I need to come on board with this particular imagery. For years I have asked God to “show me His ways”. I’d like to believe that this understanding of pruning has changed me. I would like to think that I have attained a clearer view of wisdom. This pruning business is all well and good. But being sanctified by the knife is decidedly unattractive and uncomfortable.
You must be pruned; pieces of your life are earmarked to be lopped off. (I always wonder if the trees that are spray painted are curious over the why and the when they are to be cut?) In regards to being fruitful we must accept the knife. If we want to be holy and conform to the image of Christ we will be cut. There is simply no other way.
The apostle Paul wrote, “For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.” 2 Corinthians 4:17 (NIV).
The troubles we face don’t seem light or momentary. They feel heavy and often permanent. Especially when one struggles with troubles like mental illness, fibromyalgia and other chronic pain syndromes, physical disabilities, and cancer. Surely Paul was mistaken when he described our troubles as light and momentary. Perhaps his life was a different experience.
No, Paul knew what he was talking about; he knew about troubles. He was flogged and beaten, threatened with stoning, and thrown in jail multiple times for proclaiming Christ. He was shipwrecked not once, not twice, but three times. Although the Bible doesn’t tell us how Paul died, other historical documents suggest that he was beheaded.
Once he chose to follow Christ and proclaim His name, Paul’s life was anything but easy, his troubles anything but light and momentary. And yet, compared to the eternal glory his passion for Christ was earning for him, he could truthfully call them light and momentary.
Our burdens become light when we give them to Jesus, who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28 (NIV). He will carry the load if only we are willing to give it up. Sometimes he brings fellow believers alongside to help with this.
Our troubles become momentary when we see them from an eternal perspective. “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” 2 Peter 3:8 (NIV). In our earthly bodies we are bound by time and can be easily fooled by it. In God’s kingdom, time becomes somewhat irrelevant.
“Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested.”
Hebrews 2:18, (NLT)
“Whenever you meet someone who has really suffered; been limited, gone through things for the Lord, willing to be imprisoned by the Lord, just being satisfied with Him and nothing else, immediately you scent the fragrance. There is a savor of the Lord. Something has been crushed, something has been broken, and there is a resulting odor of sweetness.”
I remember a time many years ago when I felt like I had a ‘charmed’ life. I had no issues, few problems– life was smooth, there was no ‘roughness.’ I felt like I was God’s favorite, His ‘golden boy.’ I should have known it wouldn’t last :-).
Suffering in the scriptures is often linked with the concept of endurance. Often within the selected verse the writer weaves into it this idea. I believe that to endure something transforms it to good. Believers will suffer, but the issues get transformed into something quite beautiful, if, we add the ingredient of patient endurance.
“We give great honor to those who endure under suffering. For instance, you know about Job, a man of great endurance. You can see how the Lord was kind to him at the end, for the Lord is full of tenderness and mercy.”
In many ways, suffering is a tutor teaching us the foreign dialect of the Kingdom. If done under the kind direction of the Holy Spirit, it can give us a working knowledge of patience, endurance and joy. We must learn to speak in another language. A suffering believer will find a new vocabulary in pain that allows him to speak with understanding to those who are also in pain.
I spent several years studying Spanish. Even though I wasn’t really fluent, I discovered it opened a whole new world; being bilingual created new opportunities that I’d never even knew existed. I believe that suffering works under this same principle.
Do you speak the language? Can you communicate with love to those who hurt? Learning it can transform you to a person that can speak authoritatively to a wide swath of people. Having had to handle your own pain gives you the privilege of interpreting God’s love into pain and hurt.
From our own hurt (through endurance and joy) we can help others. I can always tell a fellow-sufferer. They are typically gentle and loving people, devoid of pride and control. These are the ones who have learned to speak the idiom of the Kingdom of God.
“He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us… We were crushed and overwhelmed beyond our ability to endure, and we thought we would never live through it.9 In fact, we expected to die. But as a result, we stopped relying on ourselves and learned to rely only on God, who raises the dead.