From a Mental Hospital Ward, [Crushed]

3 For the enemy has pursued my soul; he has crushed my life to the ground; he has made me sit in darkness like those long dead.”

Psalm 143:3

Some time ago,  I was hospitalized for my mental illness. (Actually seven times.) And though each time was bitter, but the Lord carried me.  They would take from me my shoelaces, and belts, and fingernail clippers.  Basically, I was stripped of everything, anything that I might use to harm myself. But I was creative, I took a clock off the wall and rolled it in a blanket,  I smashed it and used the shards of glass to cut my wrists.The nurses were exceptionally observant, and within moments they intervened.

I had already been stripped, searched, and then brought into a ward full of very sick people.  Much of all of this is a terrible glazed blur.  There was a real awareness of unreality.  I was quite confused, and it would take several weeks before I could reconnect.  Things were no longer ‘reasonable’ and I could discern nothing.  But I didn’t know I was so confused (but I did suspect it). The staff were quite aware and accommodating.  They let me be, so time could take care of the rest. I needed to unravel things  

Besides, Jesus knew exactly where I was if I didn’t.

Days rolled by, quite slowly.  The tedium of a mental hospital is the worst— much more difficult than jail or prison.  You walk in a very limited corridor, back and forth.  You wait for your shrink, and wait, and wait.  You pace, and pace. You pray, stupidly.  The other patients were equally disturbed.  There was a great variety among them.  One guy would urinate in any corner. Once he jumped up on the nurses station, and took a “whizz.” It was hysterical.  He almost shorted out their computer.

In all of this, there was a very bleak and strange awareness, of being incredibly ‘detached,’ and only remotely aware that something was not right with me.  I tried to get well, but I was mentally lost.  I paced, and I remained confused.  I was most definitely in an ugly place.  Desperate and increasingly bewildered, I knew I had no place to go.  A fine place for someone who used to pastor, and teach at a Bible college.

If you have been in this place, you will recognize the ‘lostness’ of being on a ward of a mental hospital. It is confusion mixed with despair,  and without a part of very strong drugs, and there is nothing you can do to be released.  And really until you come to this fact, they will never let you go.  They wait for you to snap out of your confusion, unfortunately that takes time. Sometimes many weeks and whole months. Sometimes never.

It’s worse when you have a family.  In my case it was my wife, and two small children.  This at times, would twist my heart.  I would get a very short phone call, once a week.  But this was quite difficult.  I gained very little from those calls, and I found myself quite disturbed after each call.  Being on this ward tinged me completely. It was like being dipped into darkness.  I was very much affected.  Now on the outside, I admit I was quite disturbed, but at the time I honestly did not understand a way out.

Dear friend, having a mental illness is cruel and disturbing.  And being committed to a mental hospital is a desperate thing.  Having passed through its locked doors is something you will never forget.  The way I figure these seven hospitalizations have stolen over six months of my life. Its work is irrevocable, its fingerprints will be on your life, for as long as you live.  But God will bring good out of this. This I know.

“Do not gloat over me, my enemy!
    Though I have fallen, I will rise.
Though I sit in darkness,
    the Lord will be my light.”

Micah 7:8

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A Downcast Soul

 

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“Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.”

–Psalm 42:11, NIV

The things that truly tear me apart, will often start by intensifying my gloom and depression.  I certainly do avow a limited degree of freedom.  But even in the light of this,

1) depression hammers me,
2) dismantles me, and than it
3) devastates me

My own lostness goes on to confuse me, (not to mention it in the lives of my family and friends) and than I slide into further into my darkness.  The bottom just falls off, and I go even lower. I become mad. (In the psychological sense of the word.)

But the Father interjects His will on my behalf, and puts me into this critical place by a special grace.  I try to rest into this great big sea of a massive love, but I imagine I really don’t belong. In my dark depression, I turn to Him for a greater protection.  I understand my proclivity to depression that only sinks me into the darkness of sin. So I reach out, and grab tight.

In olden days, a ship in a overwhelming storm would attempt to lighten its load by throwing its cargo overboard.  When we are in this despondency, we often will do this as well.  Anything to just survive.  We are quite desperate.

My darkness is deep, and it is an intensely viscous evil.  It reaches out for me, and it entangles me.  You might rightly say that I am lost, but the Father does intervene, and He steps into my blackness, and separates me from it.  It may seem a bit melodramatic.  But He nevertheless carries me through.  And yet I will confess that He has behaved consistently concerning me.

When we have an opportunity we should simply reach out for it.  Our foolishness should not disconnect us into a confused place of being.  We will step out into this awareness of being made wonderfully complete, and incredibly sure.  His presence alters us, and sanctifies us.  We change and adjust ourselves.  Yet everything that does work into us will bring us to a purpose and significance.

I do return and earnestly seek Him to work in me.  Unless He does, I will be irrevocably lost.  I turn to Him, and so I must admit I am bold in this.  I say desperately, ‘Please Jesus, save me.’  I will only turn, and be very bold, entering into His salvation.  “Please save me dear Savior, and launch me into the world of salvation.  Give me a deep understanding of your deliverance.  Jesus, I surrender to your work.”  And in all the areas I surrender, He meets me and brings me to the place of rest.

“So our hope is in the Lord.
 He is our help, our shield to   protect us.” 

–Psalm 33:20, NCV

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Notice Leah’s Eyes, [Handicaps]

Portait of woman wearing scarf with eyes closed Stuck in the wonderful convolutions of scripture we can start a great study of Leah and her sister Rachel. These two daughters of Laban have become Jacob’s wives.

Now, we may question this polygamy when all we know is monogamy. These kind of decisions may be criticized and even outright challenged, but we will change nothing (and does it really matter)?

Jacob longs for Rachel. She is his “soul mate” and because he is so much in love, the customs and technicalities of the day somehow get by him. Because of this, he will have to take on Laban’s subtle trickery, where daughters get exchanged, and he must sort out who is who. Laban’s deception really creates a crisis. But it seems Jacob just rolls with it. I suppose deception has always been Jacob’s strong suit. (But when a deceiver gets deceived, that can’t be all bad, I suppose).

Jacob is so in love with Rachel that he works for seven years for the right to marry her. This may be a bit outrageous. But we really must weigh these issues. I believe Jacob really is a monogamist at heart (shh… don’t tell him). He can only see that one girl that he is crazy about, his true love, Rachel. But it’s Leah that I think about. Her own issues are unique. Genesis 29 explains it a bit cryptically,

“Leah’s eyes were weak, but Rachel was beautiful in form and appearance.” 

Genesis 29:17

I must tell you that there is confusion by commentators about the “weak eyes.” Some take it literally (as in, she in very “near-sighted,”) others who look at the original Hebrew find the words to be a bit looser and vague. They think that this is a polite way of saying she really wasn’t pretty. IDK, but I think I can gain from either interpretation.

In the long view, Leah would birth four patriarchs for Israel. But she would struggle with jealousy over her younger sister’s beauty and favor. Her pain was real, and she would hurt deeply over this.

I think I may understand Leah. She is wounded, and life requires that she live as unwanted. She sticks out as a woman of tragedy and broken hopes and dreams. She will always live as a reject. At best, she will always be a distant second, and perhaps a bit scorned and neglected for this.

I so love Leah and I do understand her. Her life is a long tragedy and very full of sadness. For the next 30-40 years she will always be a cast-off, someone who has been broken on life’s hard wheel. I look at her with a painful bit of understanding. She reminds me of being a struggler and a survivor. Her sad life is comparable to us who have to fight so hard over our own illness or handicap.

I suppose its “Leah’s eyes” that catch me. I have no idea what the issue was. But I know that she was weak, and challenged by this terrible weakness. I understand this. My own life has been “topsy-turvy” and a really hard struggle. Somehow it seems we must work through way too much. It doesn’t seem fair. But than again, we are the ones who must drink our adversity straight; and the ones who get to know special comfort.

For those of you who are confined to a ‘chair,’ and the others who must deal with mental illness. Leah should be our hero.

Those who have been betrayed by addiction, or who have felt rejected through a bitter divorce. Leah speaks to us. For she is for every loser and for failures of all stripes. But through all of our “set-backs” and messes, we must realize that God does love us– even as we weep.

We may have “Leah’s eyes,” but we also have His grace.

One more thought that might be relevant:

“When you encounter difficulties and contradictions, do not try to break them, but bend them with gentleness and time.”

–Francis de Sales

 

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Blood in the Water

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It’s a fact. Biologists tell us that sharks can smell blood from 2-3 miles away. They follow their noses to the place where they sense it. They have an ‘attack mechanism’ to anything that is vulnerable. Blood acts as a trigger inside their brains. Occasionally dozens of sharks attack in a feeding frenzy that is pretty horrific.

Almost 40 years in the Church has taught me that sharks aren’t the only ones that turn on the wounded.

The Church was supposed to be a safe and a healing place. This is what the Holy Spirit wants. That isn’t always the case. As believers in Jrsus we should of done better.

Someone fails, another falters. Sin is uncovered and everyone takes cover. Many people who could have been restored are instead trampled down.   There are many who would rather ‘kick’ than pray. Unfortunately there is always a sharp escalation and personal attack  that often creates even more blood in the water.

There are many who bleed. Those with a mental illness, or confined to a wheelchair, or with Downs Syndrome are the first that come to mind. The developmentally disabled, the drunk, the addict, the divorced, the adulterer, the homosexual, and the poor, the ex-con are just several kinds of people that regularly get hurt in our churches.

“God blesses those who are merciful,
    for they will be shown mercy.”

Matthew 5:7, NLT

Mercy is what God extends to people who don’t deserve any. Failure to understand God’s deep penchant for mercy is the first step into religious confusion. Keep in mind that the Prodigal’s older brother refused to party with the forgiven son. How terribly sad.

In theory, we agree. We find tremendous inspiration when this verse is read. But the noble feelings do not always translate well into dedicated action. I have come to see that I must consciously press this into action. I must actively show mercy for the healing of others– and to protect my own heart.

The Kingdom of God is specifically designed for losers; it exists for the sick, the stumbler and the sinner.

The Great Physician has come for the sick– and not so much for the healthy. He loves each of us, but cares in different ways. He tailors His grace to fit our sin.

If there is blood in the water, let’s turn it up a notch, and show special mercy for those who are struggling. Let us be kinder than we have to be. If we err— let us always err on the side of mercy and kindness.

Father, please help me be full of mercy as I touch those who are in pain. I ask that you would make me sensitive and alert to each one on this path. –Amen.

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Speaking Out of Our Pain, [True Authority]

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In “Letters to a Young Poet“, the author deals with the subject of weakness, difficulty and trouble.  As a person who struggles with depression on a substantial scale and yet can try to speak the Word of God to his brothers this is remarkably good news.
-Rainer Maria Rilke

“Do not believe that he who seeks to comfort you lives untroubled among the simple and quiet words that sometimes do you good.

His life has much difficulty and remains far behind yours. Were it not otherwise he would never been able to find these words.”

*-Rainer Maria Rilke

@Inevitably, as Christians we  find ourselves helping other disabled people that have somehow worked  themselves into our lives.  The irony is that our illness has taught  us something, but somehow we don’t communicate well. Inevitably, we miss the point and speak even more confusion into their hearts. That is frustrating.

When we are finally work up the courage to speak, we seem to only deliver pious platitudes and inane ‘babblings.’ We know we can help them, but alas, we can’t do it. This is when we must meet the Holy Spirit first. Hearing Him will guide us and direct us. We will be able to speak something, that will really mean something.

We so want to be mature and wise.  We want to be in a position of strength. We aspire to that.  But the truth is, life doesn’t work that way. We are always sabotaged by our weakness. We discover that we have no place to go.

I believe life is constructed so that we’ll learn the reality of desperately humble prayer.

A child plays with two colors of “Play-Doh”.  After a while separating them is no longer possible.  The colors blend and become a completely different color.  As simple believers in Jesus this “mixing” can cause despair and frustration. We must live with the realities of being seriously weak and unconditionally loved, simultaneously. We must blend the two.

St. Paul would come to the conclusion that he “would boast in his weaknesses, that the power of God would be revealed in his life”.  It seems to us that “boasting” is a bit of exaggeration or hyperbole.  And “weaknesses”, are those terrible flaws that need to be painted over or ignored.  But we can’t seem to see them as the starting point of the spiritual life.  (Oh God, please teach us to boast in our flaws, to let You use our weaknesses.)

Strength comes in a frustratingly weird way.  It’s the very opposite of our heart’s inclination.  Admitting that I am weak is my starting point.  I suppose you might say that as a physically and mentally ill person,  I may have a step on the average person.  I can be strong because I am so pathetic.  I can speak something that may bring life and hope to someone else.

But I am distinctively flawed, and I can’t pretend that I am otherwise.  I now have the liberty to speak without pretense to my wounded brothers and sisters.  But let us have no foolish talk that I’ve been able to fix myself somehow.  That is not going to happen.

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The Rigidity of Evil

I have a heart--but it is broken and crushed.
I have a heart–but it is broken and crushed.

Today I realized that I was sick and very tired of myself. It’s really not disgust, or even loathing. It’s more like a weariness, an exhaustion. I’ve never felt this way. In a strange way it intrigues me. Could this definite disenchantment mean something spiritual? Does it have value, or am I just feeling self-absorbed or conceited?

There is a real rigidity to evil. As I have seen it– sin hardens all who touch it, plain and simple. My growing immobility disturbs me, as I know I’m developing a “hardness of heart.” Atherosclerosis is a condition of a sick heart where arteries become blocked. It’s also known as “hardening of the heart, or arteries.” It is a patient killer, slowly and surely making hard deposits that block the flow of blood.

The Bible speaks about having a hard heart. It also uses the metaphor of fallow ground that must be plowed up. Jesus used the same image in His “Parable of the Sower” in Matthew 13.

“A sower went out to sow. 4 And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. 5 Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, 6 but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. 7 Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8 Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain.”

There are only four real options.

  • The first is seed that never arrives.
  • The second lands on hard stones.
  • The third possibility is landing on thorns and thistles.
  • Only the fourth flourishes.

    Heart of Stone Heart of Flesh
    The Battle of the Heart

The question I have is this, can the hard soil become soft, and can the good soil become overgrown with thistles? Is this a static, set experience? Or could it be far more fluid? I seem to move from one soil condition to another.

I have found that my own  heart drifts. Manic Depression is a mental illness where emotions fluctuate constantly. They gallivant around, floating here and than there. I maybe depressed and suicidal in the morning, and then I can be euphoric in the evening. It’s having the identity of a “wandering star.”

I want my heart to soften. I want to sit with Jesus and hear His words. I need Him to share what He is thinking about. Any sin I entertain has a hardening effect in my spiritual heart. This really scares me. *

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ybic, Bryan

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Battle Scars

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It is a bad habit to try to teach without personal knowledge. We can preach, but we do not possess. This is one of the occupational hazards of those of us in our profession. It seems to carry a horrible curse of spiritual sterility, that the wise believer ultimately sees.

It’s been 13 years since a diagnosis of Bipolar 1 was made. I believe I was BP in my teens. Life is a roller-coaster for me, up and down, with a twist or two along the way. I am now fairly aware at 56 that much of my earthly existence  has already been lived. Life can become such a grind. I’m tired and broken, and ready for eternity.

“One should go to sleep as homesick passengers do, saying, “Perhaps in the morning we shall see the shore.”

–Henry Ward Beecher

Billy Bray (a bearer of an unfortunate name) was an illiterate Cornish evangelist in the 1850s. He was heard to pray this: “Lord, if any have to die this day, let it be me, for I am ready.” By faith, I do understand these sentiments. I am ready to go as well.

I love collecting good quotes. (I also have a site at http://www.CrossQuotes.org.) But here’s two more good ones:

“God buries His workmen but carries on His work.”   -Charles Wesley

“If we really think that home is elsewhere and that this life is a “wandering to find home,” why should we not look forward to the arrival?”  – C.S. Lewis

Sorry if I’m being maudlin. But the battle is so long, and it doesn’t ever let up, does it? We all can become weary after a while. What we need is to be ‘shut in’ with the Lord. The Word reminds us:

Strengthening the souls of the disciples, encouraging them to continue in the faith, and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God”

 Acts 14:22

“Tribulations” are common, and each must battle through them. And without being melodramatic, we each must walk through the blazing furnace. But I can also boldly attest that there is more than enough grace for each of us. We just need to become desperate enough. (Which shouldn’t be too hard).

Armor is given. Wearing it means you’ll survive (and thrive) to see another day. Those who may suggest that the Christian life is a “bed of roses,” I would say that they haven’t read Ephesians 6. If there is no war, why would the Holy Spirit tell us to put it on?

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.” 

Eph. 6:10-11

We are starting to finally learn we must fall in love with Jesus. He receives us with a massive kind of love. And His mercy meets us at every doubtful corner. You have His Word on it. Simply ask Him to come to you. 

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Kyrie eleison, Bryan

(Lord, have mercy.)

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