A Giraffe On Roller Skates, [Mental Illness]

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People will sometimes ask me, “What its like to be a Christian and to have a mental illness?” I’m not entirely sure I can really answer, but I do try. It seems almost always there are misconceptions, or even a stigma attached to their curiosity. But here goes.

It’s like I’m a ‘giraffe on roller skates’, It seems like I’m always lurching and tottering— always on the verge of total collapse. (It’s a wonder I’m even ‘standing.’) Careening from one side to another, I’m aware that I’m becoming quite the spectacle, and I imagine I hear whispers about the ‘splash’ I’m making today.

I’m uneasy and unsure. (Am I being inappropriate?) I seem to speak too loud and pressured, I feel conspicuous; like I’m slightly inebriated at a party of Mormons. I’m aware of nervous glances and uneasy whispers.

Welcome to the world of bipolar mania.

I have a mental illness. ‘Rapid cycling’ bipolar disorder is my particular ‘flavor.’ I’m on meds (and have been for some time) but it only seems to do is to take of edge off— but I’m grateful for even that small mercy. Over time I’ve been able to accrue some coping mechanisms.  Identifying my paranoia and random delusions is simple ‘Bipolar 101’. It has become the present state of my world.  I don’t always do it well— but I do ”do it’. (And I take my lithium daily.)

There is a learning curve to all of this. It must be discovered. I have tried ‘avoidance tactics’, and I suppose most of the time they seem prudent. But life can’t really be lived cloistered in your room. That is safe, but also very dull. The isolation becomes more toxic than ‘the spectacle.’

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ, and having bipolar disorder creates some problems. I’m aware of the incongruity. But my faith often uses these issues I face; they propel me closer to Him.

Being ‘broken’ has become a real blessing.

28 “Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”

Matthew 11:28-29, NLT

The promise of Jesus is for those who carry extra weights (like mental or physical illness). It’s for those whose ‘cheese has slipped off their cracker.’ It’s for giraffes on roller skates. Anything we bear is endurable, and easy. He carries us far beyond every weight and every burden. He alone gives rest to the troubled, and real peace to those troubled by their souls.

30″ For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

(verse 30).

What Jesus actively does is to puncture my pride, and then release His spirit and grace over me. But He also makes things ‘light’. The reality is that I bear nothing. All that He does is ‘light’. My blundering is seen and never belittled. But His grace only gets revealed in my weakness.

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Can a Mother Forget? [Love]

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Yet Jerusalem says, “The Lord has deserted us;  the Lord has forgotten us.”
Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child?  Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible,    
 I would not forget you! 16 See, I have written your name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.”

Isaiah 49:14-16, NLT

Some of us need to be persuaded of God’s love. We are unconvinced. But Isaiah understands. We grasp the theology, but not the meaning. Our own native ideas keep us in disbelief. Perhaps the greatest liability we have as believers is this doubt that God really feels this way about us. But, He does.

Isaiah claims the impossible, yet grounds himself in what is real. The Father loves us and we’re His very own. Even if we don’t seem as holy as we ought to be. In His out reached hands, we discover scars.  This is the price He has purchased us with. We once were blind, and very lost— but now we are His own children.

We are given the impression that He more than ‘loves’ us; He ‘likes’ us. That dear ones, is not a point I’m prepared to support with scripture— it doesn’t exist except in my own thinking. I know that He theologically loves me.

But I also believe God also likes me as well. Surely, there is such a fine line here, between ‘like’ and love. The more I walk with the Lord, and it’s been almost 35 years now, the more I do love/like Him. I have learned to like Him as much as I love Him. And if God doesn’t like me, I think it diminishes His love.

Some of us must be persuaded again and again of God’s love.

Regardless, Isaiah speaks for the Lord with tender things. Among the people they had the mindset that God had somehow forgotten them. They thought that they were ‘the lost ones.’ God uses the analogy of a mother. A nurturing mother. This metaphor is strong and sure. No, God hasn’t forgotten His people. Look at His hands, your name is ‘tattooed’ on them. You’re His, forever.

“In math, if you divide an infinite number by any number, no matter how large, you still have an infinite quotient. So Jesus’ love, being infinite, even though it is divided up for every person on earth, is still infinitely poured out on each one of us!” 

Charles Spurgeon

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Help Me to Understand My Tears, [Trouble]

bowing-before-himIn 1895 Andrew Murray was in England suffering from a terribly painful back, the result of an injury he had incurred years before. He was staying with some dear friends. One morning while he was eating his breakfast in his room, his hostess told him of a woman downstairs who was in great trouble and wanted to know if he had any advice for her. Andrew Murray handed her a paper he had been writing on and said, “Just give her this advice I’m writing down for myself. It may be that she’ll find it helpful.” This is what hr wrote.

“In time of trouble, say, “First, He brought me here. It is by His will I am in this strait place; in that I will rest.” Next, “He will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.” Then say, “He will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.” And last, say, “In His good time He can bring me out again.”
How, and when, He knows.”

Therefore say, “I am here,

  1. by God’s appointment,
  2. in His keeping,  
  3. under His training,
  4. for His time.”

Suffering has a purpose for the believer. I must keep or honor this particular engagement. It is for my good that I do so.  My life has meaning while I struggle with my issues.  Nothing is really ever wasted, even though I don’t really understand why this is happening to me.

 God certainly doesn’t waste our sorrows. He uses them to build our faith and work His grace, character, and eternal purposes into our lives and through our lives. In fact, God takes note of our tears and gathers them in His bottle that none be wasted. (Psalm 56:8) He rewards godly tears (Psalm 126:5; Luke 7:44; II Timothy 1:4.) One day God will wipe away al tears from our eyes. (Revelation 7:17; 21:4).

“You keep track of all my sorrows.
    You have collected all my tears in your bottle.
    You have recorded each one in your book.

  My enemies will retreat when I call to you for help.
    This I know: God is on my side!”

Psalm 56:8-9, NLT

Be faithful, even when life is challenging right now.

 

Running the Good Race, [Endurance]

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23 “The Lord directs the steps of the godly.
    He delights in every detail of their lives.
24 Though they stumble, they will never fall,
    for the Lord holds them by the hand.”

Psalm 37:23-24, NLT

We are each on a journey, and when we start to get serious about our following, we feel His pleasure. In the movie, “Chariots of Fire,” a line is spoken by Eric Liddell: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.” The film resonated deep inside the bones of many who saw it.

Part of it I suppose was this runner had something called passion–  it is something we hardly hear about these days. (Perhaps we need some of that “fervor.”) There is also a point to made that we can really make God happy. And many of us don’t completely understand this. Or don’t believe it! What they end up living is a substandard life, and that is tragic.

“And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us.”

Hebrews 12:1

The pleasure we bring God is our profound purpose in life.

When we start moving out into that heart-intensity, we will discover that it is what we crave. All the pleasures of sin will never satisfy us. You might as well sort that out as soon as you can. You will only find satisfaction in running the spiritual race. Oh to grab hold of life with two hands and make it your own!

V. 24, paints a picture of a stumbling runner. Perhaps your feet slipped, or you tripped over a root or rock. Nobody goes out to race with the idea of falling on their hinder parts. The key idea though isn’t my falling, but by His proximity. He is holding your hand! To suggest otherwise is foolish and bad theology. He finds us— follows us—and holds us steady.

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful.”

2 Timothy 4:7

As a mentally ill believer, my race is different than many.

I run with constant pain and clinical depression. I remember in boot camp a recruit had to carry around a thirty pound rock in his ruck sack for 48 hours. He ran with it, ate with it, showered with it.  He even had to sleep with it. Perhaps that rock made that recruit a future Command Sargeant Major?!

I still must run, and I’m not disqualified by my ‘rock.’. I still am a disciple and still must run my own particular race.  I think deep-down you know this; you see, everyone you meet today is running a challenging race, a profoundly hard race– so be kinder than you have to be. Grit your teeth and be kind.

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Alterations (Bring it On!)

Naomi and Ruth, artist unknown

“So Naomi and Ruth went on until they came to the town of Bethlehem. When they entered Bethlehem, all the people became very excited. The women of the town said, “Is this really Naomi?”

“Naomi answered the people, “Don’t call me Naomi. Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very sad.”

“When I left, I had all I wanted, but now, the Lord has brought me home with nothing. Why should you call me Naomi when the Lord has spoken against me and the Almighty has given me so much trouble?”

Ruth 1:19-21

Naomi has traveled from Moab to her hometown of Bethlehem. People were pretty excited and her arrival must’ve brought out the crowds. It’s great for her  to be around happy people who were genuinely pleased to see her again.

But a new Naomi returns. She makes it clear that something has happened. She has been fundamentally changed by the Lord. She can no longer be called Naomi (“Pleasant”) but insists she is now “Mara”. Her reasoning is painfully clear, she grasps the reality of her condition. “I am now Mara (“Bitter”), that is my new name. It’s what I’ve become.”

“Call me by this new name, because the Almighty has acted “bitterly” against me. I am not the same person I was went I left here. I am different, when I left here I was prosperous, everything was going very well. But now, its different, and I come home with absolutely nothing. And it’s all because the LORD has hurt me deeply.”

I read Ruth the other day, and something intrigued me by her perception, and of her theology that recognized God’s handprints on her life. I believe she was a broken person, and therefore essentially changed. I believe she had a measure of peace in seeing the Lord was in control of her life. She was becoming aware. Ruth was now attuned to the deep purposes of God.

It wasn’t fate, karma, or destiny after all. It was God! 

With my many, many issues, I find a comfort in this. God has touched me, and I am not the same person I was five years ago. I know hard things, even bitter things, about myself and the world around me. I went out healthy and strong and have returned weak and empty. Bipolar disorder will do that. Pain will do that. God’s dealings will do this. He loves us far too much to allow us to go unchanged.

God is not malicious, but He is very thorough. And all that He does is for our good.            

There are distinct times when the Lord works to bring us to Christlikeness. That involves a refining and the smelting process. Crisis becomes the ‘new normal’. This is never “pleasant” and it’s almost always “bitter.” Naomi was finding this out first-hand, to the point of even changing her name.

“I have refined you, but not as silver is refined.
 Rather, I have refined you in the furnace of suffering.”

Isaiah 48:10

I’d like to encourage you to recognize (and announce) your weakness and your brokenness to the Lord in prayer. See God’s hand in your bitterness. You’ll be surprised at the release that will come to you. It shouldn’t engender anger, but surprisingly it can bring you healing and salvation. It helps to understand. Consider the following:

  • There often two sides of living–the life we’ve lived and the life we’re becoming.  Both are filled with grace and they’re as different as ‘night-and-day’
  • God is stealthily working good on our behalf, even when things are awful. He has full authority to do so.
  • He’s always (lovingly and passionately) trying us; probing to see if we draw closer to Him when we’re tested. He is patient when we fail our tests. Every test will be repeated until we overcome it
  • We can’t escape Jesus’ work in our lives. He is the Master Carpenter. He is building a cathedral!

“God  rescues us by Breaking us, by shattering our strength and wiping out our resistance.”

–A. W. Tozer

Frederick, [Handling Giftedness]

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Frederick, the ‘prophetic’ mouse

I have always loved to read. I was given books by my mother, and these books were like gold. I had been a avid patron of the library, but terrible at returning books. I had pretty much been branded as “persona non grata” by the librarians of my hometown library at the ripe old age of 12.

I have fond memories of some fine books. But perhaps the most influential of them all was a title called, “Frederick” by Leo Lionni.  It won the ’68 Caldecott ‘back in the olden days.’ It very well could be one of best children’s books ever written. ( I realize now that many of these books that shaped me were prophetic in their own way.)

We see Frederick, who is a young field mouse, off on excursion to find food with his four brothers. They must fill their pantry for the cold winter that’s coming. They are quite successful (it appears) and all seems well.

However, there is a bit of a problem with Frederick. While the other mice are ‘busting their mouse-butts’ he sits quietly thinking. They question him repeatedly, trying to motivate him (or shame him perhaps?)  There seems to be a general consensus against him, which is verging on open warfare.

But Frederick insists that he is needed to do this. He says that he is ‘working’. He is collecting sunlight, absorbing it until it’s needed.  He takes in colors, and then words. He just seems soak up these really wonderful experiences, and he seems a bit “clueless” (that’s not the right word), maybe a bit “preoccupied.”

FrederickFinally in the dead of winter, sheltered deep underground, their supplies are running low. One of the mice turns to Frederick, and asks him to share what he has collected. And he does precisely that. They sit in a circle and Frederick shares the sunlight, and the rich colors and the beautiful words he has stored up for them. Their little ‘mouse-hearts’ are deeply touched by Frederick’s contribution.

In so many ways, this has become a parable, or metaphor of my life. As a eight year old, I could hardly have foreseen how my life would unfold. I do however had a deep sense of being different, even then. My mental illness, mixed with being “gifted”, and then combined with being isolated and dirt-poor, worked in me.

Essentially, we all are products of our personal history.  What we have experienced good or bad develops us.  It did me.  I think what “Frederick” wants to do for us is to process uniqueness, gifting and steadfastness.  One of the things that the Holy Spirit has been speaking to me for the last few years is this, “Bryan, can you receive from the giftedness of other believers?”

We really must make room for “Fredericks” and what they can bring to us.  We will be drastically weakened if we won’t– or can’t.  Jesus faced a ton of resistance as He began to minister.  There is nothing new about that.  But it didn’t touch His spirit.

“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more.”

Genesis 37:5

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“Go and Learn” [Discipleship]

“Go and learn”

“When Jesus heard this, he said, “Healthy people don’t need a doctor—sick people do.” 13 Then he added, “Now go and learn the meaning of this Scripture: ‘I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.’ For I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners.”

Matthew 9:12-13, NLT

These two verses are a challenge. They fit together like old watch mechanism, small gears and wheels in precise motion, keeping time in a treasured grace.  My father had an old one, used once by a train conductor.  It was made of gold, and had been used for almost 100 years.

The complexity of these verses were never meant to confuse the disciples.  But for them it is simple, to go and learn.”  Certainly, there are times we will be ‘schooled’ in what we learn.  And really the only way to approach this is in humility.  Trying to extract the truth will take patience and a broken heart.

Jesus states the truth of being a doctor, and there is a singular work that a doctor does.  It is serving all who come to him with sickness or injury.  Jesus clarifies a truth that has to be in place.

“Go and learn what the Scriptures mean when they say, `Instead of offering sacrifices to me, I want you to be merciful to others.’ I didn’t come to invite good people to be my followers. I came to invite sinners.” v.13, CEV

“Go and learn!” This implies that there are lessons for us, classes that we need to take in order to grow-up and touch sick and desperate people.  Funny, but it’s all about mercy, and nothing to do with “sacrifices.”  Mercy is what matters. I want you to be merciful to others.”

I admit that I’d rather be merciful, than to be right. (It’s good to be both.)  But mercy– and gentleness should be our driving impulse.  These attitudes assist us to move us forward. “Go and learn.”

The last verse reveals the thinking that Jesus has.  He has come to help those of us in trouble.  The good people don’t understand, after all, isn’t their ‘sparkly goodness’ enough?  As his disciples, we share our faith to all; but maybe we should consider the weak, poor and the sick already prepared for the words of Jesus? “Go and learn.”

“Discipleship is a lifelong process and journey rooted in a relationship with Jesus, whereby we become more like Christ.”

Greg Atkinson

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