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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Being Sick

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Potter shaping a ceramic plate on a pottery wheel
“So Miriam was kept outside the camp for seven days, and the people waited until she was brought back before they traveled again.”

Numbers 12:15

To be numbered among the chronically ill often can mean a transition into frustration. We can not do what we want, we are ‘trapped’ by a disease we never asked for, and held hostage by our minds and bodies. It seems apart, from the management of our symptoms, we have little time to do anything else. We once had a job– a career… and our time was occupied by that. We were accustomed to something more than this illness.

I once was a pastor of a small church here in Homer, Alaska. I also taught Gospels for many years at the Alaska Bible Institute. I loved both. They defined my identity and gave me purpose. I loved helping people and teaching the Word. I strived to be faithful in the ministry. My wife and two children were also significant and all of these things led me to think they would always be there. I was living my dream (in a good way.)

With the sudden onset of a brain tumor, followed up by a diagnosis of Bipolar disorder (BP), I knew I had to step out of the ministry. I simply could not function. My depression grew more profound with the stillborn death of our third child. Things suddenly ground to a stand-still as we tried to process what has happening to us. I guess I just couldn’t understand and more or less just shut down. I spent months in bed, unable to function.

Some people were jewels. Others were mean and uncaring. (I had to learn to take the good with the bad.) I suppose I should have been more forth-coming, but things were so tangled up inside I couldn’t verbalize a thing. The post-op surgery was an ordeal, as I had to learn many things all over again. Years later I ended up on disability; I was unable to work, and no one would hire me. My symptoms were so unpredictable, and things were too erratic. The BP was giving me it’s customary depression, as well as paranoia and hallucinations.

Sometimes, like Miriam, we are quarantined by the Lord for his purposes. The isolation is worse that the pain it seems. We wonder why this is happening, and fabricate lies about our worthiness or God’s goodness. In our isolation things seem polarized to extremes. Our value seems to be ripped apart by our illness. We can feel cursed, or worse.

I have been slow to learn this: God brings good out of the dark. I’m embarrassed by my lack of acquiring this truth.

“We now have this light shining in our hearts, but we ourselves are like fragile clay jars containing this great treasure. This makes it clear that our great power is from God, not from ourselves.”

2 Corinthians 4:7

This light must shine. The treasure is found in clay vessels. Brokenness only means the treasure is now seen clearly. It’s important to note: treasure loses none of its value by being surrounded by broken clay.

“We are pressed on every side by troubles, but we are not crushed. We are perplexed, but not driven to despair. We are hunted down, but never abandoned by God. We get knocked down, but we are not destroyed.”

2 Corinthians 4:8-9

Troubles of various ilk come to us. They are variegated and unplanned. No matter what their nature, God holds his people in place while everything else is falling apart. But there is no magic wand; the pain will probably continue. But for the broken believer, there comes another dimension; a new supernatural layer of grace to bolster our beleaguered faith. We will triumph through this thing, and we will stand– because He makes us stand.

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Drowning in Despair

 

despair (2)“For we do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, of our trouble which came to us in Asia: that we were burdened beyond measure, above strength, so that we despaired even of life.”

   2 Corinthians 1:8

“…we should all fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of its pessimism. But we have seen again and again, from our own experience and others’, that absolute statements of hopelessness that we make in the dark are notoriously unreliable. Our dark certainties are not sureties.”

John Piper

It is my ‘deliberateness’, and not my impulsiveness that gives me the most concern.   I know ‘despair’.  I know what it is like to be ‘backed into a corner’ and then feel the empty desperation of being lost.  But you must understand, there can be a weird seductiveness to ‘being lost’, a ‘strange sort of nobility’, a twisted honor, when it comes to despair.

Piper talks about the ‘dark certainties’ of knowing you are lost.  Now this really seems rather bizarre, that people could do this intentionally, without duress.  But I’m afraid to tell you that it happens all the time.  Despair is chosen over the option of life. This is the ‘lostness’ of the race of Adam.

Pop culture has given us words, albeit in a simplistic form.  I just happened to think right now of an old AC/DC  song, ‘Highway to Hell‘.  The lyrics are pretty basic, very simple, but the lead singer seems to really have a chronically, decided dedication to being one of the irretrievably lost.  He formats a ‘certain glory’ to being part of the damned.  This is a simplistic approach to the next stop– a more advanced case of stark-white despair, suicide. (We can call this ‘spiritual hubris,’ or even, “drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll.”)

In examining the striated world of despair, we must come to the interesting place when our foolishness combined with our arrogance produces a decision to be lost.  Of course, our fear of God must be extracted from the situation.  But for the eager candidate for despair, this is not an insurmountable problem.

Escaping this ‘drowning despair’ we must first dethrone our right to personal sovereignty.  And secondly, we need to grab the concept that God’s grace has an ultimate power that supersedes our notions of a ‘deserved’ love.  (It is completely undeserved).  We must believe that somehow, someway God chooses us out of a pile, a pile of the worst and ugliest.  And somehow, He delights in doing this, and He is Lord.

We are meant to be the people of redemptive hope. 

Because of our problems, our addictions, we must clearly renounce our evil folly of despair.  These are the issues that make us vulnerable.  There is a seductiveness to ‘giving up’ and taking up the sin of despair.  There can be a ‘weird romance’ that lures those who ‘walk out lostness’.  We are pulled into a vortex of an exotic melancholy with a dash of fatalism, which makes it reasonable and weirdly heroic. But is it not even more heroic to live in hope?

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me?  Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and 6 my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you.”

Psalm 42:5-6

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Filthy Rags

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18 “And I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. I want to do what is right, but I can’t. 19 I want to do what is good, but I don’t. I don’t want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. 20 But if I do what I don’t want to do, I am not really the one doing wrong; it is sin living in me that does it.”

Romans 7:18-20, New Living Translation

“How can you be so inconsistent? I feel like there are two ‘Bryans,’ I don’t understand how you  can live like this.” This is what a dear friend said to me recently. I was flabbergasted. I didn’t know how to answer. It was a bit embarrassing, but I couldn’t respond. Later, the Spirit ministered to me while praying about it.

I realize I should have said this: You’re absolutely right, I am a bit of a flake. But you only see the veneer, deep down  I’m much worse than you will ever know. I can’t defend my actions, and I desperately need a Savior. Would you pray for me to work this out?”

The daily struggle with sin is sometimes more visible than we would like. Even as a believer I can and do sin. That should surprise no one, and yet, I am the most surprised when sin breaks out. (Inconsistently is a factor in Bipolar disorder, but it’s more than that.)

In Romans 7 we are confronted with a man  who is constantly disappointed in himself. It can be wrenching to read—partly because it is so real. It describes us too well. At times it is like looking into a mirror.

Romans 7 describes what is wrong with us, who are attempting to keep the law from our own efforts. We slide into this from grace when we attempt to stand before God in our self-righteousness. We have a strong tendency to do this at times. We venerate holiness, but we fall woefully short. We aspire, but cannot attain.

“We are all infected and impure with sin.
    When we display our righteous deeds,
    they are nothing but filthy rags.”

Isaiah 64:6

We have a problem when our heart doesn’t match our actions. It gets a little hairy when our sin is visible to others. We feel like hypocrites and taste guilt like it was sour milk. We’re certain we’ve shamed Christ in some irrevocable way. Now a lot of this can be satanic, he is “the accuser of the brethren” (Rev 12:10). We should neutralize his influence with the Word.

Whenever we stand before God, we should never come with our list of great things we have recently done for Him. It won’t be accepted. They are at best, filthy rags. They’re not fit for a King’s court. But yet we keep coming, parading our dirty rags. Self-righteousness is repugnant to a Holy God. I wonder when we strut into His presence if the angels don’t ‘roll their eyes?’

“The greatest enemy to human souls is the self-righteous spirit which makes men look to themselves for salvation.”

Charles Spurgeon

We forget that only Christ’s righteousness is accepted. Heaven is satisfied with His atoning blood that covers sin. The tension we feel in Romans 7 is there because it turns us away from our self-effort. Our ‘confusion’ over this chapter indicates the depth of our attempt to be righteous on our own.

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English Pigeons

“I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.”

Psalm 32:8

In April 2002, I was sitting in this cavernous waiting room at King’s Cross in London, England.  I was waiting for a bus to Cambridge, UK.  I sat all alone, and stared at the tiled floor at my feet.  The doctors had warned me not to travel alone, but I had disregarded their restrictions.  I was taking several psych meds and felt somewhat stronger than I had in months.

As I sat there staring at the floor, within my field of vision, came several pigeons.  They were fat little guys, apparently thriving on bread thrown out to them.  Several very large windows were open, and these pigeons seem to have no fear as they took advantage of a meal from bored travelers.  I remember their audacity and resourcefulness as they came up just a couple of feet  from my chair.

Depression had followed me like an old friend all the way from Alaska to England. I had pushed my limits and was completely drained and quite confused.  I was crying out to the Lord, very desperately.  All of a sudden, a pigeon came across the floor and “presented” himself, right square in front of me.  I was amazed that he was crippled, one of his feet was a twisted claw.  He had been profoundly injured in such a way, that he would never be the same.  He was damaged, and yet somehow he survived.

It was like receiving a lightning bolt.  I understood for the first time in a long time, the Father’s love and care over me.  I saw the pigeon, and I saw myself.  It was a moment of a reassuring grace.  In the ‘mega-hustle’ of 13,614,409 people in London, and in the midst of my profound mental crisis, I knew God’s caring touch.  A grace much greater than all my sin and confusion. He was just letting me know that He was close.

Later that day, I found myself walking the streets of a busy Cambridge with its great universities.  I was all by myself, and I had gotten hopelessly lost.  I was terribly manic, and my meds just couldn’t keep the lid on.  I felt people staring at me, I was talking out loud to myself, disheveled and thoroughly confused.  I just kept wandering and talking, for hours.  I desperately needed psychiatric shelter.  But I was all alone. I knew no one at all.

I kept walking past the many universities, and churches.  They were very beautiful, but I was lost.  I then remembered the damaged pigeon, completely oblivious to self pity. I started to call out to the Father out of my confusion.  Within a few minutes I found myself sitting on the top level of a double-decker bus, with the driver aware of my problems who specifically guided me to the place I was staying.  I was being cared for. I think he was an angel sent to my aid.

I have come to realize that this trip to England was not for me to see Big Ben, Parliament or wander the academic centers of Cambridge University.  Rather I was brought there to meet a certain pigeon, who was waiting to meet me, and pass on vital instructions.  He shared things that I need to know.  The history and landmarks were nice, but I’ve forgotten much.  But all I really needed was somehow given.

P.S.  Two things:

  1.  If you can avoid it, don’t travel alone.

  2. Never call pigeons, “rats, with wings.”

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I Come, Clinging

 

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I will come and cling

 “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.”

Romans 3:23, NLT

I know myself pretty well.  I fully understand how dark I can be.  I’m nasty and mean, selfish and destructive.  I am the “King of Filth and Deceit.”  (That is my official title, look it up.)  King Midas turned everything he touched into gold.  It seems that everything I touch turns black and putrid. I have come to understand Martin Luther’s own assessment, “Sin boldly, but believe in God more boldly still.” He wasn’t encouraging sin; nor was he giving out ‘a license to sin.’ He was simply acknowledging our nature. He was also speaking of God’s wonderful gift of grace, and the faith needed to obtain it.

But I have heard that there is a place where I can be made white and bright; fully and truly cleansed of an immensity of evil.  He can heal me, and I do not have to continue to produce such wickedness.  I do not have to hurt His dear ones anymore. When I accept Him, His blood releases me. He makes it possible for me to have a new life.

So I come to Him, and cling.  I will not let go, I grab Jesus and hang on.

I won’t slide back into this painful darkness.  I will latch on to Him with everything I have. I cry out for ‘the spiritual velcro’ of Grace. I do this over, and over– until it works. Just give my sin-addled soul Jesus. I’ve had enough religion, now I want Him.

I’m learning that I must learn to forgive myself.  He has already forgiven me.  A weaver works diligently on a rug that he is making.  He uses even the dark thread as he does his work.  In the same way, those deep transgressions must become a part of the Spirit’s work from my life.  He takes it up, without flinching, and weaves it into His work. What He does is miraculous.

God’s specialty is turning rascals into sons and daughters.

I see sadness and confusion, and He sees glory.  I see nothing but evil, and He chooses to turn it into a special grace.  And so, I cling to Him and wait for the Lord to meet me.  He is not overwhelmed by my stains, and He promises a complete deliverance from my great darkness.  So I cling, as a drowning man latches on to a life preserver.

Oh, dear one.  Someone has been looking for you.  Jesus has been searching, trying to save you.  You can go your own way, but I predict nothing but a difficult sorrow, if that is your real choice.  But, there is a way of escape, and it is full of joy and peace.  And it is real.

I know, (first-hand,) that it difficult, but that is just the first stage.  There is a raucous joy that is waiting for you.  You will find such a purpose and completeness that will make your head spin.  He will launch on you into a love and a kindness that you will hardly be able to contain.

“God blesses those who are poor and realize their need for him,
    for the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs.
God blesses those who mourn,
    for they will be comforted.”

Matthew 5:3-4

 

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What Do I Really Need?

“The depressed don’t simply need to feel better. They need a Redeemer who says, “Take heart, my son, my daughter; what you really need has been supplied. Life no longer need be about your goodness, success, righteousness, or failure. I’ve given you something infinitely more valuable than good feelings: your sins are forgiven.” 

Elyse M. Fitzpatrick

 “And this same God who takes care of me will supply all your needs from his glorious riches, which have been given to us in Christ Jesus.”

Philippians 4:19

It really does come down to “needs” after all.  I don’t need to feel better, and I don’t need a to take another Zoloft.  Do I believe in psych drugs? Yes, most definitely.  I do need to control my moods. But when we talk about need (its really an emphatic word, it needs to be drawn out) I have discovered I really have very few needs.

I’ll tell you what I need.  I need to follow Jesus with my cross.  I need to pray and worship in His presence.  I need to love my wife and children.  I need to love my neighbor.  I need the Word, both ‘rhema’ and ‘logos.’  I need a good pastor, and I need to fellowship with other believers more than I do.

Its good to go through this sifting process.  I do not need to feel happy, healthy, wealthy, content, strong, moral or helpful.  I do need God however. Yes, I am “mentally” ill.  I do take meds to keep me from burning down our house and shooting our dog.  I’ve been listening to music in my head that others can’t hear.  I see things, astonishing things.  I sometimes have to deal with paranoid feelings that would curl your hair.

But what do I really need?  I desperately need God.

I need his love.  I need to know all my sins are forgiven.  I need to know that I will be with him forever and ever.  I guess the challenge is now yours, sort out these issues.  It doesn’t matter what flavor of mental illness you have.  You need Him.  Everything else is mostly froth and scum.

“I will answer them before they even call to me. While they are still talking about their needs, I will go ahead and answer their prayers!”

Isaiah 65:24

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