Melancholy in Amber

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Edgar Degas, Melancholy/ c. 1874, oil on canvas, Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.

The sadness flows from this painting. Degas caught the dark despondency of his model. Her inertia becomes something we can gaze on carefully and at leisure.

This is one of my favorite paintings. For me, it captures an essence of what depression “looks” like. The anguish and the whole sense of being is seen in the expression of her face. She is frozen in her despair.

Depression immobilizes and then lays waste all that it touches. It is a vicious blight on the human soul.

amberI remember as a boy seeing a prehistoric bug caught in amber. It struck me as a bit macabre. This poor insect frozen for all to see.

Little did I realize that this was going to happen to me.

For almost 20 years I’ve tangled with clinical depression. It was initiated by a brain tumor in 2002 and has been evident since then.

Depression to me is like being frozen in a deep sadness that clings to my soul. It shows me no mercy when it is active, but I can go several weeks at a time without it being an issue.

There is a dual aspect to this. My experience is like a complete suppression of the good and optimistic, combined with an increase of despair and despondency. I despair of any future good that might occur. Everything becomes bleak and black.

My life becomes a meltdown; a cascading effect of worsening feelings.

A few points that have helped me:

  • A main point for me is to doubt the “certainties of despair.” I believe that God’s promises to me contain a “future and a hope.” This is vital. At times I feel too far gone, and completely irredeemable. I must doubt the lies of the enemy.
  • Freedom come through a real faith in God’s grace. I believe that His Holy Spirit empowers the weak. He holds my hand as I stumble in the path. My confidence is in His promises to this “weak lamb.”
  • Scripture tells me that Jesus’ present ministry is one of intercession for my soul.Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Rom. 8:34.)
  • Jesus has the power to keep His flock. He also gives me a few select companions. I meet with some of “my fellow sheep” at my local church. These know me, and their friendship encourages me. They don’t condemn.

I hope that some of this helps, if anything I hope you have a window into my convoluted faith. I don’t want pretend to have all the answers. I’m not a guru. I’m a “work in progress,” and some ways far behind you, the reader.

“Wherefore he is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.”

Hebrews 7:25

ybic, Bryan

 

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On Being Loved More Gently, [Disability]

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Some of us struggle with mental or physical illness.  Some people don’t understand us and they walk away.  This really hurts, and so we isolate ourselves even more.  We might feel not only forsaken, but cursed. We may see ourselves as consummate losers. But these things shouldn’t separate us from our Father’s love.  I think He loves “his special needs” children even more, lol.

But we must believe that we our transformation is happening, more and more, into the image of Christ.  We are becoming like him (hence the word, Christlikeness).  This is a long process, but it is happening!  God has given his word.  Don’t give up.  Don’t give up on his plan for you.

SpecialNeeds-300x300I’m seeing lately that spiritual growth and getting older often work hand-in-hand (and why shouldn’t they?)  As we get older, we will start having many different issues.  When your 50 years old, you don’t have the same situations that you had when you were 14 or 30.  Physically we grow and understand things differently, and this works into us spiritually.  This blends or melds together, especially when the Word and Spirit are present.

“Every time I think of you, I give thanks to my God. 4 Whenever I pray, I make my requests for all of you with joy, 5 for you have been my partners in spreading the Good News about Christ from the time you first heard it until now. 6 And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:3-6, NLT

It is my wish for you that you could walk in your own shoes, and not somebody elses. Also that you would know the grace of God intimately. Being disabled means special efforts will often be necessary, but Jesus’ love for your soul will be molded to fit that disability. There will be no wheelchairs or canes, or even ‘seeing-eye dogs’ allowed in heaven. I imagine there will be a considerable pile outside the gates. Glory awaits.

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

Romans 8:18

Amen.

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Psalm 13, Your Deliverance is Ready

Psalm 13, For the choir director: A psalm of David.

Five Questions

 1 “O Lord, how long will you forget me? Forever?
How long will you look the other way?
2 How long must I struggle with anguish in my soul,
with sorrow in my heart every day?
How long will my enemy have the upper hand?”

Nothing is as stretching and painful as the belief that God has given up on you.  I have personally experienced this misbelief.  It was like my entire nervous system was ripped out of my body.  Suicide seemed a logical thing to do.

Sometimes, the struggle to remain a believer is difficult.  It is a war, often accentuated by depression and sadness.  It’s relentless and its arena of conflict is in our hearts.  David asks five questions.  They are the questions of the besieged heart when our abandonment seems possible.

 3 “Turn and answer me, O Lord my God!
Restore the sparkle to my eyes, or I will die.
4 Don’t let my enemies gloat, saying, “We have defeated him!”
Don’t let them rejoice at my downfall.”

David recognizes that he needs God’s answer.  He also needs meaning to be restored to him.  The “sparkle”, or that joy of having a purpose is what gives life meaning.  Once you taste it, nothing else will satisfy.  Verse 3 tells us that David saw this as a “life or death” matter.

Furthermore, David could see that the enemies of his soul had gathered.  They spoke with a common voice, reflecting a unified purpose, “We have defeated him!”  We must be cognizant of the reality of evil around us.  God has a will for your life, but so does Satan.  It involves your corruption and destruction.

5 “But I trust in your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because you have rescued me.
6 I will sing to the Lord
because he is good to me.”          ~~New Living Translation

We fast-forward ahead to David’s deliverance.  He has an uncommon confidence in the character of God.  David’s declaration, He rescued me and He is good to me!  Both verses 5-6 illustrate that worship finds its root in times of personal emancipation.

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Straining at Your Oars

“He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them.”

Mark 6:48

It is good for us to know that Jesus sees our labor and effort.  He perceives all that concerns us, and he knows the issues that matter most.  Attentive and keenly aware he comes.  It is quite common for us to think that he isn’t aware, and we may feel that he will pass us by without a word.  But that is not the case at all.

Jesus watches us, all the time.  He knows the battle, the fight we have with our flesh, and the difficulty we have with the challenging people in our lives.  Not everyone loves me, and I struggle a large part of the time.  My depression, and my paranoid fears cannot obscure his sight.  Jesus knows when (and why) I labor like I do.  And he doesn’t condemn me at all.

The disciples were straining very hard to move the boat.  Every oar was being used and every man had his seat.  They probably tried to work together.  Considerable effort was being expended, but to no avail.  The wind pushed harder against them.  This is perplexing.  If you remember, they are trying to obey the command of Jesus to cross the sea.  Why do things have to be so difficult?

I’m intrigued by believers who expect sunshine, blue sky and red roses because they are doing God’s Will.  They don’t seem to factor in the issue of conflict and challenge.  They see their “Goliath” and they pretend that he doesn’t exist, or they try to make peace with him. The battle to come is of no consequence and doesn’t happen.  We are sorely mistaken.

Doing the will of God will often mean that there will be a headwind directly at us.  The seas will become impossible, and we may even be driven back.  But special comfort comes, when we realize we are being watched.  Jesus is doing constant surveillance on us, and he even sees our toil on the oars.  What a precious promise.

“Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age”

Matthew 28:20

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Joy in This Madness, [Troubles]

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“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, NLT

The issues we face can be hard and formidable. Our relationships, our circumstances can present daunting obstacles to joyful Christlike living. We live out at times from unpleasant realities and less than ideal situations. We are broken believers who follow Jesus through our minefields.

Struggling with mental illness is a challenge as with any other handicap. The young man struggling with bipolar disorder or someone else who faces a clinical depression, may seem to be tangled up in something quite brutal and very hopeless. “Will I ever find normal again?

I know that struggle, at times it has ripped me apart. I suppose the grinding hopelessness is the worst part of that.

I want to encourage you in this. The issues you face on a daily basis are hard. Don’t minimize their complexity or diminish their bitterness. But the Holy Spirit is with you in the midst of your issues.

I believe that their constant presence produces a faith and tenderness that can’t be just prayed for. The work is being completed even as you read this post. There is a wisdom emanating from the fire.

We walk through the trials, not around them.

I did not choose this path I’m on. But I’ve discovered a joy in them— more precisely a joy because of them. But alternatively, our illness is not meant to destroy us. That is not why God has allowed you to be afflicted.

“And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.”

Luke 7:21

Jesus has special spot for the afflicted, we see him repeated touching them. He drew them like a magnet draws iron. And he is the same today in our time. It is comforting to know that he cares and that we are understood so. Let him draw you into his caring presence. Disabilities do not trouble him.

Yes, the issues are formidable. But your obedience is an exquisitely special commodity. It is precious in his sight and will hold its value for all eternity. Understanding this should be a cause for joy for the broken believer. Having the lightness of heart, right in the middle of our disability, often transforms it into a lighter burden. “We are  beaten but not totalled. Incredibly challenged but not completely devastated.”

Bless a thing and it will bless you. Curse it and it will curse you. If you bless a situation, it has no power to hurt you, and even if it is troublesome for a time, it will gradually fade out, if you sincerely bless it.  There is a deep joy waiting in these ashes for those who choose to do this.

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Mental Illness Concerns, [Illness]

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As with anything, those of us with mental illness have much to consider. I believe that God will direct us through these issues. And these are not static things. It isn’t “one and your done”– these are ongoing. They never get completely resolved; you must get used to this. The following list is not meant to be exhaustive.

  • Stigma— One of the basic hazards that comes with a mental illness.
  • Medications– This will be a stretching time as you must determine what  is best for you, your family and basic functionality. There will be many opinions and many issues that will arise. Your patience will be required (but isn’t it always?) Oh, and vodka is not considered a med.
  • Church“Not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some” should be our mantra, we need fellowship.  It is easy to just go it alone, but we will suffer a barrenness which we will see in our hearts. (I’ve chafed at this from time to time.)
  • Therapy— To go or not to go? A good therapist is worth their weight in gold doubloons, but a bad one can be hard to tolerate. Also, a  Christian may not always be the best for you personally. My current is a unbeliever, but is very respectful regarding my faith.
  • Marriage—  A faithful spouse/friend is key to managing your mental illness.
  • Family— They will feel the brunt of your issues. It is good to be aware of this and adjust to their needs. Above all, don’t flog yourself for your failings. Trust in the Lord to redeem things.
  • Work— Surprisingly, some employers have little tolerance for your issues, but the law is they can’t discriminate against a mental illness. I hope it won’t come down to that.
  • Social/friend-– Finding other mentally ill believers is priceless. When I meet someone who also struggled with severe depression I give them a big hug.

We have the joy of combining our discipleship with our illness. This is a formidable task. But the Helper, the Holy Spirit stands ready to give you wisdom. You will discover that it really isn’t the big things that you will struggle with the most, but the littler issues that can ‘rock your world.’ (I’m beginning to wonder if “grittiness” should be added to the fruits of the Holy Spirit?)

The Lord truly will accommodate your illness with His power and grace. He always does this for His children.

“There is no circumstance, no trouble, no testing, that can ever touch me until, first of all, it has gone past God and past Christ, right through to me. If it has come that far, it has come with a great purpose.” 

— Alan Redpath

These are only some of the areas that are effected by a mental illness. A good pastor, or a therapist can do wonders when things are out of whack. The spiritual disciplines of prayer, scripture, and the Word will assist you. Having people pray for you will be a necessity and may provide you relief and restore your sanity. Just remember, when you feel like all is dark and you are buried, actually you’ve been planted.

“And I am certain that God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.”

Philippians 1:6, NLT

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A Poured-Out Life, [Service]

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“Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.”

Philippians 2:17

“For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.”

2 Timothy 4:6-7

Paul is the ultimate and conclusive example of self sacrifice for the Church. He is an example to us of loving until it hurts. The children of men are a needy lot and the burden of the apostle. He cares intensely (and it shows) as Paul describes his mission to the churches. He wants to help those who cannot help themselves. Paul understood that he was being poured like “a drink offering” to the Lord for the saints.

The Lord Jesus was the pattern Paul focused on. In Jesus we see a man dying on a terrible cross to bring a very real salvation to those without any hope at all. You and I stand “accepted in the beloved” because of that sacrifice.

“We want to avoid suffering, death, sin, ashes. But we live in a world crushed and broken and torn, a world God Himself visited to redeem. We receive his poured-out life, and being allowed the high privilege of suffering with Him, may then pour ourselves out for others.”  

–Elisabeth Elliot

“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.”

John 12:24

I honestly believe that fruitfulness hinges on the decision to “die”, and perhaps that is precisely why we are barren. Jesus must give himself up in order to save us. Are things so different now? Over the many centuries, the chosen Church practiced a “dying to self” as the primary way of growth.

Being poured out for others usually isn’t too dramatic; it offers very little in the way of earthly reward or recognition. A few days ago I sat in the “Annex” of our local mental health clinic. I spent a whole afternoon with clients who were struggling hard to make it, I sat and listened, and had no agenda but theirs. I was being “poured out” and it was wonderful!

My heart swelled with the presence of Jesus for these dear ones. It had nothing to do with ambition, or a hunger for applause. I wasn’t out to prove that I was a Christian. Rather I was wholly there for others, I sort of think that is what Jesus meant when he taught his disciples about ministry, and servanthood. I believe that is what Paul was doing in the churches he served.

“Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”

Philippians 2:4

This is how it all works. About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. There are over 163 million orphans in the world, and more than 27 million human slaves. Furthermore, 1.2 million lives are snuffed out by abortion each year in the U.S. alone. And over 150,000 people die each day without knowing Christ. I suspect there is enough “work” to go around.

May I become at all times, both now and forever
A protector for those without protection
A guide for those who have lost their way
A ship for those with oceans to cross
A bridge for those with rivers to cross
A sanctuary for those in danger
A lamp for those without light
A place of refuge for those who lack shelter
And a servant to all in need.  

Anonymous

 “When you look at the inner workings of electrical things, you see wires. Until the current passes through them, there will be no light. That wire is you and me. The current is God. We have the power to let the current pass through us, use us, to produce the light of the world, Jesus, in us. Or we can refuse to be used and allow darkness to spread.”

Mother Teresa

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