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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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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Quarantined, for His Purposes

 

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Quarantines are a real possibility, even in this day. A quarantine is imposed when disease is contagious enough that it would harm a society: Measles, Smallpox, and the recent Ebola Virus  are just a few physical diseases where strict isolation must be imposed. It can be severe— an epidemic, with desperate consequences if not adhered to; in some rare cases, the use of deadly force have been authorized to maintain a quarantine until the disease is no longer communicable.

This may surprise you, but there are examples of ‘quarantines’ in the Bible. The term ‘unclean’ was used for ‘leprosy.’ Those afflicted must isolate themselves; they had to ‘announce’ their presence when in contact with society. Lepers lived in groups away from the general populace as a result of their disease.

In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthian he addresses another kind of ‘quarantine.’ The situation was dire; the church had advocated a Christian living with his father’s wife.

“I have already passed judgment on this man in the name of the Lord Jesus. You must call a meeting of the church. I will be present with you in spirit, and so will the power of our Lord Jesus. Then you must throw this man out and hand him over to Satan so that his sinful nature will be destroyed and he himself will be saved on the day the Lord returns.”

1 Corinthians 5:3-5, NLT

Understanding the Principal of Usefulness

20 “Now in a large house there are not only gold and silver vessels, but also vessels of wood and of earthenware, and some to honor and some to dishonor.”

2 Timothy 2:20, NASB

Found in God’s pantry are many things. Paul writes Timothy about the ‘large house’ which is the Church inclusive. Look around Timothy, there are gold ones, and there are silver ones. They have a noble purpose fitting for such a great house. These are the ones the guests will use; they befit the significance of the Lord himself. These vessels have great value for they are made of precious metals.

There are vessels of a different category. These are the ones made of wood, and of clay. These are part of the household, make no mistake about it. But their use is one of function, they’re used in common ways. (A clay ‘bed-pan’ perhaps?!)

21 “Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from these things, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work.”

2 Timothy 2:21

Paul, the author of New Testament doctrine of grace emphasizes the place of personal holiness. We are to ‘cleanse’ ourselves to become a vessel of honor. There is good news here:

  • All are vessels in the Father’s house. Each of us belong to Him. He determines their use.
  • Things are not yet in their final state. Change in status can be experienced. Clay pots can become ‘golden.’ Silver can become ‘wood.’

Some sin is contagious. It effects other believers and the Church. Sometimes we are quarantined by the Holy Spirit until the contagion passes. I have experienced this several times in my own discipleship. These are not pleasant times. But there is no condemnation. I’m still His servant, His love for me stays outrageously constant. God waits for me.

Yes I am His servant, and I must wait out in the hall. I haven’t been faithful. So I sit in His waiting room, waiting for His call. This is for my good, and for the Church. And Father knows best.

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“The Serenity Prayer” (the Full Version)

GOD, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can and the Wisdom to know the difference.

——————————-Complete addition——————————

Living ONE DAY AT A TIME; Enjoying one moment at a time; Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.

Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have it.

Trusting that He will make all things right if I surrender to His Will;

That I may be reasonably happy in this life, and supremely happy with Him forever in the next.

Amen.

By Reinhold Neibuhr

Many of us have come across this prayer before, but this is the full unedited version. The poem, read in its full version is truly an inspiration. I find my heart echoing each line, and hoping it would be true for myself. Read it:

  • slowly,
  • carefully,
  • intensely,
  • and purposefully.

It is good to read the full prayer vs. the one that our culture seems to have adapted and adopted as their own, I suspect this this full version has a little more panache and a whole lot more authority to it. I welome it and the light to bring to us.

More info on this particular prayer: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serenity_Prayer

 

God’s Authentic Artisans

photo: aalmarkllc.com

Sculpture is 3-D art. It can be made with marble, glass, metal, wood, plastics. It can be carved or cast, welded or painted. There can be sculpture using light, sound, water, kinetic (moving), land art, and environmental enhancements. It’s just one way to be creative, with many applications.

Sometimes we can define and confine sculpture far too simply or narrowly, but there are so many ways to communicate visual art. There are so many ‘cutting edge’ efforts, showing the creativity of people who are themselves created in the image of God. When we create, we emulate the Creator. It’s something worth pondering: God creates beautiful snowflakes, and we make ‘Styrofoam’ cups. (Hardly creative.)

There are over thirty uses of “skillful” people in the Old Testament alone. The Hebrew word used is carries with it the idea of “excelling at a task– an artisan.” When both the tabernacle and the temple were constructed, the Holy Spirit directly commanded the selection of artists and artisans to design beauty right into their work. There was nothing that was prefab or shoddy. The work done was meticulous and took patience.

13 And King Solomon sent and brought Hiram from Tyre. 14 He was the son of a widow of the tribe of Naphtali, and his father was a man of Tyre, a worker in bronze. And he was full of wisdom, understanding, and skill for making any work in bronze. He came to King Solomon and did all his work.

1 Kings 7:13-14, ESV

I’ve come to the place where I see talented people, with enhanced skills in many places: they are mothers, fathers, mechanics, plumbers. They are teachers and nurses, lawyers and accountants. They all excel at what they do, and it’s great when they are acknowledged and honored. They are creative in their work, “and full of understanding.”

When they go to work, they will carry out their duties with a flair. Some will have an awareness of God’s presence– some may not be aware. I was hospitalized a few years ago, I remember quite clearly a lady who came in and mopped my floor. She was skilled at her task, thorough and even artful. Tears came as I thought about her working. I felt humbled by her kindness. She was truly a minister of God’s grace on that day.

There is a line from Bernandos novel, “A Diary of a Country Priest.” It’s at the very end of the book, and the protagonist is dying. His attendant was disturbed by his inability to get a priest to come and minister the Sacrament of Last Rites. The dying man, looked at his friend, “What does it matter? Grace is everywhere.” Looking at the housekeeper, that same line came to my mind– grace is everywhere!


The man who carved the flourish above is a master carver. He is also a pastor and lives in Florida. His website is at http://www.aalmarkllc.com/ and he has posted a short video on YouTube,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTIuxKz5joc&w=640&h=360. He is a true example of a great woodworker.

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What Price Vigilance?

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There are times in every believer when things become crystal clear. The comes an awareness of things that are real and true. We see in detail the world as it really is; we suddenly understand.

We are specifically called to be watchful.

What that suggests to me is that we have an awareness of “each hour’ of the day. We choose to know the time, no matter our circumstances. We are made alert in hope though the world spins around us.

About 30 years ago I was ‘hitch-hiking’ in Alaska. I was not in the best place spiritually, and wasn’t really listening to the Lord. I had walked a bit and was about a mile from my cabin when I saw a ‘3×5’ card laying off the ground. Picking it up, I turned it over, and read the simple message written on it– “Stay Alert.” Weird. I walked further and saw another. I went and picked up, the same simple message. “Stay Alert.” That same day I was notified of a family emergency. My mother had been diagnosed with cancer. I was not prepared.

“So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober.”

1 Thessalonians 5:6

 There are three distinct areas that demand and require every believer’s watchful attention:

  1. The Second Coming, Jesus’ return and the signs signaling
  2. Spiritual warfare, against temptation and oppression
  3. the Fellowship of the Saints, others in the Church

“Be on guard, keep awake. For you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his servants in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to stay awake. 35 Therefore stay awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or in the morning— 36 lest he come suddenly and find you asleep. 37 And what I say to you I say to all: ”Stay awake.”

Mark 13:33-37

‘The Parable of the Ten Virgins’ is Jesus’ cry for awareness for the waiting believer. The verses in Matthew 25 is a description of wise and foolish behavior and the terrible consequences of spiritual inattention.

We know that we must sleep, it is a physical need we all have. I think Jesus is warning us of a spiritual awareness. Vigilance– being watchful can be a challenge. The World offers plenty of “narcotics” that lull the heart. Satan is quite proficient at what he does.

In the Book of Song of Solomon we see the beloved waiting for her lover. She makes the observation–

“I slept, but my heart was awake.
A sound! My beloved is knocking.”

Song of Solomon 5:2

Even sleeping we can be awake. That is a luxury given to those whom the Father loves. We can be ‘cued in’ even as we physically rest. Our hearts are very much awake, even in our pajamas!

In the sport of fencing two opponents face off with foils. The come together with the cry, ‘on guard’ and both become intensely aware of the other. I suggest we become as focused as believers. There is so much at stake. Jesus warns his disciples, and we had best listen.

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God of Wonders

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“Then God made two great lights: the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night. He made the stars also.

Genesis 1:16

“Wonder is retained by wise pondering.” –Ravi Zacharias

“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” —Unknown

“We wake, if ever at all, to mystery. ”  –Annie Dillard

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It strikes me this morning that we live in a ‘coarse’ age. I meet so many who don’t seem to enjoy life at all. They seem to view things without ‘seeing’ them. There is mystery all around, and yet we seem to lack the faculties to perceive it. We probably would rather play X-box than write a poem, paint a portrait, or gaze through a telescope.

The older I get, the more life astonishes me. There is so much mystery saturating my life: nature, the night sky, a tiny baby, and my hands– all just ‘skimming the surface.’ When I consider the multi-layered complexity of life, I tend to ‘short-out.’

“We wake, if ever at all, to mystery.” –Annie Dillard

God reveals Himself as, ‘the God of wonders.’ When I consider our phenomenal universe with more than a million, billion galaxies I start to lose it. Once I camped on a remote beach in Mexico. There wasn’t any electrical, so at night it really got dark. Lying on my back I saw the ‘Milky Way’ for perhaps the first time. It was magnificent! But I also got somewhat scared as I looked into it’s depths. I actually ran back to my tent terrified. I guess I got ‘overloaded.’

“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?”

Psalm 8:3-4, NKJV

For the freshly awakened believer, it is almost beyond belief to see so many people ‘sleepwalking’ through life. The somnambulistic masses move through life with nary an inkling of what it is all about. They are completely oblivious it would seem; they are unable to see the wonders of creation, much less the Creator. The enemy blinds so many to God’s presence and His redemption. The darkness is almost palpable.

“Declare His glory among the nations,
His wonders among all peoples.”

Psalm 96:3

“I would rather live in a world where my life is surrounded by mystery than live in a world so small that my mind could comprehend it.” — Harry Emerson Fosdick

“You are the God who does wonders;
You have declared Your strength among the peoples.”

Psalm 77:14

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