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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He Collects Losers and Misfits

“The Lord says, “At that time, I will gather the crippled; I will bring together those who were sent away, those whom I caused to have trouble.  I will keep alive those who were crippled, and I will make a strong nation of those who were sent away. The Lord will be their king in Mount Zion from now on and forever.” 

Micah 4:6-7, NCV

Thinking about the  Thorton Wilder play, “The Angel that Troubled the Waters”. The play is based on the biblical verses of John 5:1-4. In this play the angel meets a physician waiting for a miracle by the pool.

After a protracted conversation, the angel makes a challenge to the desperate doctor;

Without your wound where would your power be? It is your very sadness that makes your low voice tremble into the hearts of men. The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and blundering children on earth as can one human being broken on the wheels of living. In Love’s service only the wounded soldiers can serve.”

The Prophet Micah’s simple, thoughtful prophecy reveals a point that is singularly significant.  For those of us who have been abused, and marginalized, now we have become accepted.  Being an outcast, from ‘decent society’, has now at this moment become the ticket to a life in the very center of God’s will.

Our past is no longer a significant problem. 

His Holy Spirit moves us out of our gross ugliness.  He then places us out where we now become visible witnesses. This spotlight focuses on us, and we stand confused and exposed.  We may protest over being ‘outed’ like this, but this is what He wants. “He desires truth in the inmost parts.”  He has redeemed us, and we’ll never be the same.  Never!

God loves losers.  He steps in and with His special agenda, starts looking for all of us who are failures.  In His heart, He pulls us together into His army of misfits.  If you are wonderful and complete in your self, and oh so confident in your spiritual life– I am sorry, you haven’t been invited.  Micah, hits the nail on its head.  Sinners enter where “righteous saints” are left standing outside.

Those of us, who have stumbled so frequently and so often, we are escorted into the incredible deepness of His presence.  We have failed, and we have been defeated.  We don’t belong here, holiness is not our element.  But we will stand, for we know our place.  He intends on transforming us into His gallant army.

“It’s not about perfection; it’s about our intimacy with God, or our connection, our relationship with God. Once we get through that, once we realize that we can be imperfect, and flawed, and broken; It is these kinds of things are the ingredients of true spirituality.”

Mike Yaconelli

There are so many who are waiting to understand all of this.  Being consummate losers should make us people with a deep grace.  Because we are tender, we can call out to others to come and join the “spiritual loser club.”

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Check out the BB post–“Without a Wound?” http://wp.me/PCyDN-bB

Sinners Get Priority

17 Jesus heard this and said to them, “It is not the healthy people who need a doctor, but the sick. I did not come to invite good people but to invite sinners.”

Mark 2:17, NCV

“The true Christian’s nostril is to be continually attentive to the inner cesspool.”  

–C.S. Lewis

How ironic!  Today, religious people are seen as a sort of an elite, an upper crust. The seem like they have it together, or at least they think so. Somewhat superior to those of us who live hard, and know all about sin.  The hearts of the lower level don’t make any pretension to any kind of spirituality.

They understand that they are the ‘dregs.’  They have adapted to living in an ugly and twisted world that gives nothing.  There is a sense that they know they are on ‘the highway to hell.’ They aren’t surprised by this.

The gross sinner, and the spiritually debilitated, have been brought into a very special place.  Jesus intends to escort us into glory, even in spite of our and unsightly infection.  He is wonderful, and yet we see that He really does specialize in losers.  He ‘homes in’ on them and then connects with those who have no ‘religious’ sense to speak of.

This seems quite counter-intuitive, especially if you’re trying to start a religious movement.  It is quite necessary to have a strong base, to seek out good people, and with finances– obviously.  And ‘the sick’ have blown it all on sex, drugs and rock & roll.  They will never finance the ministry of Jesus.  The disciples all have grasped this, especially Judas.  They are full of practicality.  They approach discipleship as a business. (And truly, these are the dangerous ones.)

The sick, the defective, and the infirm have now been elevated by Jesus’ new focus.  They have ‘zero spiritual’ value, with absolutely nothing to contribute — they are more of a liability then anything.  People like us who are very ill really can’t contribute to what is really happening.  More often then not, they require intensive care from the healthy and whole, sapping the strength of the work. Truly God is not against us because of our sin. He is with us against our sin.

I have a blue handicapped placard. This really helps and gives me preferential parking. And in much the same way spiritually, if you are a loser– you have dibs.   Jesus shines on you specifically (even if the Church won’t.)

There is a kind of a loving triage that He uses as He draws people into His domain and influence.  Hearts and lives that are black receive His eager attention.  Of course, there will be voices that object to this perceived inequity.

But Jesus has no favorites, only intimates.  Remember this, the sinner who has been “forgiven much, loves much.”

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Bedlam: Prisons and the Mentally Ill

Taking a Stand for Our Brothers and Sisters

 By Mark Earley, Christian Post Guest Columnist, Wed, Aug. 08, 2007
The least of these is my brother
The least of these is my brother

In the 16th century, London’s mentally ill were often kept at Bethlem Royal Hospital. The conditions inside the hospital were notoriously poor. Patients were often chained to the floor and the noise was so great that Bethlem was more likely to drive a man crazy than to cure him. The conditions were so infamous that the nickname locals gave the hospital—Bedlam—has come to mean any scene of great confusion.

Unfortunately five hundred years later, we’re still treating the mentally ill more like prisoners than patients. Fifty years ago, more than 550 thousand people were institutionalized in public mental hospitals. Today, only between 60 and 70 thousand are, despite a two-thirds increase in the country’s population.

Since there’s no evidence that the incidence of mental illness has dropped precipitously, the mentally ill who previously had been institutionalized had to have gone somewhere. While some are being treated successfully in their communities, at homes and groups homes, but for many that “somewhere” is behind bars. This last part shouldn’t come as a surprise.

Five years ago, the Washington Post told the story of “Leon,” a one-time honor student, who had 17 years in and out of jail on various drug-related charges. It was only after several suicide attempts, including drinking a “bleach-and-Ajax cocktail,” that Leon was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Leon’s story was a microcosm of a larger problem: “Prisons and jails are increasingly substituting as mental hospitals.”

As one advocate for the mentally ill told the Post, “a lot of people with mental illness are charged with minor crimes as a way to get them off the streets.” In effect, they are behind bars for “being sick.” Fast forward five years and little, if anything, has changed. A few weeks ago, another piece in the Post discussed the same problem.

Psychiatrist Marcia Kraft Goin told readers something that should shock and outrage them: “The Los Angeles County Jail houses the largest psychiatric population in the country.” As with the earlier Post piece, the conclusion was inescapable: “People with [untreated] mental illnesses often end up with symptoms and behaviors that result in jail time.” You don’t have to be a “bleeding heart” to understand that this is an injustice—any kind of heart will do.

Not only are the mentally ill not getting the help they need, they are as lambs to the slaughter in our crowded and violent prisons. They are being victimized twice over. They’re not the only ones being victimized.

At a time when most state prisons are unlawfully overcrowded, there are better uses for prison beds than as makeshift mental hospitals. As Goin wrote, “treating” mental illness as a criminal justice problem costs “more than treating patients appropriately in their community.”

As part of its ministry to prisoners and their families, Prison Fellowship supports community-based alternatives to incarceration. Not only because it makes “financial sense” but because it’s what Christ would have done. In Matthew 25 he called the ill and the prisoner his “brothers” and he expects us to offer them something more than bedlam.

“There but for the Grace of God go I…” –Bryan

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From BreakPoint®, August 6, 2007, Copyright 2007, Prison Fellowship Ministries. Reprinted with the permission of Prison Fellowship Ministries. All rights reserved.  “BreakPoint®” and “Prison Fellowship Ministries®” are registered trademarks of Prison Fellowship.

Good Links:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bethlem_Royal_Hospital

http://www.bethlemheritage.org.uk/

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/asylums/etc/faqs.html

http://www.afscme.org/publications/6042.cfm

Sometimes I Haven’t the Slightest, [Oblivious}

“Ah yes, the Shroud of Turin! We will have to dry clean it before we return it.”

Inspector Clouseau, (Upon discovering stolen artifacts) in The Pink Panther 2

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I honestly think that our bumbling attempts to follow Jesus are entertaining angels who watch our efforts and shake their heads in astonishment. ” Did you see what Bryan just did?”  I guess I’m the “Inspector Clouseau of the spiritual realm.”  Clumsy and very much oblivious, I bungle my way down the path of discipleship, without a clue. It seems when something right happens, I still end up butchering it.

We  have experienced so much, been given so much light, and yet we consistently choose to trade it for a lie. For the most part, I don’t sin automatically, I choose it, consciencely and deliberately.  People don’t sin because they feel they have to. We sin because we like the pleasure it brings. We sin because it feels nice. We sin because it brings a thrill to our bodies, fleeting satisfaction to our souls and excitement to the boredom of our everyday lives.  We sin because we believe the lie that the pleasure it brings, though passing (Heb. 11:25), is more satisfying than the pleasure obedience brings.

The issues I have are medical and psychological.  I have chronic Hepatitis C.  I survived a brain tumor and I need to walk with a cane.  I do have a bad case of Bipolar disorder. I have some struggles with paranoid delusions and social anxiety. These are forgivable and God gives me buckets of grace.  I know first-hand his agape love for me.

But he cannot bless disobedience and rebellion.  When we announce to the world that “Jesus is Lord” we can expect God will hold our feet to the fire over this.  The Holy Spirit will not negotiate when we suddenly decide we are hungry for sin.  Apprehended by grace, we must fully surrender all claim we have to sample sin’s delights.

In the middle of my psychiatric issues, I must remember joy.  I can not imagine being without it.  I’ve been clinically depressed to the point of suicide many times.  But God gives me joy in my darkness.  “The joy of the Lord is your strength.” (Nehemiah)

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The Future is According to God

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“I say this because I know what I am planning for you,” says the Lord. “I have good plans for you, not plans to hurt you. I will give you hope and a good future.

Jeremiah 29:11, NCV

“So that for all future time he could show the very great riches of his grace by being kind to us in Christ Jesus.”

Ephesians 2:7

The word “future” is defined as “all that time which is to come hereafter.” It seems that it can never be held by us in a literal sense. In trying to explain it, I have come up with this idea or concept of something that will exist or happen in time to come.

People who struggle with a mental illness  often have a problem with the idea of having a personal meaning.  I remember reading this somewhere, Depression is the inability to construct a future.”  I think  that many have issues with trying to make life work.  It seems that hopefulness has been brutally cut out of our hearts, and we think and believe that we’re lost and cursed.

It seems to me that this is one of my own problems.  Closely related are the twin issues of cruel despondency and a terrible despair.  When these two run rampant through my life it is sort of a “spiritual mugging.”  I’ve just been totally ripped off. I’ve been completely drained of hope.  I don’t anticipate life and grace, instead I have profound pain and incredible loss.  I feel terribly alone in an ugly void. My depression is all I can see. A relationship with an eternal God seems highly unlikely.

I believe that it isn’t so much me reaching out to Him— rather it is Him coming to me.

The promises God gives us are made to energize and propel us into life and meaning.  The Father completely understands me, and has purposefully given me “a future and a hope.”   I once worked out a plan to kill myself a couple years ago.  It involved duct-taping heavy weights to my ankles and jumping off the dock in the harbor.   I had reached the point of complete despair. Everything was without hope. And all I will say is that God prevented me and then gave me hope.

At times, our future is sometimes woven with predominently dark threads.  If we just look at the back side it makes no sense at all. But God works patiently and expertly, as a skilled Artisan.  We have His word that what He does will be a wonder and a marvel. And we will see an intricate and beautful work.

“Father forgive me for despairing. I know You control everything, and especially all that concerns me. Give me hope for my future.”

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A Puppet, or Your Sovereign Prince?

“While Jesus was in one of the towns, a man came along who was covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he fell with his face to the ground and begged him, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.”

–Luke 5:12, NLT

This man, an infectious leper, approaches Jesus. The Lord looking at him (most people would avert their gaze) asked simply, “What do you want?”  There was no hesitancy as he falls at Jesus’ feet.  “Please!  Make me clean, if you want to.”  His beautiful prayer of absolute surrender and trust sets up the staggering miracle.

There are so many plagued with personal sin-– and its like leprosy, it started out small, hardly noticeable.  But time and opportunity has caused it to spread through the whole body.  The man now lived among the unclean.  He has been utterly infected, and totally consumed by his disease. It has taken over his body, and his life.

His prayer exposes his desperate humility.  It is Jesus’ decision completely.  The man does not demand, or challenge Jesus.  So many try to make it an issue of Jesus proving his power and deity.  The man has lost all willingness to manipulate and control the healing process. He has been stripped of his power in this matter.

Much of the time, when I come before Jesus in prayer, I come with my checklist.  I build my case around things I have done to deserve my request.  (I’m very stupid sometimes.)  I don’t say it, but I’m trying to earn an answer by my effort.  We still try to achieve spiritual blessings by works.

What I need to do, is to throw myself at the feet of Jesus.  I need to plead for mercy.  Scripture has revealed to us that God draws close to the humble and contrite. “If you want to, you can cleanse me.”

There are no hoops to jump through.  There are no vows you can make so that it will happen. There are no deals to make. “(If you do this for me, I  promise never to swear again.)” But it is grace, from start-to-finish.  It raises havoc with our built-in sense of spiritual entitlement.  Personally, the grace of God has been the most profound, and significant concept I have ever encountered.

It’s all about a simple, childlike trust in the Savior.  He is always good and merciful.  I will exercise no agenda of my own.  I will pull no spiritual strings, He is not my puppet.  Instead I put myself at His feet, and wait for Him to do what He wishes. Is Jesus your puppet, or is He your Prince?