“My Back Pages” by Bob Dylan in “Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack)”

The song I’ve chosen to represent my childhood in Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack) is Bob Dylan’s “My Back Pages.” Dylan masterfully captures in vivid imagery a life mixed with youthful vigor and age-old concerns.

I grew up fast and hard, living in small-town innocence yet being exposed to discord, drunkenness, divorce. Sports and studies took my mind away and I prayed my body would some day follow.  Teachers taught me idealism even as one stuck his hand down my pants. Preachers hailed fire and brimstone from pulpits to pews filled by grandparents who embodied both wrath and mercy tasting like sour Juicy Fruit gum.

Disorder disguised delight yet light endured like the north star on night.

Crimson flames tied through my ears
Rollin’ high and mighty traps
Pounced with fire on flaming roads
Using ideas as my maps
“We’ll meet on edges, soon,” said I
Proud ’neath heated brow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Half-wracked prejudice leaped forth
“Rip down all hate,” I screamed
Lies that life is black and white
Spoke from my skull. I dreamed
Romantic facts of musketeers
Foundationed deep, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Girls’ faces formed the forward path
From phony jealousy
To memorizing politics
Of ancient history
Flung down by corpse evangelists
Unthought of, though, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

A self-ordained professor’s tongue
Too serious to fool
Spouted out that liberty
Is just equality in school
“Equality,” I spoke the word
As if a wedding vow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

In a soldier’s stance, I aimed my hand
At the mongrel dogs who teach
Fearing not that I’d become my enemy
In the instant that I preach
My pathway led by confusion boats
Mutiny from stern to bow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

Yes, my guard stood hard when abstract threats
Too noble to neglect
Deceived me into thinking
I had something to protect
Good and bad, I define these terms
Quite clear, no doubt, somehow
Ah, but I was so much older then
I’m younger than that now

(lyrics to “My Back Pages” Copyright © 1964 by Warner Bros. Inc.; renewed 1992 by Special Rider Music)

Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack): “Wonder” by Natalie Merchant

Not long ago, I was inspired to create a Spotify playlist to accompany the release of my spiritual memoir  Delight in Disorder.  I was initially led to search for songs with “crazy” in the title and came up with a playlist of 42 songs I titled “Crazy for You.” It is a fun collection I enjoy listening to.  But it doesn’t tell my story.

Today, as I was driving past the madness of Black Friday shopping, a number of songs started playing through my mind.  I eagerly drove home and gathered a collection of 21 songs I’ve titled “Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack).” From start to finish, the playlist tells the story of my life from my birth, through my childhood and school years, my troubled marriage and eventual separation and return to my childhood home.

While I enjoy quality instrumentation, it is through poetic lyrics that I find meaning in music. To share this passion, I’ve decided to feature the lyrics to this soundtrack for my life in a series of 21 posts, briefly reflecting on how the songs connect to my experience.

The first song is “Wonder” by Natalie Merchant.

Doctors have come from distant cities
Just to see me
Stand over my bed
Disbelieving what they’re seeing

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

Newspapers ask intimate questions
Want confessions
They reach into my head
To steal the glory of my story

They say I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as they can see they can offer
No explanation

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way

People see me
I’m a challenge to your balance
I’m over your heads
How I confound you and astound you
To know I must be one of the wonders
Of god’s own creation
And as far as you can see you can offer me
No explanation

O, I believe
Fate smiled and destiny
Laughed as she came to my cradle
Know this child will be able
Laughed as she came to my mother
Know this child will not suffer
Laughed as my body she lifted
Know this child will be gifted
With love, with patience and with faith
She’ll make her way

This wonderful song by the beautiful Ms. Merchant conveys both the theology and grandiosity that has marked my life since birth.  My delightful theology leads me to believe that I am one of God’s marvelous creations.  My disordered mind tells me I am perhaps more marvelous than most, that I have a special mission to fulfill beyond the run-of-the-mill labor of life.

This delight in disorder has been both a blessing and a bane in my existence.

When I was young, I could escape the fierce tension at home, satisfied with my own presence.  I would play for hours on an outdoor basketball court convinced there were hidden cameras filming me for a later documentary of a star-in-the-making.

Believing I had a calling led me to be the first in my family to obtain a master’s degree and launch a career in ministry. My disordered mind, however, led me to a psychiatric hospital where I believed it was the end of the world and I alone had the special mission of bringing the elect to safety.

“Wonder” is ultimately a very hopeful song, as has been my life with God. With love, patience, and faith, we will make our way.

Our Delightful Indiegogo Campaign

The indiegogo campaign for our mission Delight in Disorder is now officially over and it has been a great blessing, in many ways.

First, the numbers …

Our indiegogo site has had 615 views, so word about the mission has spread and will continue to spread.

29 contributions (ranging from $25-330) were invested in the project.

We exceeded our mission goal of $2000, with a total of $2,190.

Next, the testimonies

I contributed to Delight in Disorder because a) I want to support Tony, and b) I am working to make mental illness less of a stigma.  Having worked in the mental health field, I realize that, like cancer, mental illness hits people from all walks of life, all ages and backgrounds.  Knowledge, awareness, and compassion are really called for here.  I hope you will contribute to Tony’s worthwhile cause –Debb Stanton, http://thesunshinefactor.net/

I’ve really been moved by Tony’s writing on his blog as he shares so honestly, humbly, and often humorously his experience with his mental illness and his faith.  I believe Tony has an important contribution to make to the church in teaching us about life with bipolar, from the inside, with a faith perspective. — Joy F.

After reading a draft copy of “Delight in Disorder,” it was my privilege to be able contribute both financially and prayerfully to the publishing of Tony’s book. Having suffered from depression in the past myself, and been treated less than sympathetically by those within the church, I knew there was a great need to bridge the gap between sufferers of a mental illness and the ones who should be showing the greatest compassion and understanding. Tony’s book does this. It is an honest, warts-and-all story of his ongoing struggle with Bipolar disorder. It is my ongoing prayer that God will use this book to encourage those suffering from Bipolar or any form of mental illness, promote compassion and understanding within the faith community and bring glory to His name.  – Lyn C – Sydney, Australia

Tony’s testimony of God’s faithfulness and love to him in the midst of his disorder will  greatly encourage those who read it.  This is not a “here’s how you do it” book, but a “here’s how God really did it” book. I hope it opens the eyes and hearts of God’s people to follow God’s lead in ministering to hurting people.   – Gary M.

Finally, the lives touched

 I just spent the morning getting to know a gal who is in the trenches of a heavy spiritual battle at this very moment. She’s fresh out of drug rehabilitation, looking at incarceration from past choices that she’s trying to clear up, and going to counseling with her non-medicated bipolar husband, all while FULLY knowing the Lord and clinging desperately to his promises and his will for her life… I was actually able to mention Delight in Disorder to her and share a little bit about the book and the mission. I showed her just the video on the campaign page and she started to cry. It’s already touching lives, my dear.  (message sent to my editor)

I appreciate what you’re doing with this ministry you’ve started. We have a son who has battled depression on and off since late elementary and sadly the church has sometimes been the last place we wanted to talk about it!  Keep up the good work—the church needs your message as much as the “disordered”! – Pam L.

The message from Tony’s story has moved me to reflect on my journey with my eating disorder, to remember how God saved me from death and to see how God continually pulls me back from the ledge. I had never thought about why God keeps doing that. Because He delights in me. Even in my disorder. Leanne Sype

So what happens now?

As grateful as we are for the blessing of the indiegogo campaign, we know that God has blessed us to be a blessing to others. We have much to do. In the coming weeks, we will be finalizing the text to submit for publication.  As advance copies become available, we will first honor our commitment to our contributors and then recruit key book reviewers to whom we can send copies to help spread the word.  We will seek out marketing consultation to determine how best to release the book so it gets in the hands of as many as God intends. Before long, we will be making arrangements for a book tour beginning in March, 2014.

What can you do to help?

1) Pray for the Delight in Disorder mission.  The indiegogo campaign was just the first step in what we pray will be a long and fruitful journey.

2) Follow our progress.  The best way to do this would be to “like” my Facebook author page – https://www.facebook.com/awaywithwordsforyou .

3) Stay in touch.  Share your stories and perspectives of faith and mental illness.   (My e-mail is tony@awaywithwordsforyou.com.)

We’re off to a great start in our journey.  May God bless us all along the way.

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Coming Up From my Bipolar Basement

I’ve been lingering in the basement of my bipolar mind for some time, waiting for some storms to pass before rising to the surface. I’ve taken some risks. Due to a transition in prescription drug coverage and a financial shortfall, I tried to conserve on a couple of my medications to make them last through the end of the year (when the expensive one goes generic). I’m struggling to be productive in a new work environment.  I’ve veered from much creative writing to spend time promoting the indiegogo campaign for my mission. Not surprisingly – with fewer corrective chemicals in my blood, added external stressors, and less therapeutic releases, I’ve experienced a low-grade depression. To cope, I go into the basement.

Some people look negatively on those who escape to the basement.  They picture n’er-do-well not-so-young adults who still live in their parent’s basement, smoke weed, sleep away the day and watch television through the night. The basement becomes more a tomb than a womb.

For me, the basement of my bipolar mind is where I go when the warning sirens are sounding. I think.  I pray. I read and write, though not as much.  I stay connected to the world around me through social media. When the clouds lift and the “all clear” sounds, I take the steps upward one at a time.

As I write this, I’m noticing the sky is much clearer.

God has provided the resources for my medication for the remainder of the year and I am back on my prescribed dosages. My body chemistry is approaching equilibrium.

Thanks to the generous support of people around the world, we have exceeded our mission goal to publish Delight in Disorder.  Now, every dollar donated in the time remaining for the campaign will be used to promote the book on-line and provide seed money for a book tour. 

My responsibilities at work have shifted so I can better use my writing skills and my boss has shown a great deal of grace in accommodating my schedule to optimize my mental health.

I received an e-mail tonight which may be an indication that God is opening doors for me to discuss mental illness within faith communities throughout the state.

Yes, I believe the basement door has opened a crack and some light is shining in. It’s time for me to climb the steps.

Steps

Delight in the Works of the Lord

Praise the LORD!

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart,

in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

Great are the works of the LORD,

studied by all who delight in them. (Psalm 111:1-2)

Praise is personal, but it is best expressed publicly. When people say. “Faith should be kept private,” I was to yell out, “How can I keep from singing?” If I hear a great song, see a marvelous movie, read a gripping novel, or encounter a compelling work of art, my gut reaction is to share the experience with others. How can I keep from praising?

Today I went to an extended family gathering. Not being a social butterfly, I typically observe others and wait to speak until I’m spoken to. I noticed the flow of conversation was about physical ailments – everything from excessive flatulence to herniated  discs to heart conditions.

In time, I was asked what I did. I talked about my memoir and mission to share hope with folks like me who have a mental illness as well as foster compassion within the faith community.

One woman seemed genuinely interested. (I was later told her ex-husband had bipolar disorder and had committed suicide.) She tried to engage others in a conversation about faith and mental illness but everyone uncomfortably looked down at their food. Very soon someone changed the subject to something more socially acceptable. Hemorrhoids, I think.

Mental disorders like mine can be intensely uncomfortable, even agonizingly painful at times, but there is delight to be found in the midst of the disorder. This delight flows from the Spirit of the Lord, who deeply desires that we share our delight “in the company of the upright, in the congregation.”

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Visit our mission site and help us reach our goal by 11/20!

Higher Education (from Delight in Disorder)

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College was a time for experiments.

Mixing songs with sex, ideas with drugs.

The God I had come to know went up in smoke.

I replaced the living Word with words from lives

That thirsted for truths to absorb the Truth

And hungered for rights without Righteousness.

 

I wrote a book my senior year called,

Life (in obvious places)

Filled with family stories and ones I’d conceived.

At the end, a coquettish Claudia Matson asks the narrator –

“Why don’t you write any love stories?”

“I don’t know any,” he replies.

 

I took a job at a plastics factory.

And started going to a country church.

Grammar Presbyterian.

Filled with farmers and grandmothers

Who made room for me in my stained Salvation Army clothes.

Smelling of smoke, looking for a God of substance.

 

Easter Sunday, on my way to church.

I saw a grey-haired woman in a tattered coat wandering.

I pulled over and tried to help.

She didn’t know where she was and I didn’t know where to take her.

We were both lost.

 

I drove her to a downtown church.

Dressed in his Easter best, a usher gave her a donut and some coffee.

He sat with her and helped her find her way home.

I left the church in tears.

Finding strength to be weak in a community of grace.

 

I went to seminary to serve God with my mind,

Hoping my body and soul would follow.

In class we looked at the language of Scripture

And discussed how not to talk about God.

 

In my pastoral work, I found God…

… in the joy of boy who would never speak.

… in the songs of prisoners longing for freedom.

… in the tears of a man praying beside his dying wife’s bed.

 

I say I found God, but really God found me, and I didn’t run away.

 

I met Alice in the office of a friend.

She was arguing with the phone company about a deposit.

She won.

I said to myself, “I want her on my side.”

Within 6 months, we were engaged.

 

We moved to a 3-room row house in South St. Louis.

The heat was unbearable,

Steam rising from the asphalt.

We passionately loved and more passionately fought.

From this conjugal clash, a child was conceived.

 

We moved to the countryside,

And I became a pastor,

A shepherd of a frozen flock.

I preached sermons on Sunday,

And took out the trash on Tuesdays.

 

Sarah was born in early Spring.

There was a chill in the air and ice on the roads,

But we barely noticed.

We brought her home to balloons and signs

A Noah’s Ark nursery.

We made her first week a music video

with Sandy Patty singing –

You are a masterpiece
A new creation He has formed
And you’re as soft  and fresh as a snowy winter morn.
And I’m so glad that God has given you to me

After a week, I was spent (or so I thought).

I retreated to my office and didn’t come out

Even when I came home.

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Visit our mission site and help us reach our goal by 11/20!

A Living Promise (from Delight in Disorder)

This is my comfort in my affliction,

         that your promise gives me life. (Psalm 119:50)

It is so easy when our lives are off balance to lose hope for a better tomorrow.  As we look around at present reality, we are tempted to give up and give in to the voices telling us things will always be just as miserable as they are right now.

In college, when I “came clean” and stopped using the illicit drugs that were in essence holding my psychotic symptoms at bay (yet costing me mental stability), I hit what many addicts call a “rock bottom,” I was living alone in a downtown apartment, lying on a used mattress on the floor, working a job stuffing millions of plastic bags into cardboard boxes.  I had nothing but time on my hands to look within myself and look around and wonder just what I was going to do with my life.  I was lost.  I felt miserable.  And alone.

Then I started reading the Bible.  Again, but like it was the first time.  The promise of God’s Word is that the life we often settle for is so much less than the abundant life we are promised in Christ.  New life is experienced in the person of Jesus Christ, in his healing touch and saving hand.  In a world filled with broken promises, this is a promise we can rely on – now and forever.

New life in the resurrection of Christ is more than just a pie-in-the-sky hope for a future resting place for our disembodied souls called “heaven.” The new life we gain in Christ impacts how we live each day, each moment.  Our lives, even as we go through ups and downs, become more abundant, richer, more full of purpose and meaning.  Life begins to make delightful sense in the midst of the messy disorder within and around us.

With this hope in hand, I began to make the most of the present and envision a better future.  I left the factory and did a summer mission stint in a Christian community in South Georgia called Koinonia (Greek for “fellowship” or “communion”).  Time I had spent escaping with drugs I now spent communing with God and others through prayer and worship.  Instead of packing plastic, I was planting vegetables.   Instead of isolating myself on an assembly line, I built relationships with children in Bible study and older adults over community meals.

The promise for better days ahead in Christ, when properly received, does not cause us to give up and let the world go to pot.  Quite the opposite.  Knowing that God cares deeply about redemption, restoration, resurrection, and renewal, we can look beyond ourselves and join God at work making the world a better place – for generations to come.

Working at Koinonia did not magically heal me of past hurts or remove present temptations.  But while I was there, God set me on a course of away from seeking self-comfort to looking to serve others.  I’ve taken many detours along the road, but I’m still moving forward towards that heavenly fellowship, that divine communion, the kingdom of God on earth as it is in heaven.

thumbnail imageVisit our mission site and help us reach our goal by 11/20!

Making Crazy for You (with Delight in Disorder)

As we enter the last week of our mission campaign for Delight in Disorder, I decided to go a little crazy. I made a Spotify playlist called Crazy for You (with Delight in Disorder).  It’s a fun-tastic blend of classic country (Patsy Cline, Hank Williams), blues legends (Buddy Guy, Billie Holiday), rock standards (Lou Reed, Van Morrison) and alternative twists (The Feelies, Toad the Wet Sprocket, Violent Femmes).

So spend an evening (or afternoon, or morning) going a little crazy. Maybe it will help you discover delight in disorder.

Crazy

Finding Divine Delight in Eight Disordered Days

It’s been some kind of week — full of peaks and valleys.  I feel like I’ve been “rode hard and put up wet.”

Last Saturday, we had a fall family gathering. 41 people showed up to eat chili and coney dogs, bounce in the bouncy house, discuss personality types around the fire and debate gun control around the living room.  A great time was had by all.  My dad was particularly in hog heaven, as he was presented with various hardware valves (including a spigot) and flexible tubes (including one with a light on the end) for his upcoming heart surgery.  I managed to respond well to the crowd (I usually hide in my room), and felt very energized by the event.

Sunday I crashed.  I missed church, and spent most of the day with my head buried in the television.  This is one of my coping strategies when I feel a depression coming on, but it’s not a very good one. Basically, I become numb and rather than face my feelings as they arise, I suppress them for later and they come out more aggravated, often attached to physical symptoms.

Dad went in for surgery early Monday morning.  A friendly chaplain (a nun, I think), was one of the first on the scene and she offered a lovely prayer.  Dad’s friend and pastor Marvin arrived with a deacon from his church, so he was well prayed for.  The procedure lasted about four hours.   They implanted a pig valve and transplanted a vein from his leg.  I wrote to Dad’s Facebook friends that, when he felt better, he would be “dancing on the inside and be happier than a pig in slop.”

My mood imbalanced started to come out as “mixed states.” These are like having porcupine quills all over your body, with nerve endings on the tips.  When people try to relate to you, you both get hurt.  I laid down in the family waiting room with my ear buds on, listening to soothing story songs and simply apologized for not being responsive.

I slept fitfully Monday and Tuesday nights, experiencing what some people call “night terrors.”  Mine come in the form of regrets over past decisions and images of a lonely, hopeless future.

Dad likewise had a tough row to hoe.  His heart went into “A-fib” and they put him on  an IV drip.  It took nearly 24 hours before it was back to a regular beat. He said it felt like he had run a marathon. To add insult to injury, they had to put him on an IV-drip of Lasix, so he could only sleep in 15-20 minute intervals before having to pee.

By Thursday, dad was again making progress.  So was I.  I finished a project at work. I did an update video for our Delight in Disorder indiegogo campaign, and had a very positive meeting with my pastor about membership.  He had read and enjoyed my manuscript.  My mood had leveled off by week’s end and I was looking forward to enjoying some Sabbath rest  on Saturday and worship on Sunday.

Unfortunately, it didn’t come to pass.  Again, I slept fitfully and wallowed in bed nearly all of Saturday and Sunday morning.  Dad made progress, though, and we brought him home Sunday afternoon.  This (and the smell of apple crisp my sister was baking) boosted my spirits some and I was able to write this thank you note (below) to those who had attended our party last weekend –

Dear family members,

We want to sincerely thank each of you for coming to our family gathering last weekend. 

As you may well know, Dad is a man who enjoys the simple pleasures of life –

… the taste of a fried bologna sandwich.

… the sound of George Jones singing “He Stopped Loving Her Today”.

… the sight of a hummingbird feeding on Connie’s homemade elixir.

Nothing pleases Dad more than the taste of a family feast, the sound of children playing in the bouncy house, and the sight of loved ones surrounding him.

As a token of our gratitude for your participation in this special day, we are including a CD of the great photos taken by Andrea.  We hope they might bring a smile to your face as they have to ours.

Dad has a big heart, and now, thanks to his new pig valve and transplanted leg vein, it should work as good as ever.  If not, thanks to your generous gifts of valves and hoses, he’ll have plenty of spare parts.

Thanks again and God bless,

Now, after downing a delicious dinner of jambalaya and fresh salad, I feel almost human again.  God is in his heaven and all is right with the world.  Or right enough for the time being.

Van Gogh

“Van Gogh” from Harry527

Stereotypes Suck

Reblogged from Writings and Ruminations:

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Bear with me while I have a moment…

I had an interesting conversation with someone very close to me who said, “The thing about stereotypes is they exist because more often than not, they’re true.”

It’s hard to argue with that.

The problem is, where does that leave the people who don’t fit the stereotypes? The people in the minority. Or even those in the minority of the majority?

Read more… 830 more words

Leanne marvelously battles the stigma of mental illness not with the sharp spears of political debate, but with the smooth stone of story. Thanks, Leanne!