Birthing My Book: Bringing Delight in Disorder to Life

Having conceived and nurtured a memoir for almost a year, only to have it soundly rejected, it felt much like a miscarriage. I went a year without writing a word. It was only when I enrolled in an intensive discipleship training program that I again started to bring words to life, or, more accurately, let the Word come to life by cultivating the soil of stories.

Still, I wasn’t ready to come back to my memoir. It was too personal, too painful, too raw. Instead, I moved onto fiction – drafting a trilogy of short stories – “Life,” “Liberty,” and “The Pursuit of Happiness.”  More than the quality of the narrative (which is still quite unfinished), the discipline of daily writing as I created characters, developed dialogue, and polished plot, gave me increasing confidence that I had a “way with words.”

Then a very tragic thing happened. A young man I had never met committed suicide. He was playing family board games one minute and the next he was in his room shooting himself. The young man’s name was Matthew, son of Rick Warren renowned pastor of Saddleback Church and author of the best-selling Purpose-Driven Life.

My initial reaction was to take to my bed. I didn’t get up for three days. I read what people within the church and outside of it were saying. Some of it trying to be nice and compassion. Some of it downright ugly and mean. Nearly all of it lacking a clear Biblical understanding of mental illness that would drive a person to suicide.

I decided I needed to re-write my memoir. I also knew I couldn’t do it alone. I shared the idea with Leanne Sype, a blogging friend and editor, to whom I had pitched my trilogy. Very soon, she became as passionate about the project as I did. With Leanne’s help, I worked through a second draft, and a third (and in some cases fourth and fifth). With Leanne’s guidance, I pitched it to an agent and went to a writer’s conference to see about pursuing conventional publishing.

We prayed for a clear sign and got it almost immediately. A resounding no. Undeterred, Leanne encouraged me to pursue self-publishing, helped me navigate around some shark-invested waters of vanity publishers. She introduced me to graphic artist Nicole Miller who also has a heart for the Lord and a distinct eye for graphic design. Soon, we had a book cover. Nicole then moved on to a video for our indiegogo campaign where we exceeded our goal.

Along came another young faithful servant, Christina Tarabochia, who took the text and shaped it into various formats uploaded at Smashwords (and soon, for Amazon and Barnes & Noble). Christina helped explain some of the technical aspects of getting our book in the hands of the readers and has been an invaluable resource.

Now that we have a downloadable e-book (soon to be in print), we are only entering another season of the larger “Delight in Disorder” mission. Over the past few days I have been contacted mental health and church leaders from across the country to help us spread the word — to bridge the distance between faith and mental illness. I’ve already received two speaking invitations and am building some very fruitful relationships.

Much has been done — Facebook author page, Twitter account (indy_tony), media kit, business card design, e-mail and phone contact) and much remains to be done (website upgrade, speaking engagements, reviews). I have no idea where God will lead now that the book has been birthed. I only pray I’ll do my part to be a faithful stewardship of the Word calling me to share divine delight in the disorder of the world.

Write your favorite scripture on a canvas for your dorm room. It fills up wall space and it will be a good encouragement.

Higher Education (from Delight in Disorder)

Photo is loading
 
 

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.

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

“Troubled Minds” Author Endorses “Delight in Disorder”

I’ve been on quite a roller-coaster ride as we move closer to the indiegogo campaign (very soon) and publication (March, 2014) of my spiritual memoir Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission.   Last night I was telling my sister I had been cycling emotionally as well as craving alcohol.  By God’s grace and with prayer from friends and family, I’ve managed to stay safe, clean, and sober.  Yet, I’ve been fretting over many things, fearing that all I and others are investing in the mission might come to naught.

This morning when I checked my in-box, I noticed there was a message from Amy Simpson.

In 2012, Intervarsity Press published Simpson’s book Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission in which she shares the story of her mother, who has schizophrenia and the Church failed to respond to her needs or the needs of the family.  Troubled Minds offers a ray of hope in the end, highlighting a few church ministries across the country where there is some openness to folks with mental illnesses, but largely Simpson’s voice is a prophetic one — the Church is called in Christ to do more.

After reading Troubled Minds, I was inspired to write to Ms. Simpson first to thank her for sharing her story.  She very thoughtfully responded.  I then boldly asked if she might read my manuscript and consider offering an endorsement.  She graciously accepted.

Today, I received her response, with the following endorsement attached –

Delight in Disorder is a resource we have long needed. We all need to hear from people who have struggled with mental illness and have found, indeed, that nothing can separate us from God’s great and redeeming love. This book is honest about the experience of living with bipolar disorder, and it’s full of compassion toward the many people whose own moods betray them so treacherously. It’s also full of hope—not the cheap kind we use to varnish over the truth about ourselves and about this life we live. But the only kind of hope that can stand when everything else falls: hope in Christ and his grace.  

Yes, it has been a roller-coaster ride.  A delightful one.  And it’s only just begun.

I thank you, Ms. Simpson.  And I praise God from whom all blessings flow.

Preview of Delight in Disorder: Autobiographical Prelude I

I am getting very excited about the publication of my spiritual memoir — Delight in Disorder: Ministry, Madness, Mission which is due for public release in March of 2014.  To give you just a taste of the upcoming feast, I thought I’d share an excerpt from the poetic prelude: “To Nineveh (and back) — A Memoir of Faith and Madness.”

To read more, click on the title below –

“Delight in Disorder Preview: Autobiographical Prelude I”

Social services & the fostering world....many sad children....all they want is a home & people who love them!

from Montana Gypsy

Ayn Rand, Hallucinations, Criminalization, and Marriage Challenge: Mental Health Monday

It’s that time again … Mental Health Monday.  I’m happy to say I found a wide range of quality posts without having to spend much time searching.  This week, our posts cover modern political philosophy,  changing religious attitudes, the challenge of being vulnerable, the profile of psychotic hallucinations, the criminalization of those with mental illness, the costs and benefits of more medicine, and the challenges of marriage relationships with a mental illness.

To find these informative and inspiring posts, click on the title link below —

“Ayn Rand, Hallucinations, Criminalization, and Marriage Challenges: Mental Health Monday

mental illness photo: Mental Illness Awareness Poster MentalIllnessStigma.jpg

Marketing Minister Becoming Minister of Marketing?

Job prospects continue to arise for me.  Today, as I was taking a break from editing, I received a message reply from the owner of a small marketing firm in Indy, inviting me to meet for coffee.

Marketing is a field that has intrigued me for years.  As a parish pastor, I employed many marketing “techniques” to promote the services our ministry offered.  Over my 18 years, we went from snail-mailed monthly newsletters, to weekly sign boards, to occasional e-mail messages, to weekly ads in the Penny Saver, to the development of a website, a daily e-devotion, and a blog.  At each church I served, there was quantifiable growth in terms of worship attendance, membership, program participation, and financial contributions.

How would this translate into work with a marketing firm?  For one, I would bring a track record of reaching people of all ages (particularly often neglected older adults) with a message that motivates them to act – participate, join, contribute.  While I will no doubt have much to learn about modern “techniques” to maximize effectiveness, the principles involved for attracting new clients as well as engaging current ones carries over quite well.

To prepare for my interview next Wednesday, I have contacted a college friend who is in marketing, asking what key resources I might review.  I have also asked the same question of a blogging friend who also spent a couple decades in ministry before leaping into the secular business world (as owner of a website management firm).

How would you like to help me prepare?

What questions would you ask me if you were a marketing firm considering my services?

What questions would you recommend I raise in the interview?

Do you know of any high-quality marketing resources you recommend I study?

(image above  “marketing” from Mindy Reed in Jesus)

The Purpose of Pain

Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church.  (Colossians 1:24)

We live in an culture where countless resources (time, talent, and money) are spent trying to escape suffering.  Whether it be the pharmaceutical industry manufacturing drugs to relieve pain, the entertainment industry developing technology to relieve boredom, or the lottery and casino industries creating a false illusion of relief from financial hardships – we are constantly sold the idea that suffering (in all forms) is a terrible enemy to be avoided at all costs.

The Christian view of suffering runs counter to the world’s.  Paul says he rejoices in his suffering.  We don’t know everything that Paul suffered – but from what is revealed, we know that he suffered profoundly – physically, emotionally, relationally, even spiritually.

Yet, Paul saw purpose in his pain.  He believed his personal suffering benefited his brothers and sisters in the church, strengthening the body of Christ.  His willingness to choose the hard road of faith in spite of his suffering has been an inspiration to others throughout the ages who would likewise suffer much.

I think of the suffering a good friend is facing right now as she agonizes over the decision to choose the familiar, seemingly comfortable path of addiction or the long, arduous road of recovery.  I pray for her, and her friends and family who are suffering with her and making choices themselves whether their support is investing in her recovery or contributing to her addiction.

I pray that the pain we are experiencing now would have purpose – that it would strengthen us individually as believers, draw us closer to the body of Christ, and lead us to a deeper relationship with God.

A world of pain and love by Marco Piunti

“A world of pain and love by Marco Piunti” from  Nina Kassai in Pencil + Paper + Idea

Flashback Friday: “Heal Us, Emmanuel” by William Cowper

 

william cowper 3 from giveawayboy

Heal us, Emmanuel, here we are

We wait to feel Thy touch;

Deep wounded souls to Thee repair,

And Savior, we are such.

 

Our faith is feeble, we confess

We faintly trust Thy Word;

But wilt Thou pity us the less?

Be that far from Thee, Lord!

 

Remember him who once applied

With trembling for relief

“Lord, I believe,” with tears he cried;

“O help my unbelief!”

 

She, too, who touched Thee in the press

And healing virtue stole,

Was answered, “Daughter, go in peace;

Thy faith has made thee whole.”

 

Concealed amid the gathering throng,

She would have shunned Thy view;

And if her faith was firm and strong,

Had strong misgivings too.

 

Like her, with hopes and fears we come

To touch Thee if we may;

O send us not despairing home;

Send none unhealed away.

 

Poet and hymn writer William Cowper (1731-1800) was a man of deep longing that greatly affected his mind as well as his spirit.  In his thirties, while battling some political factions in his work, he was afflicted with “madness” (as it was then called) and admitted to Nathaniel Cotton’s Collegium Insanorum at St. Albans.  He recovered and moved to the town of Olney in 1768 where he co-authored a book of hymns with the well-respected pastor and hymn-writer John Newton (who wrote ”Amazing Grace”).

But all was not well.  One biographic source tells it this way –

In 1773, Cowper became engaged to Mary Unwin, but he suffered another attack of madness. He had terrible nightmares, believing that God  [had] rejected him. Cowper would never again enter a church or say a prayer. When he recovered his health, he kept busy by gardening, carpentry, and keeping animals. In spite of periods of acute depression, Cowper’s twenty-six years in Olney and later at Weston Underwood were marked by great achievement as poet, hymn-writer, and letter-writer.

Certainly, Cowper continued to fight back despair.  He may have stepped aside from public prayer and worship, but the depth of his prayer life and relationship to God in Christ is abundantly evident in hymns that live on through the ages.

The longing expressed in this hymn (and in Cowper’s life – and ours) is not evidence of a lack of faith.  In fact, our faith prompts us to recognize that all is not right within us, among us, or around us.  Our faith, though feeble, keeps us crying out in prayer for our children who are hurting, for our bodies that need healing, for our world that is on the brink of collapse.

We come to God not only with “positive thoughts”, but with hopes and fears – hoping for the best, yet fearing the worst.  We humbly request that the Great Healer would touch us, not of us away wounded still.

 

image of William Cowper from giveawayboysome rights reserved

“Heal Us, Emmanuel” by Will­iam Cow­per from Ol­ney Hymns

For an inspiring reflection on the life of William Cowper, see “Insanity and Spiritual Songs in the Soul of a Saint” by John Piper.

Ah-Ha!: The Revelation of My Spiritual Memoir Title

Always my favorite artist!  Vincent Van Gogh

This year, I’ve been juggling two writing projects (in addition to my blog).  Mostly, I’ve been working on my short story trilogy – “Life”, “Liberty”, and the “The Pursuit of Happiness”.  But I’ve also been tweeking a manuscript I started in June of 2009 – meditations on faith from a person living with Bipolar Disorder.

Yesterday, I had an “Ah-Ha!” moment when I saw the title of a poem written by Robert Herrick – “Delight in Disorder”.  (The poem itself is quite good and worth checking out – here.)  It was the title, though, that grabbed me as the perfect fit for what I have already written in my memoir (as well as a vision for changes I want to make).  Here’s why –

“Delight” describes the optimum human response to divine grace.  In my faith heritage, the answer to the first question of the Westminster Catechism is

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

As human beings, we are made to praise our Creator, and a key component of this praise is to delight in the works of the Lord.

… in the sun as it rises over the ocean.

… in the smile of a child asking to be picked up.

… in the creative spark that inspires productive action.

Delight is not a natural human response (we are often prone to complain).  It is instead a Spirit-prompted reply to God’s gracious acts.

The question arises, h0wever, for me (and many others), “How do I delight when I am depressed?”

The question is not an easy one, and it deserves more than a simplistic answer.  The Apostle Paul, who battled depression himself, advised –

… give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.  (1 Thessalonians 5:18, ESV)

Notice it says “give thanks in all circumstances”, not – “for all circumstances”.   I do not thank God for my Bipolar Disorder, but I do thank God in my Bipolar Disorder.

Which brings me to the second part of the title.  There is delight to be found in disorder.  My spiritual memoir will include stories where I have been able to delight in the Lord in spite of my diagnosis.

… when friends cared for our young children so my wife could visit me in the hospital.

…. when the church provided me a paid leave of absence until I could return to work.

…. when  I was able to encourage others (like me) with mental illness to press on with faith.

One of my great hopes (“burdens” as my Evangelical friends would say) is that this book would serve as a bridge for people with mental illness and people of faith.  It has been my experience that there is a great chasm between people with mental illnesses and people in the pews (of a church).  There are exceptions, of course.  There are people in church with mental illnesses, yet I’ve also found many are reluctant to share their struggles with their brothers and sisters in faith.

If it weren’t for my faith, I would be dead.  It’s as simple as that.  And while it is true you can have faith in God apart from a faith community, it is a little like trying to run a race with amputated legs (and not a very good prosthesis).

I’m still mulling over a sub-title for the book.  Right now, the top candidates are Delight in Disorder: Meditations from a Bipolar Mind and Delight in DisorderMy Life with Bipolar.  I’ll see what emerges in the re-writes and go from there.

I would be interested in hearing from you.  From Christians who may have struggled to understand mental illness in light of faith as well as non-Christians who may question the value of faith in the care of people with mental illness.

Mostly, I’d like to hear what questions you have about my story.  What would you want to read that you would find interesting and help you better understand how I have found Delight in Disorder?

image of Vincent Van Gogh from Sally K. Witt in Stand up for Mental Health

Purposeless-Driven Suicide: Matthew Warren and Me

Edvard Munch's "The Scream"

The news today tells a dismal tale –

“At 27 years of age, Matthew was an incredibly kind, gentle and compassionate young man whose sweet spirit was encouragement and comfort to many,” Warren, the popular author of The Purpose Driven Life, said in the letter. “Unfortunately, he also suffered from mental illness resulting in deep depression and suicidal thoughts.”

Matthew Warren, one of three children of Warren and his wife, Kay, killed himself Friday, the evangelical pastor said in the letter.

“No words can express the anguished grief we feel right now,” Warren wrote. “He had a brilliant intellect and a gift for sensing who was most in pain or most uncomfortable in a room. He’d then make a bee-line to that person to engage and encourage them.”

“In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided. Today, after a fun evening together with Kay and me, in a momentary wave of despair at his home, he took his life.”  (from The Huffington Post)

As a person of faith living with a mental illness who has attempted suicide, this story is all too familiar with me.  It creates in me both a feeling a grateful relief (that I was rescued from death) as well as a bewildered sense of survivor’s guilt.

I want to feel angry.  But who would I be angry at?

Society?

The church?

The mental health establishment?

God?

I suppose I could concoct stories showing how each fell short to save Matthew’s life, but in the end, in spite of aggressive efforts from many sources, he was the one who chose to give up.  Just like I did (though I lived to tell about it).

It’s been almost 5 years now since I tried to end my life.  I’m happy to say I’m enjoying relative balance – on medication, through prayer, in counseling, at church, as I write.  I still struggle with depression, but I don’t fear I will follow in Matthew’s footsteps.

Recently, I wrote an autobiographical poem that includes my suicide attempt and this brief reflection –

Some people ask me now how someone who claims

To be in a saving relationship with Jesus Christ

Could try to kill himself.

 

I don’t have a good answer.

I only know that though I’ve wanted to give up on God,

God hasn’t given up on me.

 

I’d like to hear from you.  How have you been impacted by Matthew’s death?  By mental illness?  By suicide?  How has it affected your faith?

 

(image above – Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” from Amy Larson onto I see a red door and I want it painted black)