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.

Birthing My Book: From Conception to Miscarriage

Finger  Lakes Country. An hour or two from Rochester.

On June 13, 2009, I was driving along the scenic shores of the Finger Lakes region of New York wondering what I was going to do with my life.  I was 45.  I had spent most of the last two decades serving as a pastor while battling bipolar disorder. At my best, I had time and energy left to enjoy family life with my wonderful wife and four beautiful children.  At my worst, I either laid under the covers in a dark bedroom or frantically pursued plans ill-conceived and left undone.  I looked out the window and prayed for vision.

Suddenly, it came to me. I would write a book about bipolar and the faith that either fuels us to distraction or saves us from self-destruction.  In less than 20 miles, I conceived of a collection of devotions, inspired by the Psalms and a title — from Sheol to the Highest Heavens: 101 Devotions for Persons with Bipolar (and those who love them).  By the time I pulled into the driveway, I had most of the introduction in mind (which has remained largely the same), and some thoughts on one devotion (which is now the “Epilogue”).

Over the course of the next six months, I poured through the Psalms and wrote 1-3 devotions a day.  Some days as I felt like working more, I would re-write earlier devotions.  By early 2010, I had a manuscript I just knew would be embraced by countless publishers.  I bought a copy of the Christian Writer’s Market Guide, found 15 publishers I felt were appropriate and sent out quickly composed queries.

I waited.  And waited.  And waited.

Out of the 15 queries I sent out, I received a total of one response – a two sentence form e-mail.

It was as if I had a miscarriage.

I stuffed the manuscript in my chest-of-drawers under a pile of junk mail, unfolded underwear and mis-matched socks.

I didn’t write another word for over a year.

The Bible says, “Without vision, people perish.”  I was dying on the vine.  My mind was consumed with grief which actually felt a lot like nothingness.  Each day, I sat in my recliner and stared at the ceiling.  At night, I slept fitfully, listening to BBC radio through my pillow speaker — a reminder at least that life went on — somewhere.

Meanwhile, my wife was fed up.  Understandably.  Here we were, living on a fruitful homestead, financially secure, with four adorable children and nothing to do but delight in the Lord and love one another.  What was wrong with me?

I tried many things – counseling, gardening, volunteering, working with men from the church.  Something was still not right.  We searched our minds for an answer. Was I over-medicated? Did my overdose damage my brain? Or the E.C.T.? Was it my illness? Or just me?

Only God knew.  And for some reason, God was not giving us the answer.

(image above from Jenny Russo)

“Dancing in the Minefields” by Andrew Peterson in Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack)

With all the hope of a man desperate to not be alone in life and eager to find what he’d never been looking for, I bought you a ring at a mall kiosk. I placed it in Eeyore’s lap and wrapped it up as a Christmas gift.

We set a date then set about debating all the details of navigating life together in faith, clinging to the promise we would one day be One, bonded in a holy union that would somehow keep us together and prevent us from falling apart.

At our wedding, the minister fed me vows but I was too choked up to repeat them. I was crying. Amazed at the grace that the brokenness in me might finally be mended. At the prospect that what God was joining together no one could possibly separate.

It’s been over twenty years and the promise remains true, though we are miles apart. We’re still in the minefields, waiting for our song to play.

Well I was 19, you were 21
The year we got engaged
Everyone said we were much too young
But we did it anyway
We got the rings for 40 each from a pawnshop down the road
We said our vows and took the leap now 15 years ago

We went dancing in the minefields
We went sailing in the storms
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for

Well “I do” are the two most famous last words
The beginning of the end
But to lose your life for another I’ve heard is a good place to begin
‘Cause the only way to find your life is to lay your own life down
And I believe it’s an easy price for the life that we have found

And we’re dancing in the minefields
We’re sailing in the storms
And it was harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

So when I lose my way, find me
When I lose loves chains, bind me
At the end of all my faith to the end of all my days
when I forget my name, remind me

‘Cause we bear the light of the Son of man
So there’s nothing left to fear
So I’ll walk with you in the shadow lands
Till the shadows disappear
‘Cause He promised not to leave us
And his promises are true
So in the face of this chaos baby,
I can dance with you

So lets go dancing in the minefields
Lets go sailing in the storms
Oh, lets go dancing in the minefields
And kicking down the doors
Oh, lets go dancing in the minefields
And sailing in the storms
Oh, this is harder than we dreamed
But I believe that’s what the promise is for
That’s what the promise is for

(“Dancing in the Minefields” is the eighth song on my autobiographical Spotify playlist Delight in Disorder)

“Closer to Fine” by Indigo Girls in Delight in Disorder (the soundtrack)

I went to graduate school with the hope of finding my calling in ministry and growing closer to God. My faith was broken down in class. I was taught how not to talk about God. But through positions “in the field,” I found God in the smile of a boy who would never talk, in the songs of prisoners longing to be free, in the prayers of a man at the bedside of his dying wife.

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

I’m trying to tell you something about my life

Maybe give me insight between black and white

The best thing you’ve ever done for me

Is to help me take my life less seriously,

it’s only life after all

Well darkness has a hunger that’s insatiable

And lightness has a call that’s hard to hear

I wrap my fear around me like a blanket

I sailed my ship of safety till I sank it,

I’m crawling on your shore.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain

There’s more than one answer to these questions

pointing me in crooked line

The less I seek my source for some definitive

The closer I am to fine.

I went to see the doctor of philosophy

With a poster of Rasputin and a beard down to his knee

He never did marry or see a B-grade movie

He graded my performance, he said he could see through me

I spent four years prostrate to the higher mind,

got my paper And I was free.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain

There’s more than one answer to these questions

pointing me in crooked line

The less I seek my source for some definitive

The closer I am to fine.

I stopped by the bar at 3 a.m.

To seek solace in a bottle or possibly a friend

I woke up with a headache like my head against a board

Twice as cloudy as I’d been the night before

I went in seeking clarity.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain

There’s more than one answer to these questions

pointing me in crooked line

The less I seek my source for some definitive

The closer I am to fine.

I went to the doctor, I went to the mountains

I looked to the children, I drank from the fountain

There’s more than one answer to these questions

pointing me in crooked line

The less I seek my source for some definitive

The closer I am to fine.

We go to the bible, we go through the workout

We read up on revival and we stand up for the lookout

There’s more than one answer to these questions

pointing me in a crooked line

The less I seek my source for some definitive

The closer I am to fine

The closer I am to fine

The closer I am to fine

(“Closer to Fine” is the sixth song on my autobiographical playlist Delight in Disorder)

“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 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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Motherhood, Music, Memories, and Other Musings: Mental Health Monday

For our round-up of readings about mental illness this week, I’ve decided to adhere to the time-honored principle for writers – “Show, don’t tell.”  Below are some of the best mental health postings around the blogosphere this week, with excerpts and links to read more.

Confusing Motherhood” (psychosisrus)

I can’t help but sit here in immense pain, wondering how the hell it got to this? I am stuck! I never really had the motherhood 101 course. No real mentors in this area. All fly by the seat of my pants – make it up as I go, bullshit. I guess I have been doing okay, I just want to be better. More effective. Will you say “That is just PROOF that you are a good mom. You always want to give more – be more for them.” Okay, I get this, to a degree. But here I am, stacking all my insufficiencies one on top of the other. I’m stacking my deck. No one else is! Why do I keep going back here? Why? Because I am so worn out, in pain, tired, frustrated, and COMPLETELY overwhelmed.

Daile’s Mix Tape – Waltz #2 (XO)” (kissmeoutofdesire)

 It is a simple song in terms of composition, not needing an orchestra of instruments and relying on a guitar and Smith’s husky voice. My heart breaks to listen to this song knowing that the musical genius who produced it, suffered from mental health and addiction issues and ended his life through self inflicted stab wounds – if that doesn’t tell you he was a tortured soul, I don’t know what would.

Faith and Sight” (The Consolations of Writing)

I.
“Am I okay?” the question asks itself.
The mind retreats within to make reply
And eyes forever dart towards the shelf
(The cupboard open, fruit left out to dry).
Unsettled souls put back the oil of joy
And rifle through supplies to find the seed.
The memory bank’s a plastic, moulding joy,
Responsive to the anxious way we knead,
New lies put in for truth, new fears for peace.
For we transform the past each time we check,
And, moulding former years, these years can’t cease.
There’ll always be new jokers in the deck,
New ways to stop ourselves from singing praise
And counting blessings in these blessed days.

Depression” (Le Chatelier’s Principle)

Because my grades were dropping, my parents started to put more pressure on me to pull myself together, and my friends started to wonder why I was pulling away from everyone, and finally, finally they got me to realise that something was wrong.  I went to see the school counsellor and she said she thought I might have depression.  I suppose I should have realised sooner, especially since my father had been going through pretty much the same thing, but it was still hard to accept this.  To realise that there was really something wrong.  That was kind of scary.  But it was also a relief to realise that I was not alone, that what I faced had a name.  And to realise that there was hope.

Triggers, Triggers, Everywhere” (Nodus Tollens)

I recently had to attend a family gathering, which thankfully was at my own house so I actually had a bit of a chance of getting away to my own space. As we all know, family gatherings are just full of questions such as:

“Are you losing weight?”

“Did you gain weight?”

“Why aren’t you eating?”

“Are you on a diet?”

“Why aren’t you in school?”

“What are you doing now?”

“Do you have a job?”

And etc etc etc.

Chaos Storm Thoughts” (Documenting Descent)

I feel like there are people keeping me in the unknown. There is a storm brewing in my minds full of egotistical delusional thought. Do I really think that I am important enough for people to conspire against?  People come and go, people hide, and when they are hidden, I can not help but think it is so they can strike against me. People disappear from the online world, people that once liked me in real life, but due to the tides of fate, may not hate me, but want nothing to do with me, even though I care enough to check up on them occasionally and smile with their happiness and jokes.  But one day they are just gone? without mention, rhyme or reason, they just… :poof: and it bothers me, I do not know why it strikes me so to my core. Perhaps it is due to my time in foster care, where people would come out of nowhere and side strike you, or perhaps I really do, in someway believe myself to be important enough to conspire against, I don’t know, all I know, is last year I didn’t feel like this, or well maybe it is better to say I didn’t feel this strongly. But it least I can count the number of people who really dislike me on my hands, so it is not over ten yet?

On Mental Issues and Joking About Them” (kojitmal)

It`s hard, when everything`s in your own head. It`s not like a broken arm where you have the cast. It`s not like crutches, or  a band aid, or even like the telltale signs of chemotherapy in case of cancer. These are at least somewhat more socially accepted. It`s okay to call in sick to work when you can`t get out of bed thanks to a flu. It`s not socially accepted to call in sick to work when you can`t get out of bed thanks to depression.

 

Support Mental Health Awareness

image from Angelica Cambridge

Share “Delight in Disorder” with the World

Having served in ministry with madness, I now have a mission.  And I can use your help.

Help me share Delight in Disorder with the world.

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.  Amy Simpson — Author, Troubled Minds: Mental Illness and the Church’s Mission

We are on a mission to share the hope of Christ with people who, like me, wrestle with mental illness.  Our mission is also to foster the compassion of Christ within the faith community towards those that have often been  like bruised reeds broken by false accusations and wrongful judgments.

To find out more about our mission and, as the Spirit leads, offer your support, go to our indiegogo site by clicking on the following link –

May you be blessed as you are a blessing,
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