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)

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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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.

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Finding Victory Through Surrender

Psalm 6 begins with a plea to God to bring relief from suffering. God, who is the Source of all things, is the first One we should turn to when we are in trouble. As the psalm progresses, we find the Psalmist near the point of breakdown.

6-7 I’m tired of all this—so tired. My bed
    has been floating forty days and nights
On the flood of my tears.
    My mattress is soaked, soggy with tears.
The sockets of my eyes are black holes;
    nearly blind, I squint and grope.  (Psalm 6:6-7, The Message)

To read more, click on the title below —

“Victory Through Surrender”

Spiritual warfare

“Spiritual warfare” from Lara W. in For Lara

God’s Economy (and ours)

Why should I fear evil days

When my foes’ sin surrounds;

Even those who trust their wealth,

who boast as it abounds?

No man can by any means,

Pay to God his ransom price;

For the purchase of his soul

No payment can suffice.

(from “Hear This All Earth’s Nations” – based on Psalm 49; The Book of Psalms for Worship)

The world’s economy is based (however loosely) on an exchange of “goods” and “services”.  The more desired goods we can produce, the more valued services we can provide, the greater wealth we can accumulate.

A purely “capitalist” philosophy holds that if this exchange is allowed to freely flow, and everyone is given the opportunity to produce as many goods, to provide as many services as s/he can, all will be as it should be.

A “socialist” critique of such a free market contends that greed infects the human heart such that a few wind up feasting on hoarded riches while many others are left to starve as they scramble for the scraps that fall from the table.  Wealth need be redistributed justly, according to a socialist, so that all might live freely.

I do not count myself either a capitalist or a socialist, but I have benefited from both philosophies.  For most of my adult life, I provided pastoral services, steadily rising through the ranks of my profession until I was “earning” a comparatively lucrative salary.  Then, when I went on disability for Bipolar disorder, I became a beneficiary of the “safety net” our system provides for those deemed unable to earn a sufficient wage.

Given what I have witnessed in my life, I have mixed feelings about what method is used both to accumulate wealth and to share resources.  On the one hand, crass capitalism consumes creation as short-term gain is favored over long-term investment.  On the other hand, steadfast socialism skews the scales and fosters debilitating learned dependency.

The good news for us is this.  God is not a capitalist.  Neither is God a socialist. What is God’s economic philosophy? In God, the world’s values are redefined.  “Goods” are not products we produce, but virtues we display.  “Services” are not deeds that meet desires, but loving acts that meet needs.

The best example of God’s goods and services is found in the life of Jesus.  Jesus displayed such “goods” as compassion when they brought to him a woman caught in adultery, and righteous anger when he found money changers perverted prayer in the temple.  Jesus performed such “services” as healing for a Samaritan woman pleading for recognition and teaching all who would listen about the nature of God’s kingdom.

The world’s economy is based heavily on consumer spending.  We are taught from the cradle to the grave to spend first (even if it means going into debt), then frantically scramble to earn enough to pay off our debts.  There is little or no room left over for giving.

In God’s economy, we are provided essential resources and taught to give the first and best and live simply on the rest.

Recently, I read a story on my friend Leanne Sypes’blog about a young African artist named Phumlani Mtabe who has a dream to open an art school in his village.  He’s been working hard and steadily to move toward this dream.  Tragically, a fire struck and he lost everything.  Phumlani writes –

We have to start from the beginning, rebuilding for a new hope that one day God will listen and hear our prayers. 

Reading this was, for me, an answer to prayer.  I’ve been looking for a way I might make an investment beyond my tithe to support God at work in the world beyond my small community.  I have contacted Phumlani and his art teacher and hope to help (in whatever way I can) to invest in his dream.

Personally, I would much rather invest my resources in dreams like Phumlani’s than in Big Macs at McDonald’s, coffees at the convenience store, cable television, even books from Amazon I could readily borrow from the library.

How about you?

Phumlani Art

Investing in Recovery or Contributing to Addiction?

Desert Sky

 

They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.

They spoke against God saying,

“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?

He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed.

Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?

 

Therefore, when the LORD heard;

he was full of wrath,

a fire was kindled against Jacob;

his anger rose against Israel,

because they did not believe in God

and did not trust his saving power.  

(Psalm 78:18-22, English Standard Version)

 

The past 2 weeks, I’ve been consumed trying to faithfully respond to a friend battling addiction.  She is in a desperate state, in need of many things – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and financially.

Because of some legal issues, she is currently in need of a rather large sum of money to retain a lawyer this week.  She has family members willing to invest in her recovery, yet who are determined not to contribute to her addiction.

My friend is in a spiritual desert, like the children of Israel, demanding what she craves and not surrendering gratefully to the Lord who constantly provides all we need.  She demands what she craves and is not willing to invest herself in confessing her sin or taking even the first step toward rebuilding relationships broken by her behavior.

Understand, she comes by this honestly.  She comes from a family of addicts who nearly all have turned to drugs – some legal, some not; some prescribed, some not – to run from reality and hide from pain.  She has learned over the course of her life to lie, cheat, and steal in order to avoid being held accountable.  No, she is not alone.  “All we, like sheep, have gone astray.”  (Isaiah 53:6, ESV)

The challenge for those of us who love her is to confessionally confront her – admitting our own self-destructive sins while pointing out to her her own (that we so well recognize).

My question for prayer this week is this –

 

How do we invest in recovery and not contribute to addiction?

 

Please join me in this prayer and I would appreciate any insights you receive.

(image above “Desert Sky” from Christine Kysely in Sunset Silhouettes)

Pleading for Prayer for a Friend

heaven

From heaven stretch Your hand;

Reaching down to rescue me,

save me from the floods,

The grip of foreign pow’rs,

The ones whose mouth speaks what is false,

The ones whose right hand is the same,

a right hand of deceitfulness. 

(from “Blessed Be the Lord, My Rock” by J.C. Friedrich Schneider – Psalm 144A in The Book of Psalms for Worship)

I have a dear friend I’ve known for over 20 years who is in a desperate situation.  In addition to battling addiction, she is facing legal charges that could result in significant sentencing to jail and/or prison.

In the midst of her struggle, she is feeling terribly conflicted.  She doesn’t know who to trust.  Voices within and around her are telling her to follow one direction, then another.  Her desires and her needs don’t mesh.  Friends and family wrestle with one another in an effort to extend help.

The message of Psalm 144 (especially verses 7-8) is that there is certainly help to be found.  The Psalmist calls on the God of heaven who can (and will) stretch out His hand to rescue those who are overwhelmed by floods of despair, detainment, and desperation.  Those who are caught in the grip of addiction and other self-destructive “powers and principalities” have a Helper in heaven they can count on.

But this Helper is not the only one reaching out.  There are plenty of others – within us, among us, and around us who do not speak the truth that is best for us.  Ideas that “feel right”, friends and family that “mean well”, can actually deceive us into thinking there are other ways to be rescued than the one and only Way – the path that leads to life with God (and others) in Jesus Christ.

I urge all of you to be intensely praying for my friend , especially tomorrow (April 22) as she transitions into treatment.

I have great hope in the LORD, as expressed in another Psalm –

God is our refuge and our strength,

In trials, a proven aid.

And therefore, though the earth should change,

We will not be afraid

Though hills may slide into the sea,

And waves crash down and roar,

And though the ocean’s rage may shake

The mountains on the shore

A river makes God’s city glad,

The Most High’s holy place.

God is in her; she won’t be moved;

God helps at the break of day.

(from “God is Our Refuge and Our Strength” by John Robb; Psalm 44B in The Book of Psalms for Worship)

image above “heaven” from  Karen Rosenberg in Favorite Places & Spaces