Category Archives: Church

Asking for Help

 

A few weeks ago my husband and I were sitting in couples’ therapy when I confessed how hard it is for me to ask for help.  “Why is it that you can’t ask for help?  What do you think would happen?” our therapist inquired of me.

She was hitting a deeply sensitive spot and my face twisted up.  I felt my face getting hot as I fought back the response, “Because if I have to ask for help, then I am failing,”  the response tumbled out.

The truth is I hate asking for help.  I am a mom of four with a pile of Mt. Saint Laundry that actually has its own altitude and climate changes.   I often feel like I suffer from the “Little Red Hen” syndrome, except, unlike the little red hen, I never ask.  I just brood over the fact that everything seems to get placed on my plate to take care of.  Dishes are in the sink and I am angry that no one has taken the initiative to load them into the dishwasher, there is actually dust in the grooves of the kitchen cabinets that no one seems to see except me and let’s not talk about the pile of crumbs under the table that my preschooler leaves behind.  But if I can’t ask, then I really don’t have justification for being upset over something no one knew would even bother me in the first place.  I have to learn to ask.  I have to give myself permission to ask with the understanding that it does not mean I am failing because I can’t handle everything.

I have thought frequently over the last couple of weeks regarding the conversation with the therapist.  And I have thought about my prayer life and my relationship to God.  The truth is, I don’t lean on God the way I should.  Like everything else, I feel as if everything is my responsibility and I only ask for Him to intercede after I am beyond desperate.  In fact, I may just harbor a bit of secret pride in the fact that my prayer life does not read like a Christmas wish list of wants and desires.  (Something else I need to work on).

Matt. 7:7 (NLT) says, “Keep on asking, and you will be given what you ask for.  Keep on looking, and you will find.  Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened.”

My daughters have taught me this concept more than anyone else in my life.  It is watching and hearing the tiniest of prayers–praying for the bees, for safety in the storm and thanking God for “my pink blankey.”  They know they are not self-reliant, so they have no problem asking for their needs to be met.  It is only through the wounds of humanity that we stop asking.  I forget that God is not like the rest of humanity.  It is the nature of being human that we eventually emotionally hurt someone.  God, however, will not let me down.  He is constant and He is omni-everything.  Only He can fulfill my deepest desires that I am unable to even whisper.  But I need to ask.

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Mental Illness and Church

Two days ago via Twitter I heard the news that Rick and Kay Warren’s youngest son had taken his own life.  Rick Warren is the pastor of the Saddleback Valley Community Church and author of The Purpose Driven Life.  His book made a huge impact on me during some of my darkest days when I was holding strong to the belief that I was nothing.  His book influenced me to think that maybe, just maybe I was created for a purpose and was worth something–that I mattered and could make a difference.

I am not alone in being heavily influenced by this book and I grieve that their son Mathew did not believe there was more purpose to his life and chose to end it short.  I am angry that the illness won.

Depression is a master of lies about one’s self.  Just goes to prove how someone who is suffering can not seem to believe beyond the silent whispers, “you are worthless,” that depression breathes into your head.  It is a relentless onslaught to your mental faculties.

I speak from experience.  This hits home with me on a most personal level. Even though I do not know the Warren family, I grieve with them.  I grieve for all of us who suffer from mental illness that brings us to the point of suicide.  I am one of the lucky ones.  I survived my attempt.  But I have both physical and mental scars which remain.  God spoke to me that day.  For this first time I understood He knew my name.  It was a turning point.  But there were still days, months, maybe even a year of a desire to exit from this reality.  It was an every day struggle of survival.  The meds were not working.  Med after med failed me.  It took close on a year before I found the correct combination.  Every day that I was still here went down as a success at survival.

Saddleback Valley Community Church is a mega-church in Southern CA.  Despite being surrounded by thousands of people who knew and admired the Warren family, Rick said, “But only those closest knew that he [his son] struggled from birth with mental illness, dark holes of depression, and even suicidal thoughts. In spite of America’s best doctors, meds, counselors, and prayers for healing, the torture of mental illness never subsided.”

I grieve that only those closest to the Warrens knew of their son’s struggle.  I am in no way slamming their decision, I am grieving with them.  At the same time, I want to be an advocate for change.  In a society where it is okay to accept and sympathize with others’ differences, there is still a stigma regarding mental illness.  I think this is true especially in the church, where we are all supposed to be striving toward ultimate fulfillment and full of praise for the one who gave us life.  But the truth is that we are a bunch of broken people trying to find grace and peace.

My own experience with being bipolar and in the church has been similar.  I can recall quite a few sermons where those who went on meds to treat their symptoms of mental illness were called “having weak faith”  or “to think about what Jesus had to suffer.”  We were shamed for our illness and the desire to treat it.  So we tried to fake it and we kept silent.  And we suffered needlessly for years because of ignorance.

This is not true for the church I attend currently.  They have never shamed me.  Although, when I was at my worst, I don’t believe they were equipped to handle me.  They simply did not have the resources, and I was a full five gallon bucket of crazy with a splash of psychosis.  I was more than a handful. — And no one knew what to do with me.

With as prominent as mental illness is, and considering how debilitating or fatal it can be, I would like to challenge churches to begin a resource program for those who may come to you in need.  We need to know GOOD Christian therapist and psychiatrist for our area.  We need a list of treatment facilities for different things.  We need a way to know about the drugs we are taking to treat our symptoms.  We need someone who will hold us accountable:  similar to a sponsor in an A.A. program. Speaking of A.A. programs, churches should have a list of those, because those of us who are suffering often try to self-medicate in order to subdue the extreme symptoms of the illness.  It is time to step up and help those who need it–before it kills them.

Hope of a Future

Christianity is not about perfect people.  It is about broken people who have a hope in being restored.  A few years ago, a former Islamic woman turned Christian, spoke to our church about her conversion.   I remember how animated she became when she spoke of the hope that Jesus brought her.  It is a hope she had never had before she was Christian.  She spoke of trying to be “good enough” yet, never being able to obtain the level of perfection to which she was held.  Whether that sense of perfection was from her family of origin or something to do with the religion in which she was raised is something I can not attest to.

In John 3:18 Jesus says, “There is no judgement awaiting those who trust Him [the son of God].  Paul, in Col 1:22, states, “As a result [of what Jesus did], He has brought you into the very presence of God, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault.”

There is no spiritual judgement for those who believe in the sacrifice of Jesus.  We have been made blameless and pure through Jesus.  That is our hope and our salvation and the thing we should stand on as Christians.  Sadly, even in Christian circles, this point is overlooked.  Somehow, it is lost between confessing and repenting.

A few years back, before I understood this truth, I was trying so hard to be perfect.  And I was failing miserably.  I was emotionally punishing myself, thinking if I could just flog myself a little harder, then my plight would be noticed and God would receive my offering.  I thought I could be made pure and atoned for through my self inflicted emotional pain.  I felt like I was unworthy, and should be punished as such.

One evening after classes I tried to explain my brokenness to another woman.  I was hoping for comfort and insight.  But as I explained my theology she simply asked, “So, what you are saying is what Jesus did wasn’t good enough? ”  The words were not spoken harshly, but they had an edge to them.  That edge cut into me.  How could I not think that what Jesus did was good enough?  It was me, I tried to explain, that was not good enough.  Those words cut me, but they were so true.

What I had missed out on is that Jesus had already made me pure.  No judgments could ever be held against me because I claim salvation in the name of Jesus.  I claim that I am one of His.  I didn’t need to punish myself.  He had already taken the punishment for me so that I can have hope to see the beauty of heaven.  It is more than a hope, it is a security.  Spiritually, I am blameless and pure.

It is not our striving toward perfection or goodness that makes us good.  It is not the commandments that make us behave ethically.  It is the love that the Father has shown to us.  It is the light which radiates from us because we have an understanding of what has been done for us.

Truth vs. the Lies that Infect Us

In her book So Long Insecurity Beth Moore states, “We’re going to have to let truth scream louder to our souls than the lies that have infected us.”

Sounds like a good theory in concept.  The problem is, is that sometimes, we do not know what truth is in regards to who we are.  A few years back my belief was that I was a most heinous individual.  I hated myself with such a great intensity that it was physically nauseating.  The song I listened to over and over again was “Who I Am Hates Who I’ve Been.”  I wanted to be beautiful, for there to be a grace about me that radiated, alas, it didn’t.  I believed that no one could really want to even talk to me.  I had nothing of value to offer.   I was too much of a disappointment to everyone in my life.  I felt I was a detriment to those around me.

So I holed myself up.  I could not look up at anyone, afraid I would see disappointment in their eyes.  I wanted to have an emotional beauty about me, to minister, to be an artist and a writer.  Could I dare define myself by such things?  The fear of failure during these years kept me in a silent jail.  I was only one who was unworthy of anything.  I allowed every negative action to affirm my beliefs.

Worse yet, during this time I had a woman who I thought was going to mentor me separate herself from me.  I was devastated and her actions confirmed every negative thought I had ever had about myself.  It was my ultimate confirmation.

Even now, years later, it is hard to believe and write anything to the contrary.  I believed the lies so long, they are ingrained into my very core.

How is it that I had every believed such things to begin with?  Who knows why I have such worthiness issues, but they plague me.

At some point during those years I decided I had to determine what truth was.  People are fallible.  Always remember that.  The things that come out of someone’s mouth are often flawed because of their own perceptions.  The only place to turn was to scripture and I had to believe it as if scripture were speaking directly to me.

So what is the truth?

1.  I am worth rescuing.  (My theme Psalm is chapter 18)

2.  I am a reflection of the Creator.  (Gen. 1: 27)

3.  God has plans for me. (Jer. 29:11)

4.  He rejoices over me.  (Zeph. 3:17)

5.  I am holy and without fault in His eyes. (Eph. 1: 4, Col. 1:22)

6.  My story can be used for His Glory.  (Eph. 5:14)

I can only allow God to define me.  It is His truth that sets me free.  If I start defining myself based on what others think of me, then I become paranoid and lost in the insanity of it all.  I have my doubts and setbacks.  My last blog entry can attest to that.  But I know that God knows my name, and regardless of who I am in relationship with humanity, I am precious to Him.

What truths do you base your life on?  What lies have you believed?  How do you allow those things to define you? 

The Flood

A couple of years ago we had a MAJOR flood in our area.  It was unreal.  We didn’t expect it.  We weren’t prepared.  Dams threatened to break.  Bridges threatened to collapse.  A rain system simply settled on top of us and deluged for days.

The river system that runs through our neighborhood is usually very calm.  But during this time it cut straight shots from river bend to river bend resulting in houses, which were not even close to the river, being swept away down to the foundation.  School’s portable classrooms floated away and people drowned on flooded, congested interstates where the waters rose faster than the cars could get out of the way.  We watched in horror  from our television screens, helpless.

When it was over and the waters receded, it looked like a tornado, not a flood, had hit our town.  Places where the water had risen and tumbled by with such extreme force the landscape had been wiped clean.  School was closed for the rest of the year.  Hardly anything that the water had washed over remained.  On each side of the riverbank yards and yards outstretched of huge trees which had been left laying flat by the tumbling water.  They called it “the thousand year flood.”

I still drive by these places and the landscape is still not the same as it was prior to the flood.  They are recognizable, yet different. The landscape is not quite the same.  Old oaks which once stood firm now lay on their sides, rotting.  River bends were made straighter.

It was a flood that had never been seen in this area.

I can’t help but meditate on what the flood meant.  How it stripped everything away.

In church, I have heard many references in either prayer, words of meditation, or song regarding the Holy Spirit “flooding” our soul.  I used to equate that to filling our soul.  But after seeing first hand the effects of a flood, I think it means so much more than that.

It means to wash everything that was there prior away.  Not just wash as in cleaning a window, but to completely strip it and leave it barren.  I think about this being done to me.  When I pray for a flooding of the Holy Spirit, I am asking for all that I was prior to be washed away.

But then, I am ready to be filled.  If I have baggage in my soul, then there is not much room for the Holy Spirit to reside.  I understand the stripping.  I have to be stripped before I can be filled.  Only after I am stripped am I ready.

Soon we returned to the areas which were flooded and we rebuild.  We go back to the river and learn to live life on it once again.

In some ways, life is better.  Houses were remodeled and new life begins on the riverbanks.  Roads were restored.  People came together.

Can it be that way with our soul?  After it is stripped can it be restored?  I believe so.  Not only will it be restored, but it will be richer and more beautiful than before.

“Father, flood my soul with your Holy Sprit.  I am ready to be nothing of myself and filled completely by you.”

Do we really need the mask?

“Don’t beat yourself up because you need help. Instead, come to Me with all your neediness,” Jesus Calling.  

I know someone who refuses to go to church not because she doesn’t believe, not because she has done something awful, not because she doesn’t think it important, but because she thinks she needs to get her life “right” before she can go.  While I respect her not wanting to appear hypocritical, my heart aches for her and her misunderstanding of what “church” is.

Yet, I believe her thinking is all too common.  There is a popular belief that people who go to church are perfect, if they aren’t perfect, then they are hypocrites.  So we all go around wearing a superficial, perfect mask and we are afraid to admit our failures.

I used to have a similar belief, especially in regard to those who are in a position of power within the church.  If you were to be in ministry, for example, then you had better not have any black marks against you.  Ministers were those who had it together and were leading perfect lives.

Then I met ministers who confessed their shortcomings and failures.  They would talk about their woundedness that either they had caused or that they had been on the receiving end.  They were human, they wore no mask, and they let me see them in their humanity. I was astounded.

Then I began to study the great leaders and heroes of the Bible.  David had an affair, had the husband of the woman whom he had impregnated killed in order to cover over his affair.  Moses killed a man before God called him to lead the Hebrews out of Egyptian slavery.  Jonah ran away from God.  The  Apostles didn’t believe.  Yet, they were all called.

I struggle with bipolar depression and yet, I have been called.  I am not perfect.  I may fail you in my humanity.  I mess up.

Church is not supposed to be about a bunch of perfect people.  We wouldn’t need Jesus if we were perfect.  No, Jesus came for those who are sick.  Church is about us being a better person tomorrow than we are today. It is about helping each other find their way on the journey.

Even if you are a messed-up person, it is okay to go to church.  You are not going to ruin the track record of the church.  Come to Jesus with all your neediness, all your imperfections, all your shortcomings and failures.  His grace is big enough.

Kicking and Screaming

Footprints captionAnyone ever feel this way?  That God has taken you to places in your life not by peaceably carrying you or walking along side of you, but with you kicking and screaming every step of the way?  And in the end God finally had to drag you there?

I love this caption because it speaks so much truth about my life.  I was always satisfied just being a Sunday School girl, making an occasional comment or two, or just being a good choir girl.  I remember a prayer from years ago where I thanked God that I was not called into ministry.  I can only imagine now how God must have tilted His head back and laughed at that one knowing what would be in store for me later.  But I can not say I have accepted this call gracefully.  For the longest time I could not hear the call simply because it was not time, and I was not ready.  But then, I haven taken so many roundabouts that I became very disoriented and confused.  I was called into ministry, and I thought I would go into it through music.  So I went back to school as an adult as a music major.  I always felt my years as a music major were just stepping stones to something bigger.  I still really did not know what.  Then I wanted to get involved in some of the other ministries at my church.  Those doors did not open for me.

Then my story started to take a shape in a way which could be used for God’s glory.  I would hear the whispers of God as people would tell me, “You should write a book.”

“One day, maybe.”  Would be my reply.

And I kept saying “One day.”

For years.  I kept thinking my story has to have an end to growing, a solution to all my problems.

Then one day I was out walking, and I kept hearing the compelling voice saying, “One day is here.  One day is now.”

It wasn’t an audible voice, but one more like a toddler tugging on your shirt-tale repeatedly.  Not verbal, but persistent.  I did what Moses did, “You can’t mean me.”  And then I did what Abraham did, I laughed.  No not me.  Time went by.

The tugging did not cease.  Slowly I started compiling things.  But there are still so many unanswered questions.  I started blogging.  Doors started opening; at an almost frightening rate.

I may have seem to come peaceably to this place.  But I have not.  There are definite grooves where my footprints should be.

I still do not know what God has in store for me.  But I have a feeling it is more than I can ask for or imagine.  And by the way, I am terrified, kicking and screaming all the way on the inside, even if I don’t appear to be.  The bottom line is that I have to answer His call to me.

So what things have you been dragged to kicking and screaming?

The Lost Sheep

From Luke 15–The Parable of the Lost sheep: (NLT, emphasis mine)

So Jesus told them this story: “If a man has a hundred sheep and one of them gets lost, what will he do? Won’t he leave the ninety-nine others in the wilderness and go to search for the one that is lost until he finds it? And when he has found it, he will joyfully carry it home on his shoulders. When he arrives, he will call together his friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost sheep.’ In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!

I wonder what it is like to be in the 99%.  To never have strayed.  To grow up in the church, stay with the flock and always know that God loves you and to always rejoice in that.  To always be secure in who you are in God.  My husband is in that 99%.  Me, on the other hand, well, I am the sheep that strayed.  I had no idea of my identity in God.  In fact, I felt like the sheep that was lost, except, I felt like no one ever knew I was lost.  Especially God.  The good shepherd was supposed to come find me.  I had given up on hope of God finding me.  I went for years believing that I had been given up on.  I felt that to be lost is who I was to be.  But in the end, God did come to my rescue in my most desperate hour of need.  (More on that subject another time).

I have always read the parable of the lost sheep as:  a sheep was left behind the flock, the shepherd went and found it, the end.  But I was reading this parable the other day and something struck me that I have never read into it before.  “there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!”  

I am in the 1% that strayed away.  And it hit me.  There has been more rejoicing over me coming back into the arms of the father than those who never have been away at all.  In heaven, I have been rejoiced over because I was found!  How awesome is that!  The scriptures don’t say that it is “good to see ya, glad your back with us,” but rather, the angels in heaven threw a party when I was found.  A party was thrown for me.  I went from believing that God did not know my name to believing that a party was thrown just for me.  It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling.

So what about you?  Where are you on your lost sheep journey? Have you been found or are you waiting on the shepherd?

 

Who am I?

“The B-I-B-L-E, that’s the book for me. I’ll read and study and then obey, the B-I-B-L-E.”

I wonder how much of my theology as a child was shaped by songs such as this? It states that we should read, study and obey. But what does that mean? To my child’s mind, I took it very literal. To obey translated into: be good, don’t do bad things. God is good, so you be good.

The problem was that I could never seem to be good enough. Not that I didn’t try. I did. I tried so hard to be good. It is just that I would mess up. As a young child that meant things like not making good grades. As a teenager, that meant defying my parents and doing things they had told me not to do. As an adult, well, I became very prodigal.

Although I knew the story of the prodigal, unlike the son, I felt I couldn’t return home–spiritually speaking that is. I had too much shame. Or maybe I just needed to tuck my pride between my legs. But for whatever reason, I didn’t feel like I could be accepted in the church. It was like there had been this good-bad line drawn in the sand and I had crossed it. And once I crossed it, there was no going back.

I had spent all this time trying to be good enough and failing at it. It was all about me trying. I was seriously struggling with this issue of being good enough when one day I heard the song, “Who am I” by casting crowns on the radio. Here are the lyrics:

Who am I, that the Lord of all the earth
Would care to know my name
Would care to feel my hurt
Who am I, that the Bright and Morning Star
Would choose to light the way
For my ever wandering heart

Not because of who I am
But because of what You’ve done
Not because of what I’ve done
But because of who You are

I am a flower quickly fading
Here today and gone tomorrow
A wave tossed in the ocean
A vapor in the wind
Still You hear me when I’m calling
Lord, You catch me when I’m falling
And You’ve told me who I am
I am Yours, I am Yours

Who Am I, that the eyes that see my sin
Would look on me with love and watch me rise again
Who Am I, that the voice that calmed the sea
Would call out through the rain
And calm the storm in me

I am Yours
Whom shall I fear
Whom shall I fear
‘Cause I am Yours
I am Yours

I wanted to understand “how the Lord of all the earth, would ever care to know my name?” Why would God care to know my name? I really wanted to know. There was no way I believed God knew who I was. Then the chorus of the song came. “Not because of who I am/ but because of what you’ve done, Not because of what I’ve done/ But because of who you are! Those words stuck with me and I wrestled with them for months to come.

“What do you mean it is not because of what I have done!” my mind screamed back at the radio. “You just don’t know what all I have done.”

I later downloaded the song and listened to the lyrics over and over again until the message rewrote the theology of the song I learned in my youth about obeying.

It isn’t because I had obeyed or not obeyed, it is because of the nature of God and who He is! It has nothing to do with me at all. It is not about me or anything I can do to earn my way into knowing who God is and getting Him to know my name. It is about accepting that, “I am Yours.”

When you realize the gift that those lyrics state, then you can not help but to lay down at the foot of the throne and weep because mercy you did not deserve has been given to you. You in turn, want to do what is right because of who sits on that throne. You want to show grace and mercy just as grace and mercy has been shown to you. That is what Christianity is about–showing grace and mercy. Remember that during your day today and be grace and mercy to those whom you meet.

By the Way, if you want to see the YouTube video of casting crowns, you can see it here:

To be a Super Hero

My daughters often play a game they have dubbed “super rescue girls.”  Basically it is a game of an imaginary thing which is in distress, that they then go and rescue.  So after a game of “super rescue girls” my daughter Elizabeth looked at me and lamented, “I wish I was a real super hero.”  She was very serious when she said this.  Knowing that she would never have super powers, yet also knowing that she is wonderful for who she is all the same, I asked her, “What would you do with your super powers?”

“I would help people, of course.”

What a stunning conclusion.  Not to fly, or to be able to turn back time like superman, or save the world, but to just help someone — one person at a time.  Then it hit me.  To help someone is within my power.  I can do that.

I can be someone’s superhero.  You can be someone’s superhero.  Even the most introverted of persons still have effect on an astounding amount of people.  We have the power to influence others, for positive or negative, for good or for bad.  I may not be anyone’s superhero other than my children’s, and maybe I am that only for the time that they are little, but I do have the power to come into contact with people on a daily basis. Not many but a few.  I have contact through my blog.  It all has a ripple effect. — The smile and eye to eye contact I give a cashier instead of just exchanging merchanise for money and going about my day, the fast food employee I say “blessings” to instead of “thank you.”  It all has a ripple effect.  Much like Dr Suess’ Because a Little Bug Went Ka-choo.  If you don’t know the story of this little bug, it is simply a tale about how a bug sneezed and the ripple effects of his sneeze.  In the end the whole town becomes a circus, all because of the little bug’s sneeze.

Although this ripple effect ended in chaos, the same thing can happen with kindness, goodness and the hero super power of helping.  Currently, my life is pretty much drama free.  But it has not always been this way.  I can empathize with a hurt that feels like you are going to die if it does not stop.  I know emotional pain so deep, that it racks the very essence of your soul.  During that time, I could not see how I could ever have the super hero power to simply be helpful.  But in simple conversation I have the power to be positive or negative in regards to life.  I can offer them “blessings” or “curses.”

I can not fly, or leap buildings in a single bound, but I can “pay if forward.”  There is a small group I am involved in.  At our last meeting we did not even get to our studies simply because there was so much emotional pain and hurt in the room.  I felt so powerless to do anything but pray.  I don’t have a magic wand that will make everything better, and many of these people are hurting in areas I have no experience in.  But I can be there for them and listen.  I can be a friend.  I can help with babysitting.  I can help them feel human and validate them.  I can let them know I care — that is a big one.

The world often seems so full of hurt and pain that I feel I can not make a difference.  But like the little boy who was throwing starfish back into the ocean, “it matters to this one.”  It matters to the ones I touch with kindness.  It matters to them greatly.  I have a friend who is so full of emotional pain, that she can not fathom why anyone would even smile at here as they pass her in the grocery store, much less be speak words of kindness to her.  There are people who are hurting that intensely.  You pass them everyday in your walk of life.  You have the power to bestow kindness on people.  You have the power to help the hurting.  The only question is do you?  It is easy to keep to yourself in your own little bubble.  That is a very safe place to be.  It is an easy place to be.

Intentionally smile at someone today.  You never know, it could make their day.  Be a superhero to someone.  In the words of my daughter, all it takes to be a superhero is “to help someone.”