I can’t hear you over my talking

Many people that I personally interacted with today are worried about what President-elect Donald Trump will do to them;  their relationships, their bodies, their jobs.  I didn’t understand until I thought:  Would I be concerned about my religious rights and freedom of speech rights if Hillary Clinton had won?  I am very scared of the trouble her presidency would have caused me and worried if I would be willing to stay true to Jesus in the face of unknown suffering.

These people are also tired of hearing, “Don’t worry,” “Get over it,” and other mindless remarks by friends, family, etc. that may show they don’t understand, don’t care or both.

What I am trying to do is listen with my heart for their heart.  We are all people and we all have a story.  If I interrupt, judge, give advice am I going to hear their story?  Do I really just want to hear myself talk and confirm to myself how brilliant I am in my own eyes or do I want to discover another beautiful human being and their unique story?

Everyone’s opinion makes sense to them.  If I listen long enough they may tell me why they feel the way they do.  Today I heard why someone believes in doing something I wouldn’t do.  And from their perspective it made sense.

This presidential election proved that most people want to be heard.  And “the other side” has feelings and concerns that don’t make sense.

Until you listen.

How do you solve poverty?

4 Will evildoers never learn— those who devour my people as men eat bread and who do not call on the LORD?
5 There they are, overwhelmed with dread, for God is present in the company of the righteous.
6 You evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.

Isaiah chapter 14, NIV84

Those with money many times prey upon the poor – check cashing charges, fees for “plastic” money and money orders, cash advance charges, ever rising rent when the costs to the owner stay the same, higher prices for those trapped in the inner city without transportation for the same goods that cost less in neighborhoods that have customers that can shop around, lack of the volume discounts the rich enjoy, higher interest rates for loans to those who have the least money to pay for it.

Satan’s kingdom (fear-based, selfishness-based and money-based) is founded on “what can I get out of you?”  Jesus’ kingdom (love-based) is founded on “what can I give to you?”

I believe heaven’s economy will be the opposite of ours.  We will dream of what we can do for others, ask Jesus for the resources to do it, work with those resources in His strength and give away what we make, our only payment is the joy we receive when we give joy to others.

What would happen if we stopped giving hand-outs that are barely enough to survive on, and we made helping the poor become self-sustaining the same priority President John F. Kennedy gave making the United States the first on the moon?  What about asking those who are challenged what they thought we could do to help them?  What if we stopped being prejudice and gave jobs to those who would otherwise end up in jail because they can’t find someone who will hire them for honest work?

What would happen if I actually went about tangibly demonstrating the actions of the love of Jesus instead of just singing about it in my church or car?

I invite you to discover how you and I can allow Jesus to lift our challenged brothers and sisters.  I invite you to discover:  The Open Table  http://www.theopentable.org/

“Quote”-able: Wintley Phipps

It is in the quiet crucible of your personal, private sufferings that your noblest dreams are born and God’s greatest gifts are given.

During my “personal, private sufferings” I may not have wanted to read this.  All the courage that I imagine I have when not suffering abandons me in the face of real suffering.  All that I thought stood by me I realize can’t help me.  Sometimes even Jesus seems as though he has left me.

I am alone.  And I am afraid.

As I obey my best guess as to God’s will my soul aches and I search for God in my circumstance.

It is here that I decide that no one should have to go through what I am going through alone.  If I only had someone to talk to I could bear it.  I decide if I encounter anyone struggling as I am, I will help them.

And a dream is born.

My dream, forged in the late seventies and early eighties, when I had not yet decided to take meds regularly and  I had yet to welcome Christ into my heart, is being lived out now 35 years later (with Jesus and with meds).  As a Certified Peer Support Specialist I have the privilege to serve people dealing with mental illness every day.  I am doing, as Whitley Phipps says, HPLP: Helping People Live their Potential.  Or, as Jesus says, Loving others.

Am I a hero?  Not even close.  But I am privileged to serve the real Heroes;  people who fight horrific battles in their mind and in their life every day and keep on fighting.  Battling thoughts that no one should have to experience, making even the simplest daily tasks excruciatingly difficult.

Mental illness takes the most hospital beds in our country and receives the lowest per patient funding in our country of any disease.  It is projected that half of our population will experience mental illness in their lifetime.  If that is not you then it is most likely someone you love.  And it is much cheaper to pay for treatment for all who need it than to pay the costs that untreated mental illness cause: personal, family and friend suffering; lost productivity; prison cells and hospital beds.

What can we do?  Get treatment for yourself or your loved one, treat the mentally ill with the respect being a Hero deserves, and vote for funding of Mental Health in your area.

Nobody’s perfect (part II)

I am part of a team of people starting “HOPE” for Mental Health at Kentwood Community Church.  We are part of Celebrate Recovery founded by Rick Warren of Saddleback Church.  This group of courageous people, who admit their imperfections and trust Jesus to deliver them, have been a catalyst to me being able to confess my sins to another trusted person (or small group).  I read my Nobody’s Perfect post from August of 2013 tonight and realized I had promised to get back to you when I had put this into practice.

Much better late than never.

I had told Jesus my sins but telling another person with skin on freed me from most of the grip of satan in my life.  No amount of prayer has freed me as much as telling my sin to another person.  Sin loses power when exposed.

I have known for years that I was “supposed to” confess my sins to another.  But I made excuses and told myself it really didn’t matter.  I lost years of my life to satan’s influence simply because “I know more than God.”

God is not mocked.  I reaped what I sowed.

But I have learned.

Hopefully.

It took going "crazy" to discover what real sanity was

I am grateful to God for the mental illness He gave me.  (But I would never want to repeat it).  Looking back I was “crazier” when I was “sane” and sane now that I’m mentally ill.

Let me unpack that.

Before mental illness I wanted to be a aerospace engineer.  I wanted to impress people with how smart I was.  I wanted fame, fortune, power and pleasure.  I had bought the whole commercial-driven American media world-view.

Most of the girls in my high school graduation class wanted to be social workers it seemed.  I thought they were crazy.  Helping people seemed like a colossal, boring, unrewarding waste of time.

It was at this point that God publicly invaded my private world.  God told me I was a sinner, but I didn’t believe Him.  What I didn’t know was that I was in love with myself, looked down on everyone else, and thought the world should serve me.   That’s when God gave me mental illness.  And my life and the lies I told myself, about myself, fell with a great crash.  God humbled me.  I couldn’t get much “lower” in superficial stereo-typed status than being intermittently locked up in mental hospitals.

For the next ten years I fought God and the meds.  At the end of ten years God gave me the wisdom to take the meds.  Then He sent Bonnie, who knew and loved Jesus, to tell me Jesus loved me.  I wasn’t interested.  Then Bonnie told me that if I rejected the love of Jesus, the only thing left for me was hell.

That got my attention.

I chose to turn around and follow Jesus.

He forgave me, loved me and gave me a heart that cared about other people.  Now I am a Certified Peer Support Specialist working with others who themselves deal with mental illness.  I encourage, give hope, and care.  And I love it.  It took most of my life to discover my life’s work.  And it took going “crazy” to discover what real sanity is.

New Motivation

Think of a good day you have had.  Your work was challenging but through hard work you gained success.  You imagined another successful step down the path of your career and you made it happen.  You felt accomplishment and relaxed at the end of the day with friends and/or loved ones.  Imagine this day being visually represented as a white card.

Now think about the time when you REALLY didn’t feel like doing something.  Something very difficult, that you weren’t good at, had little chance of success, but were forced to do anyway.  And you felt doing it would not ultimately benefit you.  Now imagine you feel real mental pain as you do this.  And once you are done putting in the intense, exhausting effort to complete this task, you feel no sense of reward, no good feelings, no sense of accomplishment.  And, you feel no sense of completion of the day’s work.  Now imagine that this once-in-a-while-really-bad-day of yours is visually represented by a light gray card.

To some with mental illness it is much worse… every day is a black card day.

Before I had mental illness I had a normal suburban middle class life.  If you asked me if I ever had a really bad day I would be able to tell you with conviction that I had suffered bad days, days I didn’t want to do anything, days as bad as anyone’s.  But these bad days were qualitatively different from, and quantitatively of less intensity than, my average day of depression.

When someone has a broken leg you can see it, you hold the door for them, you are sympathetic.  But mental illness is invisible.  The person who struggles looks the same as a healthy person.  An analogy that comes to mind is someone who is swimming in a pool and someone who is swimming in transparent wet concrete.  The problem is not only the difficulty of swimming in concrete, but the invisible injustice that others are seeing you, and judging you, as if you were swimming in the same water they were.

What are some of the ways “we” experience transparent wet concrete while “you” experience water?  There is so much that a healthy functioning brain does that I was not aware of until I didn’t have it.  When I was depressed my emotions shut down but I didn’t know it.  When I drove my car and the light turned red, my foot did not automatically come off the gas and on to the brake.  I thought: “The light is red.  I have to stop.  Why isn’t my foot coming off the gas?”  I had to consciously force my foot to come up and then consciously force my foot to go down on the brake to stop.  Everything that used to be automatic was now consciously forced “drudgery”.  This is just one of many changes depression made in me; none of them for the better. 

Another example of “us” swimming in transparent wet concrete while “you” are swimming in water – is income.  Mental illness (many times) lowers income.  There is a big difference in how hard it is, how long it takes, how much of the elements you have to face, and how much you can get done in a day when you can only afford public transportation as compared to having your own car.  When I am asking someone to pick up their meds, I am thinking of the half hour round trip it takes me to drive-thru my neighborhood pharmacy.  Someone else using public transportation may have to wait half an hour in sub-zero wind chill, or rain, or blistering heat, just to catch the first leg of their bus journey to get to the pharmacy.  And they may do all of this without the benefit of a healthy brain.

I just do not know the difficulties faced by others, and I do not want to deceive myself into thinking I do.  In another analogy, until they experience sight, blind people have no ability to imagine light or color.  And, similarly, deaf people don’t know what is really meant by someone referring to sound until they have experienced it.  Like them, I have no idea what it is like to experience another’s mental illness.  For example, I don’t know what it is like to hear audible voices (that no one else hears).  I myself deal with malicious emotions that tell me I am worthless, to give up, it’s no use to try to do this job, etc.  But they are feelings notaudible voices.  And though I might think I know a little of what they are going through, I really need to talk to them and not assume their experience is similar to mine.  I suggest to you that until you experience severe depression you have no idea how deep that pit is, how black it is, and how steep the walls are.  And you may have no idea how hard it is to survive it, much less get out of it.

Yet even though you haven’t experienced it, you care.  And I wildly applaud you for spending your one and only precious life on this earth investing in our good.  You could be making more money, with better hours, and less unpaid overtime, doing much more pleasant activities.  But you choose to use your strength to lift us up – the struggling.  I know from experience how hard it is to be mentally ill, and yet some of you have more compassion and give more effort than I do to help heal those whose wounds you can’t even see.  Much of the time you work without the world’s applause, (which it reserves for those who have truly noteworthy contributions to make – like highly paid professionals who put a bouncy ball through a metal ring ;>).  For those who cannot or will not, let me sincerely say thank you for caring about us and for putting that caring into action.  You will never know this side of heaven what you have meant to those of us who desperately needed your help.

You care and you act on that caring so I am not asking you to cry boo hoo for those of us who have dealt with, or are dealing with, mental illness.  What I am asking though, is that you consider the possibility that others experience life intrinsically different than you.  An experience of life that makes some of the easiest tasks that others do each day – and take for granted – very, very difficult for us.  And if you feel this difficult life is possible, grant us patience in proportion to the difficulty you believe we face.

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The preceding was written originally for mental health clinicians to both provide a glimpse of what some of us mentally ill experience every day and to thank them for caring enough about us to do a difficult and sometimes thankless job.

I’m glad I didn’t get what I wanted

Jesus said that even in abundance our life does not consist in what we have.  I just updated my Linked In account to reflect my new job.  For my job description I put that I serve the mentally ill of which I am one.  At one time I wanted to be a CEO or president or anything that at that time I thought commanded respect.  I despised my mental illness and the stigma and “shame” that came with it.  Now I thank God for the experience of mental illness though I would not want to go back to having no meds.  I get to meet some of the neatest people through my job.  And what used to hold me back now I use to join with others in moving forward.  Jesus’ kingdom truly is upside-down when compared with how this world thinks.  If God would have granted me a healthy brain and given me my desire to “be important”, I would be lonely, frustrated, and friendless.  Instead He gave me defective brain chemistry, pain and sorrow, and a new life that values other people instead of what I think other people think of me.

What do you value?  Are you happy?  The Bible says that Jesus, took the form of a servant, and for the joy set before Him, endured the cross to pay for our sins.  What did He value?  You and me, and His Father.  He was never elected to public office, never wrote a book, and didn’t travel the world.  He did however, humble himself and obey His Father.  And He is happy.  If you want to follow in His footsteps you can.  Just confess your sins to Him.  Tell Him you’re sorry for them and that you are turning from them with His help.  Tell Him you believe He died for your sins and rose to give you new life.  And then tell someone about the forgiveness and new life God has given you.  Read the Bible and pray.  And love and obey Him.  You will experience His peace, love and joy.