Friday, February 24, 2017

When I Failed At Missions

 

The whisper of summer breeze caresses my face as I perch on the concrete steps of New Creation Lutheran Church. This has become a daily meeting hour. After dinner, my fellow team members and I linger outside with the neighborhood kids. They’ll pop wheelies, zig-zag on skateboards or just sit and chat. Some days the girls and I chase bubbles. Some days we all get wet to abate the haze of summer.

It is fun. It is life. It is Gospel. I never want to leave.

My home, this summer, is a two-story brick church on West Tioga Street. It’s located in an area of Philadelphia called the Badlands. Here violence is just a block away. We have experienced the good in the people and the bad in crime. One day we return from downtown and find someone attempted to burn down our church.

And yet, here is where I have come to call 'home'.  I smell gasoline mixed with stale smoke and too ripe fruit and it is comforting. I play kickball with fast running neighborhood boys until my lungs scream and love every second of it. I make crazy singing ‘Father Abraham’ in front of a hundred kids and with a gigantic smile. I look in eyes and give hope. For nine weeks I tell little lives of big love. I learn the size of God’s heart through my own. I give everything I have.

It is the summer after my sophomore year of college. My heart is just beginning to beat for God and His kingdom.

Last year I had a 'grace awakening', coming alive to the gospel in ways which made it feel like I had just begun to believe in Jesus. As I then began to think about missions, during my sophomore year, Bart Campolo came to my college's chapel and talked about his ministry in Philadelphia called Kingdomworks. That day, I knew this ministry was for me and a few months later I came to Tioga Street.


Now I am here, full of faith. Unafraid. I am ready for anything. I know God is with me and He loves the city. I vow to dedicate my life to urban ministry.

I hug the tear-stained children on my last day. I promise to write. I promise to visit. I promise to come back.

 A few letters I write. I visit once. I don't come back to stay even for a little while.

In the end, I failed. I left and never came back. Tender hearts would not trust easily again. The pressure of drugs, gangs and despair would weigh heavily and I wouldn’t be there to guide them towards the good...

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Friday, February 10, 2017

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and Living My Life



Sun streams through the windows of my van, golden and sure. I am singing, in and out of key, to a song from the radio. I am on my way to visit a potential preschool for my three year-old sitting in the seat behind me.


I am happy. I am alive. I know everything in my life will work out. 

I feel great hope. I feel free as I dangle my arm by the open car window. It feels like I am a happy, normal person. It has taken a long time to get here. It is since the trauma of my hospital stay and subsequent leaving of Hungary.

It feels really, really good. 

But it is a few short weeks later when I end up in the hospital a second time. It is a surprise to everyone, especially me. Just when things are looking up.

My counselor is sure it is because I was reducing one of my medicines. Purely chemical. I suppose this is right. 

But who is the one really trying to beat us down and take us out of life? Yes him. That super villain to end all notions of any other.

And in a week's time the axis of my world tilts again. In comes the fear, the anxiety, the shame, the doubt, the joy-busters, really, the LIFE-busters.

Do I have the fight, the will to come back again?

This is what it is like to have bipolar. How this sickness tears you apart and steals your normal. And this 'normal' you come to see as such a precious gift. The ability to simply live your life.

But, I have come to realize my desire for normal is really an illusion. I am not made like other people. My chemical make-up is complex. I have to find a different way to walk my life. One which finds it can move to the other side of the fears. One which takes deep breaths and trusts it will all be okay...forever. One which finds its way through hell to heaven.

And my way to really living my life is not around having bipolar, but through it. I will write it again even if part of me is screaming to not do it. My fingers shake and my stomach knots but I will write it: 'Bipolar disorder is a gift.' 

All it has taken me through especially with the delusions and often-horrific visions, is a hellish thing which I will no more call a gift than Satan himself.

Yet, how I come to the end of myself, how I know myself as one in great need, how I come to see God as the only one who can rescue me; this is a gift.

My life is irrevocably different because of what I am walking. This is true for all of us, because my bipolar is your__________. And this difference is what brings me again and again and again to God.

Jesus says 'it is the sick who needs a physician'(Luke 5:31). It is me who is sick for a Savior. I am the one first to His feet. The one who can't take her eyes off of Him. Because what happens when I do? It all comes rushing back, the pain and fear and those nasty lies hissing about me.

I don't have any of this nearly worked out. But I know I am ready to live my life. I am trusting God for great things this year. I am believing He is with me. He. is. with. me. I am not going to live afraid, anxious, doubtful or ashamed.

And when I do, I know where to go. This will be my worn and beaten path. Till all things are made new and I am face-to-face with Jesus, in the embrace which will heal me forever.

Until then, it's a gift I never would have asked for or wanted, which will lead me home.

Note: I have been writing about my journey with bipolar disorder for the last seven months. As of this post I will write more about 'living my life' and the bipolar will certainly re-appear, but it won't be the focus. My goal is to put those posts into an e-book which can be available as a resource for others. Let me know if you think that is a good idea! I will keep you posted!

 
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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and the Fight





An ominous, foreboding cloud hovered about me. 

I was in the haze of the heavy sedation which was a part of my stay at Szent Imre Korház in Budapest, Hungary.

I remember very little from these three days in the ICU. But I know I couldn't breathe. I remember struggling to do so from somewhere underneath this dark cloud. I remember wondering 'will I live?'

At this point I was so tired of the fight. I had been struggling to keep my mind as it felt like it could be lost forever. Night and day were visions of heaven and hell. Mostly hell. 

Would I ever be free and live to tell about it? Did I want to face life on the other side of all of this? 

I wasn't afraid of dying. I was bone weary of living. The last week seemed to take 50 years off of my life. So, what now?

As doctors worked inserting all kinds of tubes into me and hundreds of people from all over prayed for me, something changed. 

I awoke on a Sunday morning with the light streaming into the large hospital room, I felt a brilliant hope. The psychiatrist who loved Jesus sat with hands clasped in prayer by my bed. She thrilled as she saw me awake.

I was alive. And I remembered. Husband and children. Family. Friends. So many who wanted me alive. So many who loved me. And most, the supreme love of He who gave His life for me.

I remembered the Fight.

These many weeks I have been sharing about my struggle with bipolar disorder.

As I thought about what would be next. I remembered I was missing a big part of it all.

The Fight.

There is nothing magic about my story over another's. But what must be common is the desire to live; truly live. The desire to continue to believe we are made of something of great value. And along with that value is a fire which can be lit. The longing of the heart to know and live out the reason for being.

This is common to all humanity. Those with mental illness. Those with chronic or debilitating illness. Those who struggle with substance abuse. Those whose lives have fallen apart in divorce or another family crisis. Those who have little dignity and little hope--most definitely them. Those who are happy, healthy and strong, yes these too.

We, all of us, must find our fight.

For me it came somewhere between not being able to breathe and light streaming through a window on a Sunday morning. I had known fight before, but this was different. It was the fight after my whole life came tumbling down.

It was after my worst fears of open failure were playing out. There was nothing to grasp and place over my shivering, disheveled self. This is what all the world was seeing.

My fight couldn't be based on building some kind of external worth. In those days, this was completely gone. I had become the weak. The one who needed care and who was mother and wife to a family who needed lots of care I couldn't give. I was helpless to help myself or those I loved most.

And it was here I truly needed to find my fight.

It didn't come from my desire to win back my reputation. It didn't come from a desire to prove my worth to others. It didn't even come from the desire to love my husband and children, though they are very close to my heart of hearts.


I needed something deeper in this place at the end of all my hopes and dreams for this life. And so it came from the place where all of heaven and earth meet--this longing for the perfect moments. A moment made up of Jesus who died and was raised to life on the third day. A moment made up of a person, me, made in His image. A moment made up of my singular worship of him, what I will do forever and ever. Most deeply, it is made up of His great love which fills all things.

It was the moment awaking in that ICU room. I knew God was real, realest of reals. And I knew He loved me because He can't not love me. His breath is everlasting love, utmost compassion, greatest mercy. He found me there in that hospital and spoke a sunbeam of promise. I would find the strength to overcome. I would live to fight.

Somehow, if I could just find a way to keep touching these moments, I would experience the deepest fire within me. I would find the thing I will do forever. I would find infinite strength; a wholeness which spans far beyond any mental illness or its fallout. I would find love which so claims my heart I am free to fight; free to live.

For the love of God, gripping us, is fierce. It's the kind that looks in the face of all of the broken, shredded and burnt out things around us and in us and says 'No more! Lift your weary head, now I proclaim no more shame, guilt, fear, doubt. No more! Fight for this truth each moment beloved. I am here, always here.'

The Fight. It is yours to take up too. It is yours to find the victory. It is yours to see heaven come to earth and forever change you and the world around you. Whoever, Wherever, Whatever you are and all that has happened to you and through you to deaden your desire to live...

Find your fight. I am right here cheering for you!

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