Tuesday, April 4, 2017

The Character of Hope



I lay on my right side. The spinning, buzzing of my hyper-manic mind still wreaks havoc in my waking and especially my sleeping. I am curled like a little child, hands under my cheek, eyes on him.

My beloved speaks slow and strong the words of the psalms. I let my eyes close, the honest cries and unbridled faith in the goodness of God wash over me. Everything stills--my spirit, my mind, my body. Sweet sleep like a golden waterfall pours over me.

This blessed rest only lasts a few minutes. But when I awake, I find I have gained something tangible. It's a living thing, though vulnerable, yet real. Fragile yet mine. Vast yet here. Shockingly mundane yet glorious.

It's hope.

Hope is foundational to our very existence. Without it, our spirits die. We have to believe somehow, some way there is something better, greater coming. We have to believe we are more than our tragedies. We have to believe our story is worth a complete and full ending.

Yet hope comes to us tiny and frail. It's life in us is dependent on our thoughts, our words, our actions, our emotions. Hope is vulnerable to the very heart of us, its bearers.

In the mental ward of Szent Imre Kórház hope surprised me. It came after all I had lost, all I had suffered. It came to me naked and tender and asked my quivering soul to believe it was real. It came to reach into my heart and plant its seed. It came with its own hope waiting to be born.
Since those days, I have been looking for hope to bloom. I have been worried that it won't. It is a tenuous blend of strong and weak. How can the vulnerable really rise triumphantly?

In the moments of rest in the mental ward, in those who-am-I, what-am-I, why-am-I days, it was the words of God making this true:

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.

I Peter 1:3-9 (emphasis mine)

These words were soaking into my bones. They met my vulnerability with their own clear strength. They ignited hope. They caused me to rest in their perfection.

And so is the beautiful character of hope. It finds us in the most unlikely of places and offers itself as the thing we most need. It pulls us into things unseen and says promises are real. Hope does not disappoint, especially when this broken world does. 

And if it doesn't bloom when or where or how we plan, it must not be uprooted. Hope has its perfect plan and will make itself known at just the right time and in just the right way.

I have not seen those seeds of my hospital stay bloom. There have been hints, yet what I most desire still lies ahead. And too, this tender shoot keeps rising up strong, urging me forward. 

It is the formidable, the epitome of resilience, the surety of a strong tower, the very truth of God.

Hope. 

Let's lift it up together and maybe we can all learn to trust again. In God. In Jesus. In the Heaven which wants to come to earth. In the audacity which says all of the goodness forming our truest and wildest dreams is real, because we have found it and will not let it go.





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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

How to Know Who You Really Are



I stand in front of 500 women. I speak words which sing in my soul. I am filled with overflowing passion as I talk about the elements of story and how God redeems it all.

Less than one month later, I am laying, sedated beyond recognition, in a white-walled mental ward.

How can my story tease me so? How can God stir dreams only to stand idly by while they are crushed? And yet, how can the magnificence of His love break through it all to hold me with tender hands?

When I place my thumb to glide along the ream of my life's pages, there are so many things I would not have written so. But I still bear in deepest of deep the hope which stands firm on the one thing I can't live without. 

For there is a pearl of greatest price. It's the one we sell all to find. And sometimes when we think we are holding onto God, we are holding onto us, our stories. And so in the hardest of ways, this fallen world barrels in and tells us things. For all the pain, we learn in the core of who we are whose we really are.

There is no learning the truth about ourselves without first learning the truth of Him.

He is the altogether lovely One. He is the warmth of embrace in the dark, cold night. He is the One who covers us in his shelter when our stories explode. He is the One reaching in, ever offering life, His life. He is the one giving pieces of His life for our mangled parts until we are all His. He is the One.

And it is here as we come to know who He is, we come to know who we really are. 

I John 4:15-16 says:

 15 Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. 16 So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.

We believe in Jesus, the One who gave His life for us. Through Him we learn that God IS love. In turn we come to live in God. We. Come. To. Live. In. God. We become like Him more and more and are perfected. This is the journey of knowing who we really are.

And yet, there is a day when I stand in front of women from many countries and speak my heart, ready to see the redemption of theirs and my story. And that day runs into sleepless days and nights and suddenly I've lost it all (or what I then think is 'all'). Short weeks later I am in the back of a 747 headed to the other side of the ocean. All that took many years to build lies behind me like so much rubble. All my life, who I am, seems to lie empty on the fragile cupped form of a seashell. The tide has drawn it away.

This day comes and goes and who in heaven and earth am I? Can it even be known? How, how do I make sense of a life which holds me captive against my will? How, again, tell me please, do I know who I really am?
 
There is no making sense all smooth and pretty. No

Yet I know that I know that I know in Him, ever still, is the treasure of who I am. I am being known and perfected in the myriad layers of myself. But still are the parts, sometimes like so thick a layer, which are grueling to endure their ripping away. It begs the question 'why must it be so?' 

Some days I don't have an answer. Other times my understanding stretches the span of sky and sea and earth to another world for which I am being made ready. And still other times, I just rest in all knowing arms as I live the in-between.

And so here again, gazing into eyes of love, of perfection, of God, I am found. I have the privilege, often greatest in the pain, to rest in the truth that I reflect His beauty. It is confounding, stilling, gorgeous and compelling. Yet, it is the journey of all true faith in Jesus.

The answers are few when I look at the shattering days before I left Budapest. It is still a great beauty lost to me and my family. I know it was the the ripped, tearing and pulling away of so much that seemed good. 

But who I really am, and who He is, is somehow yet enough. Even an abundance of enough. For I am yet the dreamer who believes what is best is still ahead.

And beloved, held in the unshakable hands of God, is the treasure of who you really are. The iridescence of a pearl, worth everything to find.



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Friday, March 10, 2017

When You Are Torn Apart {Guest Post at SheLoves}



As the sunlight filters its glistening beams across the too-full room in the ICU, I awake. To my right, head bowed, hands bent and clasped, is the psychiatrist who loves Jesus. She lifts her head, smiles and says in a gentle voice, “Good morning, Abigail. I have been praying for you.”

I am in a state hospital in Budapest, Hungary. I have lived in this city the last three years. There are many tubes in me whose purposes I do not know. It is still a mystery why I am in this part of the hospital. Most likely I reacted badly to the load of sedatives shot into my leg my first day here.

No matter. But yes, it matters. The glass has shattered. The shards have pierced. The blood has flowed.

My life will never be the same.

Join me in reading the rest of this dear-to-my-heart piece at SheLoves
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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...

continue reading at A Life Overseas
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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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Tuesday, January 17, 2017

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and a Renewed Mind {the three R's}

Note: This post is meant to be read in the context of a relationship with Jesus. If you don't have this relationship or have questions about it, go here.



I am just out of the hospital in Budapest, Hungary. I am still not sleeping much for it takes a while to re-regulate this pattern after it has been stripped away.

I have started on too much of a new medicine. So far all I have received are its side effects. That 'jumping out of your skin' steroid-like effect, neuropathy, and a walking gait like an elderly person.

My mind is chaotic. Flashes of 'visions' I had seen in what mental health calls a 'psychotic break' run through my mind. These and other thoughts or pictures are like knives slicing through my brain.

How will I ever get my mind, myself back? I know so little in these days. Just that I am alive and must breathe, in and out. I do not know what tomorrow will bring and I know I am not myself. But I have the inkling of trust for a New Day.

It's not easy to write these things. It is quite vulnerable to do so. To say out loud 'really, it is this bad'.

Yet, the hope here is what is always the hope. There is something greater at work which will have final say in my mind, my heart, my life. This is because I am God's. I am of the redeemed who will One Day see the face of Jesus in Zion, the New Heaven and the New Earth.

But today, right here and right now, is not that moment. It is one where I still live in the throes of a label and its stigma, medicine and its side effects, and the mental chaos which can come with bipolar disorder.

So, how do I, how do you, move forward?

One step at a time. One breath, one moment, one thought, at a time. Over time your mind truly can become one of clarity and wholeness.

As a big surprise to me, friends and my therapist, I entered the hospital again in May. So much of what I wrote above happened again. Some of the terrorizing thoughts were even worse.

I write what I know. Truly, if I can find peace in my mind, so can you!

Much of the process is gradual. This is aided by the medicine which is available.

But, as I have said before, this can only take us so far. There's a gap between the medicine and our minds, emotions and spirits  which can only be filled by God.

And what are His desires for us? Clarity. Wholeness. Peace. Joy. Love. Fullness. Life. All with capital letters and many more beside.

So, the most important part is faith. We believe these things are possible and God wants to give them to us.

Then, we are willing to do the hard work of training our minds.

In order to do this we must prepare them. The tendency of our culture, for all of us and our problems, is to numb them. We do this through alcohol or drugs, but also through things like TV, movies, and fiction. There is a place for these things, just not one which allows us to push our struggles below the surface.

To bring it all together, with faith and minds prepared, we begin to renew our minds with what I will call the 'three r's': rewire, refill and refuel. This is important for everyone to do. There are so many lies weaving through our minds which are rooted in shame or fear or doubt. So this is what we must do:

1) Rewire: This is where we change the course of our thoughts. Instead of them starting and ending in lies, we start and end them in truth.


Example of a Lie Pattern: 'I am bipolar, I will always be bipolar.' In other words, 'I am defined by illness and this will never change.'

Example of a Truth Pattern: 'I am loved therefore I will overcome.' In other words, 'I am known by and loved most deeply by God. Through His love I can overcome anything.'

2) Refill: This is where we fill our minds with what the Apostle Paul says in Philippians 4 'whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy, think on these things.' If we try to fight the battle only combating lie patterns, we will become weary. Instead, we need to open ourselves to the beauty or right thoughts.

Examples of Filling thoughts: (These all come from the Bible either directly or indirectly) 
3) Refuel: This is where we remember our motivation. We remember we have so much and so many to live for. We remember we are loved ultimately by God and His love never fails. We remember we are strong and have a resilience to keep us in the fight--we are made to be victorious. Bipolar, or any other mental illness or any sickness, is not deeper than the image of God in us and most, His Great Love for us.
 
These three: rewire, refill, refuel act like a cycle which renews our minds and brings clarity and wholeness to our lives. As we trust God who is Love, as greater than all, we will see victory.

This is my story. It hasn't been easy, but the Greater Strength of God has met me every step of the way. Medicine is not an easy fix on which we can coast. We want stability, but we also want more. We want Life. And this is precisely what God, in Jesus, wants to give us.





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Tuesday, January 3, 2017

On Vulnerability, Bipolar and Being Exposed




I sit by the edge of the lake. It's a Sunday afternoon walk where I think and pray. Where I breathe in grace and breathe out the broken.

These days are not easy. I wake up each day with a label and it wants final say of who I am. I take medicine which tastes bitter before bed. The numbers of which have increased since I was in the hospital in May.

How do I keep alive to hope? Keep alive to the New Day? Keep alive to Heaven come to Earth?

I feel on the edge of a cliff with one foot bent over. I don't like heights. Yet I can believe one of two things before I jump. One is that I will crash far below and die. The other is God like an eagle will rescue me and cause me to fly upon the heights.

Each post I write here is like one of those jumps. It's the faith which looks all of the doubts, fears and lies in the face and says 'No more!' It's the one that repels all of the shame of exposure and remains one step ahead.

It's the home in sea and sky and land which God promises to create. He promises the embrace. He promises the hands to hold. He promises it will all come to a glorious conclusion in Life forevermore.
He promises, in that Day, to vanquish all darkness never to be known again.

And this brings me back to my walk.

I noticed them the last time. The roots exposed along several trees lining the edge of the lake.  They dip below to the water and lose their covering of earth and grass. 

This might seem like it would make them fragile and weak, but it does not. They are strong and resolute. Their trees are flourishing, tall, healthy and impressive.

It makes me think of Jeremiah 17:

"Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
    whose trust is the Lord.
He is like a tree planted by water,
    that sends out its roots by the stream,
and does not fear when heat comes,
    for its leaves remain green,
and is not anxious in the year of drought,
    for it does not cease to bear fruit.”
~Jeremiah 17:7-8 

Leaning on, pressing into God makes us like a tree planted by water sending out its roots to the stream. It's as if they are sent out in mission. But to complete it they must be exposed.

And so it is with me, with all of us. If we would truly trust God and flourish, we must be willing to be exposed. That doesn't mean showing off our strong trunks and pretty, wispy leaves blowing freely in the wind.

No, it's the roots. Found in the deep and muddy. All of those gnarled things which God is strengthening; redeeming. Yet, in this process, He asks us to shed our cool, comfortable covering. He asks us to be known for the weak things. He asks us to be real about the struggles. He asks us to let the battle scene be played on the big screen.

He asks us to trust. 

He wants to give us the eyes to see the truth of our flourishing. When we allow ourselves to be exposed we learn our true nature. It's the one He gives us because of Jesus. This Jesus who exposed the infinite of God to a world bent on judgment, misunderstanding, and shame. 

It's Him, this Jesus, who touches those naked roots with His forever love. He makes us strong, brave, hopeful, loving, determined and so much more.

Trust. Rest. Send out your roots on mission. Take the leap and fly on eagle's wings.


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