The Bible As a Basis for Good Mental Health
Ben is a nine-year-old, who functions more like a motor-driven machine than a little boy. He is mischievous and delightful, playful and wise, all at the same time. His mom, a friend of mine, asked me if I could watch him one day while she was at work. She said she'd pay me, and with no job, I needed the money. I readily agreed. I had seen him in action . . . frenetic action. But I'm not his mother, so I knew that if I started to feel worn out by his endless energy, at some point I'd be sending him home.
She dropped him off at noon, with a large bag of things to keep him occupied: games, puzzles, coloring books, books to read, and action figures to . . . well, act things out. With so many activities to occupy him, nothing would get out of control, I thought. This will be easy.
But by early afternoon, Ben was beginning to get restless and a little too curious. He explored every room of my apartment, and opened every door to see what it concealed. He found electrical cords in the living room ("Where does this go?"); my Grandmother's china in the dining room ("What would happen if I dropped this?"); lingerie in my bedroom ("Hey, this fits me!"); kitchen utensils ("Listen! I have my own band!"). But when he asked, "What's this white stuff for?" I swooped in on him, slammed the medicine cabinet door shut, scaring him (I hoped) with shouts of, "That's poisonous!" He told me I should keep it somewhere safe. I thought I had. But now I knew nothing was safe, no matter where it was. His expedition had to end!
I offered him a snack, and some Diet Dr. Pepper. He asked if it had caffeine in it. "I can't have ANYTHING with caffeine!" he warned me. I told him it actually helped me concentrate because I have ADHD. He knew what I was talking about. "Well, I take a little yellow pill for that, so I don't get so CRAZY!" he confessed, gesticulating wildly with his hands as he spoke. I laughed at how he characterized the disorder. I made a mental note to ask his Mom if he forgot his little yellow pill today.
When Ben's mom (finally!) returned for him, he was jumping up and down, anxious to tell her about his day. I was sitting down and finally breathing a sigh of relief. He enthusiastically announced: "I had so much FUN!" She looked at me for confirmation. I tried to smile and nod my head, but didn't have the strength. She just laughed. She could imagine. She probably knew.
About a week later, on a Sunday afternoon, she offered to take me along grocery shopping with her, as I had no car and no money. It was a generous offer, and I was grateful. But shopping with Ben, his Mom, and slightly older sister, proved challenging. There was so much to see, and so much room to run around to see it! Apparently, he had to see ALL of it! I directed his attention to specific items along the way, trying to slow him down, but I had a hard time keeping up with him.
Finally, we reached the check-out line, where the rubber belt would help transport our groceries . . . (and us) . . . toward a less exciting space. Fidgeting in the narrow space beside the cart, Ben spied a little plastic bag of colored balloons. We both shot a quick, hopeful look at his Mom. Exhausted, she said, "OK, Fine!" She was anxious for even a few minutes of respite that she might have if he were "occupied."
Delighted, Ben grabbed the bag and raced to the bench in the front of the store. He pierced the plastic bag with is teeth, so he could tear it open. Balloons spilled onto the floor. He chose a green one, his favorite color, and immediately blew into it. We both watched with child-like wonder, as the balloon expanded, becoming a whole new entity, filled with invisible power.
Suddenly, it was sputtering through the air in a maniacal pattern, powered by the rapidly-exiting air. Ben's eyes grew wide with excitement as he darted around, trying to follow the erratic flight of his deflating balloon.
"They kinda' get away on you, don't they?" I remarked, in a matter-of-fact tone. Quickly turning to me, he challenged by conclusion. "ONLY if you LET GO!" was his intense explanation. I was a bit embarrassed that he had to point this out to me.
I sat on the bench, vaguely aware that he was picking up balloons off the floor and putting them in his mouth. I thought, my life is like that balloon! I had been trying to keep up with job searches, Lay Ministry School, two adult children--with adult problems, my health issues, and maybe even a little housework . . . very little. I often felt like I was going off in all different directions, and really not going anywhere! My energy was sputtering. I thought, My life is getting away on me. I'm not in control!
Then it hit me. Wait a minute! That's true . . . I'm NOT in control. I'm not supposed to be in control . . . God is! I reminded myself that God has a Plan for me. My life is not a serious of loosely-connected, random, frenzied activities and events.
And I know that God provides not only the Plan, but the power I'll need to carry it out. The Holy Spirit will fill me up inside, expanding my capability to do whatever it is that I am meant to do. It will prepare me for wherever the journey may lead. It will be the energy that propels me in the right direction.
I may still feel pulled in too many different directions at times--but ONLY if I LET GO!
(original writing 1/29/2006;
Scraps and strips of colored cloth
In every shade and hue
Display the pieces of my life
Attached for all to view.
The times that were so sad and dark,
I thought I couldn't get through
Are joined right next to brighter days,
The yellow with the blue.
And one by one, each piece was cut
So carefully and true
Sewn tight with gentle threads of hope
So beautiful to view!
And piece by piece, together bound
Some chosen and some given.
God sends the threads of love and hope,
Patchwork designed in Heaven.
--c. Dixie-Lee Weber
--March 9, 2003
What I Want for Mother's Day
When I was a little girl, I would ask my mother what she wanted for Mother's Day. Her answer was always the same: "I just want you to be a good little girl." Not that I was a particularly bad child, mind you. What she meant was that nothing . . . no thing . . .was worth more to her than my good behavior--meeting her expectations. I would really rather have just bought something for her!
She taught us "The Golden Rule"--to treat others the way we would like to be treated; to be kind to others, don't fight with your brothers and sister, and share what you have with anyone who needs it.
(Thou shalt love your neighbor as yourself.)
She continually reminded us to, "Do as I say, and do it because I said so!" And furthermore, she taught us not to care what someone else does, because if they jumped into a lake, would I, too? (Honor your Father and Mother.)
(Thou shalt not take the Lord's name in vain), but if we did, there was plenty of pink IGA dish soap to wash those filthy words (and many others) right out of our mouths!
She expected my sister and me to "act like a lady;" and to be a "nice girl," especially since "boys cannot be trusted." (Thou shalt not commit adultery; that in matters of sex our words and conduct are purely wholesome and honorable." from Martin Luther's Catechism.)
She expected us to be honest: "Don't take each other's toys or clothing without ASKING for permission, and generally, don't take anything that doesn't belong to you!" She said that finders were NOT keepers, and losers were NOT weepers--as long as there was a Lost and Found box somewhere. (Thou shalt not steal.)
I was told that "people who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones," but since I never saw any glass houses in Stratford, I figured this meant don't throw a rock through somebody's window. As an adult, I know that it means to examine my own behavior first, before criticizing someone else. I also knew I was supposed to sweep my own doorstep first, (but since I wasn't big on cleaning, I wasn't planning on sweeping anybody's doorstep, anyway.) And, for Heaven's sake, "If you can't say someting nice, say nothing at all!" (Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.)
We were expected to work hard, and not care what anyone else has. We were reminded to appreciate what we had (because there were plenty of starving children in Africa who would be more than happy to eat some delicious tuna casserole!") (Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor's possessions.)
Above all, she taught us to rely on God for our hope and strength. She frequently gave examples of near brushes with death, and other difficult struggles, when her personal relationship with God was what got her through anything. (Thou shalt have no other gods before me.)
She encouraged us to go to Sunday School and church and pay attention, because later, as the week went on, she would ask us, "Is THAT what you learned in Sunday School??" (Remember the Sabbath Day to keep it holy.)
She knew that an abiding faith in God was like an umbrella that would protect us from the storms of life--storms that she knew would inevitably come to pass. (Love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your strength.)
I realized, only much later, that these "rules" she had for her children were really the same rules God has for all of his children. If you were listening closely, you just heard a mother's version of "The Ten Commandments" . . . interpreted . . . as only a mother can.
The Best Teacher
The Best Teacher
They say that experience is the best teacher; but is it?
I mean, if you have made financial decisions where you’ve lost money, took jobs that didn’t pan out, misjudged the character of someone you trusted, that sort of thing…does that mean you’ll never invest in anything again because you’ve learned your lesson? No financial investments, no investing in education for other employment, no commitments of the heart. Based on what those past experiences have taught you, that would be living life in fear, unable to trust anyone or anything, including yourself.
You’ve seen those “Recipes for Life”…2 cups of kindness, 1 cup of laughter, ½ cup of Patience . . .And butter! (no, wait…that’s all of…er…one of… my recipes.) And what is the life metaphor for butter, anyway? Let things slide off your back? Or maybe, let go of resentments, disappointments, disagreements and such? Buttered pans release a cake more easily. Yes, that’s good! Letting the negative thoughts slide into the category of “Things That Slipped My Mind.”
Personally, I need to put in more Faith than Hope, and maybe leave out that ¼ cup of Anxiety. A pinch is enough. But butter is still “OK.” Maybe that’s about living a balanced life, and enjoying good things without guilt, albeit in moderation. (Next week, we’ll talk about bacon and chocolate. Anxiety, anyone?)
If we have ambiguous information today, we tend to interpret today’s situation based on past experience. With incomplete data now, we tend to fill in the blanks with what we know—things we learned before. But we can choose to live now with a “Faith-filled Future” in mind, or we can choose to live now in a “Painful Past.”
In that regard, we can look back and say, “Wow! I didn’t like THAT at the time, but I can see where it helped me. Extract the “good” from the “bad.” Popular television personality and announcer, Steve Harvey, said the other day on the Ellen Show, “In every bit of adversity, there is a lesson, and a blessing.” I like that. It keeps us from being stuck on the lesson, which may have been painful. Let it go, I tell myself, and focus on that blessing.
For a Christian, past experiences can be a great teacher, if we see the past in a positive light. We need faith to do that. I believe that there is a reason why things happen as they do; because God has a plan for my life and yours. My favorite Bible verse has always been Romans 8:28… “For we know that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to his purpose.” We are all called. A Voice Carries.
In a TV commercial for Special Olympics, one participant falls. He’s definitely “out of the race”; he can’t possibly win! Everyone else now has a better chance of reaching the finish line first!
But in a sincere act of self-less compassion, they all stop and pick up their fallen comrade. Arms locked in solidarity, they continue to press on, together. The event changes from a race to a run. Crossing the finish line together, they are all winners.
In 1997, the Chicago Tribune published an essay by columnist Mary Schmich, written as a hypothetical commencement speech. Baz Lurhrman recorded it as a spoken-word song, “(Everybody’s Free to) Wear Sunscreen” (Actually, it was narrated by Australian voice actor Lee Perry). He explains that wearing sunscreen is the only scientifically-proven advice he will give you, and that the rest of his advice has “no basis more reliable than his own meandering experiences.” I love this line: “Don’t waste your time on jealousy, sometimes you’re ahead, sometimes you’re behind; the race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.”
Winning is often glorified at the expense of individual growth, it’s competition before cooperation. I try to remember, we’re all on the same team. We can coach and encourage each other, but we are not the referee. We don’t keep score. We don’t hand out the trophies.
Imagine yourself alone on a deserted island, with nothing to “be,” or “do,” or “have.” Who are you? Yes, it’s about who you are, not what you are. Your character is what counts. The things you’ve acquired and accomplished, your accolades and achievements—all these matter not, if they were not done in Christian love, and according to God’s plan for your life.
Sonja Lyubomirsky spent much of her career on meta-research: researching the research-- about happiness. One of her books, The Myths of Happiness, is subtitled “What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t; and What Shouldn’t’ Make You Happy, but Does.” Have you ever felt, “I will be happy …when… (fill in the blank)…” The older I get, the more I realize there isn’t anything I can put in that blank. No, I have to decide to be happy, not wait to see what the days, weeks, or years bring, and react to that!
When each of us stand before those Pearly Gates we’ve envisioned, we long to hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Sometimes I kinda’ hope he’ll say, “Well, compared to so-and-so, you’re a saint! Come on in!”) But it’s only me, alone at the judgement throne. I have to account for myself. So I have to strive…as Paul said, press on toward the prize; run the race set before you…
We want to be able to say, as is written in 2 Timothy 4:7: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”
Hebrews 12:1 explains it this way: “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” The voice of Paul resonated with many back then . . and echoes today! Truly, A Voice Carries.
A String of Pearls
I had so many ideas. . .projects . . .articles! Some of these ideas had materialized; some projects completed; some articles already written. But there was so much more still in my head!
Pastor Gretchen looked at my papers scattered all over the table. I hoped that somehow, this could be my final project for Lay Ministry School. Several times, she’d start to speak, but I’d interrupt, grabbing something more from another folder or notebook. I wanted her to get the full picture of my writing, and all of the life struggles that gave birth to so much of it. I desperately needed her to understand!
She listened patiently, compassionately, as I shared a fragmented outline of my life, how I had lost so much over the years! Homes, businesses, jobs, relationships—because of chronic brain illnesses, (SAD and ADHD). Her eyes welled up with tears, as if it was my pain-- overflowing-- from her!
She took a blank piece of paper, and drew a line across the width. Then she added some little circles on it. It looked like an elementary school number line . . . or maybe . . . a timeline to help me organize everything?? Off to the side she drew a little circle by itself. I wondered, where is she going with this?
“These things you have done, all your ideas and writings, are like pearls.” She drew a few more circles on the line. “You are looking for a way to connect these together. Do you see what I mean?” (I didn’t.) She continued, “This is a string. But you are not the string! Do you follow me?” I moved my head slowly from side to side. She said with authority, “You are not even the one who will string the pearls!”
Seeing my still-confused face, Pastor Gretchen shook her head and said, “Let’s back up a bit. Pearls. How are they formed? What are they made of?”
“Ss…sand?” was my tenuous reply.
“YES! Well, WHATEVER gets in there and irritates the oyster! Have you ever touched the inside of an oyster? It’s pretty soft and gooey, and . . . what gets in there annoys or frustrates the oyster . . . and what does the oyster do?”
“I know! The oyster coats the intruder with a substance to shield itself, to protect itself from the pain and damage that otherwise might be done!” I was catching on.
“YES! They make PEARLS! They take something bad and make it beautiful, just as you have taken your bits of adversity and showed how they can be beautiful examples of God’s love!" (Well, why didn’t she talk about the oyster first? I got confused about the string.) She wasn't done. "And look at the person you have become!”
I didn’t know what to think of that last remark, but I know the apostle Paul gave thanks for adversity. (I hadn’t!) Romans 5:2-5 “… but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame, . . .”
Still uncertain of how to use my writing, Pastor Gretchen said, “What you need, many need!” The pearls were meant to be shared! They were born of adversity, and polished by perseverance. They are my voice . . . and A Voice Carries.
Empathy has been defined as "The intimate comprehension of another person's thoughts and feelings, without imposing our own judgment or expectations."
Even in usual life circumstances, this is not an easy task, but when you must travel the uneven emotional landscape of mental illness, the territory may be unfamiliar, harsh, and unyielding. Often, the individual and their family traverse unmarked trails, jungles of psychiatric jargon, and a huge gap between what's expected and what's experienced.
Mental illnesses are now more accurately being referred to as "brain disorders," and as such, they are physical, but they happen to affect one's ability to think, feel, and act. There is a continual struggle to establish and maintain some semblance of self-worth and self-respect. Complicating this struggle is not just the lack of support, but the lack of acceptance.
I have told friends and family members that when I am depressed, yes, I appreciate you calling and asking "How are you doing?" Don't stop doing that. Well-meaning, sincere, caring people stand at the top of the cellar door and call down to me, "Are you ok? I've been thinking about you. I know it's hard. Let me know if you need something." Yes! I need something! I need you to open that cellar door, walk down those shaky steps, to that dark, damp, musty place, and come sit beside me. You don't have to do anything. Just being there tells me you really care. Oftentimes, there is nothing you can say that will help the matter. Sometimes what you say will hurt the situation. (I know you mean well, so please don't see this as criticism.)
And there's something else you can do for me. Learn about my illness. Learn all you can. Understand me--the best representation of "me" that we can muster. It has been said that the greatest gift you can give another human being is listening, caring, and understanding . . . without trying to minimize or discount what someone tells you. That sounds an awful lot like empathy to me. . . and love.
Jesus said, in John 15:12, "Love one another as I have loved you." Jesus's love was all-encompassing; he didn't pick and chose those whom he would love. In fact, he was criticized for some unpopular choices. In the 1970's, this folk song was popular, "And They'll Know We are Christians By Our Love." Love is not a feeling. It's a choice. it is manifested by our actions. We honor others above ourselves, and put their needs first.
People with mental illness did not choose their lot. They did not page through a catalog, and order their affliction. "Hmmm....let's see...."depression" would give me a good reason to feel sorry for myself, and to keep others from expecting too much from me; but some "mania" would be nice because I could get a lot done and be the life of the party. But here's a special offer: "Two for the price of one! Available as a set." So, let me just write , "Bipolar Disorder" on the order form.
And life is so busy, I'd like a plausible reason to not have to finish my work, to not be any place when I'm supposed to be there; and heck, it's a built-in excuse for why I can't go somewhere if I don't want to . . .( I forgot because I have ADHD, you know!)
Please, tell yourself, "There, but for the Grace of God, go I." And tell others. A Voice Carries.
I heard this analogy from Pastor James MacDonald, Senior Pastor at Harvest Bible Chapel in Elgin, Illinois: Our lives are like a television set, with three channels. Channel 1 is about our past. Channel 2 is the present, and Channel 3 will be about our future.
Channel 1 isn't all that interesting . . . (Spoiler Alert: You know how all the shows end!) They're all re-runs! You've seen these shows before. And if you're watching those, you'll miss the new "season premier" shows! (They are on Channel 2 right now.) Channel 3 doesn't come in very clearly, no matter how much time you spend trying to tune it in. Even if you have "rabbit ears," a special antenna, 127 ft. of wire, and a whole roll of tin foil, you can't get it to come in. You could stand on one leg with one arm out the window and bark like a dog, but the future channel is still fuzzy, or pixelated, at best. Channel 2 is the channel we need to be watching. It's what's happening right now. It's the "NEWS" of our lives!
One way I help myself "stay in the moment," is with my calendar. I start with an "everybody-gives-them-out-free" calendar, so I can note things in the little boxes, but then I supplement that with a more in-depth strategy to account for my time. Nothing fancy, or technical.
I use a simple notebook, where each day has one page. Each line on that page represents a time period. So, starting from the top, in the left-hand margin, I write in the hours. I usually start with 6, 7, and 8 on the first three lines (because not that much happens that early for me :), then I give a couple of lines (2-3 maybe) to each of the hours that follow. Spacing the numbers out this way, the bottom of the page ends up about 10p.
About two-thirds of the way over from the left, I draw a vertical line to divide the page. I label this area: "Choices and Opportunities." That's where I list what's happening that day: a concert, party, family get-together, and other scheduled events and activities. I also add other things I might like to do: visit a friend, clean (I said "might"), take my granddaughter to the museum, shop, writing . . . stuff like that.
Back to that left side of the page, I draw a box to fill in sections of time for things I'm "Scheduled to Do," like work, doctor appointments, meetings, classes. (Sometimes I fill in "Watch ABC News" at the 5:30 time slot. I don't have to tune in then, it's an opportunity . . .to see David Muir. He's one of my favorite newscasters :)
Ok, so once the obligations are filled in, I can see where I have time available for what I could do--the choices I can make--so I can take advantage of the opportunities I have! Even if there's nothing scheduled on a specific date, I'll sometimes list "take on-line class," "meditate," "research xyz," . . . reminders that there are always specific ways to use my time before it slips away.
It has occurred to me that nowhere in the "Choices & Opportunities" column do I list, "Worry," "Be Angry About," "Cry over hurt feelings," or "Make Up Speeches in my Head." But I do. I have never scheduled, "Spend a half-hour trying to decide what to wear," or "Avoid bill-paying," or "Ignore healthy eating guidelines." But I have.
It helps to tell myself in advance how I'm going to spend the time I've been given. By reviewing my notebook throughout the day, I can re-focus on what I should be doing now! (along with some healthy optimism for things to look forward to.)
And do I look back on those pages past? Not really. Maybe here and there, noting what I've accomplished, but hardly ever. No, I'm moving forward . . . and the information on the upcoming pages is way more interesting and exciting! I've heard it said that that's why our windshield is so much larger than our rear-view mirror. We have to be able to see where we are going! No one would drive around in reverse, depending on their rear-view mirror for assistance. (Mine's defective.)
I've adopted this mantra: "THIS is the day that the Lord hath made, let us rejoice and be glad in IT!" (Psalm 118:24; emphasis mine).
All of this writing in my calendar book . . .it's really a lot of "self-talk." Talk that shapes my actions. Actions speak louder than words, but however you say it . . . A Voice Carries.
I honestly wrote a wonderful (in my humble opinion) message for today. It's actually saved in my drafts. I clicked on "drafts," and, well . . . there were three, each saved at different times. . . in the wee hours of the morning, (so the message would be here right away this morning!) and one saved today. What? (I didn't write anything today.) So, I clicked on one, and apparently that "X" deletes it. And somehow, I created a new draft, which had nothing in it, so when I went to it . . . I need help! So, if you see this message, please be patient with me whilst I (get help to) figure this stuff out.
People often say, "Play with it!" when you are learning something new. Just play . . . try different things, and see what happens! In my world, playing is something I do for fun!
Taking my granddaughter swimming tonight . . ."Fun!" Waiting for the ice-cold shower to warm up. . . "Not Fun!" (I just play around with the hot and cold knobs . . .) Enjoying the company and luscious desserts with family yesterday . . ."Fun!" Exercising and starving for three weeks to get rid of all that . . . "Not Fun!" (I mean getting rid of the excess calories . . .not the family. . . because they are Fun! (and they are supposed to be reading this, which is supposed to be "Fun!" for them.)
Using logical (or illogical) reasoning to figure out a website . . . "NOT Fun!"
( I also have to figure out how to get that title up there LARGER! It says HELP! ) So I am going to visit my friend Christa, who helped me initially. I'll call her and see if we can have a play date. (That should be fun.)
Over the past few weeks, we've had quite a few days of "spring-like" weather. The temperatures were higher, the sun warmer, and spirits brighter. We know Spring is coming; there are forces in motion that will now turn our part of Earth closer to the sun's rays. Indeed, Monday, March 21st, 2016 heralded the first day of Spring in the Northern Hemisphere.
But just two days later, snow was predicted, and lots of it! We saw radar and satellite maps, and read the taglines on the TV screen: "WINTER STORM WARNING!"
Meteorologists are arguably the definitive source of what to expect, weather-wise. Their timing may be off due to forces beyond their control. I (and some others) found it hard to believe that 50- to 60-degree weather could drop low enough again to allow for this precipitation. I thought, "I'll believe it when I see it!"
As the early afternoon hours ticked by on Wednesday, no snow had fallen. But lo and behold, as the hours advanced toward evening, the snow they predicted materialized, and began to accumulate. Even so, in the midst of the blustery storm, came another, more hopeful, prediction: "That snow won't stick around long. It's going to warm up again."
We haven't seen much of the expected season yet here in Wisconsin, although as I write this, I can hear the sound of water flowing--all that snow melting under the Spring sun.
This is Easter weekend, and we will hear the familiar story of Christ's death and resurrection. The story has been spread from The definitive source, thousands of years ago, as a Biblical prediction that and is still repeated today. For Christians, the outcome is exactly what they expect.
That first Easter, when Jesus appeared to His disciples, Thomas was not with them. He doubted their reports that Jesus had indeed been there. He basically said, 'I'll believe it when I see it!' So Jesus returned, and Thomas had to believe it!
After that first Resurrection, fellow Christians exchanged greetings, with joyful excitement in their voices: "He is Risen!" "He is Risen, indeed!" Every Easter, we repeat the sounding joy, as we greet each other with the same triumphant message. And we are certain indeed, that A Voice Carries!