Category: OCD

Church Planting: A year in review

Today marks the one year anniversary of First City being planted. As is typical with most anniversaries I’ve spent some time reflecting on where I’ve been, how far I’ve come, and where I need to continue to grow.

Church planting isn’t the life I would have chosen for myself. Sometimes I still question whether this whole church-planting thing is just a fad, and I wonder if all the struggle it takes for me to be a part of a church plant my husband leads is really worth it. And yet, in the midst of that wrestle, I have come to believe with every fiber of my being: the church exists for mission and not comfort. It isn’t an abstract thing for us, we could give it up. We’ve done it before, and God took care of us. But for our family, at least right now, we know that God has called us into church planting.

We had so many blessings this first year. Our church is growing, people are being discipled, and by God’s grace, we are financially sustainable and were able to bring on more staff as well as give away money to other churches in our first year. These are tremendous blessings that are humbling. It was a very hard-fought journey to get us where we are, and sometimes we look back and then look at the present blessing and are like “what just happened?” But, in the midst of all this blessing, this church planting journey remains a battle.

Prior to planting a church, I thought my biggest fear in it all of this would be that we would potentially screw someone up or unintentionally hurt someone through our church. I would often daydream that we wouldn’t do something right and would end up on some church watchdog blog. Prior to debilitating OCD, my general motto was: if you can’t be assured you can do something perfectly, don’t do it. If watchdog blogs were the god of my life, I can assure you, I would not be church planting. By God’s grace, through OCD essentially destroying my life, I faced these fears and now struggle way less with fear of man and have a genuine confidence that Jesus, not me, makes the best Savior, and that God is sovereign and working restoration in people’s lives even through painful stories.

After all of that healing, I definitely wasn’t prepared for how my fear would surface this past year. Week after week there was something that pushed me way out of my comfort zone. I’m the first to admit, my struggles aren’t always “normal”. Most of our church planting friends are wondering if they will get paid next year or if more people will come. I worry obsessively if we are doing things “right” from a legal perspective (which unfortunately, due to my many work and educational experiences and my inquisitive nature, I know a bunch of random information that exasperates my extreme hyper-vigilance). I worry about what kind of sanitizer we use in kid’s ministry or if a someone is going to have an allergic reaction to the communion bread or go into anaphylactic shock because someone brought peanut butter to the church picnic. By the way, the communion bread thing actually happened on our very first Sunday, so I’ve been facing this fear head on since day one.

For me, struggling with OCD means struggling with hyper-vigilance, continually assessing the environment for danger, and constant mental problem solving. I’m experiencing all of this in a much deeper and exasperated way than ever before because my husband is ultimately responsible for all decisions. This has been extremely healthy for our marriage since I’m always asking a million questions about all of my husband’s or other people’s decisions to make sure people have thought through the details (read: sarcasm). The thoughts and questions that come to my mind are constant. I’m talking the exact definition of constant: never-ceasing, never stopping. It’s often triggered by a piece of information someone tells me about the church. This generally isn’t info I’m trying to seek out. I frequently tell myself, “stay out of it, this is not your responsibility.” But there is some strange way it always seems to find me. And so it is, almost every moment of every day, I have to make choices about these thoughts: is there real danger or is there wisdom in this question or is this OCD? It has been a battle all year long. And it’s rarely let up. It’s been extremely tiring. This combined with moving (which also triggered some aspects of my OCD) as well as some other personal things, I’m exhausted and sometimes I have difficulty seeing the joy and blessing in it all.

And so there I am at the end of year one. Blessings and struggles, tired and fighting for joy. I’ve thought a lot about this the past few weeks, and I’ve realized I have a few options at this point. First, I could avoid this struggle. For us, that would mean quitting. But if I learned anything in counseling, it would be that avoidance is a compulsion. Sure, you can live your life avoiding pain, but it rarely, if ever solves your problems. And if avoidance is solving your problems, you may not be truly living.

The second option is that I could ignore what I’m struggling with because it’s superficial or unimportant and continue to push through. I think this is largely what I have been doing. I can keep telling myself: Other people and church planters have way more difficult problems than fears of communion bread. My struggle isn’t nearly as bad as it used to be, so it’s not urgent, and these fears and triggers I have are petty and not real. Sometimes I ignore them because my fears are typical of what all pastor’s wives and church planters deal with. But, I’m also learning that ignoring your feelings with the “I shouldn’t feel this way” lines we often throw at our sin is also a way to avoid the pain. Let’s face it, American Christians typically aren’t good with any kind of discomfort. We don’t like pain or anxiety, so we either avoid or we flippantly slap the “don’t be anxious” and “give it to God” lines on everything and then feel guilty all the time because we don’t even really know what that means.

My last option is to try to get more help again and to recognize that maybe my fears are superficial, but the intensity of this may not be normal. I often say that getting help for my OCD was the best decision I’ve ever made. It’s interesting to me that even though I believe that, I still want to do everything I can to stay out of counseling for OCD. Maybe it’s the stigma or the fact that I want to pretend I’m stronger than I am: that I now know enough to do it on my own. Maybe it’s the money: how I cringe when I think of how much we have already spent in therapy for me. Maybe it’s how uncomfortable I know counseling will be: how I’m at the point in overcoming OCD that I will probably have to do disgusting things like touch public toilet seats and not wash my hands or potentially “dangerous” things like doing some type of exposure therapy around our friends’ kids with extreme allergies and how extremely anxious and uncomfortable I will feel the entire time until my body finally acclimates. Maybe it’s that my new church will see how weak I really am: how I still remember how people looked at me before when I was really sick and how I felt like I had leprosy or something. Maybe it’s how humbling and shameful it felt when I was trying to do exposure therapy in kid’s ministry a couple of weeks ago with the new sanitizer and people walked in on me doing it and I was crying because it was so hard for me. Or that I will have to explain it to people, and they will look at me like I am crazy and they won’t understand. Maybe it’s that the help I have available to me now probably isn’t as good as the help I used to have available to me, and so I wonder if it will even be worth it.

There comes a point where you have to come to terms with the reality that your present pain isn’t sustainable or that it impacts others more than you want to admit and that even though healing will be very hard (and expensive or seemingly shameful or may not work) and probably even harder than the pain you feel right now, that walking by faith and freedom is worth it. There isn’t any shame in getting help. That’s a lie from the pit of hell to keep people scared, and therefore, immobilized. If you aren’t living your life in a way that beckons you to seek wise counsel every now and again, I wonder if you are really seeking to walk by faith.

And so reflecting on a year hard fought, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I’m going to continue on this journey, I need more help. And I’ve made some peace with all the “maybes” of that, and I’m going to get it. God works in mysterious ways. He brings people and circumstances together to accomplish his purposes. This process is hard, and it’s not going to end in this life. Some day, my faith will be made sight and I won’t live in a broken world. There won’t be hyper-vigilance or “if you see something, say something” signs in heaven except those directed toward Jesus. But now, between the already and not yet, walking by faith for me means acknowledging that I feel the way I do and that is both okay and not okay at the same time. Walking by faith means the paradoxical coexistence of reality and hope. It’s trusting that God meets me with grace exactly where I’m at, yet beckons me to turn my eyes from being distracted by my works to the glorious rest he offers in Jesus. He takes the “shoulds” and “should nots” of all of my feelings upon himself and offers me a greater peace- Himself. And in all of this struggle, I am learning to say: I count it all joy because I know more of Jesus. I would walk the scary road of these past years all over again because He’s truly worthy of a life lived by faith.

New Year, New Associations

stovesI started 2015 prepping for a lot of impending change. We were moving to a new city and saying goodbye to some dear people as well as many other structural supports that essentially built a wall of protection around me during my war with inordinate fear. What would I do without that wall?

Change, even good change, is difficult and scary for someone like me. That’s not an excuse. It’s just a fact. If I don’t prep for it or gain perspective quickly once it happens, my ability to adapt is like that of a fit throwing toddler. That’s why it’s sometimes easier just to stay stuck.

I worked with my therapist the entire month of January 2015 to prep for the upcoming changes that would happen in my life. She helped me see that although change is difficult, it also brings with it the opportunity to build new associations in my brain. On a new, fresh day I haven’t done the things of yesterday, so I can choose new ways of living, or in other words, choose to associate with all things good or pure or true. It’s like Anne of Green Gables once said, “Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” As a new day and new year begins, the more I choose to associate with good things, the more they overpower the old things.

Exhibit A of this concept: My stoves in the picture above. On the left you will see my Arlington small space living stove. I checked and double-checked this stove countless times to make “sure” it was off. Although I gained a lot of victory over this fear before I left Arlington, the fear was still strong. Even if I behaved right and didn’t re-check it, I would still have these nagging obsessions up to the end: Is it off, are you sure it’s off, maybe you got distracted, you don’t really know, you should go back and check it to be sure. After understanding the nature of OCD, I learned not to give into these obsessions by checking, but the thoughts and fears didn’t stop as quickly as they did in other areas. But in my new Omaha apartment, I had never been a slave to checking a stove, so I could build a new association with the new stove. And guess what, I did it. As I was tempted to go down the path of checking, I told myself I didn’t have to go down that road because it was an opportunity to build a new association, a new path, and choose faith. By God’s grace, I haven’t let this stove enslave me. It took a few months, but the power of that stove checking fear and obsession is so much less. The nagging thoughts of being “sure” it is off have stopped for the most part because I built new associations in the way I was going to behave. Now, I don’t leave my house and continue to obsess about if my stove and oven is off.

Sure sometimes I double-check or slip up in my fear or the “what-if” fears come. But in those times the Holy Spirit meets me and reminds me that in Christ, I am dead to fear but alive in Him (Romans 6:11). The old has gone, the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). New mercies are given each day (Lamentations 3:22-23), each year, so we have the power to associate with and give all allegiance to our Savior.

So as we begin this new year, and purpose to have a Happy 2016, may it be a year we show our true allegiance to King Jesus by embracing His new mercies each day. When we embrace new mercies we are building new associations by putting off the old, renewing our minds, and putting on the new (Ephesians 4). Christ is worthy of all our devotion and he has given us all the grace and power we need to live in the goodness of newness of life.

Finding Grace through OCD

This year marks a year of recovery for me after undergoing a significant battle with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). There are many aspects to the recovery process that I hope to share in the future, but I first wanted to share the story of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to me during the trial of acute OCD in my life.

I believe OCD is a condition that affects mind, body, and spirit and the interplay of these things is often complex. Although I have struggled with various degrees of anxiety throughout my life, OCD became significant for me in November 2013. At that point I stopped working as Chris was starting a church-planting residency at our local church, and obsessive thinking quickly began to overtake my mind. I began to have extreme fear that I could do something morally wrong or cause harm to others. I then started to perform a variety of external rituals to try to make sure bad things didn’t happen. These included avoiding places and people, asking questions to make sure it was okay that I did something, hand-washing to the point my hands would crack/bleed, and spontaneously throwing things away, like books or laundry. At the worst, I was going through 12-15 rolls of paper towels a week. I was fearful of touching things at stores because I could be spreading my germs to others. A simple trip to Target could take me over two hours trying not to touch things accidentally, and most of the time I would end up buying much of what I mistakenly touched. This is just a very small sample of my fears/rituals.

The unwanted thoughts that came in my mind were very scary and dark. Combined, all my obsessions and compulsions became so overpowering, it wasn’t uncommon for me to lie down for hours and forget to do basic things like eat. So, I began to lose weight. At one point I was so physically weak I couldn’t stand up without leaning on something. I wasn’t able to take care of myself when my husband Chris was working or at school, so my mom came to take care of me two times that winter.

Spiritually I was in an even darker place. I was very depressed, and my heart was extremely hard. Some weeks, I would come to church and listen to the singing and think “these songs aren’t true- how could a loving God look at someone he cared for and take her mind away?” But, I also have a form of OCD called scrupulosity, which is basically religious OCD. So I was obsessively fearful about being blasphemous or not being saved. On the one hand I was very angry with God, but on the other hand, I was very scared to be angry with God.

So, how did God deliver me from OCD?

In addition to using the common grace of various forms of professional help, God also brought me to a place of greater trust in Him. There is a story in the gospels that I think summarizes this spiritual journey for me. The story is of the woman who suffered from a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who walked through the crowd and was healed by touching Jesus’ garment (Matthew 9; Mark 5). When I read a commentary on this in the ESV Study Bible, it noted that this woman would have been considered ceremoniously unclean and could not enter into public without letting others know. Anyone she touched, including Jesus, and anyone on the way to him, would have then been considered unclean. I can imagine how she would have felt – the years of desperation being in the back row of a religion that told her she was dirty and unworthy. It would feel hopeless. This is how I felt with OCD. I felt unclean and that anyone or anything that I touched I would contaminate. Spiritually, I was so scared to move toward Grace because I was so unable to come to terms with the fact that I need it more than anything. I isolated myself from relationship with God and others because I thought I needed perfection more than grace. This is what religion does. It says if you have the stain of shame and sin you must work hard to rid that stain. It tells you to fear men and stay in your place and look at everyone else who is purer and has it more together.

Yet in a midst of a world that says you must be perfect, there is Faith and there is Grace. There is Faith that urges you to keep walking toward your Savior in an uncertain world, and there is Grace that meets you that very moment you touch His garment. You make Him impure with your sin that He freely takes upon himself, and He makes you pure with His blood and heals you with His Love so amazing that you are now considered accepted, loved, adored, and righteous. You lay down your ideas of perfection and trust only in His is Grace. Through OCD, I learned to walk toward Jesus and say to Him- You are enough.

I don’t know a lot of things, and after experiencing OCD I am more comfortable with that uncertainty. I don’t know why I had to go through suffering with constant affliction in my mind. But what I do know now, more than ever, is that God’s love is steadfast. He didn’t go back on his promise to not let go of me. He walked with me every long, hard step of the past years. And His strength and power worked mightily in me those dark days to give me courage to do battle in my mind. And I know I want to speak of that faithfulness. I want to tell people this: don’t let anyone, even yourself, tell you that you have to live in the dark backroom of religion, working your way to acceptance. Don’t let your sin or how you think people view you isolate you. There is Grace that beckons you, come. And when you do, like me, you will be delivered from your fears, and everything in you will say that Jesus is your help, your deliverer, your everything. Jesus truly is enough.

The woman in the story, she spent all she had trying to get well. But she found healing the moment she walked toward a savior who took her shame upon himself, and the power of God came from Him and made her clean. We, none of us, will ever get clean enough on our own. We find freedom in resting in the fact that Jesus’ work accomplished redemption in our lives, and we hide ourselves in Him that united with Him we walk in newness of life. He saves us from wrath and he makes us pure, a theological truth I think is put so well in the hymn Rock of Ages:

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

 

(ESV Study Bible, 2008, Crossway Bibles, pgs. 1838, 1902-1903; Rock of Ages written by Augustus Toplady)

 

 

 

OCD Awareness Week | OCD Resources

This week is OCD Awareness Week!!  In honor of that, later this week I think I will finally  be posting the testimony that I gave to my church last year.

Today, I wanted to post some OCD Resources.

OCD Foundation: This website/organization is helpful for all things related to clinical OCD.

Dr. Jonathan Abramowitz: My therapist recommended self-help works by him so I once took a look at his website and research. All of the articles/blogs/research I have read by him have been super helpful. I haven’t checked out his self-help book, but I hope to some day.

Dr. Mike Emlet: Dr. Emlet also has some resources on the CCEF website about OCD, but portions of this article have been very helpful for me.

 

Mental Health Awareness Month

If you aren’t aware, May was Mental Health Awareness Month. You are, however, probably aware that it is June. So this is old (and late) news. Because of the effects of my mental illness, I can struggle with being late (something I’m working on). So, I decided to keep this conversation going on my blog even though it is a month late.

This leads to a couple of questions: Why do we need to keep this conversation going and why am I someone to keep it going? Great questions! Here is my attempt to answer those:

Why do we need to keep this conversation going? 

The stats* point out that “50% of Americans will meet the criteria of a diagnosable mental health condition sometime in their life.” You can spend a lot of time debating the validity of the criteria for diagnosing or defining various mental illnesses, which is often done in Christian circles. Regardless of your opinion in these debates, what this stat shows is the concept and effects of mental illness are highly prevalent in our culture, and therefore, will be highly prevalent in our churches. Frankly, I think most of us could agree that there is so much more we could do in the church to discuss the warning signs of mental illness, as well as helping others deal with walking through mental illness. Mental Illness is not just prevalent in the month of May. People sharing their stories and continuing conversations helps people find healing and helps others help others. And that’s why I feel compelled to share my story as part of this larger conversation.

Why am I someone to help keep the conversation going?

It’s been almost 2 years since the genesis of more acute mental illness came knocking on the door of my mind. Through the fall and rise, ebbs and flows, highs and lows of the healing process, I learned a lot. Honestly, I don’t want OCD to be “the thing” that defines me. Like, “there’s Mindy, here she is talking about OCD again.” I really don’t want it to be my platform. Having a Mental Illness can feel shameful. Nevertheless, I do feel called by God to share my story. So I share it and talk about it, and because of that, in a way, having OCD has become my thing whether I want it to be or not. I know that being open about experiences has helped some people learn and has given some people courage to keep fighting. So that is why I keep talking about it. I’ve shared my story and had someone come up to me and say that they have never met anyone else who struggled with OCD. People have told me that hearing my story has helped some people keep fighting or have the courage to get help for the first time. Sharing stories of God’s healing grace is an important part of helping others. Trust me, mental illness wages war against a person. You can’t fight this stuff alone.

My story is not unique. As mentioned in the stats above, there are many who have experienced mental illness. But yet, every story is filled with distinct twists and turns. The way God heals is very specific and particular. So there are certain things about my story that I know add a unique perspective to the conversation. Some of those things are that I am a Christian, my husband is in ministry, and that I utilized both biblical counseling/christian community and secular counseling/support groups in my recovery. I have also had some education/training in psychology/counseling, which was a long time ago so I don’t write from an “expert” perspective or from the viewpoint of a professional. I include that to say that psychology and mental health have been interest areas of mine. But, my writing is from the vantage point of a person who struggles with OCD/mental illness, and this is my personal experience and I realize it may be different from what others’ experience. Consider that my disclaimer- please use what I share as a conversation starter and go talk it through with your christian community/pastor and a professional you trust.

So, this serves as the intro into a series that I will write about this month. Some topics that I plan on discussing include:

  • My recovery story (Including Physical and Spiritual healing)
  • Spirit & Body Connection in healing
  • Spiritual Components of OCD
  • Making the Church a Safe place for mental illness
  • Things to consider when helping those who struggle with mental illness
  • Healing in community
  • Mental Illness and the family/social support

The topics may evolve, but this is a list I’ve been mulling over in my head for a few months. If there are topics that interest you that could be added to the list, feel free to e-mail me or comment.

I’m a little nervous to make these thoughts public, but I’m trusting God that he is doing what He wills with my story. I take great confidence in knowing that He is still the author of my story, even as I am writing out my perspective of what He has done in my life so far. He writes my story in a way that no one else could, making every detail (good and bad), work together for my good and his Glory. And that’s why I share some of these details, so that others may see and know more of Him.

 

 

*From an infographic on the Mental Health America website