Mental Illness or Mental Skillness…

So maybe, you know, there’s no such thing as crazy, and being diagnosed with a mental illness doesn’t mean you’re crazy. But maybe it just means you’re more sensitive to what most people can’t see or feel.

Some of what is said in the beginning of this Ted Talk is a little much for my taste, but the conclusion is something to think about- from the Joshua Walters Ted Talk.

The Gospel and Instagram

A few years ago when I was a career counselor, I went to a national conference in career development and heard one of the expert panelists (I don’t recall which one, I just wrote it down) say something to the effect of “theory without practice is meaningless and practice without theory is blind.” This little statement has stuck with me since then and I think it is relevant to many aspects of life, especially for followers of Christ. I think about this a lot in regard to studying theology, since application/the practical is more my natural bent: Theology without application is meaningless and application without theology is blind.

In the past few months, I have realized the blind path I have followed in a lot of things. One of those things is how I engage with social media. I exited Facebook almost two years ago because I was having too many triggers with my OCD. With the frequent posting of fear-mongering articles about things- I was almost always extremely anxious after getting on Facebook. So, I decided to sign out for a while. After leaving, I found, I didn’t miss it.

This summer I took a couple of week break from Instagram. To my shame, I frequently find myself tempted by things that others post. OCD also plays into this temptation in that I can sometimes become unconscientiously compulsive about checking Instagram and waste a lot of time. This is why I often delete the app of my phone and add it back only to post something. Since I don’t want that to be the main way I fill my free time, I decided to take a break from it for a while. During that Instabreak, at first refraining was hard, but after a little while, I didn’t miss it. Upon returning after a two-week hiatus, I found that it took me zero time to fall into my old patterns. I looked at a bunch of old posts from people and I found myself getting jealous about a party I wasn’t at, which happened four days earlier, in a town I no longer live in. Why do I care? I also found I was holding feelings of unforgiveness toward some people and little pictures of friends of friends of friends triggered these feelings. It was because of these things that I began to realize that my practice of using Instagram was blind. I was just doing my thing, influenced by others and my own whims. The blind leading the blind, so to speak.

The past Sunday my husband preached a sermon called “The Irony of Religion.” In it, he went on a little former English teacher rant about the misuse of the word Irony. But he used the example of Instagram as a modern day example of the word ironic- how on Instagram things often seem different than they really are. On Instagram you can edit the junk out of your pictures and make yourself or your surroundings look different with a filter (or photo editing app/software). He referenced this humorous blog post about how mothers can use certain filters to hide their parenting tears, as well as the recent story of a young woman from Australia who was “Instagram famous,” exited Instagram, and revealed some of the irony of her own posts.

In an effort to avoid blind irony, I decided to think through and brainstorm a bunch of questions to ask myself about my use of Instagram- to figure out the “why and how” and if I should consider giving it up entirely. To ask myself, does the gospel have anything to do with my use of this platform? I’m working through these questions now, and I’m sharing the questions with you, should you want to develop a personal philosophy for using Instagram or if you have any important questions to add to the mix.

Some may ask if it is actually necessary to go through all of this. To which I say: yes, it is for someone like me. I must have a personal philosophy for almost every activity I engage it. That’s just the blessing and curse of having OCD. From the way I cook dinner to the way I brush my teeth, it all has to be done intentionally and with faith, otherwise it’s ruled by fear. But, you don’t have to have OCD to be controlled by Instagram. Google “best time to post on Instagram for likes” and you will actually find articles to read. It’s a business after-all and you are both the product and the customer. We are raising a generation of kids that are obviously obsessed with likes, and yet, we participate in it all without thinking about it.

With ALL of that said, here are 20 sets of questions to consider…

  1. Why am I using this social media platform?
  2. How does being a Christian affect the way that I use this?
  3. What are my images and/or captions depicting?
  4. What is the overarching tone of my images/ captions? Step back and look at the big picture-are my posts all positive, all negative, hopeful, funny…what is the theme?
  5. If someone were to describe my interests, personality, friends solely from viewing me from this platform posts, what would they say?
  6. What sort of emotions do I feel when using this platform? Do these emotions ever become sinful?
  7. If I experience sinful emotions frequently while using this platform, what particular images or captions tempt me? What sinful emotions to a need to work through?
  8. How am I interpreting the images and captions I read about others? Am I making them about me or are they about them?
  9. How do I want others to interpret the images and captions I display? Do I think about this when you post?
  10. If I think about others when I post, am I trying to justify myself, make myself appear different, or validate myself? Do I post for likes?
  11. Could I intentionally (or unintentionally) be causing others to stumble with my images or captions? Does that matter?
  12. Do my in-person relationships know as much or more about my life as my on-line followers?
  13. Do I have friends and relationships that are 3-D, not solely online?
  14. Am I using openness and/or connectivity on-line as a substitute for in-person connection and/or vulnerability?
  15. Do I ever present myself different from reality? If so, why? If not, is my reality always presented positively or negatively and is that okay?
  16. Could I fast this platform or give it up completely? (Sidenote: fasting for a while may help you answer some of these questions).
  17. Do I look/search but not post? Why? What am I seeking?
  18. How much time do I spend using this platform? Is it getting in the way of my other priorities?
  19. How can I use this platform to show/display the work God has done in my life? (ie can I use this missionally or for God’s glory?)
  20. Finally, How could/should the gospel impact the answers to these questions?

Beginning to answer these questions has revealed a lot about my heart- how I present my life and how I view others. True, the world will urge you to use Instagram in an ironic way (just like religion), but it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s why question 20 is important. By the power of the Spirit, you can engage in the activities of our current culture through the filter of the Gospel. It’s the most powerful, life-giving filter you could use.

The filter of the Gospel gives us freedom to: display reality in a hopeful way, be okay with the process and journey, see a photo filter as a means of seeking and highlighting beauty and not a way of making myself or surroundings look better than they are, look at others joys knowing that a moment in a picture isn’t all of their life but praise God it’s some of it, be patient with others messes, and finally, remember that other people’s pictures are not about me because I am not the center of the universe, God is. Yes, the motives for all it of it will be both good and bad, right and wrong, beautiful and ugly, but God is in the process of redeeming and using it all for His purposes and glory. We can trust that He writes stories for all of us that are somehow intertwined, often illustrated in the pictures that we take. So here’s to a medium that can be a means to display that ordinary life with gospel intentionality.

Give Me Grace…To Hope In You

I was running late as usual. And I forgot. I forgot that they were doing baby dedications this Sunday, so I didn’t prepare myself. I am grateful I go to a church that has baby dedications- praying for the children, parents and affirming them as a part of God’s Covenantal community. As a member of that community, I knew I needed to stay, to pray, and to affirm. But, if I were honest, these are the days and moments that I feel the least a part of that community. The days and moments when I feel I don’t fit, when I am tempted to forget God’s Covenant love to me. As I walked in and started to listen, my soul began to grow dark. Tears filled my eyes, and I just began to repeat this prayer:

Give me grace, give me grace, give me grace.

Give me grace to not leave, to stay in this tension and pain that I feel. To stay to affirm and bless and thank God that He gives good gifts to His Children. Even though He hasn’t given those gifts to me.

I’ve heard many preachers and other speakers talk about barren women in the bible, like Hannah and Sarah. They say, during biblical times, if a woman didn’t have children she wasn’t a person. Of course, I know it was worse then, but I feel like that sometimes now. I especially feel that in the church, where the common restated belief is that in our current culture, children are often not considered a blessing. And so to counterbalance this we talk (a lot) about the blessings of motherhood. But yet, sometimes we see the world IS okay with children, as long as they can dress them up as dolls and accomplish their goals through them. And to counteract the belief that one must be perfect or that children are solely for our own pleasure, we talk (a lot) about the challenges of motherhood and parenting from a biblical perspective.

This is all good and necessary talk. I talk about it myself, too. But can we also acknowledge that we talk about this (and marriage) corporately and privately more than most things. And sometimes when you talk about good things a lot, they can grow closer to crossing the line of becoming idols in the counter-cultures you are creating or at least in some of the hearers hearts. For me, as someone who struggles in my heart to trust God with having children, I find my biggest temptation in regard to this is in the church. It’s extremely difficult to not elevate something, to lay something down, when it is continually being talked about. Granted, this is from my limited experience, but I find that Christian women who are mothers, tend to mainly (sometimes solely) talk about children when they gather. It would be completely wrong to assume that everyone who talks about children a lot, idolizes children. But it would also be wrong to assume that a culture of talking a lot about children wouldn’t create or feed unintended idols in hearts about having children or parenting children. I know it feeds it in my own heart.

In church after the dedication of those little ones to the Lord, we sang the hymn Holy, Holy, Holy. I was distracted at first, but then a line in the song struck me. “All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.” And I saw my heart as it was. Here I am, a creation (a work) of God, not choosing joy (ie. not choosing to praise God), simply because He has not given me another of His creation. Through that line, my smallness was put in perspective, and I was reminded that God is the author of every life, including mine and any children He would give me. All these works at every moment, everywhere should bow down to praise His name because He is Worthy. And it wasn’t like my pain or longing or desire went away. It was just that I remembered the greatness of God, and thereby let the comfort of God attend to my soul. The greater God is to me, the greater comforter He is to me.

So Lord, Give me grace, give me grace, give me grace.

People ask us a lot about our story with kids. And they ask me how I am with dealing with waiting on God for children. For the most part, I handle it pretty well mainly because I have a different story than many other women who struggle with this. That story is for a different time, but as usual, it deals with fear. But trust me when I say this, if God does not give you His grace to deal with infertility (or singleness) while a member of a local church that consistently promotes the blessings of motherhood (or marriage), your soul would suffocate. I typically find the days that He gives me the most grace are when I ask for it, especially on the days that I know it will be hard because it will be talked about a lot. Many times he gives me grace through keeping my focus on others like on baby dedication days or prayers I pray on mother’s day or filling shoeboxes of gifts for little kiddos in need.

Later on Baby Dedication Sunday our Pastor prayed. He asked we join him in these prayers. He prayed for parents and he prayed for those of us who want to be parents who aren’t. He prayed, “Would you give them the grace to hope in you?”

And so I join him in this prayer to my Father….

Yes, Father. Give me grace. Would you give me grace to hope in you? Because I know that whatever gifts and challenges this life brings, they pale in comparison to knowing you and being loved by you. I’ve heard so many say that they didn’t understand the depths of your love until they had a child. That leaves me wondering, can I know your love? Are you withholding something from me? Do you only give good gifts to some of your children?

Yet, these questions seem so untrue of what I know about You. Maybe that’s not the current plot twist of how you plan to display the knowledge of your love to me? Maybe that is someone else’s story right now. Because Savior, if you don’t pour your love upon me, my soul dies. I need your love. I need to know your love. It must be, then, that I can know it, too. Maybe I most know You today through this waiting. Through this suffering.

You say in Romans 5 that suffering leads to perseverance which leads to character, and character leads to hope. So would you give me grace to persevere in the midst of being constantly tempted with this desire?  Would you give me grace to have the character to continue to thank you for the gifts you have given to others and praise you even when it hurts? Because in these things, I know you are giving me the grace to Hope in you. And I know that “hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” Thank you for pouring your love on me. Thank you for allowing me to know the depths of that love in a way that only you could.

We are not…

we are not what we out to be, not what we could be, and not what we hope to be, but still we are not what we once were.

Tony Reinke from his book “Newton on the Christian Life”

Random thoughts on “Anxiety is sin”…

I haven’t over-analyzed these thoughts for theological accuracy, but I think we do a disservice to some who struggle with Anxiety when we don’t nuance what we mean when we say “anxiety is a sin.” Misinterpreted application of “anxiety is a sin” can encourage some people to create “safe lives” where they avoid risking for God in order to avoid anxiety.

True, the bible says…”do not be anxious about anything” but then it says “in everything…present your requests to God” Phil 4. Peace comes when we run to God in the tension not when we run from the tension to avoid anxiety. God promises to be near when we are afraid. It’s His presence that brings peace not an absence of fearful things.

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.

 

If God is calling you to teach…

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my role and purpose in life and within the context of the local church. Actually, I’ve been thinking about this a lot off and on since I “grew up” or at least since life told me I was supposed to start growing up. One thing that I realized in the course of my adult life is that I love to teach. And so, I’ve been thinking about this love and how I can start to make this happen again in my life. This recent quote got me thinking:

If God is calling you to teaching, you will not care if its 500 women or 5 women. You will just need to get it out.

A quote by Jen Wilkin from the Revive15 Conference.

Curated Articles: Women’s ministry and teaching in the Church

As we prepare to PLANT A CHURCH, I am thinking and praying a lot about Women’s Discipleship in the context of our local church. I will put it out there that I am a complementarian, but I’m trying to read a variety of articles and opinions. Here are a few that I have read that have me thinking:

More Pressing Than Women Preachers – Jen Wilkin preachin’ it. For the record, I think this article is excellent.

Women Must Be Taught And They Must Teach – Wise words from Thabiti Anyabwile.

Sisters, Beware of the Cloning Wars– by Rebekah Hannah

Why We Don’t Need “Women’s Ministry”– by Sarah Bessey and a follow-up post with more thoughts.

Why It’s Your Job To Break the Women’s Ministry Stereotype– by Sharon Hodde Miller

 

Happy Fall!

fall

Happy First Day of Fall! I took this picture a few weeks ago at the first signs of the coming fall. I’ve had a few weeks to settle into the idea of things changing. In the next few weeks I will be having my fair share of pumpkin everything and chai tea. I hope you enjoy your fall traditions.