Isn’t it amazing how sunflowers follow the sun! It’s like they know…
I have tried since…to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I mean something different…Gratitude exclaims, very properly, ‘How good of God to give me this.’ Adoration says, ‘What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!’ One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun…”
CS Lewis as quoted in John Piper’s “When I Don’t Desire God” pg. 18.
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
You know, I’m no Paul and haven’t been given special revelation or anything. But there are days when I feel like I have something to say, when I want to be a loud witness to the truth revealed to me about the “Holy and Righteous one” the “Author of Life” (Acts 3). But there are also days when the struggle is real, I just want it gone and I feel like the torment silences me and keeps me immobile. This thorn in the flesh, so to speak, is real for me- that my mind isn’t always whole.
For the sake of Christ, let me tell you a little bit about it. Let me tell you that it’s in this very weakness of mine, he has proven himself so very strong.
When my husband and I got married, I had just finished grad school and he was finishing his 1st Master’s degree. After we got married, I moved from the Midwest to the east coast (DC Area), where he had moved the year prior to teach at a private Christian school. If you know anything about DC, it’s a super high cost of living, and my Midwestern self had some sticker shock. As we began to add up our bills, including school loans, I realized that with the increased cost of living, and because I didn’t have a job yet, we couldn’t pay all our bills and debt on my husband’s Christian school teacher salary. I began to be very uncomfortable with the idea of debt and that is when I heard about Dave Ramsey’s debt snowball principle.
As I got temp work and then moved to a full-time position, we got serious about paying off our debt. We lived very simply to do this, used our wedding gift cards at Target for things like toilet paper or buying Christmas gifts for people, didn’t have home internet for about 4 years, and kept flip phones while most people around us were upgrading. This led us to become debt free as well as build up our 3-5 month emergency fund.
After my husband finished his Master’s, he decided soon after that he wanted to move into ministry or teaching in seminary. We realized that to do this, he’d need to go back to school again. As we started thinking about the costs associated with a 106-credit seminary degree, as well as the limited salary potential as a pastor afterward, we knew we wanted to commit to going through seminary and start ministry life debt free. (Side note: see here for a great article on considerations of seminary debt and infographics/stats on seminary debt here)
We ended up being able to pay in full as he went through seminary, and here are some of the ways we were able to do this (Note: I was originally planning to submit this to Money Saving Mom’s “We paid cash” feature, but we technically didn’t pay cash so we don’t meet the submission guidelines. But after reading the above articles on seminary debt, I wanted to share our story about going through seminary debt free as encouragement/ideas for others who are trying to do the same) :
Continued simple living even when income went up.
Chris went through seminary in a non-traditional way, meaning he worked while doing it. I was also working. It took a little longer that way, but it was key for us to go through debt free. As our income went up with both of us getting salary increases and my husband sometimes working extra as an adjunct instructor, we chose to keep most of our simple lifestyle that led us to get out of debt. We continued to live in an apartment complex that didn’t offer amenities (like no washer & dryer in the building, no dishwasher, and older building). Although with our joint income we could have afforded an upgrade, we decided the savings was worth it to try to live as close to one income as possible. We also continued to drive older cars that had been paid off. We did make some decisions that cost us some more – we got internet after he started seminary because he was needing to use internet so much, and we moved from our tiny first apartment into a 2-bedroom in our same complex so there would be an extra bedroom/office for study. But we weighed the other costs (and sanity) we would be saving – the extra space cost more but, it also saved my husband having to regularly leave the house to find a place to study (which would usually cost money in the form of buying something at a coffee shop when the library was closed).
Employer tuition benefits and applying for scholarships.
First, we were very fortunate to get the benefit of some tuition costs paid for from my husband’s job when he started at a local church. Tuition benefits from employers are a fantastic way to save money. Also, when I was working at a college, I once heard some scholarships are not super competitive simply because not very many people apply for them. I know that rumor doesn’t apply to all scholarships, but it is what motivated us to apply for a scholarship we thought my husband would have NO chance at getting. Rather than not applying because we thought we had no chance, we gave it a shot. And guess what, much to our surprise, he got it! We felt so blessed when we found out he got it because it was so unexpected. And over the course of seminary, the nature of the scholarship, which was matched with the church tuition assistance we received, it saved us thousands of dollars. Of course some scholarships are highly competitive and take a lot of effort to apply for, so there is a cost/benefit to it (and there are some scholarship scams out there, too), but overall, looking at possible scholarships and applying for the right ones could end up saving you hundreds of dollars.
Thought through effective class schedules & academic planning.
I used to teach a college success class and we’d talk about things like planning a class schedule. A lot of times people pick their schedule without a strategy, not thinking about the extra time and costs involved in driving to class 3-4 times a week verses thinking about structuring your classes on 1-2 days. People also forget to think about the long-term planning of degrees and maximizing things like electives and class order to reduce over all time and costs. Because I had experience with academic planning and have planning in my bones, I would help my husband map out his schedule each semester and for the long-term to maximize his time and our costs. He saved time and money some semesters by choosing classes right after each other to save driving costs. You don’t want to overload yourself in a day unrealistically just to save a buck, but it is a good thing to think through. Another great aspect of his program was some classes could be taken online. With careful planning, we made it possible for him to finish the last semester of his degree online. This was especially helpful because we moved back to the Midwest rather unexpectedly before his degree was completed. With online courses, you can save money because you aren’t driving to class, but sometimes you have to pay extra fees for the online classes. So we looked into all of that, when considering costs.
Saved on Book Costs.
Using the seminary library or school library exchange programs can save you money on books. My husband is a book lover, and so I know his default would be to buy the book. When writing papers in seminary he may need quite a few new books for each paper, so I was always encouraging him to use the school library if possible unless he really needed (or wanted) the book. Kindle also saved us hundreds of dollars on books, and He got the kindle as a gift. We would always look for book comparisons to see if the book could be purchased used, but many times with shipping costs added, the kindle would still be cheaper. There are so many options with buying books these days, shopping around will help you save.
So, I’m happy to say that my husband graduated this past May with a Masters in Divinity debt free. I am so proud of my husband for how hard he worked the past four years in school, and I’m also proud of us that we can say that we worked together for him to go to school debt free. We are planting a church, Lord willing, in the next year. And it feels so good that we can take that risk without the weight of school debt.
We unsettle inconsolable things when we act as if there is something beyond them whose power could bypass them, overcome them, and could reach us in spite of them. This is the unnerving little power that God revealed through Daniel, who, when faced with death or denial of his faith, chose death. God could save him, Daniel said. But even if God chose not to, God was still God and Daniel was still his, and not even death can change that (Dan. 3:8-16).
From Sensing Jesus by Zack Eswine, pg. 114. It should also be noted that this book is rocking my world.
I recently read one of the clearest descriptions of the difference between conviction and condemnation:
We can trust that it is the Holy Spirit who is leading us when he aligns our hearts with Scripture and convicts us of its truth. This conviction does not equal condemnation because those who walk in the Spirit are free from condemnation, but his conviction does lead to godly sorrow and repentance. We can distinguish condemnation from conviction in that condemnation is general, accusatory, and leads to hopelessness. Conviction is specific, gently firm, and hopeful; conviction reminds us that the Holy Spirit will help us change.
From Christine Hoover’s book “From Good to Grace”, pg. 101
God is glorified in his people by the way we experience him, not merely by the way we think about him. Indeed the devil thinks more true thoughts about God in one day than a saint does in a lifetime, and God is not honored by it. The problem with the devil is not his theology, but his desires.
From When I Don’t Desire God: How to Fight For Joy by John Piper, pg. 30-31
For most of my Christian life the NIV was the “it” bible version in the Christian circles in which I was discipled. I made the switch to ESV around the time I got married. It’s not often I refer to the NIV these days, and I forgot that the first verses I learned were from this translation and how much of my spiritual formation has been from hearing the preaching, studying and memorizing this version of the bible. I’ve helped my parents with their moving process lately, and recently I found this note I wrote long ago along with a beautiful verse from the NIV:
Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.
This is Isaiah 26:8 (NIV). The day I wrote this verse on a small sheet of paper, I also wrote this prayer:
Lord, when I don’t know your will, I should do what I know is for sure. As I strive to walk in your ways, I will wait for you.
I was, most likely, in my early 20s when I wrote this and pinned it up on my painted bulletin board in my bedroom. It’s amazing how in the ebbs and flows in life, and a bible translation (and a bunch of theology) change later, that I see the answered prayers of a God who was always faithful to reveal himself powerfully to me in just the right time. In all the anxieties I had about “will God show up and provide what I think I need”, he provided not necessarily what I expected, but exactly what I needed. I find myself now in a different time and place, waiting upon the Lord again. And sometimes I find that my heart is more focused on him showing up in the way that I want him to, rather than making him famous right now as I’m seeking to walk in his ways. But then I am reminded of those promises he has always kept and the ways he provided and delivered me. My Red Sea moments so to speak. And so I keep walking forward in his ways. Pressing on. Waiting. And praying for the greatest desire of my heart to be making him known regardless of what provisions I think I need in this life. And so I pin this note up once again and pray past prayers once again. And today I do this with a lot of hope, pretty confident that 10 years from now, I will be recalling glorious stories of my famous Savior of how his power was revealed in just the right time bringing provision and restoration in ways I could not have imagined.
Father, your name and renown are the desire of our hearts. Be famous. In glorious Red Sea sort of ways.
“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing and regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people.”
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