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

A Wife’s Perspective on RTS

There are two things I was afraid of when my husband Chris started seminary: that he would turn Presbyterian and that he would become prideful. One of these things almost happened, and the other didn’t even come close to happening most likely because the other one almost happened.

In regard to fear one, I tried to get Chris to make one pact with me before he started school at the DC Campus of Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS). It is not a joke when I say I tried to make him look me in the eyes and promise that he wouldn’t become Presbyterian (as if I can control belief). You see, I have Baptist in my blood, and I had this fear he would become Presbyo (as I used to lovingly call it) and then my whole church world would be rattled. In my limited knowledge, Presbyterianism simply meant “baptizing babies.” What would I do if he decided we needed to baptize our future children?

In regard to fear number two, you hear all the time about people “loosing their faith in seminary” because they “know a lot about God but don’t know God.” My husband is a pretty smart guy, and he has always enjoyed learning just for learning’s sake. Prior to seminary, I would sometimes see him study things that, while I understand are important, I didn’t understand why they are so important that people spend hours and hours and hours in debate about them. So I was concerned that going to seminary would involve endless hours of super detailed study about things that didn’t really matter in life, which would then result in a puffed up head of knowledge and no practical working out of that knowledge. I was on the lookout for this and decided I was going to make it my mission to point out if I saw him becoming arrogant about secondary matters. If there was anything I could do in my power, my husband was not going to lose his faith in seminary because of pride.

In observing him while in his studies, I first began to see his understanding and knowledge of the Bible grow exponentially. We’d be sitting in small groups with people and he would refer to some passage of scripture or express a theological thought that directly applied to the situation we were discussing. He began to do this more and more. I noticed he shared what he was learning not in a way that was prideful, but in a way that demonstrated he actually believed it not only for himself but for all of us. He shared as if he just wanted others to see what he learned about the greatness and love of God and how it was actually practical to life. He started saying things to me like “do you know that when God uses the term ‘steadfast love’ in the Bible, He is talking about His Covenantal love.” He would say randomly “union with Christ is such an amazing doctrine” as if he was thinking about a specific life situation and he just knew that without the reality of union with Christ, he would be floundering.  I then noticed him starting to tear up every time he took communion. Like every time (and we take it weekly in our church). It became obvious to me pretty quickly that he wasn’t just learning this stuff, but it was changing Him. He wasn’t just learning more about God, but God’s love was becoming more real to Him. And he genuinely wanted others to know more of that love too.

The theme of God’s Covenantal Love is something that he spoke about often because he was learning about it often. At first I was a little skeptical of this idea because I knew it was the basis of a Presbyterian view of scripture (and I was afraid of turning Presbyterian). I will admit that I don’t know much about Covenant Theology. So when I write about this it’s like from the vantage point of a 5th grader who has heard about this thing called Geometry. But whether I know much about it doesn’t mean that it hasn’t impacted my life in a profound way, because I’m married to a man who has studied it and believes it. Practically speaking, I honestly believe it saved our marriage and helped him love me through a very difficult time.

You see, it was while Chris was in seminary I was diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Eventually, my experience of OCD became so debilitating we were making serious consideration as to whether we could live a life of ministry. And I felt horrible about it. We pulled back from our church planting plans, Chris’ dream, because of it. I felt like I ruined his life and career path. But in the midst of that struggle and my shame, at one point he told me I was the most important thing to him even over ministry and career. He put it pretty bluntly one time when he said, “I didn’t make a covenant with my career.”

It was that moment when he said the word “covenant” it all clicked. My husband wasn’t going anywhere. He was sticking around and loving me sacrificially in this trial, at the expense of his own dreams, because he believed in covenants. And he believed in covenants because he believed with all his heart that God was keeping His Covenant. And he believed God was keeping His Covenant to the depth that he did because he was learning about it in class after class in a Reformed seminary with Presbyterian professors. He was learning this theological truth isn’t just about a theory of viewing scripture, but that through Christ, the Steadfast Love of God binds itself to you and changes you. This covenant helps you love beyond yourself and stay when it’s hard. And so, I will always be grateful to RTS for instilling in my husband that covenants really do matter.

Chris was wanting to TA Hebrew last Fall. I confess, I was against this plan. He had worked as an adjunct English teacher during two semesters in seminary, and it was a stressful time constraint on top of school and work. But, in God’s providence, it turned out to be a huge blessing. Because of the extra time that he spent with the professor he TA’d for, his professor was able to disciple him during a very challenging time. Throughout his time at RTS, Chris received the benefit of not only mentorship but also legit pastoring from not just one professor but many. These men did more than just teach. They genuinely shepherded their students. Chris knows more of the love and care of a Great Shepherd because of it. And I know he is and will be a better shepherd to people because of it too.

Like I said, in regard to my two fears, one almost happened.  This past fall, during his last year in seminary, we gave serious consideration to becoming Presbyterian. I will admit that after experiencing the love and grace of so many Presbyterians in the year prior, and seeing the practical implications of theology that humbled the heart of my husband, it was something that I began to fear a lot less.  After wrestling, we ended up going in a different direction. But we go in that direction with a profound belief that we serve a God who keeps His promises, that His Covenantal love is good and remains forever, and that it is indeed a blessing we get to be a part of His Covenantal community. We will be His people, and He will be our God. This profound belief has been shaped in our lives in large part by the teaching and shepherding of the professors at RTS.

So, maybe it’s safe to say, I’ve got a little Presbyo in my blood now too. And I’m okay with that. Because I am ever so grateful I made a covenant with a man who believes in covenants before a God who keeps His.

God’s Law…

This is why we need grace…

God’s law beautifully exposes the heart, it carefully guides your life, but it is powerless to give you forgiveness and freedom.

Tweet from Paul David Tripp, 4/10/15

 

The Bad Guy…

One of the things I’ve learned over the years is if you don’t change, you’re the bad guy. In the movies, the bad guy, the villain, is the only one who never changes. It’s one of the rules of storytelling: all the characters have to change.

As someone who struggles with change, these words from Whitney English really got me thinking.

Curated Articles: Mental Illness & The Church

I’ve got a post in the docket about my thoughts on mental illness in the church. (World, are you ready?) In the meantime, I wanted to share some on-line articles/videos I’ve recently looked at on the topic:

Distigamatize Mental Health– A video interview with Michi Marshall on the Propel Woman website. Something she said in this video has really encouraged me as I strive to live my life with the challenges of OCD, “it’s not about diminished potential, it’s about changed potential.”

A New Approach to Mental Illness in the Church – A strong statement from author Ed Stetzer, “But, let me be direct here: if we immediately dismiss the possibility of mental illness and automatically assume spiritual deficiency, our actions amount to spiritual abuse. I know those are powerful and pointed words, but I believe them to be true. Please, don’t miss them.”

How Churches Can Respond to Mental Illness – Another thoughtful post from Ed Stetzer.

Making The Church A Safe Place for Mental Illness – A great start of the conversation by Stephen Altrogge.

What Christians Need To Know About Mental Health – Authentic (as always) writing from Ann Voskamp about her own family struggles with mental illness.

Any articles I should add to the list?

Christ the justifier…

I often use the term the Gospel. This means through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, I am justified. But, as I was reminded through the preaching of Scotty Smith this past weekend, we must not forget that the gospel is about a person- Jesus. It’s all about Jesus. My heart will not be made whole when I separate doctrine from the person.

It is not the doctrine of justification that does my heart good, it is Christ, the justifier.

Words from C.H. Spurgeon; h/t challies.com-5/12/15

Not A Square Inch…

There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’

Some true (and comforting) words from a former Dutch Prime Minister, Abraham Kuyper

Dear Readers, This is my blog plan

Dear Five Readers,

If you are reading this in May of 2015 you are most likely a good friend of mine. I probably love you very much. Thanks for reading. You’ve always been a big support to me. If you aren’t a friend of mine and you somehow found this blog, thanks for taking the time to read. I hope you see my heart in some way. Know that I recognize I’m still in process, but God is redeeming that somehow, someway. Also, feel free not to read this particular post. As a head’s up…it’s BORING!

At any rate, I wanted to inform my readers as to how I am approaching the progression of this blog. First, I recognize that while I think I have some things to say, I’m not the best writer. I’ve admitted that before and know I need to work on it. However, as a friend suggested in a comment, I need to stop apologizing for my writing. I thought that was good advice. So I am going to stop apologizing (effective now) because I know it is imperfect, and I know that is both okay and not okay at the same time. After being crippled by that for a while, I decided that at the present moment, I am choosing not to focus too much on writing skill (which means if you continue to read, you will have to suffer through some bad grammar. Hey, I’m all about exposure therapy- if you tense up when there is bad writing, just think of reading my blog as a way to help you to practice being content in tense situations. And if it really, really bothers you, you will see below in stage six I am taking free editorial help ;)) I am planning to progress my blog in the following stages and hopefully you will see the improvement as I progress:

Stage 1: Get in the habit of posting regularly, regardless if it is substantial post (ie posting quotes, past pictures, articles, etc.)

Stage 2: Work on writing longer, thoughtful articles and post in timely manner (even if that means limited editing)

Stage 3: Read regularly to generate ideas and indirectly improve writing skills

Stage 4: Work on gathering graphics/taking pictures for posts

Stage 5: Work on the mechanics of writing

Stage 6: Engage editors to help improve writing

Stage 7: Work on consistency of look, theme, content of blog

Stage 8: Re-evaluate and come up with updated blog plan

I’m sure that not to many people share their blogging plan. But, it’s a miracle that I even am blogging anything, so whatever helps get that going I’m going to do- be it sharing plans for accountability, confession, posting things just to get in the regular habit- I’m gonna press on.

So, again, thanks for reading. It is an honor to be able share some of my thoughts and interests.

Mindy

 

Moralizing Preferences

One of the most helpful things OCD ended up revealing about me was that I have a tendency to moralize preferences. Quite honestly, I think this is a huge issue for modern women and you don’t have to be on the brink of a mental illness to be caught in the comparison trap. What do I mean by moralizing preferences? Well we live in an age where you have information and opinions available to you about everything. Some of this information we use to make decisions is strictly opinion or isn’t quality, but nonetheless most of us have immediate access to information that we used to not have access to for the purposes of educating ourselves about a variety of topics. The term “google” is now an accepted verb in our society, sometimes as simplistically accepted as the verbs run or eat or swim. So, we do as much research as we want, and then we form our opinions or view things as facts. We decide what we think is “right” for us. Examples of this are where and how you choose to have your baby (home, birth center, hospital, ob, midwife, natural birth, epidural), what kind of food you choose to eat (preservatives, natural, organic, local, frugal, paleo), where you choose to live (urban, suburban, city, country, midtown, north, south, east, west), or your education preferences (homeschooled, public, private, community college, classical education, university).

For me, I have a hard time choosing “rights” because I usually see the pros and cons in all options which generally leads to difficulty in making a decisions. I just want to make the best decision. I look at others lives and see what they choose and sometimes I feel guilty I didn’t choose that or wonder if I should choose that. When OCD kicks in, I am overcome with fear that I didn’t chose a certain way or ping-pong back and forth between what is right and wrong. It’s quite mentally exhausting and can be crippling in decision-making. Then to make it more complicated if I’m forced in some instance to choose a way or at least decide what way I would choose, I have a tendency to judge others who don’t choose that way or get irritated at others who choose differently than me who I think “make me feel” like I didn’t choose right by the way they continue to promote their preferences. This complicated mess is what happens when we moralize choices.

Now to be clear, I believe in absolute truth. I’m not talking about core doctrine here. I’m talking about the everyday ways we choose to live our lives. How we have a tendency to compare ourselves with the people who dress differently than us, style their house differently than us, eat differently than us, raise kids or birth babies differently than as us….the ways we live our preferences in everyday choices are endless. And they can be divisive, too. Particularly when we make morally important what is actually morally neutral or amoral. It’s what through the Bible we have labeled as legalism, adding to God’s law.

When OCD became a stronghold in my life, I was living in Arlington, VA. If you don’t know much about Arlington, VA, it’s across the river from DC and one of the wealthiest counties in the country. It’s an area were most people are highly educated and that means people are highly educated about their preferences, too. It’s where I first learned about organic food, birth center & home births, and specialty grocery stores & CSA. It’s where I heard about classical education in homeschooling and went to Pinterest parties galore. People live their lives in Arlington in a particular way they have chosen. It’s not all the same, but it’s intentional.

While intentional isn’t bad, and I think it is important to be educated and decisive about options, it can become a problem if A) you become burdened by the weight of trying to live up to others ways of living B) you judge others for not living up to the standards you have created for yourself and/or C) you find yourself only associating or being friends with people who have the same preferences as you. I think many of us vacillate at times between A, B, or C. We judge Sally for not educating or disciplining her kids correctly yet fall into despair because Samantha is better than us at raising her kids. We look at Suzy and think she should eat better, but are inwardly jealous of Sara because she is super fit and eats better than us. We pray fervently that God would provide us friends that we can relate to and many times by relate, we mean people who live in the same neighborhood, eat the same food, are in the same season of life, and educate their kids the way we do. And then we feel guilty about it all because we realize we are overwhelmed and can’t even live up to the ways of life we choose for ourselves.

But, rarely is life meant to be lived in the world of either/or. I think that is why the bible magnifies mystery and paradox. Romans 14 specifically addresses not passing judgment about certain preferences, as well as walking in love toward others when there are different preferences involved. We must never forget “none of us lives to himself, and none of us dies to himself. If we live, we live to the Lord and if we die, we die to the Lord. So then, whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s” (Romans 14:7-8).  The simple fact is that whatever decisions we make, we make them before our Maker and we are His. Our life mission is not to try to reconcile each other to our preferences. Our life mission is to try to help reconcile each other to our Maker.

We don’t have to settle for either/or when we can have more of the Lord with both/and, somewhere in the middle. CS Lewis* said “the more we share the Heavenly Bread between us, the more we shall all have.”  I’ve come to learn that the Heavenly bread is much more than manna, cheap bread from the store, gluten free, or organic fresh-baked. But, thanks can be given to the Lord for all of this bread. We need to see that we get more of the Lord when we open our hearts to love others who have different preferences from ourselves.

So, we can celebrate that our friend has joy and creates and sets a Pinterest worthy table to her style and preference (even when it isn’t ours), as well as celebrate when our friend has chosen minimalist life and has us over and we eat on paper plates and her house is a mess. We learn to be content in both settings simply because we are with a friend and we are comfortable with ourselves in the Lord to celebrate who they are and not try to be them. We can celebrate when a new life is born in a hospital with an epidural and at home without one. Either way, it’s an absolute miracle to be celebrated!  We can also educate ourselves on our preferences, but loosen our grip to include a friend in our life who eats food with preservatives or a friend who drinks raw milk. And have them both over and cook the way we have chosen for our family and have faith that the call to grace-filled hospitality is greater than the weight of our expectations or preferences. Or we can freely cook a dish or set a table in a way that is different from our own preferences but we know would bless a friend by meeting their preferences. We don’t have to hold a guilt of performance to others expectations and ways of life but we don’t have say “it’s my way or no way” either. We can celebrate both ways. Because the greater call should always win. Love and grace are always greater than any one of my or your preferences.

 

*CS Lewis wrote this in The Four Loves, found quoted in Prayer by Tim Keller (pg. 119).