The Adventures of Bipolar Girl

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The Parable of the Botched Airline Reservation (aka: ANSWERED PRAYER)

Once there was a woman (a traveler through life) who was very much afraid… of pretty much everything. Oh, she had had REALLY epic adventures in learning how to overcome fears to “find her voice” that had led to adventures in “owning her voice” that culminated in her being set free to flyjust because she BELIEVED that she could.

But Fear was still prowling in the background, waiting for a more opportune time to pounce.

Out of the blue, the woman was chosen to be an Agent for Change. She was to join an elite band of super heroes who would fight for truth, justice, and the American way. She was chosen because she has a passion for growth and a heart for learners. She was all set to go on this new adventure, until she found out that her companions for the journey would be Sorrow and Suffering. She thought that because they too had been chosen, that she would have to take hold of their hands and fake like she was ok. What she didn’t tell anybody was that she was afraid of them… very, very afraid.

And THAT’S where she made the cardinal mistake of travelers. She made an assumption about the Divine DESIGNER based on the facts and not the Truth. The DESIGNER had made the woman. He had given her all kinds of talents and skills and abilities to use to bear much fruit for him as she went about doing the work that he had prepared in advance for her to do. He would often look at her and grieve because she let Fear steal so much from her. This assignment… being chosen for the Design Force was not meant to hurt her. It was meant to heal. But she opened the door to Fear and Anxiety and they came barging in like wedding crashers.

The DESIGNER knew that the only way to deal with THOSE two interlopers was aggressively. The day the woman was to set out on her grand adventure, the DESIGNER caused things to go awry. He began to thwart her all her carefully laid plans because “many are the plans in a woman’s heart, but the DESIGNER determines her course.” The specifics of what he did will fade over time, but let’s just say our traveler didn’t handle it well. She freaked in a very spectacular way. She didn’t understand WHY the DESIGNER was doing this to her and very vocally told him so. What needs to remain, however, is the knowledge that ALL the stuff that she had feared NEVER came to pass.

The DESIGNER’S plan looked nothing like her own fearfully made one. She wasn’t expected to befriend Sorrow and Suffering. She only had to acknowledge that they were present. The DESIGNER substituted her plans (born out of fear) for his own (that were rooted in truth) in order to establish clear and healthy boundaries for her. He knows her limits better than she herself. He needed her to see that there really IS a difference between forgiveness and reconciliation: Forgiveness only takes one. Reconciliation starts with confession and repentance.

In the absence of real reconciliation, the DESIGNER set up clear schedules and boundaries that she couldn’t have changed even if she’d wanted to (she didn’t). He brought other people alongside her to help her navigate the adventure, because she had been feeling afraid and alone. He showed her things she’d never seen before. He told her to believe him for small and large things.

Did she struggle on this latest adventure? Yes, she did… but only because she couldn’t see or understand what the DESIGNER was doing. Once she stood still enough to seek him out and then listen… she saw that all the things that had happened to thwart her plans were answers to questions she’d previously asked the DESIGNER. He wasn’t doing anything TO her… he was partnering WITH her to bring her to a better understanding of Him and his divine design. Then once his purposes had been achieved, he put her back on a plane — this time there were NO problems with the airline reservations – and he flew her safely home to face the next leg of the journey. To be continued…

 

EPILOGUE

One of the very first things I wrote in my blog back in 2004 was that there were “no linear adventures.” This blog is supposed to be my testimony of what it has been like to be a Christian with a mental illness and how God has walked me through life. My life is not linear. Most people’s lives aren’t. When last I blogged, I was writing about facing my fear of the water, but there have been so many OTHER fears that I’ve been dealing with of late that my mind has been working overtime trying to process all of those experiences. I’ve been having bad dreams and sleepless nights. My physical health has begun to suffer. I have only wanted to share the highlights because the low lights hurt.

I have started isolating myself because fear has been taking hold of me. Anxiety has been choking me. I have had two really bad meltdowns in the past two weeks that came on the heals of my really emotional trip to Atlanta. I do not know how to make my very emotional life story make sense to the casual observer. My take home message from my recent trip: I ride an emotional roller coaster every day, but it doesn’t mean that I’m not trusting God. It means that I have a mental illness.

This is not the story I want to be telling… I hate that I have a mental illness… but it is my story. My testimony of the works of Jesus Christ as revealed in my life.  Some parts of my story are difficult to tell because I am afraid. Other parts of my story are confidential because of the nature of my work… so how do I tell those parts of the adventure without violating ethical contracts? I have opted to start telling parables.

Jesus used every day things to explain spiritual truths to the people around him. He used things that they were familiar to them knowing that familiarity can often breed contempt as well as ignorance. People didn’t always understand his parables to which he would say, “Let him who has ears, hear.” Knowing this about Jesus, I always try to look for evidence of God in everything that comes my way, because God wastes nothing. There is something to be learned about God in everything that he allows to touch my life, even the periods of darkness and depression.

Right now, I am stressed out and afraid… but not because I’m not trusting God. I have a mental illness. Right now, my head is full of all these thoughts and experiences that need to be processed. Trying to act like nothing is wrong is what causes my stress. Learning how to deal with trials and stress in godly ways is the truth that eventually sets me free.

I will get back to the “Fear Knot” story arc when I’ve processed the bigger things that are making me afraid. The swimming was fun, but this other stuff is messing with my mental and physical health. I need to get God’s perspective on all of this so that my health is not being negatively impacted. Plus, this time NEXT year, I want to look back at these posts and see just how far God has brought me. I have been afraid to just come out and say what I’ve been dealing with…but then I remembered that I’d written this parable in my private writing to Jesus. It will seem like a cute little story to most, but God used it to speak to me and anybody else who has ears to hear. Now I’ve found a safe way to unpack some of the things that I am dealing with: modern day parables. He who has ears, hear. All others… enjoy the cute story.

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Fear Knot Part I

Today is the first day of the rest of my life.

I read that somewhere.

Don’t remember where.
It’s cheesy.
But I like it.

After a lifetime lived in fear
of just about EVERYTHING
I am taking yet another step
of faith.

In August, I believed that I could fly.
In September, God told me to soar on the wings like an eagle.
In October, God told me to own my voice and to not be afraid.
And now??? In November??? It seems like Jesus is telling me to
get out of the boat and join him in the water.

Today I’m taking swimming lessons!

There’s a running joke about how black people
generally don’t know how to swim.
At the risk of sounding like a punch line —
I don’t swim.

I mean… I CAN swim.
As a kid,  I had some half-ass lessons
in an above ground pool
that they brought to my elementary school.
I learned some strokes. I learned some kicks.
I never learned how to breathe properly
and I never learned how to tread water.
I can’t even doggie paddle.

The foreshadowing was on the wall…

Years later when I was in college….
I had ZEAL but no KNOWLEDGE.

I almost drowned.

I was learning how to water ski
of all things. Bu since I’d only  EVER
swam in swimming pools
and even then only neck deep…
I didn’t know that what I didn’t know
could hurt me.

WISDOM said that I should have stayed out
of the water… but when did I ever listen
to Wisdom?

When I found myself in deep water,
unable to swim or breathe
or tread water…
I panicked.

Surely, SOMEBODY
would come and save me!

Only thing is… the people driving the boat
didn’t know I was panicking. They didn’t know that I
was in distress. They were having a great time on the boat…
while I was literally hanging on to the end of my rope,
trying not to drown!
(Note: I have not tried to water ski since
and it’s NOT on my bucket list.)

I wasn’t a Christian then… but it was by the grace of GOD
that somebody saw that I was in trouble.
The boat circled back to come get me…
but the damage was already done.
A fear of the water took hold that day
that would stay with me for my
entire adult life.

Maui. I have lived on an ISLAND for decades
and I can’t swim.
I almost NEVER go into the water.
I can count the times
on ONE hand
that I’ve gone deeper than neck deep
and still have fingers left over.

Mercy Ships. I lived on A SHIP
out in the middle of the OCEAN.
I couldn’t swim and I was afraid of the water.
People would stand at the bow of the ship
and get slammed by water for fun...
while I would look out the window and watch.

There’s a photo of a bunch of them jumping
off a pier into the cool and inviting water…
I don’t remember where I was when the photo
was taken… but I WASN’T in the water.

This entire year has been about overcoming fear.

The thing about OVERCOMING fear,
however,
is that most of the time
it doesn’t just magically disappear.
From personal experience…
I can tell you that God has called
me to confront many of my fears
head on.
And it hasn’t been pretty.
There have been tears.

There has also been this thick knot of fear
that lodges in my throat
(obstructing my air)
and in my chest
(that grips my heart and squeezes).

And I cannot stop these involuntary bodily reactions from happening…
anymore than I can stop myself from breathing or sneezing or farting...
but God is showing me that I CAN control if I let the fear own me.

The bible doesn’t say that fear is a sin... at least not anywhere that I’ve  read.

It says, “In your anger do not sin.”

So… what you do with your anger is up to you. It might not feel like it… it generally never feels like it to me, but once I stop listening to fear and start listening to Jesus... he starts to unclench the fear knot.

SO…
Here I am in my new rash guard!

I’ve lost 30lbs this year.
I used to be too embarrassed
to even put ON a bathing suit…
but I’m gonna rock this rash guard!

I ALSO cut my hair some more last night
because IT’S ONLY HAIR
and it needed to be shorter
for swimming.

Cool Factoid #1: in a mirror that red symbol looks like a “G!” Which makes ME feel like a superhero! Since God says we should “rejoice in our weaknesses” I should make that symbol a “B” for Bipolar Girl! Because SHE’S no longer a slave to fear EITHER !

Dancing in the Rain

I am in the middle of a difficult season.
But before people start doing
any kind of spiritual warfare –
don’t.

Never having been one
to “see a demon
behind every
bush…”
I do not assume that
every bad thing
that befalls me
is from Satan.

We live in a fallen
world.  Fallen people
are quite capable of creating
all manners of drama
WITHOUT
Satan’s help.

Don’t get me wrong.
Satan is real.
He is at work
in our world.
I just choose to
ascribe more
power over
this world to GOD
instead of him.

All year I have been taking
some pretty direct hits…
some were spiritual attacks;
some were not…
but all of them forced me
to fall on my
face before the living God.

Those trials also forced me out
of the isolation of my
Bipolar Bubble.
Were it NOT for past and
present afflictions,
I might be tempted to
try to live my life as if I were
an island
instead of just living
on one.

My trials keep me connected
to other believers.
They remind me
that I cannot do life
alone.
I may need more personal
space than the average
bear…
but God NEVER meant
me to live life in isolation.

It is the isolated sheep
that becomes a Scooby Snack
for any hungry, roaring lion
prowling around.

God NEVER intended for man to be alone.

So if this isn’t an attack from Satan…
what gives??

I believe,
without doubt,
that I am in a
season of pruning
of refining
both of which come
from the hands of God
who means
all of this to turn
out for my good.

Does it FEEL good?

NO.
It sucks.
There have been tears.

But he is shaping my
character and refining
my faith… and you can’t put a
price tag on that.

A few months ago
I bought myself ANOTHER journal.
I have lots of them…
(If you haven’t figured it out by now:
I’m a prolific writer…
people who know me well,
give me journals
or stationery as gifts).
And this one I especially love
because of what it says on the front.

It’s a small, purple journal
with white writing that says,
We are NOT here
to Wait for the Storm
to Pass,
but to Learn
to DANCE
in the Rain.

I am still struggling to make my thoughts make sense about all I’ve been experiencing of late, but I need to lay an “Ebenezer Stone.” I’m ok. I do not need to be rescued. I am smack dab in the center of God’s will for me… and sometimes that places me in the center of a storm.

There’s an old saying about how a “picture says a thousand words.” Well, a video with pictures can say so many more. I saw this video today and it encouraged me. Right now? If I am learning to “dance in the rain…” it’s only because Jesus is showing me how.

Divine DESIGN

So I’m excited about a phone call.
It wasn’t just ANY phone call.
That task force I went to the mainland for???
It’s a big stinkin deal.

I haven’t said anything about my week away
because I honestly don’t know how to yet.
It was one of those “My Plan/God’s Plan” situations
where I think I had things all dialed in
and then God TOTALLY changed the game plan.

It was stressful (I cried).
It was challenging (I cried some more)
It was SO far out of my comfort zone,
it was literally in a different area code.
(At one point, I tearfully told God that I wanted to go home)

But after all he did to GET me there,
I wasn’t serious.
I KNEW I was supposed to be there.
SO I did the only thing that made sense:
I called in the reinforcements.
I got some serious prayer warriors
to pray and do some damage in the spiritual realm.

And God showed up and met me there….
in LARGE and SMALL ways.
He BLEW my mind…
and it was amazing.

So… one would think that a conference call was anti-climactic.

I’ve never been on a conference call… and this one had circa THIRTY people!! I didn’t even know how to dial out on the company phone! *Remember… there is only basic technology in the Bipolar Bubble.

One of my biggest issues in Atlanta was that I was too afraid of all the “real professionals” to own my voice. I shut down like a McDonald’s in a town full of vegans. I was too afraid to say anything. Fear was actually a huge obstacle that I had to overcome during this trip and I can’t say that I cut the head off the beast.

SO… today, I dialed into the conference call…

And ended up being one of the more vocal participants! I hate talking on the phone almost as much as I hate being in large groups like that… but God is telling me to own my voice, so own it I did. It was insanely easy and I had a fun time.

Unfortunately, my day did not END well.
ALL of my buttons got mashed
at the very end of the work day.
I ended up driving home upset.
By the time I got home
I was so tightly wound
that ALL I could do
was lay on my bed
and cry.

And then I started
crying out to God
and my paradigm
shifted…

The thing is… I KNOW that God is at work.
Read John 15 and 1 Peter 1:6-10
to understand the hope that I have.
I may not like ANYTHING that I am
going through… I’m even coming to
hate my job because of all the stress…

…but THIS TOO shall pass…

I pray that THIS TOO shall pass.
It has to… or I’m going to have to quit.
My mental health is being messed with
and “I’ve made up my mind: I’m NEVER GOING BACK!”

The roller coaster ride HAS
to come to an end
EVENTUALLY.
I believe God is
NOT through with
me yet….
so all of this stuff
coming against me
WILL come to an end

And when it does,
Jesus and I are going to go
and sit in a quiet field where
nothing moves but the wind
(that is until he calls me
to confront the next challenge….)

*I’m exhausted. Editing not included. Please pray.

IF… I Let God be God.

It felt like the bottom dropped out of my world today.

The unexpected happened. But I handled it relatively well… it was the thing that was lurking BEHIND the unexpected that managed to steal all my calm. I have yet to be still enough today to “know that God is God…” and I don’t have the energy or the desire to write some long rambling post. But I want to document this day, so that this time NEXT year, I can give testimony to just how far God has brought me.

I KNOW that “this too shall pass.” I KNOW that God will “get my boat to the other side.” I KNOW that if I can keep my eyes focused on him, he is going to reveal more of his character and nature to me. But right now I feel like crap. I’ve been crying most of the afternoon. My body hurts. My mind hurts. Fear has gripped me and I am afraid. I am emotionally drained.

I am NOT rejoicing in my weakness. I’m not there yet. I hate it. I hate the way that I felt all day. I hate the way that I feel right now and God doesn’t have a problem with my emotion. He DOES have a problem with it, if I let perfect fear cast out all love. I have to focus on what is true instead of the facts, because the facts look bleak. So what’s true? I LOVE my Jesus and I trust him… even when it feels like the bottom is dropping out of my world.

One of my take home lessons from my Atlanta trip is something I want everybody (including me) to realize: I may live on an emotional and mental roller, but not because I don’t have faith. It’s because I suffer from mental illness! But Jesus is sitting in the roller coaster car with me.

The events of today did NOT surprise him. He is still in control though my world took a dip on its axis. I wish I had handled today with more grace. I wish I could quote some cool scriptures to make me feel better right now… but I got nothing. Actually, that’s not right. I have a poem. My favorite poem…

IF –
Rudyard Kipling

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!
Source: A Choice of Kipling’s Verse (1943)

IF… I can be still enough to let God be God... then Jesus WILL walk me through this fear. He will take care of my “IFs” and my “What Ifs??” I am not alone on the roller coaster… no matter WHAT it feels like. I can cast all my cares (and my roller coasters to him because he cares for me). He hears our prayers — mine and yours. Please pray for me.

Bipolar Girl Strikes AGAIN

Since I went off the Lithium, people have asked me if that meant I was healed of the Bipolar. I have been very vocal about how much God has done in my life over the past year. Even to ME, it’s been AMAZING.

Maybe it’s my fault that people keep asking me this. I’ve been really good at sharing the highlights of this journey… but I haven’t shared very many of the “low lights.” There haven’t been many… but the ones that I have had, have been epic. Real button mashers.

Today has been a button masher kind of a day and right now my buttons are being mashed BIG TIME as I try to sort out the mess that is my itinerary to Atlanta. My company is sending me and I have been REALLY excited about this trip even though there has been a LOT of stress for me at work of late.

To keep a REALLY long story short… I am coming down off of panic mode, but only because I put out a massive prayer flare: FB message, emails, texts… hell, I would have sent up smoke signals if I thought that would have worked. The problem has not been resolved, but my calm is returning.

I HATE that Bipolar Girl’s first response to stressful situations is to freak out. It’s embarrassing to an otherwise logical person such as myself. If it were left up to me, I would NEVER let a single person know that I have my weak moments or just what my weak moments look like. But it was BECAUSE I got off my pride and let people know that I was approaching a meltdown, that normalcy is returning to Bipolar World. If I hadn’t let people know I was panicking… nobody would’ve known to pray. As is… I was fairly saturated in prayer.

My response? I went for a walk. I was having a panic attack, complete with chest pains and I couldn’t breathe. SO… instead of staying in my room wringing my hands and not breathing, I put on my really pink walking shoes and went for a walk in the neighborhood. I really HAVE changed. The world started to look a bit more stable after I took a shower. My mind is starting to calm down and I am no longer having chest pains.

If God wants me to get to Atlanta… and I believe he does… then THIS TOO SHALL PASS.

A meltdown was on the cards after the way my day has gone. Personally, I would rather have had it here in my house than at the airport. Black woman having a mental episode at the ticket counter??? Does it GET anymore cliche than that?? Airport security would’ve been called and I’d REALLY be singing the blues. What is the absolute very WORST that could happen with my itinerary? I don’t get on the plane. NOT THE END OF THE WORLD.

A verse came to mind that helped me calm down further:

Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from 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 about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. 2 Corinthians 12:7-10

 

If God’s grace was sufficient for PAUL… it’s sufficient for Bipolar Girl. My plane WILL make it to the other side!

Thanks to everybody who prayed.

 

 

Where God Guides… Part II

I would LOVE to say that I raised all my money this way… but I didn’t. I got a huge chunk of it, though. Enough to actually get accepted into YWAM… but there was still a balance that I needed to come up with and I didn’t have a plan.

So… I went back to God and asked him what should I do about that. The letter writing had been difficult, but it was totally within my wheelhouse. What he asked me next was not. I felt like God said I should look in the phone book and start cold calling churches. I was supposed to ask them for $5. I was supposed to explain what it was for and why I was asking in that way. I was embarrassed and nervous because I do not like making cold calls. I had a job where I had to do that once and I don’t think I lasted more than two days. Now God wanted me to tell the church at large that I had been rejected and that I couldn’t do it by myself??!

The calls are largely a blur. I know that I made them. I don’t remember who I called or what I said. I know that one or two of them weren’t very nice. I know that some said, “No.” But I do remember (I will never forget actually) calling a church and speaking to the pastor. He said that they were a small, local Hawaiian church. He said that they did not have much money. They didn’t even have the money to pay him… but if I was willing to come to their church service that night, I could stand up and ask the congregation myself for five dollars. EE GADS!!! Did I mention that I have social phobias?? God wanted me to travel all the way to town to ask a bunch of strangers for $5???

I took a friend with me. I put on a nice dress and I grabbed my messenger bag. That thing went everywhere that I went. Inside I would carry copies of stories that I’d written about my adventure with Jesus, because if ever a stranger would come up and talk to me, I would have something to say. I am too shy to just go up and talk to random strangers. Evangelism is NOT my spiritual gift and I’m ok with that. I don’t carry tracks around and I don’t have the “Four Spiritual Laws” memorized.

But no matter where I would went (the beach or the mall or wherever)… people always seemed to come up to me and strike up conversations. My stories were my “ready defense” if anybody ever asked what I believe. That night… I did have a story called, “Stop the Train! I Want to Get Off” in my bag, and it was a good thing that I did, because as soon as we entered the church, somebody came up to welcome me and said that I was the speaker for the evening!!!

I might have social phobias… but I trained and competed in public speaking and oratory in high school and college. I majored in Rhetoric at UC Berkeley. I may not be able to talk to random strangers, but God DESIGNED me to feel at ease on a stage talking to crowds of hundreds or even thousands.

I do not remember much about that night. I know I would have explained who I was and why I was there. I have only the smallest snippet of a memory of me reading the story to them. But what I will never forget is that when I was done reading the story… that church opened its heart to me. People just started handing me cash. I walked out with a bunch of cash. I do not remember how much. The amount is not important. What is important is that I got to see God work through his people in an extraordinary way and they got to hear me give testimony about Jesus and how he had walked me through some major trials.

Eventually, I ended up going to serve with Mercy Ships and had an incredible adventure in learning about God’s character and nature. I had WAY more money than they had asked for well before the deadline they gave me. God knew about my bad memory long before I did. He knew that I would need an “Ebenezer stone” to remember just how far he had brought me. That church, those letters, those phone calls served to remind me that no matter what happened… God wanted me there on the mission field. It also reinforced that saying, “Where God guides, He provides.” It also was the birthing ground for something I have come to believe wholeheartedly: When has lack of money EVER stopped me from doing something God wanted me to do???

Sia, As you prepare to go out on outreach, do not be afraid to ask people for money, but be still enough to hear God tell you who to ask and how to ask them. Know that if he’s gotten you this far, he will see you through to the end. God could’ve just had me win a lottery, but he chose to work through his people. Now, whenever YWAMers come to our church, I always ask God who I should help and how much should I give.

For the past two schools, God has made sure I had a surplus of cash just laying around so that I could help in large ways. This time around, I’m kinda short on cash, (a flat tire and a visit to Urgent Care; and a mainland trip have kinda tapped my reserves) but I’m still asking him how much he wants me to give you. Whatever he plans for me to give, he will provide it in HIS timing. I’m also going to put this out there: How much would you LIKE me to give to  you?? Don’t be afraid to ask. The worst I could say is, “No,” but neither of us will know what God plans to do until you ask.

SO, now you know my story… my testimony of what I saw Jesus do for me in a similar situation. At the very least, I hope that hearing my testimony of how Jesus got ME to the mission field will help tear down any fears or embarrassment that you might feel about asking for help. IF God wants you to go, then of course, the enemy of your soul is going to throw up whatever roadblocks he can to make the going more difficult. He WANTS you to be too afraid to ask for help, because if you do not ask, you WILL not receive. Basic Law of Asking and Receiving 101.

You CAN overcome him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of YOUR testimony! Share your testimony of how God got you safely THIS far with whomever God leads you to share it with and see what he does with that. You WILL get the funds and you WILL go on outreach. The stories that you will have to tell about what you saw Jesus do there… will be that much more powerful because of what he had to walk you through to get you there.

Where God Guides…

Dear Sia,

You came to me last week because you needed my help, but you were afraid to ask. What I want to know before I can answer you is what has God been doing in your life lately? It might seem like a weird question. You ask for my help. I ask for your story, but there’s a reason for it:

God wastes nothing. There is not a single thing that happens to you in your life that God is not aware of and cannot use. Our story should be told for HIS glory. The trails you’ve traveled with him… the trials that he has walked you through serve as road maps not just for you… but for the people coming after you. We all struggle through life. We all need help. Some people are afraid to ask for help, but it is in the asking that we get to see God work his miracles. I told you that I wanted to share a part of my testimony with you because I thought it might help and encourage you.

The minute you hear the word, “testimony,” though, people think you are going to recount how you met Jesus and got “saved.” People generally equate “their testimony” with their conversion experience because that’s what it’s come to mean. But a testimony… is, in its most basic definition, a legal term: “a formal written or spoken statement, especially one given in a court of law; evidence or proof provided by the existence or appearance of something.”

When you talk about what Jesus did or said or how he lived… you are giving testimony about him. When you tell about what he has done in your life… what you have SEEN him do… you are sharing a formal statement as evidence on his behalf. In the court of human opinion, people can never take your testimony from you. It is yours. You lived it. God had you live it for his purposes. Good, bad, or indifferent, it is your story to tell and you have an obligation to tell it as it relates to Jesus and God’s higher purposes.

One of my favorite scriptures talks about the importance and the power of our testimonies:

They overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.

Fear of asking for money might feel like death… but it’s far from it. When you asked me last Sunday for help, I couldn’t help but think back to when I found myself in  almost the exact same position…

I was a young wannabe missionary trying to raise money to do a six month Discipleship Training School with YWAM (Youth With A Mission). I had applied to the Mercy Ship which was based in Australia and did outreach in the South Pacific. I was all set to have a great adventure with Jesus until I hit a wall: initially, my application was rejected, and I was devastated. I was  a new believer and I felt certain that God had clearly told me that I was supposed to be aboard that ship, so I appealed the decision. I was told that I would be accepted if I could raise a certain percentage of the course fees by a certain due date.

New believer that I was… I didn’t know a lot of people in the church. At that time, I didn’t know a lot of people period. I was struggling with an undiagnosed mental illness and was prone to depression. I tended to keep to myself, so I was very isolated. I thought that becoming a Christian would make all my problems go away. I thought that by becoming a missionary God would work some kind of mojo and fix all the broken places in my life. Being told that I couldn’t come was a HUGE hit to my pride. Eventually being told that I could come, but I had to raise money first mashed a lot of buttons. How was I supposed to come up with that kind of money??

I was asking the wrong question.

God never intended for me to do it all by myself. He wanted me to ask for help. My problem was that I was too embarrassed to actually ask people. God knew that and had a plan: I am a writer. It’s what I do. After praying, I believed that God wanted me to write letters to people asking for money. No big deal, right? People send out emails and form letters all the time asking for money. My letters were supposed to be different. I was only supposed to send out 10 and they were supposed to be hand written. I was supposed to humble out in the letters and tell people in my new church that barely knew me that I had been rejected by YWAM because I didn’t have the money to go. Everybody that knew me there knew I was planning to go, but I never asked for their help. I was just waiting for God to have me win some kind of lottery so that I could do it all by myself… I hadn’t told a single soul about my need.

Humbling out and writing those letters was difficult, but not as difficult as the actual request for money. I felt like God had said I was only supposed to ask each of the recipients for $10! Now, I flunked math three times in college… but even I know that 10 x 10 is $100… which was WELL below the couple of thousand dollars that I needed. I needed enough money to fly from Maui to Australia; cover my DTS fees; and my outreach. When I wrote those letters I started to panic and I started to grumble to God. (Note: There is a HUGE difference between grumbling to God and grumbling about him. Some notable people who were close to God’s heart grumbled to him… and he didn’t smite them for it: David, Job, Moses, Abraham… me.)

God had a plan. God wanted me to write those letters. I just needed to be obedient. The outcome was in His hands…so I wrote cute little letters on a single sheet of paper with rainbows at the bottom. I put my favorite scripture at the time which was either Luke 1:45 or James 1:2-4. I can’t remember. I don’t remember a lot about that time, but what I DO remember was the amazing response: One guy from my small group, a pool cleaner, came to me with a check for $300. He told me that God said to give it to me. The guy didn’t have a ton of money in savings… but what he did have, he gave it to me. Another person came to me with $500 saying that God told them to give THAT amount to me. And so it went… I had asked for $10 and people gave me more than I could have asked for or imagined. It felt like when Jesus multiplied the fish and the loves to feed the 5,000. Money just started pouring in and one would think that the story ended there… but it gets better… (to be continued)

Splitting Hairs: Confession and Repentance

In the larger scope of things…
I KNOW my problems are small.
My house is not on fire.
No hurricane has hit my island.
And the last time anybody shot at me…
they were shooting blanks.
My problems are not uncommon
to man
and while I often
FEEL
really un-common,
there are other people in the
world just as (or more) neurotic
than I am…
but they are MY problems
so they still have a tendency to
consume
my world.
When I do that,
I take my eyes off God
and that is NEVER
a good thing.

I hate that I can be so easily
shaken by things that most other
folks seem to be able to handle…
or just don’t give a crap about.

The past few weeks?
I’ve been getting hit by
things that are making
most of the people around
me stress out… so I haven’t
been too hard on myself.

And given the way I’ve
handled similar problems
in the past...

I think I’ve been doing REALLY well.

I KNOW that I am smack dab
in the middle of God’s will for me.
But if you look at the life
of the apostle Paul…
you will see that
being “smack dab”
in the middle of God’s
will for you…
isn’t always bunch of
Snicker Bars
and roses.

Beatings?? Shipwrecks?? Stoning???!

God forbid I EVER experience
the like…
but Paul shared those
things, I think,
because it is not a sin
to admit
when you face trials or
that they stress you out.

What matters most
is that despite the trials…
THROUGH the trials,
our faith in God can become
stronger if we let
God be God.

God has been doing some
AMAZING things in my life
and I have been overcoming
fears and obstacles that
would have left me nearly
catatonic
in the past…
that
or suicidal.

So it is with great shame
that I let vanity be my downfall
yesterday. After everything I’ve
overcome this past week… I got
laid low by
Vanity and Hatred…
and Self-Pity.

Yesterday I realized
that the hair at the crown of my
head is falling out.
Gone.

I have been trying to hide my hair loss
at my hairline and temples ever since I got rid of
the extensions back in August.
This is common among black women
who wear extensions. Traction alopecia.

As people have complimented me on
my hair, all I’ve seen is the fact that
my hair is unhealthy and falling out
so, in my insecurity, I just got better at hiding it
until last week when I couldn’t ignore
the fact that the hair at my temples
is nearly gone and trying to hide it had
only made it worse.

Scripture cautions women not to take their
identity from their hair. Their beauty is NOT
in their hair or even in their face. It’s supposed
to come from a gentle and quiet spirit…
but since Bipolar Girl never possessed
one of those — I always just felt doubly screwed.

So no matter how much people complimented me
on the hair ( I don’t even want to claim it as my own now)…
all I see when I look in the mirror is ugly.

The things I say to myself and the fact that I think that
people are just blind because they can’t see it
will not just go away just because
people tell me that I’m being “too hard” on myself.
Telling me that I need to “speak to my body” and
be “kind to it” isn’t going to help either.

I believe by faith
that I am “wonderfully and fearfully made”
but for the life of me I’m not feelin’ it.
When I look in the mirror
I’m walking by sight
and what I see isn’t pretty.
At least not this morning
and definitely not last night.
This morning I feel old, infirm, fat, ugly, and balding.

And THIS is what I have to take with me to church
where I’m supposed to help lead Sunday school.
This is where I clearly see God’s Plan vs MY Plan.
My plan would be to stay home and feel sorry for
poor old ugly fat me. God’s Plan???

It can be seen in today’s Sunday school lesson:
Jesus Understands Our Suffering.

It wasn’t until last night that Jesus showed me that
he really did understand what I was feeling,
better than I did. I didn’t even really KNOW
what I was feeling or the extent of it.
What I’m feeling goes deeper
than the roots of my hair.
I was falling into sin
and, like my hair loss,
the more you try to hide
your sin… the worse you make it.

The second commandment says that we are
to “love our neighbors as we love ourselves.”
Last night, Jesus allowed me to see further
into my heart and it wasn’t pretty.
I saw hatred there.

I love God and I am trying to love my neighbor.
But I hate myself and pretty much everything about me.
Oh, I hide it well. I manage to hide my self-loathing
under my good works. I mean… when you’re doing
all kinds of cool stuff for Jesus,
who’s really going to care
what you look like? Right?

I hate that I am so shallow that I cannot even see past
my own looks to see what God sees or what other people see.

Now before people start rallying around me to give me
a big old pep talk about the perils of negative thinking…
STOP!

This is the time for confession and repentance.

I KNOW that despising the works of God is sin.

Call it low self-esteem…
negative self-talk...
call it whatever you want…
but hating myself because
of my component parts
is to spit in the face of what
God has given me.

I do not need hand holding and coddling.
I do not need people trying to make me feel better.
I might be dealing with some mania, but that
doesn’t mean that I’m wrong on this.

I’m losing my hair.
Not a limb!
And even if I were
GOD IS STILL GOD!

What I need in THIS moment
is for just ONE person to agree
with me that all this wallowing in self-pity
is a sin and to pray for me
because the “prayers of a righteous
person are powerful INDEED.”

Most likely ignorance and stress
are the root causes of my hair loss.
I have absolutely NO idea how to take
care of my hair because I was never
taught. I kept it braided for decades
because I didn’t know what else to do
with it and now have traction alopecia
to show for it.

God wants me to let him deal with
the roots of  my Hatred and Anxiety
and the first step to letting him
do that is confession
and repentance.

There IS a place
for positive self-talk
and affirmations
and the time will 
come for that.
But God cares more about
my character than my coiffure.
He will deal with the roots of my
hair in HIS timing.

So the time is also probably
coming where I just have to shave
my unhealthy hair off and
start fresh.

I honestly don’t know
how this is going to play out…
but I DO know
Jesus
and I KNOW
that HE
KNOWS
EXACTLY
how I feel.

MY take home lesson: Walk by faith, not feelings.

 

 

The Road Taken: What Forgiveness IS Not

I guess the issue of forgiveness became thing for me when I left the mission field for the second time. That was a year after I’d done my discipleship training class. That part of the adventure had started badly, but had actually ended well… SO well, that a year later, I found myself signing up to be a member of the crew. I was supposed to be their Communications Officer. It was going to be my job to ferret out the stories of what God was doing through the ministry and then write about them. My plan was to commit the next five years of my life to missionary service and I had done so willingly. I gave up everything I had, packed a bag, and caught a flight to Australia where the ship was stationed between outreaches to the South Pacific.

When I went on the mission field, I was full of hope and zeal. When I left the mission field, I was bitter and broken because of two of the leaders on board the ship.  They didn’t think the ship needed a writer. They thought I was taking up a bed that a real crew member could use. They didn’t want me there and made sure that I knew it. The husband told me to my face that I was “too big for my boots” and that he needed to “take me down a few pegs.” The wife went out of her way to needle me and micro-manage everything that I did.  My mental and physical health started to suffer, so I contacted the home office in New Zealand and begged them for help.

From that far away, however, they weren’t in a position to do anything to help me, so I quit. If they wouldn’t help me, I couldn’t stay. I gave up my dream of being a writer for Jesus because of two leaders who hurt me and because of the other leaders who couldn’t help me. Unfortunately, the two leaders on the ship held everybody’s passports and when I asked to leave, they wouldn’t accept my resignation. They wouldn’t let me leave the ship. That only served to make me feel trapped and my mental health began to rapidly unravel. My health got so bad that the ship’s doctor and the Captain had to intervene on my behalf.

I didn’t know how to mentally process the destruction of my dreams. It didn’t help that I left the ship as a pariah with my faith in tatters while they continued to smile and nod for the cameras. Ours was a very public philanthropy… and they had the Colgate smiles. The day I left the ship, I was set ashore in some podunk town on the island of Vanuatu… I was sick and delirious; nearly penniless and all alone; and I couldn’t do much more than lay crying in a bed in some tiny room in a nameless hotel.

Self-Pity had waited for just such an opportune moment to start whispering in my ear:  What had I done to deserve their treatment of me? All I’d wanted to do was serve the Lord. I was finally getting to use all my gifts and talents for God and his glory. I felt like he had designed me for just that purpose. So, how had things blown up so badly??!

If I had continued to listen to Self-Pity, it would have gone badly for me, but things changed in an instant. As I lay in that bed feeling like I was dying… I heard singing. I heard the high-pitched voices of local school children singing en masse from the nearby school. They were singing praise songs to Jesus. I can’t remember if they were singing in English, French or the local dialect. Whatever language they were singing in, though, I knew the song:

This is the day (this is the day)
That the Lord has made (that the Lord has made)
I will rejoice (I will rejoice)
And be glad in it (and be glad in it)
This is the day that the Lord has made.
I will rejoice and be glad in it!
This is the day (this is the day)
That the Lord HAS made!

 

And in that moment, self-pity was defeated by worship of the living God. Hearing that song reminded me that God was still God. He knew exactly where I was and he had seen everything that happened to me. He knew that I’d been badly broken and that my faith was nearly destroyed…and he cared. Yes, I would need to forgive those leaders, but in THAT moment, I needed to be loved and comforted by the God of All Comfort. I needed my Father and he showed up with singing.

That failed missions experience became the backdrop for all future lessons on forgiveness for me because it showed me what forgiveness isn’t. Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of messages in church and read a lot of books about forgiveness because I knew I needed to forgive a lot of people who had hurt me. I sought out forgiveness the way I’d sought out truth (with dogged determination), but when my pain and brokenness persisted, I felt like I had failed…. like I was failing at the Christian walk.

At the time, I didn’t know that I had a mental illness, but even after I was diagnosed… I thought that forgiveness would make the pain and depression go away. Well-meaning Christians would see my depression and my brokenness and would be quick to tell me that my problem was unforgiveness. If I could just find it in me somewhere in my heart to forgive everybody who had hurt me over the years everything would be ok (as if that thought never occurred to me).

For years, I have listened to “well-meaning, but soul crushing” advice from Christians who were quick to diagnose unforgiveness as the cause of all the world’s ills. Don’t get me wrong, forgiveness is central to the Christian faith, but people in their zeal to forgive have lost sight of what true heart, forgiveness really is. I honestly don’t know if I can always say what real forgiveness looks like, but in a tiny hotel room in the middle of the South Pacific, I learned what true forgiveness (from the heart) IS NOT:

I. Forgiveness Is Not Denial

Some people would have you act like the hurt never happened. All you have to do is slap on a mask and act like everything is ok… even if you’re a bleeding mess on the inside. Forgiving people who hurt you isn’t pretending that the hurt didn’t happen or that the bruises don’t still exists. Scriptures says that we are supposed to confront a brother who “sins against you” and that we “should speak the truth in love” to our neighbors and not “let the sun go down” on our anger.

God is not a God of denial.

Saying that somebody hurt me or confronting them about the hurt that they caused isn’t being a bad or unforgiving Christian. It’s being a good communicator who knows how to set healthy boundaries. It’s understanding that real reconciliation can only happen after real forgiveness has been given and received. Stuffing the pain until you’re ready to blow? That’s not only unhealthy, but it’s unscriptural.

For me, this has never been an issue. When people hurt me, I am quick to slap on the “Victim” label. And while there is a place and time for acknowledging and remembering the victims of violence or abuse, God never meant for us to camp there. Self-pity is straight from the pit. It’s idolatrous. It makes you question the goodness of God. It puts you and your pain on the throne. How could a good God let you be hurt like that? Doesn’t he care??

Two words: The cross.

I spent years wearing the Victim label. I couldn’t forget that the pain had happened because it still hurt. I wanted to be healed. I wanted to be vindicated. I wanted them to apologize and then I wanted them to pay. I wanted justice. I wanted the spiritual equivalent of a public flogging.

Clinging too tightly to the “Victim Label” will quickly cause the wounded party to become the Prideful Debtor. The hurt was real and the person may owe you an apology. They may even owe you damages. But if you put yourself and your pain on the throne, then you start to feel entitled… like God owes you something and then you morph into the Unforgiving Debtor. How are you supposed to forgive them? They had hurt you immeasurably. “Nobody knew the trouble you’d seen.” You would forgive them when they settled the debt– when they gave you what they owed you.

Four words: Cannot surpass the cross.

 

II. Forgiveness Is NOT Condoning or Excusing the Offense:

“Laurel, I’m sorry I hurt you.”

“Oh… that’s okay.”

Actually…it’s NOT okay. Any time somebody hurts another person whether it is intentional or not, it is not “ok.” This has never been my issue either. If somebody cares enough to actually apologize to me, the correct response from me is, “I forgive you.”

One year I taught third grade at a private (and very entitled) school. The parents were not happy with the new owners and chose to direct their anger at me since I was present and the out-of-state owners were not. We had what I call the “Back-to-School Night-MARE” where those rock throwing parents hurled all their anger and insults at me. I stood in front in my classroom in front of an angry mob of parents who verbally abused me until I started crying. And it was NOT okay.

I nearly quite that job that night, but I needed that job to live so I stayed. The wounds from that night, however, took years to heal. After that, I was afraid to do my job because I was afraid of the parents… ALL parents…which made teaching elementary school anywhere a nightmare for me. I would not wish what they did to me that night on my worst enemy’s worst enemy. In time, I was able to forgive them even though most of them never apologized. In time, I even came to see that they had a right to be angry with the new owners, but they didn’t have a right to take it out on me. That will never be “ok.”


III. Forgiveness Is Not Avoidance

BINGO!

That’s my issue. While my basic nature is confrontational and I’ve been named “The Canary MOST Likely to Sing”… I tend to run from confrontation in favor of finding the nearest corner to hide in and lick my wounds. Historically, I’ve been afraid to deal with the problem (any problem) especially when it involves people in authority over me. Scripture says that we are supposed to submit to the authorities over us… but I have a tough time believing the blanket interpretations of this.

If we are called to unequivocally submit to all authorities over us, including unjust rulers, then the Israelites shouldn’t have gotten the hell outta’ Egypt. David should have slowed down and let Saul catch him and kill him. Mary and Joseph should have stuck around so that Pharaoh could have killed the baby Jesus. I mean… after all, he’d given a royal decree that all the boy babies should be found and killed. Again, don’t get me wrong, submission is also central to the Christian faith, but I can think of many instances where people have disobeyed those in authority in favor of a higher good.

Consequently, my sketchy understanding of submission puts me in “flight mode” when a leader is the one who hurts me. Then my passive/aggressive Canary-isms kick in and I feel compelled to “Say What I Need to Say” because my mental health is beginning to suffer under their leadership. I end up having imaginary conversations with that person where I tell them how much they hurt me or how things need to change. I write them letters that I will never send because I need to vent. I start to lose sleep because I’m having bad dreams and nightmares. I start to feel tense and emotionally fragile because none of the mentally stable people around me will say anything to right the situation.

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” It is usually the weak who suffer when the strong don’t act. My mental illness has put me squarely in the “weak camp” for years. I never speak up because I’m trying to be a good person. When my mental health starts to be shaken… I start to sing like a canary because I want them to stop hurting me. I want them to go away. I want God to do something. I want justice! To hell with mercy.

And that’s where the Unforgiving Debtor went. When faced with the choice to forgive the lesser debt of a peer, that guy in the parable forgot that he’d been forgiven a greater debt. The King in that parable turned the guy over to be put in jail and tortured. The guy was turned over to be… torture.

God. Torture.

God?? Torture?!!

Something just doesn’t compute with that equation, but it’s there in scripture if you don’t believe me. A pastor once pointed out that the torture comes to us in our own minds. The people who hurt us? They’ve gone on their oblivious little way with nary a thought about us or what happened. They have been eating, drinking, and making merry not caring (or not knowing) about the hurt and devastation that they have caused.

I have been hurt by a lot of people…and all the while I’ve tossed and turned for years of mental and emotional torture. Years of bad dreams, nightmares, and gnashing of teeth caused by the anger that I let the sun go down on. I was trapped in the prison of my own mind. The air in the Bipolar Bubble was getting really toxic. With each new hurt that happened over the years, I started saying stuff like, “Why does this kind of stuff ALWAYS happen to me?” It became harder and harder for me to forgive new offenses.

Just before I moved back to Maui I had another lesson in forgiveness. I couldn’t forgive my employer at that entitled school in California. She wasn’t an educator, so her rigid and unrealistic policies did not make any sense to any of the teaching staff. They used to call her a Nazi behind her back. The entitled parents would just grumble and complain to us about the owners. All the mentally stable people had ways of coping with the stress she regularly threw into our yards, but Bipolar Girl didn’t and I began to crack under the pressure of her demands. I just became more and more depressed and afraid. She told me that I was the “weakest link in the chain” and made me feel like a total failure as a teacher and as a Christian.

When she came to town just before I left for Hawaii, I didn’t know how I’d face her without wanting to scream at her. I asked God for wisdom and courage to know how to confront her. His answer came the first day of staff meetings. I confronted her in truth without robbing her of her dignity and without dishonoring or disrespecting her. The next day, I was excused from the rest of the meetings. I had already resigned, so those meetings didn’t pertain to me.

I was determined to avoid her at all costs. She would only be in town a few more days. I could coast under the radar and not say anything at all. Or I could have if I hadn’t told God that I was committed to forgiving her in the three days that I had left in her employ. I told God to do whatever it took to teach me about forgiveness and reconciliation.

His answer was the meeting on Monday where I could finally look her in the eye and tell her how her words and actions affected the staff. Being excused on Tuesday was a godsend. I needed a break from her, so I could pray and be still before God. I had another one of those imaginary conversations with her… and then… somewhere along the way I just stopped being mad. I was working in my classroom when she came to see me.

FLIGHT MODE ACTIVATED.

Only thing is… I couldn’t hide.  My classroom only has two doors and she was standing in one of them. I couldn’t very well run out the other. Where would I go? What would be the point? I couldn’t avoid her any longer. God was still God and knew exactly where I was.

So… I looked her in the eye and asked if she had time to meet tomorrow. She was leaving the next day and I couldn’t avoid the issue of forgiving her. Yes, she was in authority over me. Yes, she hurt me. No, I wasn’t denying or condoning it… but in that moment, I wasn’t avoiding it either.

I’m not sure what forgiveness actually looked like between us. I blogged about it, but that post disappeared in cyberspace. I don’t remember what happened. I just know that God brought me to a point where I wanted to forgive her as I had been forgiven. He led me to a point where I had the courage to meet with her. She and I did not become BFFs. I never saw her once I moved to Maui… but I know that when we parted, God gave me closure. Real forgiveness had taken place, because I had submitted my hurt, my pain, my need for justice, and my fear…to Him.

Five words: Lay it at the cross.

 

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