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I started counseling today.
Again.
You know the old saying – thirteenth time’s a charm. No, I don’t actually know how many times I’ve gone through counseling, but I’ve done it several times. I see myself a lot like the 1989 Buick I drive – it keeps running as long as you do regular maintenance. I go through counseling, do really well on my own for a while, and then life comes along and boots me in the head, and I need help again.

It’s not the major stuff anymore. I don’t feel like I’m lamenting the sexual abuse or resenting my mother for drinking anymore. I feel like I’ve had all the “light bulb moments,” but there are things that rear their ugly heads from time to time, and I have to squash them before they become bonafide problems. I talk pretty openly about this, because I have a general disdain for people that pretend to have it all together, when in actuality they are struggling to keep their head above water. I’d rather be honest about who I am, flaws and all.

I’m also not planning to be in counseling for a long stretch of time, because I am finding that talking to God and staying in the Word on a regular basis does wonders for the soul. I suppose that’s why God tells us to do that, huh? I’ve lived most of my life viewing the Bible as a book of good suggestions. You know, like those ridiculous motivational posters you see in offices. But the Bible is a guidebook for living life. It tells you how to handle anger, disappointment, sadness, how to overcome the past. I’ve spent a lot of money on self-help books over the years, and some of them were very helpful, but they don’t compare to the Word of God.

So, my first session was today, and it was your typical first session – we went over the basics, where I come from, who I think I am (still working on that one), who I want to be, etc. With joy I talked about my dear husband and my good friends and how much they mean to me. This counseling is a good thing. Any time you get to strip away the scar tissue and reveal new flesh, it’s a good thing. God is really good at patchwork.

I made two coffee stops today – the first one at McDonald’s, where I also assaulted the dollar menu, as well as my arteries, the second one at Dunkin’ Donuts… my home away from home. By mid-afternoon, I was so caffeinated I could have pushed my car the rest of the way home. FYI – Dunkin’ has really good hash browns. Ya gotta try ’em.

Shaunti is coming to town next week to do a book event in a nearby town, and she’s bringing my dear friend/coworker Linda with her. I have to say I’m pretty overwhelmed with excitement. I don’t get to see them very often. It is amazing to me how 3 people can have such a close friendship (and can work together) from hundreds of miles away. God is definitely in the mix. And in 6 years of knowing Shaunti and 2 years of working for her, this will be the first time I’ve ever heard her speak in person. I’ll be oozing pride from every orifice of my body. And, as always, I’ll be taking zillions of pictures. 🙂

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How do you picture Jesus?
I have always pictured him as kind, gentle, soft-spoken and loving. He wouldn’t hurt a fly. In fact, he’d probably baptize it. In my image of Christ, He never raises His voice and never utters a hurtful word. It’s a very childish, almost psychedelic view of Christ where the only things missing are cartoon butterflies and singing animals.

Gentle Jesus...

Don’t get me wrong – that Jesus very much exists, but it’s not the ONLY Jesus we encounter throughout our lives. If that Jesus were the only Jesus we had, there would be no spiritual growth or maturity, no standards to meet, and no rules to follow. We’d be a bunch of spiritual toddlers with no consequences beyond a hand slap, and no understanding of sin beyond daddy saying “no” when we reach for the hot burner on the stove.

I have been a Christian since I was 13 years old. I have very much been babied by the Lord. I have made the same mistakes over and over again, until they could no longer be called mistakes anymore. They became deliberate, willful disobedience based on a complete lack of trust in the Lord, and overall apathy. It is easier to wallow in your problems and failures, to be saturated in your pain rather than chase it away with the Word of God. “Resist the devil and he will flee from you” isn’t nearly as easy as just…giving in.

But after all of the hand slapping, tough talk, pep talks, and relatively punishment-free forgiveness, I was confronted by the Jesus with the eyes of fire. When you think about anybody having eyes like fire, you immediately think of evil, but this Jesus with the eyes of fire is anything but. If it sounds like an astoundingly fearsome version of Jesus Christ, you’re right; it is. It’s supposed to be. A lack of fear of the Lord is what creates apathy, and the deliberate, willful disobedience I mentioned earlier.

The Lord woke my husband up at 4:30 this morning and told him to write the following:

God wants us on fire for Him…NOW!
Don’t let petty arguments from Satan destroy what I have for you. How long will you be in the fire? Until you stand up for Me and shout my name from every rooftop! I am using you to show people my love and compassion. Only you can decide how long will you be in the fire. Come out of the fire! If you are battling things my Word says “prayer and fasting is the only way to remove the demons…” So, fast and when you get hungry read my Word until the shell is broken off you! There are people suffering right now because of your ignorance, let me use you!

He also showed me in a dream that we will be fed in our church when we let Him break down the walls of NONSENSE.

It started with my dear mentor confronting me about a particular sin in my life, and admonishing me that she felt like the Lord wanted me to know that the consequences were going to get worse and that I had enough spiritual wisdom and maturity to now make the right choices. I didn’t need to hold daddy’s hand crossing the street anymore, I knew to look both ways. I knew better than to get in a stranger’s van.

But if I decided to anyway, there would be consequences.
Definite, deep, painful, life-altering consequences that I could not run and hide from.
The realization of this made me angry. Even now, I cannot explain to you why, but I was filled with rage. I’ve always hated authority – that’s the only thing I can think of. Why would yielding to GOD’S authority be any different for me?

Then my husband got this message…
The cynic in me says, “Well, he must have been dreaming or something.” But the “letter” is so on target with what my mentor said…what I’ve been hearing God say in my spirit…if it doesn’t make me fear the Lord, nothing will.

There comes a time in our walk with God – if we haven’t been walking the way He wants us to – when His eyes turn to flames. There comes a time when He tells us, “I have gone over the same things with you over and over again. I will never leave you or forsake you, and I will never stop loving you. But you’ve got to make the decision NOW! Are you going to walk in my ways, or lay down and die? You are not at peace because you are pushing away the peace I give you! No, I will never pull my love away from you, but the consequences will be painful and lasting, and you will endure them until you accept my plan for your life, and understand that the only way to true freedom and healing is by FOLLOWING that plan!”

Guys, Jesus is relentless. Only a holy Lord could pursue you to the ends of the earth while never stripping you of your free will. Only Jesus can chase you down and make you face your disobedience while still allowing you to decide who is in control – you or Him.
There is no “because I said so” with Christ, and yet He will remove the things you’ve put between the two of you. If you’ve loved it more than God, kiss it goodbye.
Friendships will be splintered, jobs lost, prestige stripped away.
Whatever it takes. Whatever it takes.

And still we have a choice.
Stubbornness or obedience?

Personally, I’d rather give it all up for Christ than have Him take it all away.

Choose wisely. Trust me on this one.

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This is kind of a strange topic to write about, but… well, it has been on my mind all day.

Today is my friend Shaunti’s 41st birthday.  Not really a milestone, but another marker of another year lived for Christ.  That’s how my friend lives, and it’s how I want to live.  We hit big numbers – for her, it was her 40th last year.  For me, my 30th in the coming year.  But every year on this earth is a gift, despite the troubles and heartaches.  And the older you get, the more you realize what a gift everyone else’s years are to your own life.

I met my friend when I was 23.  I was still sort of a newlywed, but my marriage was crumbling.  I had just lost my job.  I was mercifully “employed” by my brother as a nanny to my then-2-year-old nephew.  I was very ill with Bipolar Disorder, but not yet diagnosed.  I read one of Shaunti’s novels during my nephew’s naps, and fell in love with it, so I e-mailed her to let her know.  This was before “For Women Only” and that whole series came out.  Somehow, over e-mail, we developed a deep friendship, and became as close as two people can get to being sisters without sharing a mom.  She took me under her wing in a million ways.  Never gave up on me.  Encouraged me, and loved me.

People change over the years, and I know I have changed for the better.  I’m medicated, for one thing.  🙂  But I have a real relationship with God now, and even though I still struggle and still need the hand of big sister to hang onto sometimes, I’m a million miles from where I once was, and I know it’s because God used Shaunti in my life.

I went on to know her better, and eventually work for her, and Shaunti has NOT changed.  She is sill a sweet, funny friend with a deep longing to know more and more of Christ.  Her kindness and generosity has only increased.  Well, maybe she has changed.  She seems to just get better.  We all have our faults, but my friend strives to be like Him, and she is incredibly successful at it.

Everybody needs a mentor, I am sure of it.;  I cringe to think about where I’d be without one.  I have mentored people, as well, and see how mentoring is a cyclical thing.  I learn from my mentor, I mentor others, and the circle goes around and around.  Does anyone walk this life with you?  If not, find someone.  I’ve had a few mentors in my life, all beautiful and special, but Shaunti has been a constant in my world for five years now.  She holds me to a high standard and fully expects and believes that I will meet it.  Everyone needs that, and I’m convinced that God has someone like that in existence for each and every one of us.

So this was going to be a happy birthday post to my friend, but I feel like I’m the one getting the really cool gift.  Well, happy birthday, Shaunti.  Thanks for pouring yourself out for people, for me.  I love you a ton.

But you knew that, didn’t you?  🙂

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I’m watching this show called “Countdown to Armageddon” on the History Channel, pointing to Revelation as its guide.  Of course, they flash photos from 9/11 and ask, “Is this the beginning of the Apocalypse?”  So I just have to ask – are people thinking this must be the end of the world because America was attacked by terrorists, because if so, it seems awfully arrogant.   Like, all of a sudden the almighty United States is attacked, so that MUST be the beginning of Armageddon?  Or maybe it was Hurricane Katrina?  When was the last time we were hit so hard?  Hurricane Andrew?

Back in World War II, they must have thought the same thing, as millions of Jews were slaughtered and Pearl Harbor went up in flames.  “Surely, this is the beginning of the end!”

Actually, I do believe we’re in the “End Times.”  But I believe we’ve been in the End Times since Christ ascended into Heaven, though things are obviously getting worse, that doesn’t necessarily mean we’re close to the end.  God’s timing is not our timing.  Truth is, we have no clue when Christ is coming back.

Oh, and by the way, the Rapture isn’t a biblical concept.  Go ahead, look it up in your concordance.

I could be totally wrong, and if anything thinks I am, please let me know, but… I think when the true END is near, we’ll know it, we won’t be fumbling for answers and explanations.  We will know beyond a shadow of a doubt.  After all, there are things in the Bible that have to come to pass before the end.

It’s easy to forget, isn’t it, that Jesus is coming back and all this pain will disappear?  It’s so easy to fall into sadness and discouragement, wrongly thinking that this world is as good as it gets.  This is all basically a test-run.  Love your God will all your heart, soul, mind, and strength because it’s the only thing worth pouring all of yourself into.

Think about Heaven.  Focus on it.  But do so knowing that nobody has any idea when the end will come – not even Christ himself.  But it IS coming, and He’s up there preparing a place for us now.

Just imagine, if we could live in that knowledge – fully immerse ourselves in it – how affective we’d be in the Kingdom of God, and how at peace we would be in our earthly dealings.

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In my first post, I mentioned that I was going to be talking about mental health/illness in this blog.  What I didn’t mention was why.  Well, I’m working on a book project about exactly that.  Let me explain a little further…

Longtime readers of my old blog, Fidler On The Roof, know that I have Bipolar Disorder, anxiety, and I’m not afraid to talk about it.  It’s a part of who I am, and I treat it as such.  I discuss it the same way I discuss having a head cold.  But now I’m going to talk about mental illness, including my own, in a much broader spectrum, and I’m doing so out of frustration, sadness, and mostly a desire to educate.

When you’re open about your own mental illness, you encounter a wide variety of reactions.  When you are a Christian that is open about your mental illness, the reactions are often very harsh.  I am not the type to shrink back from a difference of opinion, but when someone thinks their opinion usurps scientific fact, I am often rendered speechless.  I often sense fear, shame, and a basic lack of knowledge in Christians when it comes to this topic.  We’re supposed to have joy, aren’t we?!?  Isn’t that what the Word tells us?  If we’re depressed, bipolar, schizophrenic, and we don’t have joy, then how can we say we’re walking with God, right?  Isn’t the problem that we’re just not spiritual enough?  Surely, mental illness can’t be a REAL illness.

The Bible describes a demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1-13.  Verse five says, “Night and day among the tombs and in the hills he would cry out and cut himself with stones.”  (And, by the way, how many teenagers does this apply to!)  Jesus calls the demons out of this man, and sends them into a herd of pigs nearby, who drown in a nearby lake.  I truly believe that a lot of Christians see mental illness the same way – a demon possession that needs to be driven out by Jesus Christ.  I can’t say they’re wrong, but I can’t say they’re not always right.

I’m here to say anything is possible.  Never say never.  Some people are touched by the living Christ and forever healed from what ails them.  I believe that God’s supernatural healing power is just as potent and available today as it was in ages past.  He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Every one of us who has claimed Christ as our Savior has the Holy Spirit living inside of us, meaning He is closer than the air around us, and perfectly capable of healing.

But even in the Bible, Jesus healed in so many ways.  He didn’t always command demons into herds of pigs.  What about the blind man whose sight was restored when Jesus spit on the ground, made mud, and rubbed it on his eyes?  For the life of me, I wish I understood why so many people are opposed to the idea that God heals with modern medicine, INCLUDING psychiatry and medication.  He is not physically here, but here spiritually.  Why is it so hard to believe that sometimes those antidepressants are a form of God’s healing?  Doesn’t all of man’s wisdom come from God?

And why is it so hard for us believers to believe that God doesn’t heel everyone, He doesn’t always rub mud in our eyes, or heal us by merely reaching out?  He doesn’t promise we’ll have perfect lives, but He promises to be our shelter in the storm.  My storm is Bipolar Disorder.  His promises give me hope, His medications give me physical help.  Why does that rub us the wrong way?

This concept was never a big deal to me until I found the right kind of medication combination to treat my illness.  Before that, I was angry, irritable, I had an out-of-control sex drive, and I was often suicidally depressed.  I lost jobs, I lost friends, I dropped out of college, and I nearly ruined my life.  I loved the Lord, when my depressions drove a big wedge between God and I, and I was physically incapable of reaching my full potential because I was so sick.

Now, if I had refused psychiatric help and refused to seek help due to spiritual reasons, and thus destroyed my life… is that any better than agreeing to take medication and turning into an extrovert with goals, dreams, and a heart for ministry?  Which one is the sin?

Going on those meds was hard.  I had so many negative questions swirling around in my mind.  Was I only a real person when I took meds  Was I really saved if I couldn’t live up to my potential without popping pills?  Then this amazing thing happened.  My medications began working.  I was no longer an insomniac, I was no longer angry and irritable for no known reason, nor was I sinking into the deep hole of depression anymore.  My marriage began to heal, I could hold a steady job, I developed wonderful friendships, and the Julie that God intended came out and showed herself for the first time.  I began developing my ministry.  I credit the Lord with my transformation.  The psychologist that diagnosed me was a great Christian lady, and I am grateful to her.  But all of her knowledge comes from God, so I give Him the glory.

I know that God brought me back to life.

Do I think sometimes people are plagued by demonic influence, and are not truly mentally ill?  Yes.

Do I think sometimes people are dealing with a painful past and need therapy and temporary meds?  Yes.

Anything is possible.  I’m not interested in dismissing any of those things.  All I want to do is educate Christians – specifically the church – on what metal illness is and isn’t, how they shouldn’t and shouldn’t address those issues, and how they should and shouldn’t minister to those that are ill.  I’m not a psychiatrist or a psychologist.  I’m a writer, a reporter, a mental illness sufferer who has been told many times that what I REALLY need is to pray harder and read my Bible more.  Ditch the pills!
These people mean well.  They just don’t know…

Someone has to start the dialogue.

He works in myserious ways...

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So here it is, a brand new blog.
Again.

I started a mental health blog about a month ago, then decided that would be a lot to keep up with. So I decided to start a new personal blog where I will focus on, among other things, mental illness. Why? Because I’m working on a new book project about mental illness and the Christian Church. More about that later.

Life here has been rapidly changing. My 14-year-old niece got herself into some pretty serious trouble, and was going to move in with us, but that seems to have gone bump in the night. It has been a harsh reminder of what a troubled kid I was, really, until my early twenties. I have tried to respond to her and be there for her in the ways I wished others would have responded to me at that age, but I’ve got to level with you, it’s frustrating.

When I was her age, I had a few things to my advantage. My family was troubled, but my parents were together, and I grew up knowing my family would not give up on me I had my faith in Christ, and even though I fell away time and again, the Truth kept me from afloat. Amy Grant was my childhood hero – that’s as tame as it gets. But my niece doesn’t have childhood heroes worth looking up to. Much of her music is depressing. She believes in God, but doesn’t seem to know how to apply that to her life. Her parents are divorced, and her mother seems to have written her off, hopefully temporarily. And perhaps worst of all, her dad never seems to be able to set rules and boundaries and stand by them.

I tried to jump in as a parental figure, but found that it just pushed her away, so I’ve gone back to being Fun Aunt Julie. If she ever does move in, I suppose that will have to change, but for now, I feel like that’s who I need to be.

The thing that really struck me recently was the fact that for so long I have been asking God to put me back in youth ministry. How many of us ask God for things with no strings attached? I’d venture to say very few. Instead of, “Put me to work for Your Kingdom, Lord. Whatever!” we too often say, “Put me to work for Your Kingdom, Lord, and here’s how I’d like you to do it…”

Not that we shouldn’t talk to God and share our desires. But I’ve had to reexamine my heart in the wake of all of this and realize that while I may not be touring the country speaking to teenage girls, I’ve got a teenage girl of my very own and she is very much my ministry. My niece, my friend, my ministry.

We’ve got to learn how to care for a single heart if we’re ever going to care for a flock.

Writing is the same way. I have friends that travel the country week after week, speaking about their books, and I wonder when my time will come. But long ago, long before my first book was even written, God told me that if I would write about Him, and write what He tells me to write, that I would be successful.

So here’s my new blog, Jesus. I want You to trust me in the little things, so we cantake a gentle step onto the next level of this ladder we’re climbing together.

Ah, it’s good to see all of you again.

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