The Night Shines as Bright as Day

Hi everyone! I want to share with you all an essay that I wrote recently since it explains what’s been going on in my life and why I haven’t posted here. Some of the content is mature, but my hope is that you will be blessed by reading about God’s power.

***

God’s voice is described many ways throughout Scripture. Sometimes it uproots cedars and makes the mountains dance. Other times it calls your name in a still, small whisper. Jesus describes his voice as a shepherd’s: carrying across the wilderness, summoning wayward lambs. His call is unmistakable, he says: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” (John 10:27). 

I am afraid of voices. Last year I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder, a rare type of schizophrenia. Occasionally I’m paranoid or see things that aren’t there, but my worst problem is hearing a plethora of evil voices that command me to hurt or kill myself. Last year I was so frightened that I gave in to these commands, which landed me in the hospital four separate times. It took five months to find a medication that helped, and I dreaded repeating the awful cycle ever again.

Five weeks ago, my medication stopped working. No one knows why, not even my doctors. All we know is one day I heard sinister voices saying “We’re coming back for you! We’re coming back for you!” and then they were back. Unlike last year, when only two or three of them spoke to me at once, this time there was a whole chorus. And this time they were directly attacking my faith by telling me that prayer wouldn’t drive them out, God couldn’t rescue me from them, and I was a child of Satan. 

My first thought was to go straight to the emergency room so I’d be transferred to a mental hospital for twenty-four-hour supervision and a potential medication change. That would have been the “easy” way out since it meant I wasn’t responsible for any part of the episode. But it also would have reinforced my irrational fear of these voices as well as the incorrect notion that my situation determines my actions. True, I couldn’t be held responsible in the same way a cognitively stable individual would, but I was still under obligation to read my Bible, seek God in prayer and meditation, and aspire to the fruits of the Spirit as much as I was able. After much prayer, my husband and I decided to address my new “symptoms” for what we believed they were – a spiritual attack. This would require aggressive biblical action before we reinvolved psychiatry. 

While I did not stop taking my current psychiatric medication, I also did not immediately request a higher dose or different medication. I made my three closest friends aware of the battle I was facing, and set up specific times to meet and pray with them during the week. My husband removed all the knives and sharp objects from our house because the voices were constantly ordering me to hurt myself, in addition to attacking my faith in God. 

Two weeks passed, and I was beginning to doubt I could continue standing firm against these daily attacks – some of which lasted up to eight hours – much longer. One of my friends challenged me to find a few key Bible verses to tape on my wall so I had something to look at when I felt like giving up and hurting myself. The first passage came to me almost immediately:

I could ask the darkness to hide me

and the light around me to become night –

but even in darkness I cannot hide from you.

To you the night shines as bright as day.

darkness and light are the same to you. (Psalm 139:11-12)

Giving in and cutting myself would literally be asking the darkness to hide me because I’d be doing exactly what the evil voices told me. But even in that worst case scenario, I wouldn’t be separated from God. That was the lie the voices wanted me to believe. No, God would shine his light into my darkness and rescue me no matter what happened.

I wish that marked the end of my trial. But Satan, who tempted Jesus himself by quoting Scripture, was not giving up on a frightened twenty-nine-year-old so easily. Three weeks into the battle, I found a pair of scissors that my husband had forgotten to remove from our house. Instead of turning them in like I normally would, I obeyed the voices and hid them in my nightstand “just in case” I decided to hurt myself later. I knew this was wrong and dangerous, but I told myself everything would be okay, that I didn’t really intend to go through with it.

I took a nap that afternoon, and was awakened by sinister, heretical voices. Unlike the horrible things I’d almost grown used to hearing spoken, this was worse. This time there was a chorus singing a hymn that I’d sung earlier that morning, with a much deeper voice chanting “You are a child of Satan, you are a child of Satan!” in the background. I lost my mind. I couldn’t grab the scissors fast enough: some part of me knew what I was doing was wrong, while the other part of me couldn’t work as hard or fast as I wanted. By God’s grace, my husband walked in a couple of minutes later and took me to the emergency room.

Surprisingly, the ER did not put me on a psychiatric hold, although I suspect that was because they were understaffed due to a strike. But even at home I knew I had a lot of heart work in front of me. Some might argue I was out of my mind when I woke up from my nap, but I was in full possession of my faculties when I found those scissors and chose to hide them from my husband. I’d capitulated even further to the voices’ deception when I agreed to put the scissors in my nightstand “just in case.” The truth was that I would have never ended up in the ER if I’d followed God’s command to be honest. Even if I had started by making the wrong choice, I had several opportunities to “course correct” and confess my deceit before I gave in and actually used the scissors. The truth was I was so prideful in my own strength that I couldn’t tell I’d been blinded by the evil voices. I’d set my own trap in preparation for the next level of intimidation.

I confessed my sin to God, my husband, and my accountability partners, and asked everyone to pray that the Holy Spirit would keep my eyes fixed on him. Around this time I began meditating on John 10:27: “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.” This reminded me of several truths about God. First, no matter how many other voices I was hearing, or how confused I was about which ones to obey, I would always recognize God’s voice. In fact, I didn’t have to do anything unless God’s voice was speaking. Second, he knows me. I’m not a child of Satan, no matter what anyone or anything tells me. I hear God’s voice and he knows me. Finally, he will give me strength to be brave and follow him. There’d been many times over the past four weeks where I’d been so frightened I’d wanted to give in and obey the voices. Now I even have purple scars climbing my left arm to prove I’m not a saint. But God knows me and I’ll follow him. 

And that’s why my story also doesn’t end with the ER incident. The following week I stayed at my parents’ house while my husband worked because I was still hearing voices and we all agreed I wasn’t ready to be alone. At first changing location helped a little bit, but the voices quickly returned to their old strength, then grew even more intimidating. That Friday, my dad decided to come stay with me at our condo so I wouldn’t have to be out of the house quite so much. But I was worried. What if I couldn’t resist the voices at home as well as I could somewhere else?

Our morning passed smoothly. We went out for coffee and then returned to our work: Dad to his sermon and me to a nonfiction piece I’d been writing. Everything was fine until I found the toolbox. I’d gotten up to use the bathroom and spotted my husband’s toolbox on the in our second bedroom. Although he’d already removed sharp objects like kitchen knives, scissors, and office supplies from our house, my husband had fixed one of our dining room chairs last night and must have forgotten to put the box where I couldn’t find it. My first reaction was to walk by the toolbox and into the bathroom. If I had really repented Sunday, I wouldn’t commit the same sin Friday, I told myself. That would mean either I had lied to God when I claimed to repent, or God wasn’t big enough to actually rescue me from temptation. I knew neither were true, so I prayed for God’s help and returned to the living room.

But the voices began eating at the back of my mind all afternoon. My husband pulled in from work just as I could no longer stand the temptation, and I rushed to the second bedroom before he’d even had time to put his briefcase down or take off his shoes. I pried open the tool kit and grabbed the first sharp object I saw – a screwdriver – then ran to the master bedroom and deposited it in my nightstand. Now for the coup de gras. “How could you leave this laying out?” I demanded as I walked back to the living room, toolbox in hand. “You know what a stumbling block this is for me!” My husband immediately began re-lacing his shoes, apologizing profusely before rushing the tools the outside.

I kissed my dad goodbye and then returned to writing, happy I’d had the good sense to obey the voices and fool my husband. But as I stared at my laptop screen, I couldn’t stop contrasting false and true repentance. If I obeyed the voices and hurt myself again after claiming to repent, what would I have to say for myself? The verse in John flashed through my mind again: My sheep hear my voice. I clearly was not listening to God’s voice right now. At this point the evil voices were screaming at me to stay silent, but by God’s grace I took a deep breath and called my husband over when he came back inside. “Honey? There’s something I need to tell you. You’ll find a screwdriver in my nightstand.” A weight lifted off my shoulders immediately; I might have begun the afternoon making the wrong choice, but God enabled me to repent before I hurt myself. 

A week has passed since I gave the screwdriver back. Nothing changed immediately, but the next day a friend challenged me to fast and pray for God to illumine toxic beliefs in my own heart that needed to change. My gut reaction was “No thanks, I’m fine!” but I decided to do it anyway since fasting is a good spiritual discipline. In the first few days, God showed me that even though I’d claimed to trust him alone, functionally I’d been fighting the voices in my own strength. It was as if I thought he couldn’t quite help me, or I was expected to do part of it on my own. Maybe a part of me was even curious to try what the voices were telling me to do. Believing these lies of pride and curiosity only strengthened the voices’ grasp on my life. 

As I continued to pray and meditate, I asked God to unmask the evil voices and to increase my faith in his healing power. I woke up to silence the next morning. While I have heard voices a handful of times since then, they’ve sounded weak and pathetic compared to God’s marvelous voice as revealed in Scripture. What’s more, I did actually hear my Shepherd speak, just as he promised. One night when the cacophony was at its worst, a still, small voice rose above the noise: “Be not afraid, little one.” 

This Journal Fought Beside Me

I threw my journal away last Friday. Don’t get me wrong, I’m an avid journaler. I’ve filled six volumes of various sizes (not counting the one I threw away) in the six years since my accident. And then there’s the blog…

Point being, I like to write, and I write a lot. Sometimes I tell a story, other times I work out a problem or process emotions. Still other times I meditate or pray.

The possibilities are endless, once you think about it.

So why was the moment on Friday so notable – and what makes my particular “college composition notebook” different from its millions of siblings circulating the planet?

First off, I didn’t buy that journal. It was given to me by a kind nurse during one of my mental hospital stays. Patients aren’t allowed to have many belongings, whether it’s a hairbrush or a hardcover book. But after learning I was a writer, this particular nurse found a softcover notebook and slipped it into my room. She also left a purple Crayola marker: Patients were not allowed pens or pencils.

That gift was a Godsend and an act of trust on her part. At that point in my illness, doctors had certified me a suicide/homicide threat. A guard was stationed at my door every night as I slept.

But in spite of those labels, that nurse saw the real me – the girl with the Spirit of God still inside her. She treated me and even my writing as valuable.

I knew exactly what to do with my new journal. I’d already memorized part of Psalm 139 before that particular hospitalization and I began to scrawl the verses in bright purple marker every time evil voices entered my head.

At first, the notebook pages filled by the hour, but my hand grew steadier and the entries less and less frequent – until I was well enough to be discharged.

By this time I was too attached to Psalm 139 and the notebook to end what God had begun at such a dark point in my life. I committed to memorizing the entire Psalm by the end of 2022, using my navy blue notebook as my trusty companion. I’m set to finish memorizing in September so my well-worn friend didn’t quite make it to the finish line. I suspect that’s because I scribbled so many pages with a giant Crayola marker.

Writer’s Block

Hello Blogging Family! I’m very sorry I’ve been absent for so much of the summer. I wrote an essay this afternoon to clear my head and want to share it with you all.

***

“Writer’s block.” There is no definition, really. It’s just what you say when someone – professor, editor, great aunt – asks “Have you written anything recently?” 

You could be honest and say “No.” 

Or you could puff out your chest, ruffle your hair in the mirror like the next Ernest Hemmingway. 

“Writer’s block,” you could say. “I’ve got writer’s block.”

This is very different from just saying no.

First of all, it establishes you are a writer. Writers use big words. Writers write important thoughts. Whoever is interrogating you – and they’re most likely a superior or you wouldn’t be having this conversation – they’d better listen to you, the writer.

Second, “block” has a lovely fatalistic ring. A block isn’t something you can control: it just is. If I, the writer, find myself standing at the bottom of Mt. Kilimanjaro the night before my magazine article goes to print, should my editor really blame me? I don’t have the kind of faith that moves mountains.

Finally, “writer’s block” is one of those phrases you can pull out and nobody gets hurt. I can (theoretically) miss a deadline without pontifications on time management. The wounded party (may) survive the incident without the sense of personal betrayal that comes from a good ol’ missed deadline.

As for writer’s block itself, it is a very real and debilitating condition that impacts hundreds of writers daily. If you or someone you love is at risk, take a mental break. Don’t wait until it’s too late!

Ivan Gets a Nose Job

A few weeks ago, Ivan had a nose job. He actually had a septoplasty with turbinate reduction. I just like saying “nose job” because it sounds dramatic. Without getting too technical, Ivan’s had trouble breathing ever since he was a child due to a number of issues. We hoped that correcting his deviated septum and reshaping part of his sinus passages would address some of his breathing problems. Hence the nose job.

I’d planned to write a funny post about the whole experience. After all, we’re familiar with broken arms and legs, even a variety of intestinal ailments, but who on earth gets nose surgery? (Outside of Hollywood, that is.) What’s more, Ivan made plenty of messes for me to write about. His nose bled for three days straight and we had to change bandages every hour. And don’t even get me started on nasal rinses… 

But as funny as that all sounds now, it wasn’t the least bit funny when it was happening. Ivan is a very forbearing patient, so he deserves much credit for putting up with my clumsiness during that recovery week. As for me, I was confronted with a new picture of what it meant to trust God on my own.

Every time I’ve had one of my own health struggles, my family has swarmed to help Ivan take care of me. This time Mom took us to and from Ivan’s surgery, but it was the first instance we’ve declined further help. Dad is also sick and, unlike Ivan, he won’t be better in a couple of weeks. I wanted Mom to have energy to help where she was needed most. Anna also grabbed us groceries on Saturday morning. The timing was providential since I’d just thrown out a casserole that made Ivan sick Friday night, and Anna couldn’t have come earlier since she works long hours during the week.

But for most of the recovery week, I was lonely and overwhelmed, wishing for human comfort yet resolved to persevere without it. How could I make Ivan feel bad for being high-maintenance? Mom shouldn’t feel like she needed to be in two places at once. Anna was giving us the best chunk of time out of her precious weekend. 

Slowly it dawned on me that this was how it must have been for Ivan during many of my health struggles. He doesn’t seek help very often since he can move me by himself and make a (limited) number of dinners. How many days had he spent by my bed completely alone? 

But neither of us was completely alone. No matter how overworked I felt, or how silent the house seemed, or how few texts pinged on my phone, God had not forgotten either of us. The same God who’d sat with Ivan by my bedside for the past six years was now watching over me as I watched over Ivan, and cleaned, and cooked, and struggled with chores I haven’t done alone in years. 

The problem was not that I was alone, but that I had narrowed my gaze until I thought I was alone. If I was only counting on human help to get me through this trial, then of course I was going to be disappointed. The Psalmist tells us, “The Lord is like a Father to his children, tender and compassionate toward those who fear him. For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.” ~Psalm 13:13-14. I needed to take a step back and widen my gaze to include the One who is my creator and – through Christ – my savior. He understands my weakness and loneliness and will support me in my need better than any human friend ever could. What’s more, he’s also the Great Physician. I can trust him with Ivan too.

P.S. At the time of this post Ivan is close to a full recovery. 🙂

Perfect Love Expels All Fear

Post-proposal selfie!

“Do you have any regrets?” the woman asks. Ivan pauses, scratches the back of his neck.

“No. Not at all.”

I think he paused too long.

***

Seven years ago today Ivan asked me to be his wife. Did he make the right choice? Did I? 

I’ve often thought if I could have seen the future, seen my accident and all it’s done to Ivan, I would have told him “no.” After all, the Bible tells us true love puts others above ourselves. I couldn’t knowingly sacrifice Ivan’s chance at a fulfilling, normal life just because I didn’t want to be alone.

Plus, there are the spectators. The whisperers asking if Ivan’s still happy, the experts claiming he’d be better off if he’d waited to propose. These voices foster my deepest fear: What if I shouldn’t have survived?

I’ve struggled with this toxic cycle for years, only admitting portions of it to Ivan and never revealing its full extent. But as I remember getting engaged seven years ago today, I’m beginning to understand why I’ve been imprisoned in doubt and self-loathing. 1 John 5:18-19 says: 

“Such love has no fear, because perfect love expels all fear. If we are afraid, it is for fear of punishment, and this shows we have not fully experienced [God’s] perfect love. We love each other because he loved us first.”

Instead of rejoicing that I’m a new creation in Christ Jesus, I’ve listened to people who look only at my earthly body, and therefore see me as a failure. And they’re right. My body isn’t as capable as most wives’. I might even have more sin problems than they do. But all of us have forgotten that my righteousness – and therefore my worth as an individual – is found in Christ alone.

So it’s not so much about whether I should or shouldn’t have married Ivan. God’s desire for both of us is that we continue growing in the knowledge and experience of his redemptive love until we lose all fear of his displeasure. As time passes, we’ll learn to love each other not just because it’s romantic, but because Christ loved us first.

For the record, I’m extremely grateful that in God’s sovereign will Ivan and I did get married, and enjoyed eleven months together before the accident.

Tune in this Wednesday!

Happy Sunday, everyone! First off, I want to say how extremely blessed I was by all the support for my last post. You’ve been my Blogging Family for the past five years, and it means so much that you’re willing to walk down this new mental health journey with me.

Secondly, I wanted to let you know that I’ve been invited to speak about my experiences on Moody Radio Florida this coming Wednesday. My time slot is 8:10-8:40 am EST, which is 5:10 – 5:40 am for those of us on the West Coast. The good news is that if you aren’t me, you can listen later after they post the episode. 🙂

Anyway, I just wanted to share the link to the live station and past episodes in case anyone’s interested. I’d also like to ask for prayer as I speak about the work the Holy Spirit’s done through me. Thanks as always for your love and support!

https://www.moodyradio.org/programs/morning-shows/kurt-and-kate-mornings/

Back to the Hospital: A Story of God’s Faithfulness

We celebrated my birthday shortly after my discharge 🙂

Hello, everyone! You might have noticed I took some time off the blog after my January post about mental health. That’s because I was hospitalized in February for thirteen days after my schizoaffective disorder got worse. Although I’ve been home since February 27th, I still haven’t felt well enough to write about that experience. My psychiatrist tells me post-psychotic depression is quite common for patients like me who’ve been hospitalized for serious psychosis. Once they recover from their psychotic symptoms, their brains get overwhelmed by sadness and fatigue. But in spite of this obstacle, I feel it’s time to share the amazing things God did during my stay this February. 

My story begins with me being admitted to a nicer hospital than I had been for my first three times. (This was my fourth hospitalization in five months.) A mental health hospitalization usually begins with the patient checking into the ER for some psychotic or otherwise dangerous symptom. (In my case, I hear voices commanding me to do bad things.) After check in, the ER transfers the patient to whichever mental health facility has the first available bed. This can happen very quickly or very slowly…my records are 3 and 30 hours, respectively. As I said, I was at the same hospital the first three times. Although the doctors were competent, living conditions were Spartan, facility hygiene was debatable, and the staff’s respect for patients was minimal. 

Thankfully the new hospital was completely different. It felt like a twenty-first century hospital instead of an institution from a different era. Nurses behaved like nurses instead of prison guards. Unlike my previous stays, patients were generally calm and well-behaved. 

“How can I serve you here, Lord?” I whispered one night at the beginning of my stay. It was one thing to reach out to people who knew they’d hit rock bottom. How could I connect with patients who still felt like they had a measure of control over their lives? God’s answer appeared in the unlikeliest of places – a secular meditation class. 

Instead of leaving us to while away the hours with nonstop TV and elementary school coloring sheets like the old hospital had, this new facility filled our days with classes. Most of the classes educated us about managing our disorders, but some were recreational, like art class or Friday Jeopardy. Meditation class was the universal favorite, however. It ran after dinner from 6:15-6:50 and consisted of an all-unit meeting in the dimly-lit rec room. The meditation coach would ask patients what positive self-affirmations they’d like to hear, then recite the affirmations in a soothing voice while everyone lay prone on yoga mats, soaking up calming music and inhaling delicious scents from a diffuser in the corner. 

I was personally uncomfortable with the self-affirmations since, as a Christ follower, I’m called to follow Christ’s example. We’re told that

“Though he was God,

he did not think equality with God

 as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

He took the humble position of a slave

and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form, 

he humbled himself in obedience to God

and died a criminal’s death on the cross.” ~ Philippians 2:6-8

I’m obviously not called to sacrifice myself to save the world, but I am called to live a life of humility that glorifies God, and I’m not sure how asking someone to tell me I’m awesome, or beautiful, or powerful is compatible with that calling.

Nevertheless, meditation class proved to be the key to reaching my fellow patients. When the meditation coach announced she was taking a four-day break for President’s Day, everyone was crushed. And that’s when God prompted me: What if volunteered to lead a meditation class? Meditation is part of the Christian spiritual life, even if Christian meditation is the opposite of what we were doing each night in the rec room. All I had to do was get the patients in the same room with me, then let God do the rest. 

But there was the problem of the nursing staff: was a patient even allowed to lead a group session? By God’s grace, the nurse on call that night happened to be the most adventurous one on staff, and was happy pushing boundaries to help patients have fun. When I asked about leading a meditation class, he even offered to help me set up the room like the regular meditation sessions and lend me his phone to play relaxing music. Why not? I thought. The attendees were about to be exposed to something completely new. It couldn’t hurt to keep the environment familiar.

Patients began trickling in at 6:15. I wasn’t surprised to see some of my friends, but the group didn’t stop there. The nurse finally closed the door after we ran out of yoga mats for people to lie on. Father, please help me, I prayed as I took off my mask. 

“Thank you for coming, everyone.” I hoped my voice was loud enough. “Today I’d like to read you a Psalm that describes how closely God cares about each one of you.” I flinched at the revelation that this was not a normal meditation class. No one reacted. “Before we get started, does anyone have any needs?” There was no way I was doing self-affirmations like the meditation coach,  but I’d wondered if I could get anyone to share prayer requests since they were used to sharing self-affirmation requests at the beginning of class. Sure enough, hands raised all over the room, sharing hopes and worries and everything in between. I scribbled furiously on a piece of scratch paper, then tucked the sheet in my Bible for the end of class.

Finally it was time for Psalm 23. I read slowly and tenderly, personalizing the verses just like I sometimes read the Psalms as personal prayers for myself. When I finished, I paused for a few moments to let the words sink in, then began praying through our list of needs. And just like that, class was done. My heart was pounding and I was breathing hard as my fellow patients filed quietly out the door. What now? This was not the meditation class they’d been expecting. What would they think? What would the nurse do? Had I violated some sort of Kaiser religious policy? Somehow I knew God was pleased with what I’d done, even if I only got to do it once.

I was on my way back my room when one of my friends stopped me in the hallway. 

“Thank you so much for class,” she beamed.

“Oh, well, glad you could come.” I was surprised she was so enthusiastic – and unsure I should take credit for something that was so clearly from God.

“You’re doing it again tomorrow, right?” 

I was stunned. It had never occurred to me that people would want to come back and do another Scriptural meditation, especially since I’d skipped the self-affirmations.

“Well, I’ll do it as many times as you want,” I stammered, “but I don’t want to force it on people. Maybe we should do a headcount first.” The headcount justified the class.

In fact, it justified many more classes. My meditation class became so popular that it continued even after the secular meditation coach returned: She would run her class at its usual time and I’d start mine an hour later, at 7:45. Those evenings taught me the word of God truly does not return void. Several people told me that they weren’t religious or didn’t believe in God, but they still showed up to listen to me read Scripture every night. God was also very gracious in giving a high level of attendance. The hospital had 16 patients while I was there; my smallest class was 8 and my largest was 14. 

 I’m amazed at how powerfully God answered my original prayer that night in the hospital. I think his answer, combined with my previous experiences sharing God’s truth at the first mental health hospital, continue affirming that I’m called to do some sort of ministry to this population. There is so much red tape around accessing hospitals unless you’re admitted, and patients’ lives are so volatile that it’s hard to connect with them unless you can empathize with their experiences. But these are things God is equipping me to do. I don’t know how or when the next phase in this journey will come, and I’d dearly like it to come without more hospitalizations. But I’m praying that God would give wisdom and direction, and give me the courage to accept wherever he leads. In the meantime, I have the privilege of staying connected with several friends I made during those two grueling weeks in February, and seeing how God continues to work in their lives and mine.  

Pray for Ukraine: Those Who Chose To Stay

Hello, Blogging Family. No one could have imagined the suffering and hardship the people of Ukraine have endured over the past two weeks. Their indomitable spirit in the face of such imposing odds is truly inspiring, and we can pray that God will enable them to be victorious against their Russian adversaries.

In addition to praying for the Ukrainian military, refugees, and displaced families, I’d like to draw your attention to two specific families and their ministry in Kyiv.

Bruce and Aimee and Greg and Hue Chon are missionaries that serve a church and seminary in that city. They were given the opportunity to return to America when Russia invaded Ukraine, but they chose to stay with their church instead. While that choice seemed risky at the time, it grows more dangerous with each passing day. I’d love to give more specifics about their families and ministry, but can’t do so at this time for security reasons.

Please join me in praying for protection for these families, for their church, and for their seminary students. Please also pray that God would fill them with peace and enable them to shine as lights of hope in a city filled with darkness and fear.

We can take comfort in the knowledge that all of us serve a God who defends the innocent and the oppressed:

“But I know the Lord will help those they persecute;
    he will give justice to the poor.” ~Psalm 140:12

Unreached.

My discharge from the rehab hospital 5 years ago…

“Why the **** can’t I stop shaking?” my friend sniffled, tears running down her cheeks and into a mass of unbrushed raven hair. “They’re messing with me, I’m tellin’ you.” She laughed and swept a strand of hair from her eyes, then resumed crying. “The voices are messin’ with me.” 

“I’m so sorry,” I whispered. I knew exactly how she felt. My friend and I both have schizoaffective disorder – a mental illness where we see and hear things that others don’t – and we both can tremble convulsively during acute episodes, sometimes for up to 45 minutes. Medication and therapy are long term solutions, but there’s no cure for the disorder, and short episodes can be frightening. 

“None of my coping skills are **** working!” She muttered as her body shook more violently. Then I realized that I had one resource my friend did not. 

I tried to swallow my own panic at what I was about to do. 

“I’m so sorry this is happening and – you can totally say no – but can I pray for you right now?” I held my breath. We weren’t supposed to upset an already agitated patient. 

“Sure.” She didn’t take her eyes off the table in front of us. “I need all the help I can get.”

Please Lord, have mercy on us, I prayed silently. Then I laid my hand on my friend’s shoulder and prayed for God to show his power and love by healing her shaking, and to use the episode to show my friend he was with us and cared about her personally. She stopped shaking before I finished praying.

“Wow. It really worked,” she said after my “Amen.”

This weekend marks five years since I was discharged from the rehabilitation hospital after my original accident, and one month since my last inpatient hospitalization for schizoaffective disorder. I’ve been hospitalized three times in the past three months, in order to obtain the correct diagnosis and medication plan, for a total of twenty-seven days. Needless to say, this is not where I’d planned to be five years after my accident. 

In some ways, being diagnosed with a mental illness feels like more of a failure than my seizure setbacks, although that’s not true. Schizoaffective disorder is often genetic; while I don’t have a notable family history of mental illness, doctors think mine is caused by my traumatic brain injury. But personal feelings aside, God has used this second round of hospitalizations to open my eyes to a group of unreached people who need the love of Jesus.

Praying for my friend wasn’t an isolated opportunity. I estimate that I’ve shared my faith with at least thirty people, this fall and winter. During my second hospital stay in November I heard a patient asking for a Bible, only to be told the facility didn’t have any. Thanks to my parents, we were able to donate Bibles to each of the units and even delivered them on Thanksgiving Day! Returning to the hospital a few days before Christmas took a heavy toll on me emotionally and spiritually, but it made me happy to see that the Bible on my unit already had plenty of wear and tear and was being read almost daily. 

My personal Bible, followed by the ward’s Bible, was actually my easiest access point to sharing my faith with friends and new acquaintances. I happen to have a Bible with a pretty cover: People mistook it for a journal, and some would stay to read a passage after they learned their mistake. “I’d buy a Bible if it looked like yours!” one friend joked in November. In December I did give another friend my personal Bible during my last hospital stay. 

The unit’s new Bible was also a wonderful access point. It was in high demand, both as an object of curiosity and as serious reading material; once word got out I was a Christian, people began asking me to recommend passages to read. The unit Bible was so popular, in fact, that I had to scramble for a chance to read it on my own in December. 

My dad recently asked me why I thought the Bibles were so popular – and why people were so ready to listen to the good news about Jesus. I don’t know for sure. Perhaps God put me in the right place at the right time on three separate occasions. But if I had to guess, I’d say people in a mental health facility might hunger for the light and love of Jesus in a way that’s deeper and more vulnerable than someone who isn’t locked in a facility with no visitors – or even windows. I don’t have a perfect answer for Dad’s “why?” question but I know what I saw and experienced. I believe God has some future work for me to do with these dear, nearly-inaccessible people, and I pray that God gives me wisdom to learn how to serve their community as I look forward to the future:

“But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them?” ~ Romans 10:14

The Health of the Mother

My name is Grace because I have two older siblings in Heaven.

“Don’t worry too much,” my OB-GYN said in a soothing, motherly tone. “We can always take care of a pregnancy if anything goes wrong.” 

“Umm, no – ” I stammered. “ – No, not really. I would still go through with it. Can we go over birth control options one more time?” 

The year after my accident, Ivan and I learned I should never get pregnant. Not I could never. I should never. My two traumatic strokes, uncontrolled seizures, and heavy neurological medication meant I could die if I went into labor. This was a tremendous loss, especially since Ivan has always dreamed of a large family, but we learned to accept God’s will and make peace with our future. 

Until last year. 

Last year I found myself back in my doctor’s office, praying the pregnancy test would come back negative. Ivan and I had picked a birth control method that seemed effective and met our ethical standard for not terminating any life after conception. But no method is perfect, and last year we faced grueling days of discussing the “what-if’s” before I could take the test. Was I brave enough to say no to an abortion if my life was actually on the line? 

Thankfully, that test did come back negative, but God used our gut-wrenching wait to force us to flesh out what we really believed about choosing my life over a hypothetical baby’s. 

As Ivan and I hashed and rehashed our dilemma, we realized that terminating the potential pregnancy would be like holding the baby accountable for other people’s mistakes. It wasn’t the baby’s fault that I’d been hit by a car, or that the birth control hadn’t worked properly. If we didn’t deserve to die for those things, neither did the baby. No matter how early we confirmed the pregnancy, the pre-born baby would still be a living human made in the image of God. Psalm 139:15-16 says: 

“You watched me as I was being formed in utter seclusion,

as I was woven together in the dark of the womb.

You saw me before I was born.

Every day of my life was recorded in your book.

Every moment was laid out

before a single day had passed.” 

It was frightening to surrender my choice to live, but how could Ivan and I tell God which of his two creations to spare? If the baby’s days were laid out in just as much detail as mine were, it would be arrogant to assume mine were somehow more valuable because I’d learned to walk and talk. What we could do was trust that we serve an all-wise and all-loving God, whose choices are always in our best interests. 

It’s one thing to argue from personal experience, but it’s another to learn from one of the most influential women in history. The “real” Mary of the Christmas story was an unwed girl between 13-15 years old when the angel told her she would be Jesus’ mother. Although we’re used to an idealized version of the story, the truth is that the angel told her the end result – she’d mother the Messiah – but didn’t give her any prediction of daily life until then. Unwed motherhood carried the death penalty in Mary’s day. While Mary knew she wouldn’t die, she still risked losing her fiancée as well as being ostracized by society, both of which could threaten her survival after Jesus’ birth. 

In our day, a teen mom facing these obstacles would be an automatic candidate for abortion. But what does Mary do? Instead of arguing with the angel, she responds to his message with gratitude: “I am the Lord’s servant. May everything you have said about me come true.” (Luke 1:38). It’s easy to discount Mary’s story because she lived two thousand years ago and has attained an almost divine status in some churches, but the truth is that she was a teenage girl who embraced a terrifying proposition with truth and grace. 

I write all this to challenge our thinking on abortion, especially in light of the upcoming Supreme Court decision. Are health or socio-economic status really valid reasons to prioritize one human’s life over another’s? Or do we accept these arguments simply because their advocates are standing in front of us but their victims are not? My goal is not to condemn anyone who may have had an abortion in the past, but to stimulate us to a clearer knowledge of the truth and a firmer resolution to uphold it. One of my favorite Bible passages that speaks to this issue is 2 Timothy 1:7: “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” Let us not fear what may happen to us – or our loved ones – in the future, but let us trust in the power of the Holy Spirit to love our neighbor as ourselves. Even if our neighbor is unborn.