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.
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!
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. 🙂
“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.
Hello Blogging Family, May is almost upon us! I’m writing to give a short update about Grace. You may remember that back in January Grace passed her 45-hour review for her MFA in Creative Writing. Well, at this point she’s very close to finishing her thesis!
Grace’s thesis will be a book about her accident and our life in San Jose afterward. Her deadline is the end of May, so she probably won’t be posting on the blog between now and then. Thank you all so much for your support! Our prayer is that God will be glorified through this book and that His goodness will shine bright when things are dark in our lives.
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!
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 I 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.
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
Hello blogging friends, I’m pleased to announce some great news: but first, some context (drumroll please…)
Grace is a creative artist. Throughout her childhood and teenage years, and early adulthood up to the accident, Grace developed and shared her artistry through her violin. Losing the ability to use her left hand, and thus play the violin, has been a tremendous loss for Grace, perhaps even more so than some of her post-accident health challenges.
But her inner creativity, not to mention sharp intellect and relentless determination, has not only survived, but thrived: starting in 2019, Grace has been pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing at Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD). This degree is 90-credit hours long, which is longer than many doctorate degrees. The 45-Hour Review is an important milestone marking halfway completion, after which a student is cleared to complete their thesis course. During the review, faculty evaluate a portfolio of a student’s best work created during the first half of the degree.
Well, Grace had her review on Friday, and…she passed! With flying colors. Actually, with a perfect score. Yes, I am definitely bragging about my wife right now. I am so proud of you, Grace!!! To God be the glory.
Friends, Grace works so hard every day in so many ways, not least in refining her craft as a writer. Watching her persist in the face of immense challenges inspires me to be better each day; Grace is an incredible role model for me in this way.
Between now and May, Grace will be putting the finishing touches on her thesis, which Lord willing will be a book detailing the events surrounding her accident. God allows bad things to happen for a reason, and Grace and I hope this book will be a blessing for many, by showing how God is bigger than anything we may face in this life.
Thank you as always for your support; in a literal way, your support on this blog helps fuel Grace’s passion as a writer! We couldn’t do this without you. SDG.
“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