Below is the transcript of what Sherry and I shared on December 11, 2011 at Pathway Fellowship during service. These notes do not include Sherry’s comments during the service, but you can hear them online as well as the entire message here. You can also download an .mp3 version.
According to my computer, to wish is to:
We don’t anticipate our wishes to come true based on this definition. I mean, even when we say we wish for something we think differently than if we hope, or even dream, for something.
I searched the Scripture for occurrences of words translated as “wish” in Scripture. Some words like in Psalm 40:14 indicate desiring, delighting in or having pleasure.
In the NT, there are four instances where translators use the word “wish” and again, in each case the idea can be a pie in the sky dream as opposed to an expectation for the “wisher.”
In the New Testament when wish is used, it is often synonymous with prayer. Even in this verse you see it:
I find that interesting. Sometimes our prayers are wishes. We don’t really expect or think God can answer them, huh? Maybe we need to pray more hopefully!
But our wishes are funny, aren’t they? And then there’s our hopes. Our hopes also appear almost distant at times but they also seem somewhat achievable.
Remember the definition of wish? Hope is a bit different.
We don’t have a God we wish will grant us peace, joy, love, etc., but we have a God who we can hope for and who wants to be hoped in.
Hope Surrounds Christmas.
Hope is born in who Jesus is.
But Christmas isn’t surrounded by hope that is just for then in its expectation. Christmas continues to give us hope that God understands. It helps us to know God gets life. As Hebrews says, “
Knowing that Jesus walked the face of earth is a special comfort that he “gets it.” Knowing that God understands pain, hurt, challenge, joy, death and all else is mind-blowing.
As Come O Ye Faithful sings, “Word of the Father, now in flesh appearing.”
God is real. And God is relevant for us.
See, many think that God provided that hope back then and God will provide hope for us in the future when we live with Him in eternity. But I think we miss out. The Kingdom is now and then. God will give us a hope while we are on earth.
This is all good news. But life is hard. And you can’t talk about hope without talking about darkness. I’ve always said you don’t really know what hope is until you’ve been hopeless. I believe the Bible is filled with both hopeless and near-hopeless people.
The Psalmists use HOPE 26 times, more than double any other book in the Bible. But they also use fear 51 x’s, Cry or Tears 52 x’s and joy only 41. The Psalms are filled with darkness and seeming hopelessness. But each holds hints of revolutionary hope!
Psalm 4 in particular spoke hope to me in February. See, I’ve struggled with depression for years. In 2002 things got so bad with contemplations of life without me that I broke down my walls of resistance and took anti-depression medication. Within weeks I noticed a dramatic change. I continued to struggle with ups and downs as I thought everyone did, but Sherry wasn’t completely convinced and asked a few of my doctors if I had bipolar disorder. At the time all my doctors brushed it off.
In 2009 I realized I needed to go back into counseling. I’ve been seeing the same amazing Godly Pastor counselor for three years now and that has helped beyond measure, but something changed in the beginning of 2011.
Whether it was the church moving in 2010, increased stress or who cares, really, January and February of this year were extremely dark for me. I felt the world caving in and I was convinced “I couldn’t do this anymore.” I don’t know exactly what I meant, but I was absolutely hopeless. I was convinced that the only way to escape would be if I wasn’t here on earth. I even rationalized it well by explaining away every role I have and it all made sense to me. What was worse was that I didn’t trust my mind and myself. I was stable, knowing I needed to revaluate my anti-depressant medication & even in the darkness I was aware enough to to schedule a doctor’s appointment to do so. The morning after seeing my counselor I told Sherry to hide all knives, all meds and anything else that she could find. I didn’t think I wanted to hurt myself, but I just wanted to be pre cautious because, like I said, I didn’t trust myself.
Sherry texted my counselor that Friday morning who demanded I go to an emergency room to see a psychiatrist immediately because my appointment wasn’t until the following Tuesday. I had no problem with it. At the emergency room they did not have a psychiatrist in the hospital but the social worker looked for an appointment at mental hospitals in the area so I could see one before the weekend. After indicating she could get me in at four and trying to schedule it for me, she came back to say I had been “5150’d,” which means I’d been put on suicide watch for 72 hours and needed to go to the mental hospital. My freedoms were nill and while in retrospect it was royally injust, Sherry and I believed it’d be good to switch meds away from the kids, and I was promised to see a psychiatrist that day. We maintained our belief that God is sovereign but I knew I needed help and so whatever means He wanted to use, I was okay with it. I was just sad and I knew something wasn’t right. Despite it being the worst day of our lives and the most humiliating experience ever, I know God will use it – He already has!
I remember waking up that first morning with my Bible that Sherry brought back for me the previous night and I read this Psalm:
When in darkness, this is our prayer. And there’s so much hope in it! While in the hospital they gave me a new med that gave me insomnia so I got to hear some interesting things in the middle of the night including patients being put in solitary and other restraining methods. This Psalm was my prayer those days and nights.
The Psalm continues . . .
Like this Psalmist, I felt my honor had turned to shame. The four day hospital stay proved for the most part to be pointless and horrific, but it was quite an experience that I’ll never forget, for better or worse. I met a lot of great folks and some pretty crazy ones as well.
When I got out on Valentine’s night, I was numb. Completely humiliated and humbled to the point of shame and embarrassment. I remember when I was sick in February, I had two people in the church ask me what was wrong & when I responded, “I’m just sick,” their response was, “You’re just mental!” Oh if they only knew! Charlie Sheen’s now famous “Winning” dateline interview was exactly 3 weeks to the day after I entered the hospital. How ironic.
But again, this Psalm spoke my feelings and emotions. And it enabled me to know that it’s both okay to be in the darkness and there is hope. There is hope.
That week I saw a new recommended psychiatrist who really sensed I was manic depressive, or bipolar. (Sherry has much more to share about this with more scientific wisdom – bipolar disorder is really misunderstood by so many). In the beginning phases of treatment my grandmother died and so I went back to New Jersey to officiate her funeral, exactly one month to the day since getting out of the hospital. I discovered in writing her eulogy from my aunt that she was on anti-psychotic medications for the last 20-30 years of her life & that was the only time she could begin to have a real relationship with her mother. I also saw my schizophrenic aunt & things started to click left and right. My parents and brother had “Aha” moments as we looked back to my childhood to adulthood. Many were surprised that we didn’t notice this all along – except for Sherry, who said so our first year of marriage. I am continuing to learn about this and myself and family.
In February I began a medical journey that still continues to this day. Since February 11, I have been on 11 different meds with about 25-30 different dosing combinations. My mind and body are still going through it all. Even within the last ten days I began a new mix.
During the spring I began to catch my emotional and physical breath by working only 40 hours a week and sometimes less. All the meds I received that worked were classic bipolar medications & I was basically diagnosed with bipolar II. I’m still learning to live with this label and while I know it’s not a big deal, it is.
The Psalmist continues, though:
I love that Selah, or pause. I was Selahing and pondering in my mind what my calling was and if I needed to stay at Pathway. WIth a passion for the local church as I was ordained with, I believed I was called to ministry at Pathway.
Summer working with fireworks fundraisers and camp was draining but I was doing okay. August I rested and when school began I was excited about the new season. But I quickly began creeping towards where I was in February. October 4th I found myself more depressed than ever before and I turned my phone off to sleep, but it left Sherry wondering while at the pumpkin patch if she’d return to a husband lying dead in the house. Honestly I wondered the same. As I began to talk after nearly 24 hours of silence, my perception of everything around me was off and I was lost worse off than February. We considered another hospital visit but I was adamant not to go back. I can’t begin to tell you how tough this was on Sherry.
But she was was amazing. I mean, for as crazy as I’ve been, she is exponentially more than that in amazingness. You might think she’s amazing, but you don’t even know the half of it. When in the mire, bursting with confusion and just lost, Sherry would calmly say, “It’s not you who is talking. Your brain is sick. You are sick. You need to stop & get well.” While I’ve said repeatedly we should not to try and be the Holy Spirit to our spouse, I can’t tell you how many times God has used her to be that in this journey. And she was the most even in the midst of an October Pumpkin Patch fundraiser for Pathway working obscene amounts of hours, working another part-time job and being a full time graduate school student.
What we were finding more and more along the way was that the triggers for the depression and manias were mostly centered around ministry. Ministry is tough. The ups and downs are a challenge for anyone who is healthy, but realizing that my ups and downs were magnified made it difficult for me to fully recover. I needed to regain health and stop the roller coaster. I needed to find a calm and alleviate the stresses that seemed to be triggering my responses.
So once again we began to contemplate whether Pathway was the best environment for me in the mist of such volatility. I asked God to put the brakes on these thoughts if it be His good, pleasing & perfect will. I read, listened, prayed, thought and paramount clarification made me realize I needed to step away. I need to get healthy. It became obvious I needed to take the ministry piece out of my life in order for me to find health.
We had no idea how, what it looked like and honestly we both began feeling the world caving in together. We love Pathway, we love ministry, the thoughts of taking it out of our lives was heartbreaking, but as I mentioned it to my doctors, they both gave great confirmation that it be a great next step in my recovery. Because of prayers of the saints and God the Holy Spirit we not only came to a decision that is best for my health, us as a couple, and our family, but what I can only trust will be best for Pathway.
In verse 5 the Psalmist says:
We are learning what that looks like. This decision is really a trust fall for us. We may not know what will happen in January but we do know that we trust God.
We doubt. I doubt. But It’s funny because I’ve had many ask, “What are you going to do financially, or what about church?” Clearly I’ve thought this through immensely and it provided quite a bit of tension. But when you are faced with death and the fear that my reality came to, you can’t consider others because if you don’t take care of yourself there’s no way you can help others. My kids, my wife, my potential ministry opportunities I could have in the future breathed new life in me. Jesus does that. Just as a baby God breathed his first breath, so he continues to breathe in you and I.
God has lifted His face to me! I have come to actually believe I’m called and gifted! I maintain right now I need to be healed. And that is all I need to focus on right now. He will be faithful to use that.
Sherry, however, is called to continued leading at Pathway.
Since deciding on what I’m sharing with you this morning, I’ve felt a burden lifted and ability to focus on my children in a way I thought I was, but really wasn’t.
I kinda knew the direction I needed to go in early November and as I felt pressure and stress alleviating I sensed a different countenance in myself.
My youngest daughter hasn’t kissed me when I’ve dropped her off for Kindergarten since day 1 in August. I’d ask almost every day and stick around until she got in her classroom hoping she’d change her mind, but she would have nothing of it. In October the other one avoided any contact with me at drop off.
Just 12 days ago, 8 school days, for the first time all year, my youngest daughter asked me for a kiss at school, as did her twin. The next day they begged me to watch all what they can do on the playground. The youngest said, “Daddy, can you stay every day and watch me go into my classroom?” She has kissed me 8 days in a row now.
I realized that I said I had faith at home and put my family first, but I had no idea how big of an impact this was playing on my family until just recently. But now I do and I am responsible with that knowledge. I am alive. And I have an amazing family I get to care for and I have faith. And I have hope.
I read this in the hospital on February 12 and had no idea this is where I’d be on December 11.
When I thought of sharing this I actually got excited about sharing this on the advent candle of hope. This is not a story of despair but of hope. Every story of hope has moments of darkness. And we’ve had our moments. But never have we doubted in the hope of Christ. We’ve held dearly despite the pain, trusting His promises are true and that He’ll take care of us. And He has.
It’s hard to believe this was written over 1500 years ago. God’s Word is filled with hope.
We’ve determined that:
- For at least 3 months beginning January 1 I will not be involved in church ministry.
- I will l not serve in vocational ministry at any church in 2012.
I need healing first and we believe this is what’s best for now.
What I ask of you is to help me with some boundaries/requests:
1. Feel free to talk with me about if you yourself battle or struggle with depression, mania or some other mental illness. However, if you aren’t one who has struggled but know someone who has, I really don’t want to hear about their experience. Every case is different & I’ve found that very difficult to hear and relate to your husband, your cousin, or your best friend’s roomate’s aunt. I am totally willing to talk about my experience, I just don’t want to hear 2nd and third party stories. Yours, great! Others’, not so much.
2. Please do not share any medical advice with me. I have researched so many different methods including nouthetic & Biblical counseling, natural & homeopathic, shock thereapy, psychiatric, Christian counseling & more. I am committed to staying on top of this disease but it is overwhelming and I get a ton of people giving me advice. I beg you to honor this. I’m not done trying all means that we pray are wise, but it’s really overwhelming to hear, “You should try,” or “You know what I heard?”
3. Treat me as the same guy I’ve been, but if you can’t, please don’t feel bad. I get it. Unlike diabetes that is an accepted disease in folks’ bodies, many aren’t comfortable with & frankly, don’t believe in mental neurological illnesses. There’s a stigma attached that people don’t get. And if you are one of them, I totally understand. I was just like you! You can ask me any question about my experience & I’ll answer if I feel comfortable. Feel free to call or text me & ask how I am & if I want to answer truthfully or not, I will; I’ve been living behind a mask for so long that if I need to protect myself in that moment, I certainly can again. If you call or text and I don’t respond or send you to voicemail, don’t be offended. Remember that I’m in a time of healing. I don’t know how long it will last, but know I really am doing very well right now.
4. Feel free to share on or read my website, onhopeblog.com. This message and more are already posted & I plan on sharing continually as I’m ready in the days, weeks and months to come. Who knows, but maybe it will be a resource for others who struggle with mental illness or who have loved ones who do.
Know I love you and appreciate everything you’ve done for me throughout my time here. I don’t know if/when I’ll be back after December 31st, I’m just taking things a day at a time right now. I know some challenges await for Pathway in my absence, but I’m very hopeful. I really am. For you and I. And I hope you will be as well. Keep hope before you.
Our God is a God of HOPE.
Christmas is about hope. And God is the only hope that is. We can wish, we can dream, but only in Jesus can we have hope.
While some of you may be surprised with my story, again remember it’s about hope. I’ve repeated to many that though I’m still struggling, it’s as if I’ve been born againagain.
When we commit our lives to following Jesus as Lord, we are born again according to John 3. In so many ways I’m learning to live in new skin and a new understanding how to love God with all my heart, mind, soul & strength. Though the birth pains are tough, I have hope in my Lord.
At Christmas we not only celebrate a baby, but we celebrate God being born. My brother and I quipped in our late teens that every day really can be CHRISTtmas if Jesus is born in someone’s heart. That’s hope.
It’s my HOPE that you too, can be born againagain this season.