New Life Church

Yesterday I took some pictures of local churches, including the one shown above, New Life Christian Ministries. I ordinarily avoid arty filters because they seem inauthentic for someone like me who is lacking the skill to create such an image without putting a photo through an algorithm. I am sharing the one above because it looks like a church service makes me feel. I feel the Spirit at such times, and the above image reflects a little of that warmth. I am grateful for such joy. It is not something I take for granted.

Below is the original photo:

Quote from Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich


Did you know that a woman wrote about a near-term experience in 14th century England? She is called Julian of Norwich, and her account is titled Revelations of Divine Love. She actually wrote of her experience rwice, and it took her 20 years to finish revising the first version. Like Whitman with Leaves of Grass, she spent decades raising her text to maurity.

“And then with his sweet grace, continuing in the work of meek prayer, we come to him now in this life by many secret touches of sweet spiritual sights and feelings, given to us as our simple souls may bear. And this is done, and shall be done, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, until we die in longing for love.”

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Ruth and Edna

Here’s another early post from this blog. It reminds me that there are times when you yourself can be an unreliable narrator. I refer to events that unfolded in the wake of my friend’s death in January of 2016. There is one detail in this reblogged post that is not entirely accurate. I actually heard my friend’s voice shortly after I woke up from a “blessed” dream. At the time I didn’t feel that I should risk that disclosure.

Intensity Without Mastery

Some dreams are the opposite of a nightmare. I call them blessed dreams. My first blessed dream happened at the dusk of my teenage years. It was brief and involved my great aunts Ruth and Edna. This dream was exceptionally lucid, with a false awakening that made it seem even more real. While it is well established that very unusual things can be dreamed, their appearance was rare indeed. I have never met Ruth and Edna because they died in a car accident along with my great grandpa back in 1936, and I have only seen their death portraits.

In the dream, I walked into the long hallway of my parents’ house, and Ruth and Edna were bouncing a ball back and forth at the opposite end. The ball and their white dresses were embedded with an ethereal glitter. Seeing them provoked the most intense ambivalence I have ever felt, awake or asleep. I…

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Last Friday’s Dream

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Last week I had more time to blog because I scheduled a “staycation” to mark both the end of my daughter’s school year and the beginning of the summer season. I had hoped to squeeze in some housekeeping, as if I could wake up early every day and sleepwalk through the tasks painlessly until my daughter emerged from hibernation. Alas, I slept nearly as long each day as she did. Thus only minimal cleaning was done.

On Friday, I had a dream that first seemed to be of the classic wish fulfillment variety. I was walking through my house. The morning sun streamed through the windows. Not a book or a blanket was out of place, and every surface was free of dust. I surveyed my bedroom, very pleased that I had somehow cleaned the whole house to a level that I’ve never achieved in real life. I then said something so improbable that when I awoke I wondered if I’d had one of those dreams that seem to come from someone else’s mind, as if the experience were first person in a fictional sense. I smiled and said, “Now I’m ready to deal with Satan. He’ll be here soon.”

I then woke myself up. After all, this was one of those dreams that one doesn’t really want to see what comes next. The statements I uttered and the attitude underlying them startled me. I had the serene confidence of an regular hiker walking along a familiar trail. I knew a challenge awaited me, but I had no doubt I could contend with it (with the help of Jesus, of course).

I wondered over the origin of such a dream. I haven’t remembered many details of my dreams lately, but when I do, it seems that I am often dreaming of things I’ve recently read in the Bible. This pattern reminds me of Hebrews 4:12 (NIV):

For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

My dream of the clean house could be a reflection on Luke 11:24-26 (GNT):

24 When an evil spirit goes out of a person, it travels over dry country looking for a place to rest. If it can’t find one, it says to itself, ‘I will go back to my house.’ 25 So it goes back and finds the house clean and all fixed up. 26 Then it goes out and brings seven other spirits even worse than itself, and they come and live there. So when it is all over, that person is in worse shape than at the beginning.

I confess that I have a waking attitude about Satan that is still somewhat Gen X—he is a trite, gauche bogeyman whom psychology knocked off his cloven feet sometime in the 1950s. Now that I’ve taken time to read more of the Bible, I see that this perspective doesn’t neuter Satan at all. Actually, it opens a window for him. As we laugh at him, it is harder to see that pride, envy, isolation and indifference are his handiwork. When we give up, he smiles invisibly beside us.

But Christ denies him victory. By his sacrifice on the cross, he did neuter the forces that do not wish us well, that want us to be broken and alone. When you surrender to Christ, the demons may come to tempt you, but they have no victory over you, as Paul wrote in Romans 8:38-39 (KJV):

38 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,

39 Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Jesus Christ our Lord.

To the Moon

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In blogging I often encounter posts by other bloggers that affect me deeply. I don’t take enough time to thank the authors for opening a window onto their lives and revealing their struggles, for in doing so the authors do much to validate the humanity of their readers.

This week I had the privilege of reading “From Earth to the Moon” by Rachel Mankowitz. In that post, she opens the window unto a dark time of her early adult life, and I felt great relief in knowing that I was not the only one who lagged behind in my youth. I often think I’m past regretting those days, but essays like Rachel’s remind me that I have work to do in this regard.

I responded to her post this morning at her blog, but I will take the time on my blog to expand on that comment.

I’m intrigued at how she found inspiration in the miniseries that shares the name of her post. I’ve also gravitated toward the “moon shot” during times of adversity. Just last year, I wrote a post called “I Choose to Go to the Moon” when I moved forward from my failed back surgery. I thought it only natural to use that metaphor given that I live just 20 miles from Neil Armstrong’s hometown, but now I see that the process of America’s moon landing has inspired many people to overcome the odds, regardless of place.

Now I will approach the heart of the comment I made on Rachel’s post. I wrote:

This post affected me deeply. Much of my young adulthood was a wasteland due to mental health issues, mostly major depression. I dropped out of college twice and did not get a degree. When my depression would clear temporarily, I’d make impulsive choices with a long-term impact on my future, such as up and moving 2,000 miles away and coming back with an infant daughter. The fog didn’t begin to clear until I was 35. I’ve found a way of thinking of that time that helps ease my regret (because there usually is regret over the loss of what-could-have-been). When I start to beat myself up over what I may have lost during those dark years when I was 19-35 years old, I think: What did I really miss out on? Buying a bunch of stuff that by now no one wants anymore. The secondhand stores and junk car lots are full of the things I couldn’t afford to buy when they were new. What is the time pressure our culture imposes on mental health recovery but an indictment of the patient’s economic productivity?

I admit is rather odd to use a block quote on one’s own writing in this case, but it’s the most efficient way of taking what I wrote there and putting it here.

It is possible that I owe my thoughts on economic productivity and mental health to my history of madness. I choose to embrace the term madness because no better term captures how I made choices in my early adulthood. What I do know is that it does me no good to disavow my past diagnoses. Doing so would be a disservice to myself and those who currently live with major depression. I’m aware that I may undermine the authority of my words spoken and written in admitting my mental health history, but isn’t that risk wrapped in stigma? While stigma reigns, people will not understand the intersection between mental health and the rest of one’s life. For instance, just because I was depressed at the time doesn’t mean that my testimony has no validity.

I am grateful for my fractured past. My struggles both mental and physical were persistent reminders of how much I need God in my life. I know the truth of Solomon’s words, “Whatever happens or can happen has already happened before. God makes the same thing happen again and again” (Eccles. 3:15 GNT).

The things I buy now will become things no one else wants. My car I so value now will someday be deconstructed, recycled, its parts reused. Meanwhile there are young people just emerging into adult life, and some will progress slowly because of mental health issues. If you have such a young person in your life, be patient with him or her. Life itself is a gift worth far more that what a person can buy or do.