Saturday, October 25, 2008

Non-tropical Depression Dave

I've been in the midst of my twice yearly spring/fall episodic depression.  This fall installment started early.  It is typically arriving in October.  This year it arrived somewhere in the middle of September.  I can only ever detect its coming in hindsight.  It dawns upon me like some dark day.

I am very much in the depths right now, maybe as low as I have ever gone.  It is difficult to do anything.  Getting out of bed and going to work is a victory maybe unknown to most.  I prayed today for God to make a way for me to go on an extended road trip.  I greatly desire to be carried in the close womb of a car driving down the road for hour upon hour.  Buckled tightly in the seat, gripping the steering wheel with steely hands, as the long miles pass beneath the wheels of my rolling ark of salvation. . . cruise control set, all I have to do is to keep the car upon the road as I meditate and pray.

Those who know me, know me as one passionate about life and as giving myself fully to anything that I involve myself with.  Right now I don't enjoy much of anything.  I do not care at all about taking pictures.  I do desire to write, but nothing seems interesting or capable of holding my attention for more than a few moments.  I force myself to write these words. . . maybe proving therapeutic for myself or for someone else who reads them.

Strangely I greatly desire to bake bread.  I don't know what it is about bread baking, but I am consumed with it.  Maybe it is that I desire beauty in my world of gray and the creation of bread is an act of beauty.  Creating from the ugly messy glop of ingredients, the earth so to speak, something so fragrant, something so pleasing to the eye, so greatly comforting, nourishing, delightful to the palette. . .

I bought 140+ pounds of flour and related ingredients last week and I will exceed that this week.  For as much time as I spend at Bonneyville Mill county park, I never thought of it before as a functioning grain mill, but it surely is.  The prices for the flours ground there are very reasonable and the knowing of the beauty of the place adds to my enjoyment of and pride in the breads I am making from the stone ground wheat produced there.

While in my depression, everything negative is accentuated.  Physical aches and pains are magnified. . . mental aggravations and irritations are ever before me. . . fears, hatreds, jealousies, unhappiness all consume me.  I am in battle all day long.   I ache physically, mentally. . . emotionally.  My days are a dull gray ache. . .

I have no answer, no path do I know to take me directly out of this.  This little dark river must run its course.  Praying and worshiping God does help me.  It keeps me from sinking more deeply into my mood.  It keeps me at least in the perspective that there is hope, that this will pass, that I am not alone in this, that this is serving a purpose, maybe burning things out of me that should not be there.

I spoke at the jail Wednesday evening.  I talked to a group of maybe six men for more than an hour.  There was something very different Wednesday evening from any other talk I had ever given (or at least that I can remember) in the almost eight years I've been going in there.  There was less of me in my talk and more of Jesus.  My depression brings great humility.  I am so low.  The Lord can bring lowness to you in many ways. . .He can use many things.  In a funny way lowness is greatly to be desired . . .surely not wanted, but needed. . .This was a crystalline talk. . . there was a clarity, a transparency from my lowness that allowed Jesus to shine all the more brightly.  The men were tremendously moved.  At the end all of them were very emotional. . .

There is no way for me to know how long this will continue.  It is not at all pleasurable, but like so many non-pleasurable things good for me at the same time. . .

I love you my God. . .
I try to thank you my Lord. . .

Dave

Sunday, October 12, 2008

The Steps of a Journey. . .

Tonight I was getting ready for our monthly church services at the Elkhart County Jail.  I was praying for the Lord to give me words in case I was called to speak.  In my minds eye, an image blossomed of two African boys standing next to one another.  Looking like brothers, they are dressed in loin cloths and little else.  The older one had something, a bead, maybe a small piece of carved wood hanging from a cord around his neck.    The older one is maybe seven years old or so and the other at least two or three years younger.  Their bellies are grossly distorted in the classic form of dire hunger.  Their arms and legs, impossibly frail, cannot seem to support even their malignantly thin bodies.  It's not a static picture.  Flies are buzzing, their noses run. . .Their eyes pierce me. . .

I don't know.  I don't understand.  Why are you showing me this Lord?  What does this picture mean?  A small voice in my head replies, "How did they get this way?". . .It comes to me.  This state that they are in, is not from missing one meal.  It isn't from having too little to eat for a month or even for a year. . .These boys have been chronically underfed their entire lives. . . even before their birth there was never enough to eat.  Undoubtedly their mother was starving before they were born. . .Forget prenatal vitamins, it was an exceptional day when her belly was full once.  Starvation does not happen from any single event.  Their state is the result of a process.

We tend to not like processes.  We want to ignore the journey and focus only upon the destination.  We do not want to go on a diet and exercise more, change our lifestyle to lose weight.  We want liposuction.  We do not want to sacrifice for months and years to save up for the down payment on a house.  We want instant credit, no money down.  We fret that the microwave takes too long to heat our instant dinners.  We want our bread sliced and packaged.  We do not like processes.  We want things quick. . . no waiting required. . .

Read the Bible with your eye and ear open for processes. . .

Genesis 1:1-5
In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  (2)  And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  (3)  And God said, Let there be light: and there was light.  (4)  And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness.  (5)  And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day.

From the very first, God showed us the process by which He created the universe.  Could God have spoken everything into being at once?  Surely He could have, but instead he used distinct stages and steps in the process of creation.

Conversely God's first judgment on the earth was also a process:

Genesis 6:5-7
And GOD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.  (6)  And it repented the LORD that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him at his heart.  (7)  And the LORD said, I will destroy man whom I have created from the face of the earth; both man, and beast, and the creeping thing, and the fowls of the air; for it repents me that I have made them.

God uses Noah.  He gives Noah the plans for this huge ship.  He tells Noah specifically how to make the ark and how to stock it with the different animals of the world.  This takes somewhere between 50 and 100 years for Noah to accomplish.  Could God have done this immediately?  Couldn't He have put Noah and his family to sleep and awoken them when the judgment was accomplished?. . . but there was value in the process for Noah, for his family and ultimately for all of humanity.

In the construction of the ark, Noah and his sons must have been in awe of its dimensions. . .over 450 feet long. . . 75 feet wide. . .4 1/2 stories tall. . .We with our modern exposure to massively constructed buildings cannot grasp how unbelievably impressive this ark must have been.  It dwarfed any ship built for thousands of years. . . and yet for 10 1/2 months as Noah and his family were held captive by the flood, they must have peered anxiously out the little window in the ark, blown helplessly before the wind of God, over the endless waves. . .How small the formerly hugely impressive ark, built by their own hands must have then seemed.  How somber the thoughts of Noah and his family must have been.  Beneath the blue marching waves lay everything they had ever known.  All their childhood friends, cousins, next door neighbors. . . all landmarks, everything familiar, now obliterated, now all the world dead. . . a vividly strong statement from God. . .punctuated by more than 300 days upon the desolately lonely water. . .the process had a purpose. . .There is always a purpose to the process. . .

Psalms 1:1-3
Blessed is the man that walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful.  (2)  But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law does he meditate day and night.  (3)  And he shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth his fruit in his season; his leaf also shall not wither; and whatsoever he does shall prosper.

A powerful favorite passage describing a righteous man.  This passage also speaks of a continuing process. While he might occasionally take bad advice, this man does not make a journey with those of ill counsel.  He may also occasionally sin, but he does not linger on that street.  Yes he may sometimes be critical and negative, but that is not a place where he spends much time.  His attention during both his time of business and while taking his rest is upon the Word of God. . .He is not like a dandelion which in comparison pops up overnight.  He is shown as a tree.  Trees are long lived and slow growing spending long decades coming to maturity.  Insulated from times of drought by their deep roots and favorable place of planting.  He will produce blessing for others in the fruit of his branches.

Time and again we see processes on the pages of the Bible. . . Moses 40 years tending sheep. . . The Hebrew people 40 years in the wilderness. . .The construction of the temple. . . the building of the wall around Jerusalem. . .the felling of the wall around Jericho. . .freeze dried quick solutions are not found. . .processes are important to God.  

As I age I find myself having more appreciation for the process.  No longer am I an instant coffee and store bought bread kind of person.  I enjoy the journey.  I regret flying quickly to a destination as missing something quite important.  There is no way to understand and realize the scale of a trip at 600 miles per hour.  The vastness of the distance involved is lost, if not fully experienced. . .I smile. . .to those who know me, I am a notoriously slow driver. . .In these days of high fuel prices. . .maybe I could travel by horse. . .I would very much enjoy that.

I find that I enjoy the process of making tea: heating the water, readying the leaves, allowing them time to steep, before bringing forth their full flavor. . .I enjoy the process of turning a gluey mass of flour, sugar, salt, water, milk, and oil into a living dough. . .waiting while the yeast grows and causes it to swell and rise. . .then on the the wondrously fragrant baking loaves of bread. . .I savor the drive equally as much as the destination. . .

It comes to me, and this is what I spoke of at the jail this past Wednesday evening, that while our journey to God is a process, it is my experience that it is equally true that a journey away from God is also a process.  I watch men and women come out of the jail. . .both destinations toward or away from God involve steps, stages. . . a process of either growing closer to or more distant from God.

We surely do not come to God in just one step.  We grow and grow as He reveals Himself to us, as He reveals to us those ways in which we displease Him.  When I first came to Him, if He had showed me everything that I needed to work on, I would have been crushed as under an avalanche.  In my walk I have found that I as have success in one area, He reveals something else to me that I need to tend to.  He shows me in servings that are not overwhelming.  He gives me in digestible portions, those ways in which I fall short of what He desires for me.   

 The reverse is equally true.  I am convinced that no one backslides, no one falls away from God in just one isolated act.   I have seen it too often, the cooling of the fire, the gradual drifting and falling away.  On both paths, toward God and away from Him, bad decisions are made.  The journey to God, as much as I might wish it, is not an arrow straight highway.  For me it is a path, that I desire to continually lead in His direction, but in hindsight can be seen to be to have been at times disturbingly wide of Him, but. . .but. . . but any single bad decision of mine, while being a detour, is not necessary to become a final destination.  

Occasionally it may seem as if a person will fall away as if struck by a bolt of lightning.  I think it safe to say that hidden from eyes, a cumulation of small steps were taking place that led to the final break that then became visible to the world at large. . .a journey is built of many steps and the steps have importance.

It is not possible, but could I speak from my present knowledge to my past unknowing, I would urge more awareness and appreciation of, contemplation of and meditation upon the beauty of process.  Every journey is a process.  Every process is important. . .Every step on every journey, another opportunity to discover a facet of God. . .

I thank you my Lord. . .
I love you my God. . .

Dave

Monday, October 6, 2008

Sowing and Reaping. . .

A couple of weeks ago I closed the season of street ministry. I created a final message flier for the neighborhoods explaining that the daylight is growing too short in the evenings and soon the weather will turn cold and wet making it difficult to minister on the streets of our city. In planning on how this street ministry would work, I had considered this interval between September and March as a season of rest, and rebuilding. . . a time or preparation for the next year, but it has been gnawing at me that this is not right. . .

I read in Genesis:

Genesis 8:22
While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.

It's not said that God told Noah this. . . (v22) the LORD said in his heart. . .This was a thought directly from God's heart. The Lord divided time on the earth into cycles and these cycles will not end as long as the earth exists. That is His promise. He has given us two positions, two alternating states. It is not described as some kind of selector switch with lots of options. There are not multiple possibilities, but only two alternating positions. . . Seedtime and harvest are the first mentioned. As the first mentioned, significantly they apparently form the basis of everything else. . .The sowing, the exuberant, the prolific setting out of seed upon the earth in the hopes that some will find good ground and then the subsequent taking in of the fruit of the crop are the only two seasons mentioned.

Mark 4:26-29
And he said, So is the kingdom of God, as if a man should cast seed into the ground; (27) And should sleep, and rise night and day, and the seed should spring and grow up, he knoweth not how. (28) For the earth bringeth forth fruit of herself; first the blade, then the ear, after that the full corn in the ear. (29) But when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come.

It is my responsibility to cast the seed in the season of sowing. I am to cast it on all types of ground. The sower sowed it on rocky ground and in thorny places. He threw it in places where he surely could have predicted that it wouldn't do well, but the sower was never criticized for sowing in difficult places. It isn't said that our job is to judge the soil. It is our job to sow where we find soil. Likewise, I have nothing to do with the germination or the pushing forth of the leaves or the flowering of the plant. . . he (I) knoweth not how. . .but our seed, the Word of God is viable. It is fertile and potent. It will bear fruit. It will not return void, without accomplishing God's purposes.

I have been casting seed into the ground, but what about the harvest?

Luke 10:2
Therefore said he unto them, The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few: pray ye therefore the Lord of the harvest, that he would send forth laborers into his harvest.

I have tended to use this verse to signify that I can pray to God for more workers to assist in the work of His kingdom. I focused on the praying for more workers. I only looked at the asking for more laborers, but see what this verse does not say. It certainly does not say that it is the Lord of the harvest who does the harvesting. I believe the point Jesus is making is that the crop is bounteous and that we will surely need help in getting the crop into the storehouses, but it does not in any way absolve me (us) from the work of the harvest.

What farmer casts his seed upon his fields and then goes on vacation at harvest time? That would be worse than just foolishness, it would be criminally wasteful of resources and stupidity itself to have put all the work required into the planting and cultivation of the fields and then to leave the grain to rot right where it stands in the ill conceived hope that some one else would come along and do his gathering work for him. Now if his yield is so great that it is beyond his means to bring it in by himself then that is another scenario. We can only do what we can do. . .

Now in this season of harvest Mark 4:29 says that when the fruit is brought forth, immediately he putteth in the sickle, because the harvest is come. It is not a question of the calender. The only criteria is, "Is fruit brought forth?" After the seed is planted, is now fruit being produced on the plant? If there is fruit, then immediately is the time for the crop to be cut away from its attachment to the soil. It must be taken from its place of planting in the dirt and brought into the storehouse. It must be taken away from the open fields, away from the predators, away from the elements that would knock it down, trample it, devour it. . .destroy it.

Lots of wonderful metaphors here. All in all though, I have been only focusing on the sowing, and have given little thought to the reaping. . .I must change that.

I have made some wonderful friends over these months walking the streets. The week day evenings are not realistically available to me for ministry during this time of year, but my thought now is to concentrate upon the contacts I have made and to try to deepen and expand upon those who have shown signs of bearing fruit. I love to bake homemade bread. My idea right now is to spend Friday evenings making 5-10 loaves of bread and go into the neighborhoods and pass them out on Saturday mornings. Unlike the weekday evenings, I won't have any time pressure. I'm not trying to cast seed over blocks and blocks of the city. Realistically I only have maybe a dozen or so people in mind to focus upon. Maybe I can begin doing Bible Studies with some of them. . .I must do something to bring them in out of the fields. . .

I thank you God. . .
I love you my Lord. . .

Dave

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Turn the Page. . .

Turn the Page. . .

Another day passes. . . another month begins. . . tear off the old calendar sheet. Look at the fresh picture on the new month's page. . .To most the beginning of a new month means a new cycle of bills begin. . .possibly a monthly income check arrives, but not much else. For me though, the landscape of my year is not a plain, but rather two plateaus with two valleys of varying and unpredictable depth between them.

October and March are my months of depression. I've written past entries on my seasonal battle with darkness, but each year it seems to catch me unaware of its arrival. This year it has started early. It was maybe 10 days ago (only seen looking backward) that it began this year. Jackie could probably pinpoint the day better than I. My most noticeable symptom is increased irritability. I become very critical. Lots of things bother me that normally I would give no thought to. Life becomes very much less fun. I have trouble finding anything that I really want to do. I have trouble completing tasks. I just want to go home and crawl in bed. My sleep is disrupted. I want to eat and eat (preferably anything chocolate). I have little patience.

I think I may be becoming better at recognizing its onset, but still I am taken unawares by it. It was only maybe 20 years ago that I first recognized it at all. I spent the first 30 years of my life not understanding that I was beset by depression, which was pretty foolish in of itself. My Mother's life was ruled by her mood swings and I was intimately familiar with the great tides of her moods. Where I have two plateaus and two valleys, my Mom had two Himalayan peaks and two deep sea crevasses. In her 'up' times, she would go days on days and even weeks (on occasion) without sleeping and then when she crashed do little but sleep for weeks or even months on end.

Tonight at Goodwill, I bought a copy of Eugene Peterson's, The Message (wisdom literature only: Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon). As I was waiting for Jackie to get off work, I began reading Mr. Peterson's introduction to Job. He talked about how Job speaks to all of us in that Job suffered without doing anything to deserve what was happening to him. We can understand and even expect to have bad things happen when we have committed some crime or some sin, but we are also all very familiar with having done nothing wrong and yet having bad things happen. This is the story of Job.

It got me to thinking. That is what my depression is like. There is no attributable cause for my depression, at least none that I can figure out. I've had no recent death in my family, no loss of job, no marital problems, no illness, no family troubles. It just comes on with the turning of the pages of the calendar. What did I do to deserve this? Job suffered for nothing he did to bring it on, others also Joseph as an example. You can argue that maybe he contributed to his brother's jealousy, but that surely was not just cause to be sold into slavery and his troubles continued and even multiplied from there.

Now I surely am no Job. In no way am I comparable to Joseph, but I can still surely relate to their questions as to why these things were happening to them. They couldn't understand. Above all in terms of suffering is our Messiah. While He did understand what was happening, those surrounding Him did not understand why He stood silently in front of His accusers. In all these cases though there actually was a reason for the troubles brought into these men's lives. They did not understand. When in the midst of it, it seemed invisible to them. They could not see, but there were reasons that made their seemingly pointless suffering necessary and in fact a great blessing to many.

Job's suffering, is first of all today a grand lesson and instructive for we all who read his life's story. What a jewel of the Bible the book of Job is. Secondly Job grew greatly due to his testing. Job was shown many things about himself, and gained a magnificent first hand encounter with God which would not have taken place without his tormenting and testing by Satan. There was a reason. Joseph lived to see firsthand many of the fruits of his awful suffering in the salvation of his family. His memory is revered and we still study his life and learn again and again great lessons from him, thousands of years after he lived.

Job and Joseph and to say nothing of Jesus. . .did not bring on themselves what happened to them in the physical, but huge spiritual victories were accomplished through their undeserved physical suffering. I can see a lesson for me in their lives. I do know, that if nothing else, I am growing through my depression. It does make me stronger. It is a battle. . .It is not fun, but if I can learn anything from Job, Joseph, and Jesus. . . there is a reason behind it all. . .

Thank you Lord. . .

Dave