Wednesday, June 19, 2013

A Christian Perspective on Bipolar Disorder

The Lord has given me an interest in many things that you've probably seen me write about on this blog--anywhere from evangelical feminism to mental health concerns and learning and processing disorders.  My interest in mental illness began during my sociology studies in college.  Since then, God has brought many people into my life who have shared their stories and lives with me.  

A few years ago, I read the book The Mind has Mountains: Reflections on Society and Psychiatry by Dr. Paul R. McHugh.  It was a wonderful book that gave me much food for thought about mental health and our society.  If you haven't read it, I'd highly recommend it.  Dr. McHugh goes against the grain of popular thinking in this book and examines the truth of what he saw in his patients.  He was the head of the school of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University for a time.  

Since then, I've read a few other books about mental health, including PTSD: Wounded Warrior, Wounded Home by Marshele Carter Waddell and Kelly Orr, PhD., A Stubborn Darkness by Ed Welch about depression, and Borderline Personality Disorder: A Scriptural Perspective by Cathy Wiseman.  All are books that I would recommend.

Back in February, Shepherd Press published a new book written by Charles D. Hodges, M.D., about 
Depression and Bipolar Disorder, Good Mood Bad Mood.  I was very curious to read it. This book by Shepherd Press is very different than the other books I've mentioned, yet also shares some things in common with them.  It is different because it is focusing specifically on Depression and Bipolar Disorder.  But, it is similar in that it examines what our society says about mental health and the causes of mental illnesses.  Good Mood Bad Mood examines, over the course of the book, the history of Bipolar Disorder, formerly called Manic Depression.  This book examines the thinking of someone with bipolar disorder and how to view sadness in a new way.  

From what I understand, the primary difference between depression and bipolar disorder is that bipolar is characterized by ongoing depression with manic periods.  People who are diagnosed with depression do not typically experience the manic episodes, I believe.  This book uses the words depression and bipolar throughout the book.  At times, I felt a bit confused, but Hodges primary focus is on how to view the sadness which is applicable for people living with either depression or bipolar disorder.

I think this book has a lot of good things to add to the ongoing discussion of how to love people who live with bipolar disorder well and how to counsel them if one does pastoral or biblical counseling.  I don't feel it is a complete picture, but there is a lot of great food for thought in it.  One way to possibly view this book is for someone who lives with Bipolar Disorder II or depression is as a tool to help answer this question: "what can I do to help myself if medication isn't working?"  This book's primary focus is on one's thinking, rather than on medication.  He digs deep into the purposes of sorrow and how God can use it in our lives to draw us closer to Him.  He goes to the Word and examines several stories that are relevant to this discussion.  I appreciated his insight and thoughts.

Dr. Hodges has seen many patients whose lives were only further complicated by medication, rather than helped.  I can understand this sentiment.  Our family physician once explained to me that if depression is biological, then a change in feeling should be seen within two weeks of beginning an antidepressant.  I have family members who have chosen to take medication and also others who have not.  I know that it has made a significant difference in the lives of those who have chosen to take medication. Several reviewers on Amazon commented about Dr. Hodges neglecting a discussion of medication and how it can help people.  I agree that I wish there had been more discussion of how medication can help and even how one can tell if it is helping (though that would likely cause some debate I'm sure).  

Unfortunately, what I had hoped for most in this book was not there--more help for people who love people suffering from Bipolar Disorder or depression.  That is a much needed discussion in the body of Christ.  

I am glad that Shepherd Press has published this book and I would recommend it.  I agree with Dr. Hodges that there many people today are too quick to think antidepressants are the answer to fixing their sadness rather than looking at their own hearts and patterns of thinking.    So, in the case of someone who has a melancholy personality and has not been helped by antidepressants, this book could be helpful.  But, I think this book is a place to start one's understanding and other information is needed as well.  

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Shepherd Press.

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Final Installment

I find prequels disconcerting.  For example, I can't bring myself to watch the new movie, The Hobbit.  I loved the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but Gollum and Bilbo Baggins make me cringe.  In the case of The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkein wrote it prior to the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, but since I didn't read it first, it would be like watching a prequel since I've already seen the trilogy movies.  

It's an interesting thing to me when authors write prequels to books after they've written books that come later in the story's timeline.  Sometimes they can be hard to follow and figure out.  Usually, a prequel starts and stops before the previously written story begins.  In the case of a book I read recently, the author began the story as a prequel and then wove the story line into the stories of the previous two books in the trilogy.  

The book is Slow Moon Rising, by Eva Marie Everson.  Ms. Everson and I had an interesting dialogue via Chasing Sunsets.  I read her second novel because of that discussion and enjoyed it more than the first.  This is the final book that completes that trilogy.
the comments on my review of the first book in this trilogy,

Slow Moon Rising begins with the story of Ross and Anise.  Ross is twenty years senior to Anise, but they fall in love and wed in a short time.  Then the story touches on some events from the first and second novels and then moves forward to events that happen after the second novel.  This novel is about healing and truth.  Human lives are messy and no one's perfect.  Neither are the characters in this book.  There will likely be characters you like and others that may grate on your nerves as they did on mine.  

Ms. Everson is a competent, Christian fiction writer.  It is easy to follow the storyline of this novel and understand what was going on.  It felt at times as if she was trying to tie together too many subplots in this book as it wrapped up.  But, it does come together.  This book is difficult to review without reviewing too much of the plot and details.

If you enjoy family dramas in Christian fiction, you may enjoy this trilogy.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book from Revell Publishing for review.

A Different Sort of Parenting Book

I enjoy reading parenting books and over the past ten years I've found a few that I love (Shepherding a Child's Heart, Journey of a Strong Willed Child, Growing Grateful Kids).  But, in all that time, my husband hasn't read any.  Typically, they aren't written in a style that he enjoys.   I should note that he has also only found two books on marriage that he has enjoyed reading (Mike Mason's book on Marriage and John Piper's book, This Momentary Marriage).  Christian Parenting and Marriage books are often written very similarly.  They often have a lot of formulas in them... "If you do this, then..."  And they can feel very fluffy and feel good, while not getting at the heart of the manner.  They can also come off as a huge dose of "self improvement, feel good" teaching.  I've read many that fit these statements.

But this weekend, I actually found a Christian "parenting" book of sorts that my husband is interested in reading.  And surprisingly, so am I.  We rarely read the same books.  He is drawn to literary, vocabulary rich writing.  I am drawn to simple, succinct thoughts.  I appreciate good writing, but can get bogged down in too much vocabulary from days of old.  My husband, on the other hand, thrives on it.  My husband loves poetry.  Typically, I do not.  So, it truly is surprising for me to find a book for parents that we are both drawn to.

The book is Little Lamb, Who Loves Thee?  by Walter Wangerin Jr.  It was
published first in the '90s and then revised and expanded about ten years ago in 2004.  I came across this book quite by accident.  It wasn't given to me.  No one had ever told me about it.  I don't know anyone who's even read it.  I found it when I was sifting through the boxes of clearance books at a local discount store.  I didn't have any particular reason for picking it up.  I recognized the author as one my husband has enjoyed before.  It also happened to only be a dollar.  So, I decided to take a chance.

When I got home, I read the introduction and was convicted.  This man expressed what I desire for my children and have realized is vitally important for their lives.  They need to laugh.  Laugh so hard that they cry.  Laugh with us and build bonds that will hold them steady through their lifetimes.  Enjoy the childhood that God has given them.  This introduction is nothing like cotton candy.  Rather, it is a small portion of creme brulee--to be savored and remembered.

You can read the introduction of the book on Amazon.  But, you have to search by the ISBN 0310248264
You can find the book HERE.  For some reason, if you search by the title, only the old version comes up, which doesn't have the introduction that I love so much.  

Last night, my husband said to me that he thinks this may be only the second "parenting" book he ever reads.  Which is funny, because he didn't "read" the first.  I read sections of Shepherding a Child's Heart to him in the car a long time ago.  He shared with me that Wangerin's words don't feel fluffy to him.  When Wangerin is talking about the self-confidence kids need, he isn't talking about self esteem.  He's talking about a security in who they are--understanding that they are loved and who they are because God made them.  ... "Little Lamb, Who Loves Thee?"

My husband once said to me that people can learn as much from stories as they can from non-fiction.  I think that's the case with this book.  If you get a chance to read the introduction, I hope you'll enjoy it as I have!

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Thoughts on Marriage

I enjoy memoirs and books about marriage.  So, I was very curious to read the new book Joni and Ken, An Untold Love Story, a collaboration between Larry Libby, Joni Earekson Tada, and Ken Tada.  

The story begins with Joni's diagnosis of breast cancer in 2010.  Then, it jumps back and forth in time to share bits and pieces from Ken and Joni's life together.  At first, I found myself very puzzled as I read.  The stories would stop and start quickly and abruptly.  "Where are we going?"  I found myself wondering.

Then I came up with analogy that helped me.  Reading the book is like looking at someone's baby book.  Usually, there are one or two pictures for each milestone.  Each picture is a snippet, not the whole story.  Pictures usually reflect significant memories.  When looking at a photo album, you'll often flip back and forth through the pages and in time as the album does.  This book does the same thing, moving back and forth.
I expected to enjoy reading this book, but I found that I didn't.  Instead, I found myself with more questions than understanding and encouragement.  I struggled to follow the train of thought because of how the book was organized and the ebook version I read didn't allow me to easily flip back and forth.  

But, my concerns about this book extend beyond its organization.  By the end, I was able to identify a few things that struck me about this particular memoir about marriage, but they are difficult to share because this couple loves the Lord and I do not want to criticize them in any way.  I am very aware that Joni and her ministry have been deeply encouraging to millions of people.   In America's Christian culture, Joni qualifies as a celebrity.  She tells several stories in the book of being recognized everywhere she goes by people.  Ken talks of recognizing that he was marrying a celebrity when they were engaged.  And clearly, she and her husband, Ken, love the Lord.


I found that I couldn't identify with her perspective on life.  It isn't because she's disabled and I'm not.  She has a different view of suffering than I do.  She talks of her perspective in this online interview from Tabletalk.  There is suffering in this world because there is sin in the world.  I remember David Jeremiah talking about his cancer when someone asked him why it happened to him.  His response was, "Why not me?"  This life is not easy.  Jesus said in John 16:33 "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."  Joni has been an example to many of how to endure ongoing suffering and chronic pain by leaning upon the strength of the Lord.  

But, sometimes suffering is because of sin.  The point isn't always simply to draw closer to God.  Sometimes there are lessons for us in regard to our own role in the suffering we are experiencing.  Sometimes suffering is because we are enabling someone else to sin as well.  That isn't okay either.  We are responsible for our own actions if we are enabling someone else to sin.  (Ezekiel 3:18).  

In the case of a marriage, our own sin and our spouse's sin may require us to repent and apologize.  This was one aspect of marriage and suffering not mentioned in this book.  Instead, Joni quickly shifts to focusing on enduring the suffering rather than addressing repentance and apologizing in the stories she tells.  Learning to apologize has been very important to my husband and I in our marriage.  Learning how to take responsibility for our part and not the whole thing.  Learning how to process afterwards and share openly and honestly so that hurts might heal...  I know that I am sensitive to the importance of this aspect of marriage, because it has been a hard lesson for me (and one that I'm still learning to practice!).  

Another aspect of marriage not discussed was what it means for two to become one.  As the story is told, it seems as if Joni had (and still has) her ministry and life and makes her plans.  Ken also had his life--teaching and coaching for the first twenty-five years of their marriage.  Their lives intersected on weekday evenings--or at least that seems from the snapshots in the book.  I honestly couldn't tell what it meant to them that two become one from the stories of their marriage prior to Joni's cancer diagnosis.  Yet, at one point their transcript from an interview with Dr. James Dobson mentions that they saw themselves as one.  This was where I felt puzzled, as I mentioned earlier in the post.  I was left with more questions than understanding.  

After finishing and reflecting on this book, I don't think I'd recommend it, because from my perspective it tells a very uneven view of marriage.  

Please note that I received a complimentary ebook copy of this book from Zondervan for review.  

Monday, June 3, 2013

What do you do with the past?

In some ways, we have to understand our pasts and come to terms with them.  Sometimes the people who have shaped us will apologize and take ownership for their mistakes and sometimes they won't  What do you do when they don't?  Or won't?

A friend shared with me recently that it's hard to forgive when the person you need to forgive won't apologize or repent.  Sometimes that is the case.  Yet, we're still called to forgive--as Christ has forgiven us.  I think that can be really hard.

Two weeks ago, I read a fictional novel that explored this idea.  It was Irene Hannon's new novel That
Certain Summer.  The story centers on two sisters, Karen and Val.  Karen has stayed close to home and cares for her mother and her teenage daughter, while coping with working full-time and being newly divorced.  Val has left the nest and run far away, intentionally.  She became a high school drama teacher.  Karen needs Val to come home for the summer to take care of their manipulative and draining mother while she cares for her own daughter who has a gymnastics injury.

A lot of the story works out as typical Christian fiction does.  There's the neatly wrapped up ending and the redemption of several characters in the book.  There's the prodigal returning to faith in the Lord.  There's romance and healing.

But, what I think is worth focusing on in this book is the theme.  The theme of forgiveness and healing.  Forgiveness of others and of one's self.  Val ran away on purpose.  But, she knows she needs to face her pain, so she comes home.  She and Karen clear out the boulders that were placed between them by their mother who demeaned them both when they grew up.  This same mother that expects them to care for her.  At one point in the book, there is a glimpse into her hardness and after that the mom tries a little.  The author does not intimate that there was a change in her heart with regard to the Lord.  Just that she makes some minor changes and tries to hold her tongue a bit more.

Val needs to forgive herself and accept God's love.
Karen needs to forgive her sister, her mom, and her ex-husband.
Their mom...  well, she doesn't think she needs to be forgiven because she doesn't see anything wrong with what she's done.  That doesn't change.
So, what do Val and Karen need to do?  What are they called to do?

This book explores this theme.  There are no discussion questions for this book.  I wish there were.
So, here are a few of my own.

Is there someone in your life that you know you need to forgive?  Have they admitted their mistake(s)?
Have they apologized?  Do you realize the depth of how Christ has forgiven you?

Who do you identify with in this story?  Why?  Do you think Karen and Val made the right choices during these summer months?  How does Karen begin to take responsibility for her own life?

Do you think we can change our own hearts?  How does God change our hearts?  How has God changed your heart?  Has there been a time in your life when you did not want to forgive someone, yet God worked out forgiveness in your heart anyways?

I think it is very difficult to forgive someone who doesn't think they need to be forgiven.  I think we can only truly forgive with God's help when we grasp how much we have to be forgiven of ourselves.

I also think there are a lot of parents like Val and Karen's mom.  There have been several in my own ancestry.  Our culture tells us that we should blame our parents for our problems.  It's tempting.  We have to take responsibility for our own decisions.  Once you become an adult, you have to face your past and move on (or at least I think so).  The past will periodically come back up and you have to deal with it.  But, you can't live in it.  If you try, it will paralyze you and cause you to grow bitter and resentful.  It will steal your joy.

I know the ending is tied up a little too neatly.  Everyone gets the happy ending that you want them to get.  The characters grow and learn.  Still, I think the theme of this book is worth pondering.  Sometimes fiction books can help us examine our hearts and struggles in ways that nonfiction books cannot.  Stories can speak to our hearts in a very special way.

Please note that I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Revell Books.