I Am Not My Illnesses

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In yogic philosophy there is the concept of the known and the knower, or the field and the farmer. You observe your body, your mind, and your thoughts, but you know that is not who you are. The knower, your true self, is a soul with an inner, divine light who sees your body, mind and thoughts. Then, you cultivate and care for them.

The concept of a soul, or my true identity, was something I always struggled with. As a bipolar person, whenever I was going through a depressive episode, I was always told “that’s just part of your personality” or “that’s just who you are.” And that always hurt. I didn’t want I be the dark sides of “me,” whoever she was. If I was this monster I would certainly be doomed to my personal hell forever.

I discovered Speaking Bipolar and Bipolar Hope, then began sending articles that resonated with me to my friends and loved ones. After sending one article to my mother, she explained she did not know that what I was experiencing as a “negative personality trait” or a “negative personality” was actually a symptom of bipolar, or an illness. It was not something that I was, like having fibromyalgia.

None of my family would define me as a “fibromyalgian” or a fibro, but they would probably all say I’m bipolar and not a person with bipolar. Chronic pain may have a huge grip on my life, but it is not something others define me by, let alone experience with me. Bipolar has been more damaging due to its impact on my relationships and led to developing medically induced lupus. So, yeah. The body follows the mind.

But my body and mind are not who I am. Who I am is the unchanging essence who comes from the Divine God who created the universe. I am God’s child. This is who I always was and who I will always be. The concept of this gives me great peace. Now, I can tend to my field better.

In Memory of George Floyd

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Few things have saddened me more in recent days than the unjust murder of George Floyd. First is his death, and second is the response certain Americans have given to the type of protest seen in Minnesota, including the mocking of it.

“It was wrong for him to die but it was also wrong of THEM to riot and burn a Target,” some Americans say.

Who are these THEM? Why are we devolving into US vs THEM language again?

Because it’s about control.

The African American community has been ushered into oppression for hundreds of years. No matter what form of protest they attempt, it’s seen as wrong – taking a knee during sporting events, to now riots. How are they to be heard?

Most people I see denouncing the riots claim to be Christians. I came across this tweet on my Facebook timeline this morning and it makes a solid point:

As someone who is a Christian and familiar with this specific text, I wanted to take a closer look at it, because having some theological background really hits this tweet home.

John 2:13-25

Jesus Clears the Temple Courts

13 When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. 14 In the temple courts he found people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. 15 So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. 16 To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!” 17 His disciples remembered that it is written: “Zeal for your house will consume me.”[c]

18 The Jews then responded to him, “What sign can you show us to prove your authority to do all this?”

19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.”

20 They replied, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you are going to raise it in three days?” 21 But the temple he had spoken of was his body. 22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples recalled what he had said. Then they believed the scripture and the words that Jesus had spoken.

23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name.[d] 24 But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. 25 He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.

Okay, why are you reading this?

Well, let’s examine what exactly these temple courts might have been. Some theologians, such as the biblical historian Ray Vander Laan, speculate that the temple courts mentioned were the Gentile Courts, where the Gentiles were allowed to worship JHVH in the temple.

Jesus was enraged not only by God’s house being used as a market, but also by the specific place where the money changers were conducting business – the Gentiles could not worship God there in peace. This was ethnic injustice.

So, what did Jesus do? He rioted. Literally.

You could be wrong about the Gentile thing.

But even if I’m not, Jesus did literally do that whole riot thing. He turned over money changing tables. Cash was lost. Is that theft? What is that? Is that looting?

You are thinking in a worldly, not heavenly mindset.

Yes, Jesus alludes to raising Himself from the dead and us all having eternal life through Him. But that didn’t stop Him from action while He was on Earth, as we should not waste our time here.

I think it’s also important to note that nobody understood Jesus when he said, “Destroy this temple, and I will raise it again in three days.” We often misunderstand each other. These gross misunderstandings and exploitations of them are contributing factors of injustice.

You are saying controversial, ungodly things and people will unfollow you.

Yes, I am. But I’m saying them in one of the few ways I know how. And I must say something.

Hebrews 1:3

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On zoom a very good friend of mine and I have a bible study for just the two of us almost every day. It’s a good way to keep connected, learn more about ourselves, each other, and Jesus.

Right now we are studying Philippians and one of the last questions for the study yesterday was something along the lines of how you learned where you needed to improve and how you could implement it.

I struggle with being joyful, and I told my friend that perhaps being reminded of the joy I have in the Lord would help me. Maybe I could have visual reminders?

Next I recounted an anecdote about Stephen Colbert and how he supposedly kept Hebrews 1:3 on his computer monitor.


The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of majesty in heaven.

Hebrews 1:3 NIV

I could try sticky notes around my office space. Then my friend texted me the verse.

Hebrews 1:3 is pretty deep. It reminds me of the sun and moon, how the sun nourishes all living things and we can walk by night by the moon’s reflection of the sun. And both of these heavenly bodies are, well, in heaven. I know it doesn’t mean that at all most likely and means more than that, but this is an allegory that comes to mind.

Jesus is powerful, and he loves you tenderly. Have a little joy in your heart from that! I’ll try to have some in mine.

Issues With Christian Dating

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As a recovering Christian who still loves Jesus but objects to large parts of the fundamentalist Christian culture I was raised in, I have some reflections on Christian dating in the light of what’s going on in my personal life.

Most people know that back in ancient times, the 1980s, many people didn’t cohabit. Nowadays for the most part people do cohabit, even if they are Christians. Not so if they fall on the fundamentalist evangelical spectrum, or if they have something to hide.

This makes dating a bit like a high-stakes game of poker. You put on a poker face with the intent that if you bid all, you win all, and you’re able to feed yourself at the end of the night.

In this poker round, you are both the player and your bid. You view your date as the pot. Likewise, your date sees themselves as the player and the bid and you as the pot. What I’m trying to say is, you’re both greedy, hungry, anticipatory, and there’s more than fun and games going on here from the minute you message someone on OK Cupid. You’re objectifying each other. Is this person a good mother? Will he be a good provider? Is he a spiritual leader? Will we make a good home together? What will they give me?

What I’m trying to get at here is that there is no enjoyment of the other person for who they simply are, and there is no fun in dating.

For many high-anxiety types who come from fundamentalist homes, realizing the first time I just sat back and relaxed – or enjoyed myself – was a big deal. I was out of college and hiking on my neighborhood trail. I wasn’t analyzing anything, trying to grapple with hidden meanings, or attempting to ascertain whether I deserved to be viewing nature in all its glory or not. Nature was her own thing. She was cool all by herself. She didn’t serve me. I wasn’t here to get anything out of her other than to see what was up. And, I wasn’t here to persuade nature of anything. I was just walking down a dirt trail, tripping over tree roots, getting sweaty and dirty, purely myself. It was the first time I had done something like this. And I enjoyed it for what it was.

Likewise, I believe healthy secular dating adopts this model. You message someone on Bumble because they seem interesting and you want to see what’s up. There are no wedding bells going off in your head at your first coffee meet up. All this is is a relaxation into a person. If the relaxation turns sharp and uncomfortable, you tell the person goodbye, and you ease on into the next phase of life, whether it involves another person for a while or not.

I’m not saying secular dating is without its pains and pitfalls, because anything involving human beings is messy. But I do believe it has far less dangers than the traditional Christian dating model.

Christian dating is, at its best, objectifying and idolizing, whereas secular dating is far more down to earth and honest. If you want to get to know someone, it’s best to see them as a human being instead of a potential spouse. More open conversations flow that way because there’s less stress and pressure.

I may be writing this because I’ve been burned, but I’ve had other girlfriends coming from fundamentalist evangelical homes echo my sentiments. At the end of the day, it’s up to you whether you want to walk down an aisle blindfolded or slowly acknowledge someone for who they are.

3 Mental and Spiritual Ways to Cope With a Pain Flare

When you’re stuck in a pain flare, it’s hard to envision the light at the end of the tunnel. Here are some small (albeit unorthodox) ways you can keep your head above the pain for perhaps a little while.

I’m keeping this list short due to the nature of pain flares. Some of you might be frustrated with all the multitudes of things you think you have to try to get out of a pain flare. I will tell you that some of these might help for only some of you, but these are generally good practices. There are no magic wands to make pain flares go away, but there are ways to make us feel more comfortable.

Why I’m Using Spiritual and Psychological Techniques

Generally, pain flares affect your mood, and your mood affects your pain flare. It’s like a dog chasing its tail that catches it and devours itself. Without cultivating positivity, escaping your pain flare is postponed.

Using Your Mind and Spirit to Escape a Pain Flare

  1. Write down (or tell Siri) 3 things your grateful for.

Each day you’re in a pain flare, take out your journal, your phone’s notepad app, a video or voice recording app, or if you can’t move, tell Alexa, Siri, or Google Assistant 3 things you’re grateful for. Pain flares are tiring, and 3 is all you need right now. No need for pages of gratitude to cultivate it.

2. Read your favorite book with a character you relate to the most. Let yourself cry.

If you relate the most to Jane Eyre and her suffering, read it. Relate to how tragic her life is. Throw a pity party and sob. You need the emotional release, but above all else, you need to relate to someone on an intimate, internal, mental level. Your friends may not understand, but you can make a fictional character understand.

3. Connect to a higher power.

This can be your version of God, the Buddha, Jesus, or the Universe. Connect with the energy around you with meditation, prayer, bed yoga (you can find videos on YouTube), coloring mandalas on your phone, or reading holy texts. Knowing there is something bigger than you gives you the peace that you are taken care of and that the pain flare will go away.

This is a little list, and I wanted to keep it small – pain flares can be overwhelming, and someone on the internet screaming at you to do 12 things might make you upset because you can’t get out of bed. You’re most likely phone surfing from your bed. But pain is cyclical, and this too will pass. Hugs to you.

Gasping for Air

Many times I wake up at 2 or 3 AM gasping for air. It takes me a few minutes to catch my breath. The whole time this is going on, my husband is fast asleep beside me, oblivious to the world.

I don’t know what a marriage is, other than it’s a struggle. Sometimes huge explosions happen in a seemingly innocent manner after dinner to be repaired in the kitchen in the morning. There are those times when the explosions last for weeks. Usually that’s because I can hold a pretty hefty grudge.

I don’t want to put myself down. I don’t wanna put anybody down. But it’s down to yourself to get up out of the muck and mire.

Jesus said, “Pick up your mat and walk!” If you want it, you have to receive it.

Those are my thoughts of the day.

These thoughts are echoed in my book, It’s Okay, Magic Happens, available in print and as an e-book.

Handling Church Communications During COVID-19

For the past 10 years, I have been the Media Director for a small rural church that is somewhere between 119-120 years old. In American years, that’s super old for a church in the middle of nowhere away from the East and West coasts.

I began this volunteer position because my father is the preaching minister at this church, and a hobby of mine as a preteen and teen was learning HTML and CSS. I also enjoyed teaching myself graphic design and software tools for fun. Yes, I was a nerd. Before the days of YouTube I was on LiveJournal reading tutorials on how to use GIMP and Coral.

The church did not have a functional website, so one day in my senior year of high school, I simply decided I was going to build them one.

I have built 3 iterations of the website since, and they have all been progressively better. In addition to web building, I added on social media, which has been crucial to the church’s growth and sense of community.

So why am I talking about this and COVID?

Well, social distancing has forced pretty much everyone with a level head to quarantine. Worried about the future of the church, many churches have turned to live-streaming.

Now, all over the internet I have seen Christians bash churches going online, and I want to say, shame on you!

I am immune suppressed, and the majority of the congregation I serve is over 60 or under 2 years old – the most vulnerable populations. Never would I ever spit on wanting to keep any of these precious people safe in the pursuit of personal holiness, such as not being afraid of no virus!

Hello, there’s more than just you on this planet!

This attitude is what makes me afraid of living in the Bible belt, that my fellow Christians are going to kill everyone else off.

So, to go back to my congregation. We are less than 40 people in size, and most people are technology illiterate. The best can use Facebook and go to a website on their smartphones. Most don’t have laptops or a desktop. Many don’t have smartphones or email. The ones who do have Facebook have been posting wild conspiracy theories.

What too many churches and Christians I’ve seen online is that they take their technology for granted, as well as their urban and suburban settings. Not all churches have Twitter accounts, or laser shows, or a stereo setup in their buildings. Some flat out don’t want a few of those things.

I’d like to shed some light that the US is not the most technologically advanced country in the world. There are internet and cellular dead zones 45 minutes away from major cities – this is where the church I volunteer for is and where I grew up. People manage without it. Living there was like a time warp back 50 years, and when I moved away I hardly didn’t know what to do with myself.

Nowadays, rich folks have discovered the area, and things are slowly starting to change. But most of the people at the church are still technologically illiterate, although some of the newcomers work in IT.

My father’s question was, how do we keep the church together, how do we keep them uplifted, and how do we keep them safe while in quarantine?

We had never live-streamed before. Until about 2009 media wasn’t used at all during service – just a basic PowerPoint. The answer we knew was to livestream, however, we had to get the word out, and to convince the deacons of the church live-streaming was the answer.

After setting up and testing technology for a live-stream, my father successfully received approval from the deacons. Next was to communicate to the congregation what was going on.

We decided to use Zoom for our live-stream, because people without internet could phone in and listen to the service. That way, everyone was included. The rest of my team and I took to social media, Canva, and various word editors to create attractive, clear and concise graphics, letters, and emails to send out to the congregation. My mom called all 40 people in the congregation.

It’s been all hands on deck and none of us has gotten a break. This is to say, if your church is actively trying to communicate with you in any shape or form during the COVID quarantine, please be grateful to them. It isn’t easy on them, and they’d rather not be quarantined either – but we’re all in this together.

2am Pain Flare Prayer Time Reflections

Crown of thorns with text “Exploring faith and pain”

Very often I wake up at 2am in intense pain. The pain continues until sunrise; I’m unable to fall back asleep. I do many things while the pain has set on. Mainly I read, write, and design. My largest comfort by far is prayer and some light Bible reading.

I wrote a piece for the Mighty entitled How My Faith Gives Me Comfort and Companionship With Chronic Illness about this phenomenon, how I read through the Gospels aloud and cry, knowing the Savior himself also had chronic pain for his last time on Earth. We serve a God who was disabled in the flesh for a time as a human being, yet was still perfect. I can’t think of a greater comfort.

Tonight I started out by thanking God for the gift of his son Jesus, for giving me someone I could always relate to. Someone who could show me I did not have to strive to be accepted, to be loved, to love myself back, even in the midst of all this pain I was in in the middle of a world that did not understand me.

Perhaps this is something of what it means in John 1 where it is written: “The Light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.”

Possibly very obviously so, as no one understood Jesus and he understood what was in a person, so he understands us when no one understands us.

As I contemplate these things after my prayer of thanksgiving for the Christ and the intricacies of my husband, I felt the pain lift a little after a while. Miraculous healing or redirecting of the mind? Probably both. God gives us peace and hope when we focus on Him.

Peace be with you,

M. O’Shea

Reflection

I follow the Memes for Jesus page. One time I actually messaged them and got no response.

Recently I thought of a meme about PKs, or preachers kids. Often times in the comments of the Instagram page people seem to have the idea that the PK does whatever they want. That wasn’t my experience.

My idea was that PKs on the inside were the song Reflection from Mulan. In the song, Mulan expresses sadness and anxiety for perceiving to not live up to her family’s expectations. Generally all PKs I know are balls of perfectionism and anxiety, whether they end up functional or heroin addicts, Christian or otherwise. This is a mix of expectations from their parents congregation and expectations of their parents to be perfect examples of Jesus to the community.

I still grapple much with my upbringing and my faith. There’s a lot I wish were different, but you do the best you can with what you have.

Sometimes all you have is six chords and the truth or a bible and your tears, and that’s enough.

Whatever enough for you is, know that you are worthy, no matter who your mother or your daddy was.

Being Well When We’re Ill: Round 1

I’ve had Being Well When We’re Ill, a Christian take on Chronic Illness by the theologian Marva J. Dawn for a week now. I was wary of it at first, as the first two chapters are rather dark, speaking to the soul of a downtrodden spoonie, and this I understand. I often cry out in writing to other chronically ill and disabled people in the hopes of touching someone else – and Marva does exactly that.

Marva herself has multiple illnesses and at times is a wheelchair user. Still, she does many wonderful things. She travels to speak at conferences, sings, teaches children, and still goes on missions trips! The book quickly becomes uplifting and a delight to read, while still staying doctrinally sound while never being preachy. The book is full of tenderness while explaining some basic tenets of Christianity, as if she is grabbing a long time Christian and slowly guiding them home to comfort, or bringing a new visitor in and seating them home on the couch.

There are many golden nuggets in this book and I’m not quite a third of the way in yet, but this gem made me smile from my lower belly up to my retinas:

“Author Flannery O’Connor (1925-1964) is known for her novels and short stories dealing with people’s vain attempts to escape God’s grace. Before she died of the lupus that crippled her for the last 10 years of her life, she recorded some of her struggles in letters to friends. In one letter to Louise Abbot she wrote,

‘I think that there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. A faith that just accepts is a child’s faith and all right for children, but eventually you have to grow religiously as every other way, though some never do.

What some people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than to not believe…

Whatever you do anyway, remember that these things are mysteries and that if they were such that we could understand them, they wouldn’t be worth understanding. A God you understood would be less than yourself.

… I don’t set myself up to give spiritual advice but all I would like you to know is that I sympathize and I suffer this way myself. When we get our spiritual house in order, we’ll be dead…. you arrive at enough certainty to be able to make your way, but it is making it in darkness. Don’t expect faith to clear things for you. It is trust, not certainty.’

The spiritual practice of recognizing that Jesus called us to take up our cross (and not our teddy bear!) enables us to live with the uncertainty of abiding in faith. Even though we cannot know or feel with certainty, we can know the Trinity with trust because we participate in it with Jesus, whose cross conquered sin and death forever. That we know!” – Marva J. Dawn

As someone who has grappled with the idea of God on an emotional level since childhood, but still looked for him everywhere, searching until my heart broke and I left the faith to come back as an adult, I often felt defective. I never felt like a real Christian. But this passage maybe makes me believe I have credibility of a sort. We seek and we find, but what we find may all be different. For those of us with chronic illnesses, our finds may be drastically different!

I am looking forward to the rest of this book. For any other struggling Christians, I have a question so I know I’m not alone:

Have you watched the SNL movie Superstar? If you have, do you find Will Ferrell Jesus weirdly comforting? I always find the idea of God easier to grapple with after watching Will Ferrell Jesus. It’s weird. It’s irreverent. I know. Probably need to get my salvation card back from the library.

Recap:

Pocket full of starlight: “Happiness can be found in the darkest of times, if one only remembers to turn on a light.” – Albus Dumbledore

Pocket full of darkness – Was Albus Dumbledore just that kid who made one-liner witticisms in class? Then he grew up, became super old and grew a beard so instead of being that jerk in class people now think he’s wise?