A “Minor” Sin

There has been an awful lot on my mind, recently. So much that it has been difficult to pick something to write on. I suppose I will talk a bit about sin. Sin is a very two sided topic. On the one hand, even the smallest sin, all by itself, is enough for God to righteously send us to hell. On the other hand, God Himself became incarnate in Jesus Christ to bring to us salvation not only from the small sins but indeed from all sins. The path to salvation includes repentance. Repentance must be continuous, but it is always flawed as we are a flawed people. I want to share an anecdote about my process of repentance.

A couple weeks ago, a man came to my house asking if I had any special plans for home improvement projects. I mentioned that I did and what I wanted to do, so he said he’d send someone round to give me an estimate.

A few days later the second person came. It was as if he were selling vacuums. It was plain that every word this man spoke was a lie. He may have said a few true things, but it would only have been a coincidence. This was a full blown “Hard Sell”. He reminded me of a man who once tried to get me to join his pyramid scheme.

Now recently, a family member of mine had very serious health issues (By God’s grace this family member is now perfectly fine). I gave the lying salesman limited details of my relative’s health issues and told him that I had to get going that very moment. This was only partially true. On the one hand, a close family member did indeed have the health issues I mentioned to the liar, but on the other hand, he’d get along just fine without me and did not require any immediate attention. I just said that to get this liar out of my house. It worked. He scampered off. He tried to get me to reschedule, but I continued my deception and said that I didn’t have time for that. So far, no one has called back.

Initially, I was quite proud of myself, for my scheme. But soon, I realized that this was sin. I lied. I had told mostly truth, but I misrepresented its meaning and certainly, there was no need for me to leave my home at that moment as I implied there was. But then an interesting thing happened.

No one else could find any fault in my actions. When I mentioned that I shouldn’t have lied, I kept getting responses like “but he deserved it”, or “You didn’t really lie, you just told him true things in a way that it got him out of your house.” This is interesting. As to the first point, while I am no judge of such things, I would rather expect it’s true that this man deserved to be lied to. He was, after all, doing a lot of lying himself. But I don’t see me as righteous for carrying that out. In the scriptures, Nebuchadnezzar was used as God’s judgment on Judah to punish them for their sins. But that didn’t make Nebuchadnezzar a good guy. He was brutal in his conquest and that was probably a sin, even if God did use it for His own purposes.

As another illustration, I mentioned earlier that all sins are enough to make the sinner deserving of hell. So any sin makes a man worthy of death. We know that all are sinners, so it stands to reason that if I murdered someone, that person would have deserved to die anyway. The problem with this, is that it is not for me to hand out punishment or mercy. If I were to murder someone, I would be a murderer, guilty of an absolutely horrible sin. The fact that the victim’s sin warrants death is irrelevant because I am not God. This is an extremely long way of saying “Two wrongs don’t make a right”.

To the other point, then. It was said that I did not actually lie. Perhaps I am wrong here, but even if everything I said were technically true (which may be the case. I’m pretty good at avoiding outright falsity), the whole point of my communication was to create a non genuine reason to leave my house immediately and not deal with the liar. The fact is, if not for this guy in my house, I would not have left to go see my relative. If anything, I visited my relative because I had someone lying to me, not because my relative needed any support.

So what’s the point of all this? Even if I am right and I sinned, it’s probably a relatively minor sin. Why harp on it? I see this as a place in which I can grow and become a better man. If I sit and dwell on my sins and nothing else, I despair. There is no gain in despair and despondency. But if I see how horrible all my sins are, and see that even my common minor sins are absolutely horrible, I have an opportunity to reflect on Christ. I need to take that opportunity. Christ became incarnate and lived a perfect life, was murdered, and rose from the dead. He “Trampled down death by death”. The more horrible I realize my sin to be, the more glorious and exciting this truth of Christ’s resurrection is.

Another benefit is that if I am complacent in my sins, I do not better myself in any way. If I think it’s OK to lie to people, I won’t strive to be more truthful. This is extremely practical. I have no interest in remaining the same for my whole life. I’ve never really done that and it sounds miserable. I always want to become a better man. I want who I am today to be a better man that I was yesterday. I always want that. Often, I feel shame about silly things I did when I was younger. The shame probably isn’t the best thing to feel, but I’m encouraged that at any given point, I find myself from a year prior to be embarrassingly behind where I am now. That means I’m growing. How could I ever keep becoming better if I did not take an honest assessment of my own sins.

I may talk about my own sin a lot, but that’s not a reason to hate myself. It’s useful to my ambition to become a better man. In reality, I have done a lot of truly wonderful things for many people, by the grace of God. I need to remember that, too, and I even wrote a post about that. But the real growth happens in the desert.

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Death

I’ve mentioned to some people in the last few years that I don’t mind the thought of death as much as I used to. Given that I used to struggle with suicidal thoughts and intentions, this has worried my family a bit, but I am not suicidal. That’s not what I mean when I say I’m not as opposed to death as I could be. But let us start at the beginning.

When I was 13, I came very close to death. My spleen simply grew in the wrong shape, twisted and ruptured without even any physical trauma to set it off. That’s closer to death than a 13 year old can handle, and possibly also closer than most older people would handle well. I remember when my psychologist came to visit me, just to encourage me, I had a terrible fear that he would thrust his hands into my healing incision from the surgery and rip it apart, killing me. It was a graphic thought, and I didn’t know where it came from. I had no actual intellectual belief that he would ever do this, but the fear was very real. (It is worth mentioning that that psychologist was a very positive influence in my life and I appreciated and trusted him). Later, when I walked about outside, I had a fear that I would be shot by a sniper. I tried to stay inside as much as I could because I was afraid of being shot. Again, I cerebrally knew that this would never happen, but the fear was there. It was embarrassing with its disconnect with reality, but mostly it was terrifying.

I had found my religion at around that time, and when I told my friends who were also religious of my fear of death, they told me it made little sense, given that I would go to heaven as a believer (We were evangelicals, a section of Christianity that believes entrance into heaven is awarded solely for belief). This made logical sense to me at the time, (if death only brings pleasant things, why fear it?) but it did nothing to stay my fear.

A few years later, shortly after my 16th birthday, I was, for the first time, truly suicidal. I had always struggled with depression, but when I was fifteen it got worse, and now I had decided to die. Now, one might think that a suicidal person would not be afraid of death, for the obvious reason that they are seeking it. In my experience, that isn’t true. I was still terrified of death. Even as I walked down the stairs toward my intended weapon, I mourned my death as a horrible tragedy and did not look forward to it, despite the fact that I would have been the one effecting it.

Obviously, I lived. In the end, I chickened out, due to the pain. It wouldn’t be the last time that I lived solely because I didn’t like physical pain. I struggled greatly with fear of death throughout this. An important note about the nature of being suicidal is that, in my experience, it is true madness. I don’t like that word, but I always use it to describe being suicidal. There is nothing sane about those thoughts. At least not for me. Many see it as an escape of some sort, but I had never thought about it like that. I just seemed to get thoughts of death and want it for no concrete reason. All this time, I was terrified of it, largely because I had used to be an Atheist and had always had a hard time truly believing in the afterlife.

The first help I ever had with death was learning the skill called Radical Acceptance. It’s a Buddhist skill that has become rather popular in the mental health field in the States. Even though I am no Buddhist, I think they got this part right. The idea is to give up the struggle against reality. We all seem to will things that are untrue to be true. Radical Acceptance is to stop doing that. It doesn’t make pain disappear, but it makes it far less acute.

This helped to an extent, but Radical Acceptance is more of a way of tolerating horrible things than it is a solution. It actually goes far deeper than what I just stated, but I didn’t know that at the time and the deep route that I’ve taken it (also bringing it into Christianity) is worth its own post.

So now I was terribly afraid of death, but I could handle it by not fighting against the reality that I will eventually die. Then something amazing happened.

I started working a few years ago for my friend, Mike. He runs an amazing place called Recovery Academy here in Grand Rapids, Michigan. Mike taught me the skills I needed to succeed in the workplace and eventually I moved on to work for other places and advance my career. In the process I helped innumerable people recover and get their lives back after years and sometimes decades of suffering. A lot of young people want to change the whole world. Working in mental health taught me that it is more important to change individual people’s worlds. I realized that that was in large part what Jesus Himself did. Jesus did change the world as a whole, but He also radically transformed many individual lives so that those individuals could work together and form something great. In my work, I was united with Christ.

I then found something rather odd. I didn’t mind the idea of death. I don’t want to die or anything. Not at all. I’m having a blast here on earth doing what I do. But I’m less attached to it. I don’t fully understand it, but I think we just need to have done something that mattered before we’re ready to go. I’ve done something that really mattered. Now, I’m pretty young still. I probably have a lot of time to do more, but it’s OK, if I don’t. I have something to show for my time.

In a way, it’s almost odd that I’m still alive. My time working as a Peer Support came to an end and in a lot of ways, I have a fresh start. It’s like I have a second life to go play with. I think in this one, I’ll work with computers. I’m currently learning how to fix all the hardware issues and I’d also like to learn how to program them. I’m actually typing this while waiting for Visual Studio to install and I’m going to learn what I can about C#.

What makes all this thought about life and death even more interesting is that I’m no longer an evangelical. I think there’s more to being saved than just acknowledging a truth and moving on. According to my new beliefs, I cannot be 100% sure that death will lead to wonderful things for me. As always, however, my view of the afterlife doesn’t really affect how I feel about death.

So what’s the point of this long story? I suppose it helps to know that when I say I don’t fear death, I really think that means the opposite of being suicidal. But for others, I encourage you to do something with your life. It doesn’t have to be something that other people understand or value. Just something that matters. You’ll know when you’ve done it. And maybe, like me, you won’t be afraid anymore.

Med Change Part III

I suppose it’s about time I give another update on the med change. I previously wrote about the situation here and here. Last  wrote, things were going rather poorly, but I had stressed that this doesn’t mean the change would fail. due to the nature of the new med, I had to start it extremely slowly, meaning that for a time, I was on such as low dose as to not be therapeutic at all. Basically, I was a person with Bipolar Disorder, without a mood stabilizer for a time.

As my dose has approached the target level (as it did this week), I find myself coming back to normal. The struggles I’ve gone through recently have been more or less baseline for me. Of course, the goal of the med change was to improve the baseline, but we’re getting there. If nothing else, one of the effects of the medication is that I lost weight. That’s not so much an effect as the removal of the side effect of the previous med. The one I used to take made me crave food whether or not I was hungry. I was starting to get pretty heavy, especially after I quit smoking. Now that I don’t have that effect on my eating, my weight has gone down rather significantly in the last two months, given that I was too occupied to focus on it.

My doctor left me with plenty of room to increase the dose, so if needed I can increase the medication to potentially see much better effects, but I don’t think I will need to. I write this mostly to give hope to those going through a tough med change. Often it causes great suffering at first, but later it can lead to better things than you’ve ever had before.

As I met with my doctor today, I discussed my mania with her. She suggested that I am overly quick to assume that my energy is manic. I certainly seem quite energetic and giddy a lot, and I’ve assumed that that was my illness and my “true” self is rather serious and somber. Maybe it’s the other way around. Perhaps, my normal self is giddy and excitable and all over the place and it’s the illness that makes me all somber and overly serious. It’s very hard for me to know for sure, because unlike most with mental illness, I’ve suffered from it for nearly my entire life. Certainly as long as I can remember. Most have at least until mid teens to be healthy before they develop the disease. They have a better picture of the true baseline.

So I work to find my true self behind the illness. Perhaps just like a normal person, I have normal overly serious moods and normal overly excited moods. Maybe not all the things I think are broken about me are actually broken.

I do have actual depression and actual mania. My actual depression is deep enough that I sometimes find it impossible to get out of bed. Another sign of depression was the lack of posting on this blog for almost all of December. Some have suggested that my actual mania consists of my irritability. I can get extremely irritable and angry with the whole world for no reason at all. That’s mania.

So that’s a lot of good news for today. I know that I’m stabilizing with the meds, that I’m losing weight, and that I’m not quite as crazy as I thought. I’ll take it.

Saint Dymphna

I suppose I have an odd name. I’ve never heard it for anyone other than me, at least not in the form that I have it. For those too lazy to read the About page, my name is Damhan, and then it has a confusing pronunciation. I wasn’t always called this. At birth, I was given a different name, after a prince in a great story who became a much better man than he started as. When I became a Christian, I found that it is the custom to find a patron saint and take his or her name as your own. Most pick a patron with the same name so as to avoid the confusion of changing names. I, however, was already attached to Saint Dymphna (Originally Damhnait). Let me tell you about her.

Saint Dymphna was born to an Irish chieftain who was pagan (an oddity at that time), named Damon and his Christian wife. When Dymphna was young, her mother died, leaving her father grief stricken to the point of losing his sanity. (I’ve seen this happen to young widows and widowers, and it is well known that often someone very old will simply die shortly after their spouse dies). Seeking a bride as beautiful as his late wife, Damon found no one up to his standards.

Dymphna was much like her mother. She became Christian shortly before her mother’s death and developed a particular devotion to the Theotokos (Saint Mary, the God bearer). Inspired by the mother of God, Dymphna took a vow of chastity and virginity. Dymphna was stunningly beautiful and looked quite like her mother. Damon, in his madness, sought to marry his own daughter.

Dymphna fled to Belgium with her spiritual father and a few others. Being saintly, however, she created a ministry among the people nearby and performed wonders. She was tracked fairly quickly and within a year her Damon killed Dymphna’s spiritual father and demanded that his daughter marry him. When she refused, he cut off her head.

But the story does not end with Dymphna’s death. It only gets more interesting at this point. Dymphna had been near the village of Geel (or Gheel) and the people there, knowing she had been a saint, buried her remains. As people came to venerate her, wonders began to happen and most frequently, people were healed of mental illness or nervous disorders. Eventually, they built a church and named it after St. Dymphna.

Over time, people came to the church for healing from mental illness in particular and the village overflowed with pilgrims, so they built a sanitarium. Eventually, even that could not keep all the pilgrims seeking mental wellness, so the people of Geel started taking people into their own homes to minister to them. This has been done even to this day and even now, the people of Geel, in honor of St. Dymphna who died over a millennium ago, take care of those suffering from mental illness. I long to go to Geel someday and meet these people and see the church. I hope to see the relics of my patron saint there. (They moved her relics to the church when it was built.)

Saint Dymphna captures two of my greatest loves: Christianity, and mental health treatment. Even though she lived only to the age of fifteen, she has inspired over a thousand years of people to carry on a ministry for the sick.

According to tradition, when a Christian finds a patron saint, he takes that saint’s name. I would have been named Dymphna, but my godfather told me to take a male name, so I took the male form of Dymphna. The original name is Damhnait in Irish. The male form is Damhan. The names are the diminutive form of the Irish word for “Stag”, so “Little stag” or simply “Fawn”, would be the meaning. It is often Anglicized to Gavin of all things, but I chose the original, partially because I’m a purist in such things, and also because I have a lot of Irish heritage. (I’m more than half Irish by ancestry). When I hear the word “Damhan”, I think, not only of myself as it is my name, but also of my patron saint, Dymphna and her works and legacy, because it is also her name. It is a pleasant reminder.

I quickly googled a couple links for further reading. Most of the information is in the first link. I provided to second (even though it is very short) because it’s an Orthodox Wiki with hyperlinks for those interested in learning about related matters.

https://natlshrinestdymphna.org/site/?page_id=11
http://orthodoxwiki.org/Dymphna