Aunt Sadie’s Encouragement

~~ Philippians 4:13 (NKJV) ~~   I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

by Carley Cooper

Aunt Sadie & Carla (early 1990's)
Candid Photo Shot by Marj Cooper
I have a plaque that is about 7.5” x 5”, and it has one of those little flaps on the back, like a picture frame, that allows you to stand it on a table top or shelf.  The front of it is a sliver plate, with the bible verse from Philippians 4:13 written on it “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”  This little treasure belonged to my Aunt Sadie once.  She has gone to be with the Lord now.  Cancer took her away from us in 2005.  When she passed, this little keepsake was one of a couple things that I asked for that was hers.  The other item is a marble collection that she had; that was made into a sun catcher for the window.  I keep both of these things in my living room and I think of her every day when I see them.  The reason I chose this particular plaque was because Philippians 4:13 was her favorite bible verse. 

Aunt Sadie was one of those super special women.  I think all of us cousins, in my family; felt she was a favorite Aunt.  There are a lot of cousins and a lot of Aunts and Uncles in our bunch.  Aunt Sadie, though, didn’t live in Newfoundland where most of the rest of us lived.  Aunt Sadie lived in Albany, New York.  We only ever got to see her every 5 years or so when they came for a visit.  Oh, how we enjoyed those visits!  It was the highlight of our summer.  Actually, it was more like the highlight of our year!  What I remember most about her was that Aunt Sadie always talked to me like I was a real person.  What I mean by that is she never talked down to me like other adults tend to do with kids.  She talked to me like I counted for something; like what I had to say, no matter what it was, was important and interesting.  Then she would always give me advice.  Never once did she tell me to stop being so silly, or so childish, or to get over it. 

Little did I know how special Philippians 4:13 would come to mean to me as well since then.  In the past few years I’ve been through some of the most difficult times of my life.  Knowing that Christ brings me more than enough strength to carry me through any trial has come to be of incredible comfort to me when I felt like I was otherwise alone in the world.  Well, I am about to embark on an adventure, of sorts, that requires I need every bit of God’s strength and guidance that He is willing to give me.  See, starting tomorrow, I will begin serious writing on my book.  Remember the book I mentioned, in my last blog post, that I want to write about my story?!  Well, I have been making notes and coming up with ideas about this project for quite a while now.  I didn’t think I was ready to start doing any serious writing yet.  My thoughts were that sometime next year I would be ready to begin. 

Then, a few days ago I got an email from my beautiful friend, Brenda Wood.  She told me that she and a couple of her friends have entered a writing challenge on a website called “National Novel Writing Month”.  The challenge is to write 50,000 words... a novel.... in November!  Yep... the whole thing is to be written in only a month; or the first draft of it anyway.  As is Brenda’s usual way with encouragement, I was convinced.  I need to start this book now.  It’s time to stop delaying, puttering around, and coming up with excuses.  I am tempted to say that she talked me into it.  However, she only made the suggestion.  It was God that talked me into it.  I am excited and looking forward to this chapter of my life.  I am also scared half to death.  See this project means going through a lot of emotion to remember the most painful things; as well as the best parts, of my life.  When I am done, my whole life will literally be an open book for all to read.  The good, the bad, and the ugly will all be in print, with my name on the cover. 

I can’t help but look at this little plaque on my bookshelf in front of me and think “Thank You, Lord for that strength.  I need it now more than ever”.  It will be the leading of the Holy Spirit that will get me through this time; and the days, weeks and months to follow.   There are things that will upset a few people.  I know that; but I cannot show the glory of God, or grow closer to Him, by hiding things.  Showing the miracles that He has worked in my life; and inside my heart is one of my goals.  I have to be willing to lay it all out in the open or Jesus cannot carry it for me.  Hebrews 4:13 tells us that nothing is hidden from His sight, and that we must give account for everything.  “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account”.  Unless I open my life and leave nothing in the dark, I will be useless to Him.  The strength of Jesus will carry me when my energy is gone because I am feeling beaten, battered, exposed, judged, and possibly even hated; by others.  In the end, the only opinion that should / will alter my life in any significant way is that of Jesus. 

I hear God’s gentle voice talking to me.  I feel the tug of the strings of my heart about this project.  It is the right thing to do at this time.  I can also hear Aunt Sadie’s encouragement telling me that I can do it; and that He will be with me every step of the way.

~~ Dear God ~~    Please guide my every word as I write.  Make my story one that will help others, help me to grow closer to You; and show Your awesome glory.  Thank You for using me to do these things.  In Jesus name, AMEN.

God: “You’re Gonna Do What?! LOL”

~~ Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV84)~~   “...For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. ...”

by Carley Cooper

"...and you thought that plan would work?!"

Microsoft Office Copyright Free Images
OK, so here is the plan for my life.  Please, pay close attention to this people because we are going to hit the ground running.  Nothing or no one is going to get in my way.  First, I am getting married to a wonderful man.  He will be tall, dark and super sexy.  He will have a wonderful sense of humor, and a great job earning a very good salary.  He will be my best friend and a fantastic lover.  He will have all his own teeth and hair; and worship my body and the ground I walk on.  We will spend our first few years traveling the world together.  Then we will have 4 kids; and they will be 2 boys and 2 girls, since every girl should have a sister as a BFF and every boy should have a brother for the same.  Since, pets are one of childhood’s greatest pleasures; our family will be complete with the addition of a dog, a hamster, and a couple of parakeets.  Every child should have a dog.  Finally, the last step is a great career that will be the ultimate in fulfillment.  It will be so enjoyable that it will not even feel like work.  Once these things are all done... and in that order, then we will be able to live a very healthy no-one-ever-gets-sick, happily ever after life.  Sounds like an awesome plan, if I do say so myself!  Does any of it ring a bell with you?  Sound even a little bit familiar?   

Well, here we are many years later (but wait...not too many.  I’m not that old.  LOL) and it seems that somewhere along the line when I turned my head for a minute my plan ran into a glitch.  Somewhere in the building of my life, the blue prints seem to have been misplaced and forgotten.  Things have not turned out like I had hoped.  Not even close!  So what really happened?  Well, it took me years longer than I planned to meet someone and get married.  Only for it to be short lived, and ended up with a divorce hearing on my 30th birthday.  That certainly was not my idea or my choice, but I had to go along with it... both the divorce and the hearing date.  The babies did not have the opportunity to be born due to medical issues, failed attempts, and ever-off timing. 

Oh, and that wonderful career?  Well, that was a big stumbling block because I had no idea whatsoever what I wanted to do.  I did not go to university because no one told me that you could go before having every detail of your life planned out in advance.  I seriously thought I was the only one, and I was embarrassed by that so I told no one.  I turned down two acceptance letters to college because of this.  I was under the impression that if you were to going to school, you knew from day one why you were going and what the course plan was.  No one told me that you could go and figure out the details later.  Then, as time went on I always felt that I was too old, and it was too expensive.  Instead I chose a small community college that provided me with a diploma for skills that were already out of date when I completed the program.

Another unexpected and unplanned spark that burned all my life plans turned out to be health issues, which took over my life with a life of its own.  Then, the final fuel to the fire was that I ended up in some abusive relationships.  That certainly was not in my original plan either.

So where does my life sit today?  Well, I have survived a long string of traumas.  They are too much to go into here.  I intend on writing a book about it.  Wow!  Me, writing a book?!  I am told all the time that I have some natural talent for writing.  I take it as a wonderful compliment, but who would have ever thought?!  English-Lit was my worst subject in high school.  I have also been invited, recently, to be a guest speaker next year at a women’s retreat.  Me, a guest speaker?!  I am social-phobic, yet I am excited about this!  Hmmmm... isn’t that a contradiction?!  Anyway, I am being told that it is time for me to start sharing my story to inspire others.  Again, me an inspiration?!  If it wasn’t for the fact that these things are such a surprise to me, I would laugh at them!

I have been told quite a few times in recent weeks that I have affected people, in a positive way.  Along the route that my life has actually taken, I picked up a lot of knowledge and experience that can help people improve their lives by healthy eating.  I have another, smaller book, project that I am working on about healthy living.  It’s more of a booklet or a paper actually.  However, I have several people that are already interested in reading it, including a couple of people who work at the local hospital in the mental health department where they hope to share it with patients.  They are amazed at how I have improved my life and health through the discoveries that I have made by finding and changing patterns, and changing my diet.  There have been a few people who have told me that they are also noticing patterns now and changing things that are helping them improve their health and life, because of what I have told them about myself. 

I have another friend who is chasing a dream of opening a Christian Cafe / Karaoke Bar here in Barrie, Ontario because of encouragement that I gave her to never give up.  I never would have thought, on my own, to even consider that I could have such an impact on other people.  I feel such humility, and so very blessed by this.

I have no idea what the future holds for me.  Will I ever be a wife?  A mother?  A career woman?  An entrepreneur?  Only time will tell.  I never would have thought, or would have wanted; to plan such things as being a writer, or a guest speaker, or someone to provide health advice to others.  But these things are on my plate right now as very real possibilities. 

So many times in life we say things like “If only we had more money, we could buy that item we need so much”, and then we pray for it.  We never once stop to consider asking God what His plans are for our lives.  Whether we realize it or not, God is the one in control of our lives.  We either go along with His plan letting the Holy Spirit lead the way to happiness, and a future brighter than anything we could have ever come up with; or we try our own path and run into trials, troubles and problems.  Granted I know, and agree with, the thoughts that you are probably having right now that this can be easier said than done.  It is in our nature to want o be in control of our own lives.  Sometimes, I actually look up to God and ask Him “God, surely You can’t be serious about this?  So, I guess You think this is funny don’t you?!”  The truth is that my original plan would have led me to be a child of the world, and not of God.  My original plan did not include Jesus as a member of my family, let alone to take His rightful position as Head of my family!  My happiness would have been completely dependent on the world falling into place in a way that I needed it to.  Thinking about that now, really is funny!  How often does that happen?  My original plan was completely self-focused.  It did not include helping others in any way.  If I had followed my own plan, I would not have an impact on other people; and more importantly, I would not have a relationship with Jesus right now.  Neither, true happiness or my salvation would be possible.  It seems that old saying is true, “if you wanna make God laugh, just tell Him your plans”.

~~ Dear God ~~  Thank You, that long before I was ever born, You had my life planned out for me.  Thank You for not letting me follow my own plan.  I am so very blessed to have gone through the trials and traumas that I have because they have brought me into a relationship with Jesus; and as such I will get to spend eternity with Him.  My future has never looked brighter.  Please continue to use me to bless others; and to let the Holy Spirit lead me, and mould my life.  I am anxiously waiting to see what wonderful blessings you have in store for me next.  In Jesus name, AMEN.

Little White Lies

~~ Romans 12:2 (NIV84)~~   Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

by Carley Cooper

Cracker Jack & Casey
Cracker Jack: "I hate to tell you this, Bro,
but Mom loves me best. That package of
treats she brought home was for me."
Casey: "Mommyyyyy. *sniff, sniff*
Cracker said you don't love me anymore!".
Photo by Carley
No Mommy, I didn’t break that.  Billy did it!
You are beautiful, Baby.  That dress doesn’t make you look fat at all”.
Of course I know when our anniversary is Honey”.
I promise I will never, ever do that again!
Yes Baby, I did like it.  That was the best meal you ever cooked”.

Do you see a pattern in all those statements?  If not, read them again.  The common thread is that they are all untruths that so many of us have said in our lifetimes.  They are what most of us might call ‘little white lies’.  Every once in a while a situation pops up where we just do not want to hurt someone’s feelings, so we tell a tiny lie in an effort to avoid hurting someone we love.  Why does it matter anyway?  It is not like someone’s life will be altered one way or the other.  What she doesn’t know cannot hurt her.  Right?

The patterns of this world have us believing that lies can be categorized into various sub-groups such as: Good Lies, Bad Lies, and Really Bad Lies.  We have a longing to believe that as long as we are basically ‘good’ people, do not do ‘really bad’ things, treat everyone the same, and try not to hurt others than we are ‘safe’ with God.  Our attitudes are that certainly, people will ‘tick us off’; but it is better to feel a little out of sorts than to be like the ‘really bad people’ who push their anger to the limits and do something terrible like kill someone.  These beliefs feed into the next one which says ‘I didn’t commit a crime.  My lie, anger or hatred did not actually hurt anyone.  Killing... well, does!’

My very dear friend and mentor once told me that Satan will stand behind us and whisper lies in our ear; then he will stand in front of us pointing his finger and say ‘how dare you think such horrible thoughts’.  He does this in an effort to make us feel guilty, angry, unworthy, unloved, and an endless number of other negative emotions.  His goal is to make us vulnerable.  At a bible study last week, our leader (Pastor, Speaker and Author, Francine Gilchrist) told us that Satan can whisper something in your ear, and then something else into the ear of a friend; in an effort to create a rift in the relationship.  What greater helplessness is there; than damaging our most important relationships?!  It seems, in my life right now, God wants me to be extra aware of Satan’s deceptions.  I say this because the subject of the enemy’s deceptions came up a third time, a couple days ago, during another conversation; this time with my pastor.  He told me that the enemy whispers lies in our ear when we are vulnerable so that we will be more likely to believe them. 

There is an endless list of lies that the world lives by yet not realizing that indeed huge sins are being committed.  Our life in this world will be judged according to God’s laws.  Sin is sin.  The truth is that in God’s eyes, hatred is equivalent to murder.  1 John 3:15 (NIV84) says that “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life in him.”  If you have ever hated anyone, than you have broken the commandment “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13 (NIV84)).  Lust means you have committed adultery in your heart (Matthew 5:28 (NIV84)).  Gossip, envy, slander, or boastfulness are all considered as evil as any other wrong doing.  (Romans 1:29-32 (NIV84)).  Why is it that we have a hard time believing that these things are actually as serious as any other sin?  Yet, when we read that rape is actually as bad as committing murder (Deuteronomy 22:25-26 (NIV84)), we often tend to agree.  Why do we believe there is a difference?  The reason is because of the deceptions that the enemy whispers in our ear.  No matter how small a lie is; it is a lie just the same.  It is a huge black mark on our souls.

As a Christian with Bipolar Disorder, I am also aware that it is when I am most vulnerable, or when the chemical imbalances are the most ‘out of whack’, that Satan whispers the biggest lies to me.  He picks my weakest moments and the worst of circumstances to tell me the biggest lies.  Fighting him in these times takes every bit of strength and focus I can muster up; and often the strength I have is no where near enough.  Pastor, also said that we have to consciously focus on faith.  The mind is a powerful thing.  With a lot of work, and a lot more faith; we can change our minds and build a strong defence against the fabrications of the enemy.  Keep our eye on Jesus, and God’s Word and we can fight the untruths about ‘good lies’ and ‘bad lies’.  It is by knowing what scripture tells us that we will have the tools that we need to fight (Hebrews 4:12(NIV84) ).  The renewing of our minds through Christ is what will transform us from the patterns of this world (Romans 12:2(NIV84) ).  Without this faith, I would not have the strength to keep fighting (Nehemiah 8:10, Psalm 46:1, Isaiah 40:28-31, Philippians 4:13 (all from NIV84)). 

I have often told people that I would rather hear a truth that hurt, than a lie that did not.  The truth is that ‘’little white lies’ is, in itself, a contradiction of terms; as they are not little, and they are not white.  I am a firm believer in “what she doesn’t know can, and likely will, hurt her a lot” and, when it does, it can hurt in many ways.  Little white lies do hurt... they hurt you, if you are the one saying it; and they hurt the other person because you have just placed a sin between you.  Not to mention the fact that the other person is continuing to build, based on a false foundation.  Your life is the life that will be altered... your eternal life.  The biggest truth of all though, is that we have hope because of Jesus; and with His strength, and the renewing of our minds daily we will have more energy and there will be no more lies controlling our lives.  God’s good, pleasing and perfect will, will be done.

~~ Dear God ~~ Thank You for the hope You have given us through Jesus.  Please continue to renew my mind daily with the Holy Spirit.  Send the angels that You have assigned to protect me, to fight the enemy with me and keep him from whispering lies in my ear.  Please help me remember each verse of scripture in the moment I need it as I fight the enemy and also to help spread the Good News about Jesus to others.  In Jesus name, AMEN.

Finding the Silver Lining

~~ Proverbs 3:5-6 (NIV84)~~   Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

by Carley Cooper

My dog, Casey is afraid of Chicklet, our lovebird.
Casey: "Mommyyyy. It's gonna hurt me. Help!"

Photo by Carley
Are you a ‘glass half full’ or a ‘half empty’ kind of person?  Do your clouds have silver linings?  Everyone in this world has to struggle and go through hard times.  It is how we were designed to learn.  Sometimes learning that is, in itself, one of those struggles that must be overcome.  Every struggle, battle, and side trip is a lesson or a series of lessons to be learned.  If we are not paying attention we can miss some very important signs that are meant to guide us on our journey.  Of course, this applies to the good times as well.  Even if you have a very difficult time seeing the bright side, you need to be creative enough to turn it into a usable lesson.

This concept reminds me of a lesson in my Interior Decorating studies many years ago.  Almost every house has some sort of niche that you wish was not there.  Surely your house has some sort of odd corner, alcove, or unusual shape to a room that seems to prevent proper furniture placement.  As decorators we are taught to turn this into a positive thing.  Use it to create an attractive feature that you could not have without it.  Another example is from my healthy living program.  There are so many people trying to lose weight and maintain a healthy lifestyle.  Many times I have read blogs by these individuals listing, for example, “75 Things I Learned from my 75 Pound Weight-loss”.  People are finding unexpected blessings in their times of trial.

One of these struggles for me has been my battle with Bipolar Disorder.  Sharing my story is something that I like to do because, like sharing weight-loss stories, it is encouraging to others giving them hope, as well as a reminder to myself about how far I have come.  Battling with this health issue has taught me a great many things.  A few of these things are:
  • I have learned that I am never, ever to give up.  Do not quit and you will not be a failure.
  • I have learned more details about the disease than I ever thought I wanted to know (symptoms, characteristics, treatments, etc.).
  • I have learned that I am not alone.  There are many people out there suffering in the same way.
  • I have learned that no matter how severe my depression episode should happen to be... I know that my mood will be going up very soon.  I also believe that one day, in God’s timing, my mood will go up for the last time.  There will be a day when I will no longer hit a rock-bottom depressive episode.  I believe the day is coming in my future when I will no longer be Bipolar.  A special friend once said to me “It is when things look impossible, that God does His best miracles”... but the key is that you have to have faith in Him.  You have to repent from your sins and let God mould your heart to be like that of Jesus. 
  • I have learned (thanks in part to my healthy living journey) that there are certain foods that can trigger bad episodes in me.  I know what foods I am to stay away from; what foods contribute toward keeping me from going into a severe depressive episode or a severe mania period; and how to strive for a healthy lifestyle.
  • As a result, I have also learned a huge amount of nutritional information.
  • I have learned the importance of regular exercise for my mental health.
  • I have learned just how much of a gift that music (especially Worship Music) can be.  Many days music is the wall that keeps me from falling into depression.
  • I have talked about my battle with Bipolar before in an earlier blog entitled “The Truth”.  I have learned, as I said in this previous article, that Bipolar is “not a choice, a sin, a crime, a weakness, or a character flaw”.
  • I have learned that mental illness is not something to be embarrassed about, afraid or ashamed of. 
  • Through some amazing therapy and recovery programs offered in the area where I live, I am being taught how to “reprogram my brain” by learning how to change my thinking.  As a result, I have learned that:
    • Bipolar does not mean that I am broken. 
    • It is not my fault.
    • I am not crazy.
    • I am not bad.
    • I am trustworthy.
    • I am loveable.
    • I am good enough.
    • I belong.
    • I am worthy.
  • I have learned that the stigma placed on me is not who I am.  Those negative beliefs by others are false, uneducated, shameful, and fearful; and are not connected to the truth.  I was told once that “you do not know how to count your blessings, because if you did then you would not be depressed”.   This kind of uneducated lie from the enemy is exactly the kind of stigma that the public needs to be educated about.  More and more, science is proving that mental illness is indeed a physical disease.  It is caused by chemical and hormone imbalances, and personally, I believe; also from chemicals, preservatives and artificial sweeteners in our over-processed food supply.  Those of us, who suffer from mental illness, have known this for years because often the physical symptoms show up before the emotional symptoms.
  • I know that judging others by their appearance; or rather by their Bipolar, is about as efficient as judging a book by its cover.
  • I have learned to reach out for help and support when I need it.
  • I have learned that I am incredibly strong.  I am stronger than I ever would have thought I could be.  I have to be or it would be impossible to survive this; especially considering that I am doing it as a single woman living alone.  With all the wonderful support I get from family, friends, counsellors, church family, and my medical-care team; when I am at home, I am alone.  If I cannot care for myself, than who will?  Thankfully, I am a child of God and He has sent Jesus, to take care of me.
  • Depression is the place the enemy wants many of us to stay; even those without Bipolar.  I have learned that this place is a glimpse of just how dark and scary the world would be without God.  I have learned that I do not ever want to go there.
With all these points mentioned, I believe that the biggest lesson I have learned is that I need to turn to God whether I am at the bottom or at the top.  I cannot get back up out of the pit of depression, or come down from a mania period, or stay supported and stable at a healthy level in between; without Him.  No matter what level I am on, I need Him.  Whether you are going through a stressful period or a happy period, listen to God’s voice.  He is trying to teach you something.  God has designed every struggle to bring us closer to Him and to teach us how to lean on Him.  Look for the silver lining in each and every cloud.  After all, no matter what kind of mess you are in right now, there could be much scarier things chasing you!

(I welcome you to share your stories with me in the comment section below.  I would love to hear them.)

~~ Dear God ~~ Your ways and Your understanding is beyond anything that I can comprehend.  They are perfect.  No path I can choose, no solution I can apply is as perfect as those that You have already set in place for me.  I thank You for leading me closer to You with each and every day; and for moulding my heart to be like that of Jesus.  Open my heart, mind, eyes and ears to receive the message of love that You are sending me.  Please make me willing and able to receive that message, and give me opportunities to share it with others.  Help me to see the silver lining in every cloud, and use me to teach others about mental illness.  In Jesus name, AMEN.