To my dear brothers and sisters who are walking Jesus way with me,
I want to begin this Easter time message with a statement of gratitude. I am so blessed to be appointed here with you. I’m blessed to go through this messy thing called life by your side. And I’m blessed to have people around me who support me and love me no matter what. You are part of my support and I love and respect each and every one of you.
I have been experiencing God’s presence in a profound way this past week. There is no doubt that I’ve been nudged, pushed, gently prodded and inspired by the Holy Spirit. I have no doubt that I have not been walking alone but Jesus has been right by my side, and at some times carrying me along. You see, I have been going through an exceptionally difficult time in my life. You probably didn’t know that. I doubt you even expected I was struggling, but the truth of the matter is I am broken and in need of healing.
As most of you are aware, I am Bi-Polar. That is a mental illness that is a mood disorder. With proper medication I’m stable, but without proper medication I swing from suicidal depression to mania episodes of high energy and euphoria. The problem is that it is expected that my medicine isn’t working because I have been self-medicating for years and years. You see, being Bi-Polar is only half my problem. The other truth is that I’ve long struggled with substance abuse, particularly alcohol.
This is all coming to a head because I’ve experienced God’s presence on Good Friday. That evening I was particularly convicted. The congregation in unison asked “What is the Truth” over and over and over, and I felt God speak. He said, “Susan, you know the truth. You are an alcoholic and you need help.” At that service I deeply prayed for my sin, in this case my alcoholism, to be taken from me. I prayed to be free from the shadows of secrecy so that I might live in the light and be made whole. I prayed that Jesus would do for me what I could not seem to do for myself.
The next day, in a very intense conversation with Ken, I shared my Good Friday experience with him and admitted I was an alcoholic. My life is unmanageable. And I need help. Ken of course knew all that, but it was a place that I had to reach. No one could tell me that I had a problem. I had to arrive at that conclusion on my own.
When I woke up on Sunday, it was Easter Sunday. The day we celebrate new life. For the past 11 years I have preached the Resurrection. I have promised all of you and all of my congregations in the past that in Jesus we can have new life. In Jesus we can let our brokenness die and be born anew. My prayer is that last week, on Easter Sunday, the resurrection has begun in me. This new life, a sober life, an honest life, an authentic life is just a vulnerable seed that needs to be nurtured to grow. This new life that is budding in me is fragile and without proper care, it may not take root.
And so with the prompting of the Holy Spirit, I am taking action to insure that this new life does indeed take root and that it is the beginning of my own spiritual transformation into being the whole, complete, and healthy, disciple of Jesus I yearn to be.
So with that, I want to let you know that tomorrow I will be checking into the Hazelden Betty Ford Clinic in Newberg Oregon. I will be there for up to five weeks. After that, I will likely be going to Intensive Outpatient Care where I will be going to the clinic three days a week for a few months. David Nieda, our District Superintendent, Doug Shaul, our chair of SPRC, and Kelly Andrews, our lay leader, have been working with me to get the help I need. They have been a gift to me as I navigate my way through this crisis. You will have an interim pastor for the next five weeks. I return on Pentecost Sunday on June 4 to lead worship once again, but the other duties I have will be taken over by you and by the interim pastor that David Nieda will arrange for you. I don’t know how long I will operate on a part time basis, but I expect it will be somewhere between 1 and 3 months.
It is critical that you know that you are in no way to blame for this circumstance. None of you “drove me to drink.” I have had this problem for a very long time. It got particularly bad in Alaska and I imagined that a change in scenery and getting out of the dark wet world would be the answer. But alas, alcoholism is a progressive disease and I didn’t get better with the move, but rather continued to spiral down into more brokenness.
Last week I made an appointment with David and told him about my demons disguised as mental illness and alcoholism. As I sat across the table from him at the local Starbucks and shared my truth, I felt my whole world shift. This was the beginning of a new way to be in the world. There is no turning back from this truth-telling. I have begun my journey and I’m asking my loved ones to pray for me, to accept me, and to walk with me until I travel to the other side of this disease, if there is indeed another side.
I have not been able to give you my best these past ten months. I have not been able to give my family the best of me. I have not been able to be fully present for you because I have not been fully alive. But here’s the Good News. God saves. And I believe that if I can be truly honest, if I do the work, if I take advantage of this opportunity I have to get better, God will save me too.
I am hopeful that this past Easter is going to be my anniversary of new life. I am hopeful that the story of the Resurrection is as real for me as I tell you it is for you. I am hopeful that God will heal me and make me whole because I am hopeful that God loves me too.
Thank you for letting me be so self-indulgent. And I ask you for your prayers as I embark on this foreign, scary, and dare I say, exciting adventure.
I love you all to my toes.
Wishing you all peace and blessings,