my journey with mental health
Several years ago, Bekah and I ventured from the sunny Southwest into the concrete skies of Portland, Oregon, which Huffington Post labeled the most irreligious city in America. Twelve friends followed us into a metro area of 2.5 million strangers. Rapidly we raised over $70,000 and grew a launch team of 50 locals. ARC coached us all along the way.
In 2016 Reason Church launched in the Bossanova Ballroom, a venue known for death metal concerts and Portland’s largest naked dance party. It was the perfect place to broadcast that Jesus is the friend of sinners. We had a standing-room-only crowd, and my wife and her worship band brought the place down. Agnostics and Buddhists came to me in tears saying they had prayed with me to receive salvation. It was electrifying.
Once you start a church, the Sundays keep on coming. A community and devoted team were growing, but I was the only person on the church staff. Housing was difficult to find, and we were living in a tiny apartment with no light fixtures in the bedrooms. The isolation of leadership and the Pacific Northwest rain began to erode my consciousness. Every month the giving was better than the previous month, and we were seeing lives transformed. But ebbs and flows in attendance were driving me into a profound despondency. Bekah would watch me uncontrollably weep as clinical depression turned my brain into a nest of vipers, my every thought pierced with venom. I began visiting a Christian psychologist, eventually hired the second staff member, and found a nice condo for us with a view of the river. Slowly my depression subsided.
"I ended up in a full-blown manic state and crashed my car at a high rate of speed outside of the church.”
We moved into a venue where Nike held its corporate events, and I became more of a collaborative leader. In little over a year, more than 300 people attended our Easter services and a generous couple wrote me a check for $80,000. Soon our team drove to Washington for a conference, and I had dinner with Judah Smith. I could not sleep that night or the next two nights because I felt like we were on the brink of revival. I ended up in a full-blown manic state and crashed my car at a high rate of speed outside of the church. I was taken in an ambulance, sedated, and diagnosed with bipolar disorder. After much wrestling, my board asked me to resign.
What do you do when following your dreams leads you into nightmare? You either destroy your life through sin and suicide, or you take up your cross and follow Jesus. We relocated to Redlands, California, with pastor Chris Norman. Depression became a pitch-black maze where every turn took me deeper into the darkness. But I kept going, and you can too. You must keep going. Suicide does not end your pain; it transfers your pain to everyone you love.
The Bible depicts us as multi-dimensional beings: physical, social, emotional, and spiritual. If you only address one or two dimensions, you are drawing stick figures in a 3D world. I am thankful for medication, but as the neuroscientist Eero Castien observed: “Simply taking drugs is not enough. We must also show the brain what the desired connections should be.” Only Scripture and community can transform and renew your mind.
Experts say that cognitive distortions twist reality. I found in my distorted thinking a connection between idolatry and anxiety. My depression said: “You’ll never be successful, so you might as well kill yourself.” My deepest worries revealed what I truly worshipped. If you allow Him, God will use suffering to purify your motives. Standing on the other side of the maze, I am glad I lost my church because when I gave up my power, I learned how to truly love.
Jesse and Bekah Lusko are campus pastors at Calvary Church in Albuquerque, New Mexico. They served together in Albuquerque for six years before planting Reason Church in Portland, Oregon. They then returned to California where Jesse taught at Calvary Chapel Bible College. They were honored for the opportunity to be the campus pastors of Calvary Church Westside and part of a vibrant move of God in their home city. Learn more at jesseluko.com.