About Bonnie Lyn Smith
Like anyone else, I have worn many hats: editor, speaker, columnist, Sunday School teacher, prayer warrior, traveler, depression fighter, child advocate, dance/band/robotics/karate/basketball mom, coffee server, foot-in-mouth socially awkward person, and, most recently, author. I hope, on my better days, I am mostly servant of Jesus, loving wife and mother, and devoted friend.
May, Week 8 of Massachusetts COVID-19 Protocol.
As soon as the campgrounds opened, we were among the first to camp. With each governor’s extension of stay-at-home orders, I had scheduled, rescheduled, and rescheduled again campgrounds in several New England states. Originally, in April, we had hoped to take our online learning on the road with a WiFi booster, but it made more sense, as COVID stats became apparent, that campgrounds were initially only open to seasonal and essential healthcare workers.
So, on May 7, we headed to the White Mountains to one of the first campgrounds to open in New Hampshire. We maintained mask and 6-foot protocols for COVID-19, and we “stayed at home” or inside our vehicle, but it was really fascinating to observe people so hungry to see other humans again in a relaxed setting where you could talk to your neighbor from site to site without also balancing the crazy stress of which direction to walk in the grocery line and worrying about stepping too close to the person pulling some cereal from the shelf.
Because prices were cheaper due to April cancellations, we landed a very nice site with a patio overlooking a pond. I don’t know who was more anxious to exit the dually and get out on nature’s path more—me or the dogs—but my heart and soul screamed:
Oh God Oh God Oh God Oh God!
See, I knew God was there in our time of home-bound COVID-19 Isolation, but when I saw His Creation all around me, my eternally designed heart could feel our hands touch across realms of heaven and earth.
Oh God Oh God Oh God!
Having opened two days before our arrival, even the campground workers were starved for Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: campground, camping, COVID-19, dually, junior prom, masks, New England, New England camping, rabbit, rising senior, rising senior during COVID-19, shih tzu, stay-at-home, travel trailer, White Mountains
This title (and topic) has been floating around in my head and heart for quite some time now. Recently, I went to a Stephen Ministries conference where I learned quite a bit about the ministry end of this equation. But let me tell you: I’ve been on the other end too many times to count.
Today, I want to focus on that part of the story. If what I describe in this article has been a way you have personally interacted with someone, please know there is a learning curve. I have a lot of grace for that. I am not writing this to cause any shame.
But I have spent so much of my time, passion, and advocacy on the intersection of faith and mental health, that I can’t sit still and be silent. In fact, my small publishing house, Ground Truth Press, is due to put out a fascinating and very thorough book on this subject in a few months. I am so proud of the author who took the time to try to explain both “subcultures” (for lack of a better word) and why they do not need to remain polarized. She has taken great care to educate both camps on the other’s perspective/viewpoint.
Today’s words are my own, but when she approached me about publishing her manuscript, my soul screamed: YES!
Too much pain, too many misunderstandings, so much disillusionment on the topic of mental health, and I’m sorry, fellow Christians, but I’m referencing the inside of the church.
I’m so pleased to be part of a church body that is very committed to educating its members on mental health inclusion and ministry, but that has not always been the case. I have attended churches with a mindset that was openly hostile toward those struggling with emotional and mental health. I’m sorry to say that in more than four decades of church life, in this arena specifically, I’ve found the most support in secular environments.
I believe this can change. I know it can. In fact, I think the current title of this article can one day change. “Church” as a verb can have a positive connotation. Ministry to this group of fellow sufferers (we all suffer with something, right?) can be righted within the church environment.
How? Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: clinical depression, compassion ministry, depression, depression as a sin, don't sing songs to a heavy heart, faith, faith and mental health, heavy heart, hopelessness, is depression a sin?, mental health, mental health and the church, mental health inclusion, mental health ministry, ministry, pastoral care, pastoral care ministry, Stephen Ministries, suffering
I was sitting across the table from a good friend, sharing what I felt God was doing in my life—and how painful, but healthy, it was.
She’s the wise type, sitting there tuned in as an active listener, simultaneously praying, and waiting on God to speak to her. Sometimes I stare at her for a full two minutes before she responds. I’ll admit it was unnerving the first few times I experienced it.
And do you know why I love this so much?
Because she measures every single word that comes out of her mouth. It’s never flippant, casual, dismissive, arrogant, or half-hearted. She feels the intensity of every spoken word. And as they flow very slowly from her mouth, there is a soothing tone to them. It makes me feel so safe. It’s the exact reason I go to her for wisdom: Because she loves God more than she loves me and listens intently to Him, and because when she speaks, even correction, it has His loving kindness on it.
“I feel like I’m being scraped from the inside-out right now. This has been one intensely painful year. I feel like God is scraping my insides out.”
She stopped me right there, cocked her head, and said: “What do you mean?”
I replied: “He is digging out old wounds that no longer belong there. He wants to set me free.”
With that, I could see her shoulders relax. She knew what I meant—not that God was hurting me but rather that He was cleansing me. Restoring me. Helping me to let go of junk I was holding onto that was no longer relevant or part of who I am supposed to be.
I wish I could say the process was like a nice micro-abrasion cleanser, you know, the one with the gritty feel to it? But this? This was more significant than that analogy allows.
This was more of a Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 1 Corinthians 3:16, all things work together for good, eternal value, God's kingdom, God's purpose, God's quarry, God's temple, know my thoughts, lasting foundation, new life, personal growth, psalm 139, quarry, quarry of God, redeem, redeems, refining, Romans 8:28, sanctified, sanctify, sanctifying, smoothing, temptation, those who love God, try me and know my thoughts
Proverbs 24:26, ESV
Whoever gives an honest answer kisses the lips.
In an attempt to encourage a very dear person in my life after a loss causing her complicated grief, I wrote the following:
A thousand times over I admire _______ for facing his demons and working to give back good, however flawed and imperfectly. I prefer this a thousand times over to people who won’t get real with each other and who want to pretend all is well when it is clearly not. Reading the obituary made me admire _______ for things I cannot admire others for in that same generation. I will take “real” any day over faking it. The latter is an exhausting way to live.
Jesus hung out with the humble like ________ who knew they were messed up and needed Him. Those are my kinds of people.
My entire life I have been surrounded by people who feared being honest with and about themselves. Some of it may have been learned behavior, cultural norms at the time, and generational. The point of this article is not to lay blame.
Some of these people were in my church, my neighborhood, and my family. Some had significant influence over me. Some just passed through my life briefly. And like anyone else, I still meet people like this who, for whatever reason, are trapped inside themselves and hiding behind a façade.
We can argue that at any given point, all of us have a façade. Just look at social media, ha!! And sure, I’m going to be professional with a client and not let her know I just got my act together at 1 in the afternoon because I struggled to focus all day due to a concern over one of my kids. Maybe I showered for the first time in two days, my house is a wreck, and problems are dripping off every family member like a leaky faucet quicker than I can address them—if I even can. Yeah, not the time to share that, but that’s not what I’m referring to.
And, to be fair, at the other end of the spectrum are people like me who wear everything on our sleeves, consequently making more private people uncomfortable with our over-share at times. I get that. I really do. Private people are not wrong to be guarded or true to their nature.
The problem comes in when appearances Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: authenticity, being honest, being real, Ephesians 4:25, facade, false balance, false images, getting real, healthy relationships, honest answer, honesty, humble, humility, integrity of the upright, lie, living a lie, living honestly, pride, proverbs 11:1-3, proverbs 24:26, put away falsehood, rejection, speak the truth, transparency, trust in relationships, unmasked, vulnerable
In last week’s column about living honestly, I began writing a list of areas where God is calling me to be more truthful in my relationships.
Part of the reason for self-assessment is that sometimes we avoid speaking clearly and honestly out of fear of rejection, hurting someone’s feelings, or a sense of responsibility toward meeting needs and helping people. Truth-speaking is obviously always a good practice, but when we are confronting any area or issue that might be uncomfortable, it is especially important to be prayerful and to have built relationship.
My personal buzzwords in this season of my life right now are:
Is how I am handling this communicating care?
In my family life, areas of ministry, and both of my businesses (publishing and essential oils), “communicating care” is where it all breaks down for me. If I can’t do this well, I may as well pack it all up and go home. Even when my answer is “no,” “not now,” or “that is not a way I can help,” it is paramount that I convey kindness.
Close personal relationships are the polishing ground for the edges in our personalities and ways of interacting. Because we care more on that level, we are more invested. Good boundary-setting and clarity-with-kindness go a long way toward expectations being more realistic on both sides.
As a review, the first three ways of living honestly were:
- “I can’t help in that way right now, but I can help in this way: ________________.”
- “I care a lot about you, and because I do, I have some thoughts on this pattern in your life that may be causing you some trouble.”
- “__________ is an area of my life I would like you to stop speaking to me about because you do not have the experience or authority to weigh in there. However, I would continue to enjoy your thoughts on _____________ area(s) of my life. I find it so helpful to hear from you about that.”
The next three on my list are as follows: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: boundaries, boundary-setting, clear communication, communicating care, communicating clearly, consistent in my speech, constructive relationship, destructive relationship, do not let the sun go down, double-minded, double-mindedness, duplicity, Ephesians 4:15, Ephesians 4:25, healthy boundaries, healthy communication, healthy confrontation, healthy relationships, honest relationships, honesty, integrity, living honestly, living with integrity, Proverbs 11:3, Proverbs 12:18, Proverbs 29:11, put away falsehood, realistic expectations, relationships, speaking the truth in love, speaking truth, taking space, tongue of the wise, truthful speaking
Whenever I sit down to write a column, I ask God for guidance where to start. It’s not like He sits on my desk and audibly downloads ideas while I type. But I can tell you without a doubt if you want to know what He has me working on in my character and life, it is usually within these 1,200 words and very current.
So I sat down with a tiny piece of chocolate and my cappuccino and asked for a topic. The response in my heart and soul is usually along the lines of:
“Well, what am I teaching you right now?”
Me: “Well, patience, self-control, taming my tongue, speaking more gently, being slow to anger…..isn’t that the usual recipe of what needs work in me, Lord?”
“What is your main goal right now: the new level of a healthy spiritual life you are wanting me to bring you to?”
Me: “If I were to reflect on recent weeks, I would say: living honestly. Not people-pleasing. Only God-pleasing. Being true to who I am, what I offer, and what You tell me to do. Not allowing negativity to derail me from Your purposes.”
Living honestly. Hmmm. What does that look like?
Well, what first comes to mind is integrity. Keeping promises. Not promising what we can’t provide. Making good on our word.
Proverbs 10:9, ESV
Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out.
1 Chronicles 29:17, ESV
I know, my God, that you test the heart and have pleasure in uprightness. In the uprightness of my heart I have freely offered all these things, and now I have seen your people, who are present here, offering freely and joyously to you.
Not stealing or short-cutting to take from someone else. Any time we so much as take a box of pencils from the office closet or a pack of gauze from the medical bin at work, we are costing someone else something for our own gain. We don’t have to be shoplifting to be dishonest. We can cheat on taxes or fudge our payroll hours.
I find it also dishonest to live with priorities out of whack. Want to know what I mean by that? If we live hand-to-mouth, and that paycheck needs to pay for our transportation and food, yet we have the latest iPhone but have to regularly ask our friends to help pay bills, we may have some dishonest representation of finances going on.
And what about misspeaking when we recount a situation that happened, stretching or altering the truth? In court, false testimony can dismiss an important case! Our words matter!
Proverbs 14:5, ESV
A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.
But living honestly can also mean Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: bear one another's burdens, being truthful, do not lie to one another, Ephesians 4:25, faithful witness, false witness, galatians 6:2, God pleaser, healthy boundaries, honesty, integrity, living honestly, people pleaser, prayerful guidance, priorities, proverbs 24:26, seeking God, speak the truth, speaking truth, test the heart, the lips of knowledge, truth, venn diagram, walking with integrity, wisdom
I actually wrote this right after Christmas 2018, but I recently revisited because in New England we have a delightful weeklong break in mid-February. You see, if I’m not intentional about the disruptions of everyone being home on break, our time off together can be an epic fail. Know what I mean?
Whether it’s a vacation you have planned, a school break, too many snow days in a row, or a holiday, time together does not have to be chaotic and tense. For our family, we actually needed it to go so far as to be restorative and healing. It was a huge prayer on my heart. If this is you, read on. Our holiday break a few months ago brought peace and refreshing in only ways God could have orchestrated.
I’m back—I think—for now. My Advent season went off the rails. In short: We are still troubleshooting causation of a significant health decline in one of my children, and we have seen more specialists than I have money for copays—but that’s a story for another day. We may be talking about parasites. Still waiting on that result. Why parasites? Because we spent two years on a tiny island in the South Pacific Third World a decade ago. And my child is not absorbing proteins—which pretty much screws up health on several counts.
We had a good Christmas. I hope you did, too. We are trying some new supplements while we wait out answers, and there was stability and peace. Even so, I simultaneously slapped the back end of 2018 goodbye with a firm “Harrumph!” (Thank you, Urban Dictionary!) while fearing that the New Year would drop us back where we fell around Thanksgiving: fearful, despairing, shaken.
So, as the high schooler and middle schooler went back to school, I found the quiet to reflect on what worked for us this holiday break. I do this in the hopes that next year, or any year where we need healing, we remember what to do, with any necessary adjustments.
I was going to give this column the title: The Healing Power of Family, but I could not bring myself to do it. It’s not that I don’t find time with my kids and husband to be healing, because I absolutely do. But I also remember times when Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: anxiety, be still, being still, binge-watch, Christmas, conflict resolution, dog therapy, dogs, family, family conflict, family dynamics, family therapy, finding peace, health issues, healthy dynamics, healthy families, healthy holidays, healthy relationships, parasite, peaceful holiday, personality clashes, recovering from holidays, recovering relationships, relationships, self-care, setting expectations, shih tzu, social anxiety, time together, time together as families
The text came in from a concerned friend:
What are you doing?
I’m standing in Five Below trying to find normal again.
But the truth is I wasn’t sure if normal would be a thing ever again. It had been a week of scare, upset, worry, and concern that ended in an unexpected diagnosis for one of my children. One medication trial had gone very wrong…the kind of wrong where you stay awake all night staring at God’s created work from your gene pool and wonder: How did we get here? What happened?
Then I remember: Oh that’s right. My genetics slammed us around one more time. Oh, goody. All that stuff I didn’t want to know was in there in the first place was coming back to say: “Hey, Bonnie! I’m ba—ack!”
It almost doesn’t matter what the diagnosis is at this point in my story, does it? For any one of us, it could be cancer, diabetes, heart disease, autoimmune disease, skin conditions, or any one of assorted mental health disorders. When everything we have fought so hard to understand, be proactive about, and work around comes spitting into our faces, it’s awfully hard to take at times, am I right?
So I stood there in the store of a thousand teen girl room décor items, cheap candy, and toys, and I texted my friend back. The gist of what was going through my mind, although I don’t recall if I typed all of this was: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: abound in hope, bad news, be constant in prayer, be patient in tribulation, crisis, finding normal, God of hope, hope, hope in Christ, hope is Christ, in him my heart trusts, medical crisis, my Redeemer lives, prognosis, psalm 28:7, psalm 62:5, rejoice in hope, romans 12:12, Romans 15:13, the Lord is my strength and my shield, wrestling with hope
I was sitting on the lawn chair hearing him crowd out my thoughts. He wanted me to look down at my feet and see how limited they were, how clumsy, how immovable.
He wanted me to stay stuck, frozen, unable to advance an inch—if even to make dinner. Because he loves to tell me this:
“You can’t do this. How on earth will you pull it off? You couldn’t even rescue yourself. You can’t manage this. This family member’s illness is greater than you. It will swallow you whole. And, by the way, you are always worth abandoning. Nobody will be there for you.”
Over and over again. The whispers. The racing of my mind.
I couldn’t move. Everything felt like an epic fail. As much practice as I’ve had advocating for people in my life with various struggles to get the help that they need, I had hit a brick wall.
All my knowledge. All my connections. All my training. All my experience.
Over the course of many months of trying to troubleshoot a medical problem in our lives, all related side dishes of comorbid conditions piled up like unfinished moldy fare at a banquet. The heavier the pile, the harder to see the real issue. Know the feeling?
This could really be about anything physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional in our lives, right? That great overwhelm?
And when we stare at that pile-up of complications and other nonsense, the face walking across the water toward us, reaching out a hand, calling us to trust is hard to see, right?
Then along comes the Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: alone, Christ, christ the hope of glory, comorbid, enemy of our souls, father of lies, fear, fear not, getting honest with God, getting real with God, I have redeemed you, Isaiah 43:1, John 8:44, liar to our soul, lies of the enemy, lonely, never forsake us, not alone, overwhelmed, racing thoughts, the enemy is a liar
See that trench? It’s under major construction. There is heavy equipment escavating and doing repair work.
That can be scary, right? Everything tells us to keep away from the danger there. There are warning signs. We may get hurt.
But what if someone is stuck there for a while? How do we come alongside them so that they can eventually emerge repaired and restored?
A few weeks ago, I wrote the tiny portion of thoughts below. I knew it wasn’t edifying. I had the good sense not to put it on social media. (Points for self control!) But I was sore, raw, sleepless, hope-starved, and feeling very alone. It was challenging to talk to people in any light-hearted setting and make conversation.
See, as it should, life goes on for other people in the midst of our personal trials, but it took everything in me to give my conversational angst to God and restrain my tongue. If you are currently deep in the trenches of a crisis, illness, or despair of any kind, perhaps you can relate. I decided to include my thoughts (at the time) below in order to be fully disclosing, to demonstrate my own failures, but also to show you how real I feel it.
If this is you, please know: I GET YOU. This pretty much sums up my perspective whenever stuck in my personal trench:
I am usually an incredibly compassionate person willing to extend my ear and heart to almost anyone. (My kids may say the opposite, but as a mother, I’m wired to mix compassion with healthy boundaries.) I’m actually quite proud of that, as it is pretty consistent…as consistent as my flaws of impatience and low frustration tolerance can be.
But sometimes we are in a season of full intensity, and our tolerance for other situations and needs is completely on “empty.” I am at that place most days right now. Do not tell me about your stubbed toe, or your kid getting a C on a test, or your trash dumped out on the street and the collectors never picked it up. I’m sorry to hear all that, but my pain filter is set on Extreme right now, so anything lower than Mediocre isn’t going to register.
And don’t give me your heaviness. It will literally crush me right now. I can’t encourage you, and it’s not my role. I can’t give back at the moment. If you can’t handle that, please walk away for a while.
And I hate that. I hate not being available. I hate not having the capacity to handle the mundane. I hate not listening and lending a hand. It’s not who I am. It’s unnatural to me.
But I was swirling in a vortex.
When I am not the one in pain, I likely do this to others. And I want to say right now:
I’m sorry. It feels like abandonment when other people’s lives go on, and I’m so sorry if I ever made you feel this way.
I’d like to think I won’t do it again, but I will forget once this crisis in my family is over. Maybe that’s a way for me to understand. Not everyone can live inside our circle of pain, and certainly not everyone is called to sit there and swirl with us.
The truth is: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: beauty from ashes, boundaries, coming alongside, crisis, encouragement, encouraging, help, instead of ashes, isaiah 61, ministry, personal crisis, repair, restoration, supporting, trenches, trials, under construction