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 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
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
This is a deeply personal piece. I wish it weren’t. I wish I had skipped over these genes in the gene pool. I wish mental health struggles didn’t ravage families, shooting out shrapnel like loaded cannons to anyone and everything around them trying to help.
And yet—they do.
My mental health journey started before we had children. Round One for me was setting right in my head what my heart mislearned along the way for a lot of reasons. At age 27, I was simply trying to make sense of adulthood and childhood, and mesh it all together. I needed to pull out the good I learned and discard the rest, like anyone else does at that age. That time, a therapist was helpful, but chemically I remained untreated.
Round Two was third-child-post-partum. It was short-lived, and I was fairly well supported by friends and my husband. It was a brief re-dip in a dark well. I had a lot to live for. My hormones simply were not cooperating.
Round Three almost killed me. We were on a tiny South Pacific island with three young children for two years. I spent my evenings biking around looking for a place to change my sense of desperate.
(Let me emphasize that I still had a lot to live for then. Three amazing, beautiful, spunky children and a loving husband. That had not changed.)
I was all the way around the world from all that I knew, living a fish-bowl military base, ex-pat lifestyle in a beautiful setting—only Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: ADD, ADHD, anxiety, chemical imbalance, childhood depression, christ in you, Colossians 1:27, coping mechanisms, depression, Hebrews 4:15, high priest, high priest who sympathizes, hope of glory, Jesus, mental health, not just on sundays, obedient to the point of death, parenting mental health, psychopharmacology, psychotherapy, relationship with God, social anxiety, social isolation, suicidal, suicidal ideation, teens and anxiety, teens and depression, therapist
Do you have any fears that hold you back from fully functioning? Does it sometimes feel like you are pushing against a weight of overwhelm? Maybe your fears taunt you in the middle of other areas where you feel accomplished. They may look different for each of us, but they can be paralyzing and growth-stopping.
You know what else they do? They deliver a feeling of defeat.
And you know what? That’s not Kingdom (-of-God) living.
Some of my fears are irrational. For example, I fear that if I stop advocating for certain injustices or for my son with special education needs, the world will stop turning. That’s called hypervigilance and sometimes crosses the line into catastrophic thinking. I usually can do the self talk involved to chill myself out, talk myself down.
Like many people, I am afraid of letting people I love down, not meeting expectations, or unintentionally hurting someone.
I back out of my driveway panicked that a child on a bike will go by.
I fear the local black bear entering my yard (it has entered my neighbor’s property) and eating my Shih Tzus.
I can’t say these fears regularly keep me up at night, but they definitely steal joy.
Know what I mean?
Here are the ways they thieve me of peace: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 1 john 4:4, abundant life, catastrophic thinking, conquering fears, cut through bars of iron, facing fears, fears, he who is in you, hypervigilance, irrational fear, isaiah 45:2, isaiah 61:1, john 10:10, kingdom life, kingdom living, level the exalted places, liberty to the captives, phone phobia, push through fear, pushing through fears, spiritual warfare, steal joy
Fear is a funny thing—and so are the emotions of a parent watching a child suffer.
I thought I had all the wonderful ingredients to be a special needs parent, as if it was some kind of recipe God puts together. Actually, I think that it is. You see, I was born a warrior. I have always been an advocate. I have never found myself to be fearful when confronting authority in the name of justice. When I see unfairness, my heart always screams, and my mouth is soon to follow.
On the flip side, I am deeply compassionate. That’s probably why I feel stirred to speak up for the downcast. I was one of the few students in junior high school who made a point to include and interact with a fellow youth group student with mental retardation. I saw her. I wanted her to know she mattered.
But then I had my own special needs child.
On the precipice of receiving diagnoses after reaching a significant crisis point, there are two choices in our flesh: a spiral into fear or a rapid bearing of fangs. In the beginning, separating those emotions is impossible. Wrapped up in all the pain are fierce anger, a sense of desperate protection, scary projections of what the future holds, and an overall desire to howl at the moon. When our children are touched so directly by the fall from perfection in the Garden of Eden, there is something so base, so animal, within us that wants to sit at the gate and beg the angel to let us back in the Garden and slam the doors shut again.
Within four months of his birth, my fair-skinned, redheaded little boy (Little Man) Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: ADD, ADHD, anxiety, child advocacy, childhood depression, fine motor, food allergies, generalized anxiety, healing prayer, iep, Marshall Islands, obsessive compulsive disorder, OCD, sensory integration, sensory processing, South Pacific, special needs advocacy, special needs diagnosis, special needs mama, special needs ministry, special needs parenting, sped parenting, visual motor
I don’t know about you, but the short hours of daylight and long, dark nights really get to me by January. The holidays are over, the school snow days have commenced, temperatures have plummeted, and cabin fever is an ongoing threat. Some people call this Seasonal Affective Disorder. I call it: “anyone living in this climate and these latitudes for part of the year.”
I am an introvert and very sedentary by nature, so being at home writing and editing with warm dogs at my feet is my preference, but there are challenges to working at home. And, really, I see all five of my family members fight to get through the Boston Deep Freeze in more ways than one this time of year. Lately, we New Englanders have been basking in the 9 degree glory of no wind and a temporary reprieve from the white stuff.
But what about the darkness, the dry air, and the way this time of year messes with our minds and bodies?
Our white landscape typically starts to melt in March. That can be a long wait!
Here are some tips that get me through the countdown to April showers bringing May flowers.
(By the way, I receive no compensation for these endorsements.)
1) Warm Meals for All Times of Day
If you don’t have an Instant Pot, run right out and get one. Seriously. Or at least purchase some kind of electric pressure cooker.
The idea of warm oats waiting for me upon wake-up, all set with a timer and ready to warm me and my family in the chilly downstairs, is a reason I can get up on days when the bed seems like the best place to hibernate.
Have I mentioned how much an Instant Pot (electric pressure cooker) has changed my life? Out all night taxi-ing kids to activities? Only come up with a dinner thought at 5:00? So quick, so easy, so good. Get one with a timer if that helps. My steel-cut oats greet me in the morning after setting the timer the night before. Really, the IP and I have become BFFs.
Most of the time, I search on Pinterest for recipes, but this book has become permanently attached to my kitchen countertop this January. It already has the splash marks of a well-loved book! Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: armor of God, aromatherapy, barlean's fish oil, citrus bliss, cocoa sante, dark nights, dark winter, depression, doterra, electric pressure cooker, essential oils, fish oil, gloomaway, grapefruit body souffle, happy light, humidifier, instant pot, lion head rabbit, lionhead rabbit, mental health, merlin, nespresso, Priscilla Shirer, Seasonal, Seasonal Affective Disorder, seasonal depression, serenity restful blend, shih tzu, trader joe's tea, tree frog, vitamin d, where'd you go bernadette, winter blues, winter wake up tea, Zim's foot creme
Stress has been piling up in my house of late. College application deadlines. New braces. Another (brief) parking lot accident. And add to that every major road leading out of my town is currently under construction. Yes, massive stress bubbling under the surface. It’s the kind of pressure that leads to hypervigilance.
Deadlines do this to me, especially life-course-determining ones. Anxiety used to be my roommate. I kicked her out a while ago and changed the locks, but once in a while she slips in through an unlocked back door. That girl knows no boundaries, I tell ya!
In the middle of one of those days, I took my son and husband to the airport for college visits (landing in rush hour traffic both to and from Boston) and made it home in time to get my daughter to dance, throw a nicer shirt on, and attempt to manage back-to-school night at the high school jumping between the schedules of a freshman and a senior on a massive campus. It felt like an episode of a teen sitcom as I rushed around trying to slide into each class before the bell rang.
So it was in my great hurry to arrive at the last class that I cut a corner down a hallway, and, to my great surprise, there was a low-to-the-ground, black end table next to a couch in the loft area between halls. I imagine high school students gather and are aware of the furniture there—but not me. I was not aware. It simply was not in my line of vision. I had Algebra I, Part 2 (whatever that is) to get to, where my friend teaches the class. What a nice way to end the long day, except for this: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: angst, anxiety, be still, busy schedule, busyness, college applications, counting blessings, entitlement, face plant, forget not his benefits, Hebrews 10:24, hurry, hypervigilance, martyr syndrome, Matthew 14, pressure, pride, Psalm 103:2, Psalm 37:7, seat at the table for God, stress, stress junkie, therapy, wait patiently for God, walks on water
I look at my French bulletin board hanging over my kitchen table, filled with Christmas card photos from many years and places we have lived. Along with graduations, births, weddings, and celebrations, I see broken hearts, unraveled marriages, cancer, loss, abandonment, children with developmental struggles, addiction, etc.
But you know what else I see?
Jesus. The grace of Christ in so many lives. The calling out to Him from the depths of messy life—and the answering.
It was about nine years ago that I sat on a cement bench on a small island beach in the South Pacific. It was night, and I was squeaking out a desperate prayer in a tiny voice. The weight inside my heart was holding down so much pain that if it had bubbled up full force, it would surely have broken the sound barrier. Instead, like the slow leak of a balloon, only low-energy pleas came out. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: anxiety, as the deer pants, broken hearts, communion with God, cry out to God, deep calls to deep, depression, desperate cry, devastation, grace of Christ, heart's cry, hope in God, in the deep, mourning, presence of God, psalm 42, Psalm 42:7, relationship with God, sons of Korah, steadfast love, suicidal thoughts, tears have been my food, where is God, why are you downcast
[This was originally written before Easter 2017 as I faced down my fears about April.]
April is wrought with good and bad memories for me, especially in recent years. My father’s birthday is in early April; his burial was toward the end of April. The events kick off memories around his death and burial that I’d rather forget. I had been doing so well, but as we turned a corner toward the end of March, I felt the need to “close my curtains” and only let safe people hold me close. “I will reemerge,” I told myself. “I’ll get past this. It will be okay.”
And while I was lamenting to a close friend, she told me she wants this April to be different for me, perhaps from this point forward. She recommended I “redeem” the pain.
So I am.
I bought two plants, and call me eccentric, but I gave them names and placed them in the window of the common room where I look outside all the time. I need to see something grow.
I restocked the bird feeder for the first time all winter. They haven’t found their way to it yet, but it’s ready for chickadees and cardinals to land in front of my window.
A friend of mine brought me a set of pansies, completely unaware of my resolve to make April great. They are bright yellow, the color of the sun, of life, of hope.
I bought a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle of happy dogs to put together with my daughter on weekends.
And on my father’s birthday, I will Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: abundant life, blessing, broken places, brokenness, extravagant giving, God's altar, grief, Holy Spirit, Isaiah 44:3, It is finished, Jesus, john 10:10, Living Water, loss, making all things new, mourning, redeem, redeem the pain, redemption, renew, replenish, restore, revelation 21:5, ruins, ruins come to life, that they may have life, water on thirsty land