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
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
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 piece is deeply personal to me. I almost didn’t write it. But something that has been bubbling to the surface for a very long time erupted in me as I watched my high school daughter dance at her recital dress rehearsal. It was as if time stopped, and God said:
“I see, Bonnie. I see. You think nobody else does, but Ido. Now, you find a way to communicate that to her.”
And my strong, sometimes fierce, and always feisty self crumpled as I shakily held the iPhone camera to record what I could for family who could not make it to the recital. There was an inner tremble, a hurt child within me, that let go as I watched her glide across the stage with such grace to John Legend’s “If You’re Out There.”
The message of the song is about people coming together in the name of peace. That’s an awesome concept, for sure. But I saw a very quiet, non-attention-seeking young lady dance for the pure joy of it,
“if you’re out there” watching or not.
And it spoke to me in all the hollow places where as a parent I had watched her hurt for so long in several arenas after a very difficult year of poor health and adjusting to a big high school—after time and time again of having amazing character and compassion to offer, but feeling like a wallflower.
My dear sweet daughter, you are not a wallflower. People in your social circles may not know what you can do and what your many gifts are, Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: acquainted with all my ways, being overlooked, called you by name, eyes of the LORD, fear not, feeling overlooked, God calls us by name, God knows us, God loves us, good shepherd, I have called you by name, Isaiah 43:1, psalm 139, shyness, the Lord looks on the heart, unnoticed, wallflower, you are mine, you have searched and known me
Did you ever have a moment in middle or high school when you felt like as soon as you entered a conversation, your peers would suddenly have something else to do and become scarce? (Okay, self-reveal: Maybe that was just socially awkward me?)
Maybe you came to pick up your child to leave a playmate’s home only to experience the frustration of him hiding in a closet so he didn’t have to leave.
Ever find your dog, tail-down, hovering in the crate or under the crouch because she had an accident and knows you won’t be pleased?
My daughter has a bunny with the annoying habit of retreating to her hideaway whenever I come in to offer fresh pellets or hay. It’s not very rewarding to have her scamper away at the sight of my presence.
Do you ever feel this way about God? Like you came into the room, so to speak, to ask Him something, but He might be busy listening to someone else or have better things to do?
Be honest with yourself. This is important. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 1 Chronicles 28:9, clothed with righteousness, come to me, finding God, God with us, God's promises, he will be found by you, hide and seek, hiding from God, I know the plans I have for you, I will be found by you, jeremiah 29:11, king david, Matthew 11:28, robe of righteousness, seek God, seek me with all your heart, seek the Lord, seeking God, you will seek me and find me
A few years ago, Boston endured one blizzard after another until the snowblowers and shovels had nowhere else to deposit the snow. (Yes, believe it or not, I am not talking about this year’s March-a-geddon.) It was almost impossible to street-park in the city, and driveways in the burbs looked like Arctic dunes. Backing out of one’s driveway almost required a traffic cop, and seeing the neighbor’s yard from your car? Forget it if you are shorter than 5 foot 5 inches. We accumulated more than five feet of snow!
The one good part about it, amidst sore backs and snowdrifts that continually crossed pathways out all our doors, was the trail we were able to create in the backyard for our Shih Tzus. Only one foot off the ground, at best, they could not break free and take off across our yet-unfenced yard. For about three weeks, they had a fence of snow that they did not even attempt to climb. It may as well have been Shih Tzu Everest.
During that time, I remember posting a photo of myself next to our driveway’s towering guardrail of white. With shovel in hand, it was even more clear to our Midwest relatives how hard Boston was hit by Jack Frost. And while my husband was understandably overworked preventing ice dams by scraping, salt-bombing, and warming the roof, I was secretly enjoying the pent-up feeling.
The human-sized height of the snow made me feel so safe, so protected, so walled-in. I love when school and other activities are cancelled and nobody can get to our house. As awful as that sounds, for an introvert, it is a little bit of paradise to have a few days off from the world at large. Even the governor of Massachusetts had my back that year with that whole State of Emergency thing.
But even for an introvert, Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 1 Thessalonians 5:11, blizzard, Body of Christ, build one another up, Christian fellowship, confession of our hope, do not forsake the fellowship, encourage one another, fortress, fruit of the Spirit, gathering, God is our refuge, he who promised is faithful, Hebrews 10:23, king of glory, love and good works, meeting together, not neglecting to meet together, Psalm 24:7, Psalm 46:11, refuge, relationship walls, self-protection, self-protective, shadow, shadow of your wings, sharing of lives, shih tzu, walls
It took me more than five and a half years to write this story, the one where my heart left my church one Easter. And even now, I am fully aware of the following:
- I left a building and a shepherd, not the people and not my true Shepherd. I still run a prayer group (going strong many years now) with wonderful women I met there. The Church, ultimately, is the Body of Christ, and I will never abandon her.
1 Corinthians 12:12-14, ESV
For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body–Jews or Greeks, slaves or free–and all were made to drink of one Spirit. For the body does not consist of one member but of many.
- I still love the people who remain, and I am keenly aware that they have their reasons for finding something of value there. For a few years, I did as well.
- None of this is to disrespect that particular church or shepherd. We are all God’s children.
But I believe this story has value. I hope you can have an open heart while reading it.
As Easter 2011 approached, I felt that sick feeling in my gut I had been feeling for years, really. Easter is a time to invite friends to church, to celebrate the resurrection of Christ, to spread love to a world that needs it (yes, we should be doing that all the time, but people tend to seek a church out for Christian holidays).
But I had a major problem:
I couldn’t picture wanting to invite anyone to my church.
In my mind at the time, right or wrong: If they were already broken, they could break more. If they needed Christ, they would only find Him being beaten on a cross.
They wouldn’t necessarily get the message that His resurrection brought grace.
I agree that it is very important we understand He took on our sin. Our sin and what should have been our judgment placed upon His body are realities we must never forget.
The judgment-only focus did not mix well with depression, anxiety, and abandonment already part of my history. Nor did it help a young mother longing to connect with a real, loving, compassionate God.
So, I knew it wasn’t a good sign when I begged my husband to go away that weekend with the kids. We could still attend church—just not our own. How sad is that? I’m not proud of that moment, but I needed the other half of the story. I needed grace. So to Burlington, VT, we went and worshipped and celebrated Easter with a lovely evangelical church there who took us in.
And that’s the day I knew I had to leave. Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 1 Corinthians 12, balm in Gilead, Body of Christ, broken pastor, brokenness, church accountability, church health, church hurt, church life, church oppression, communicating a loving God, communicating Jesus, compassionate God, depression, disagreement within church, do not forsake the fellowship, fellowship of believers, freedom of Christ, grace, grace in action, grace of God, healthy church, healthy churches, Hebrews 10:25, leaving a church, loving Father, loving God, one body, one Spirit, Shepherd, sin, spiritual health, toxic churches
I have a confession to make. I love elf-ing. Yes, that is the verb form of elf, and no, it is not in Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary. I am not referring to the infamous The Elf on the Shelf (which, while cute, I don’t participate in, by the way, because I stay away from traditions I know I will fail).
While I love the movie Elf, that is not where I’m going with this.
Love me some J.R.R. Tolkien Middle-Earth, Rivendell Elves of The Lord of the Rings fame, but those graceful, immortal, pointy-eared creatures are not what I had in mind either.
The elf-ing I am talking about does not require striped tights and a springy hat. I don’t have to wear green. I merely have to consider the following questions to get started:
Who needs extra love this season?
Is there anyone I would like to bless to show my appreciation for who that person is, what (he or) she has meant to me, or what (he or) she has done for me?
With this person in mind, how is love best communicated to her:
Acts of service?
Words expressed, written or verbal?
The gift of my time and my presence?
When I plan the best timing of such a delivery, I want to consider: Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: blessing, blessing on whom His favor rests, elf, elf on the shelf, elf-ing, elfing, ephesians 2:10, God's favor, good will, good will toward men, good works, goodness of the Lord, goodwill, land of the living, Luke 2:14, middle earth, on whom his favor rests, peace on earth, psalm 27:13, rivendell