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
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
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 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
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
It was a dreary, overcast day when I pulled into the parking lot at the counseling center in New Hampshire. I had made the 40-minute trip so many times before, almost on autopilot, but this time it had been about eight weeks since my last visit. I knew we were approaching November, the month that shook me down—several times in my life, actually. Around this time last year, I thought I’d be spending the rest of my life in fetal position crying out to God from under the covers; the devastation of loss and grieving without a funeral where family could gather to comfort one another almost did me in.
So I walked into the nurse’s office, sat down, and must have looked very tired. She asked me how I was and kept staring intently as if she didn’t believe me when I said I was doing well.
“It’s closing in on the first anniversary of your father’s death, you know. How are you preparing for that?”
Um, yeah, so I’m not, really. I’ve done everything I can to push it out of my head. As Thanksgiving approaches and I remember how shut out I felt this time last year from holding his hand one last time as he lost consciousness, I just want to skip past all holidays and land on January 1, 2017. (I wouldn’t mind skipping Election Day either. Let’s just try again this time next year, shall we? Restart?)
You see, November and I go way back.
We got off to a good start when I started dating my husband (now of 23 years) on November 18, 1990.
Almost two decades later, circumstances derailed me. In the midst of significant depression Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: brokenhearted, comfort, comforted by God, crushed in spirit, depression, finding joy, God of comfort, grief, grief at Christmas, grief in the holidays, heals the brokenhearted, holiday blues, holidays, holidays after loss, joy after loss, pain during the holidays, Philippians 4:19, psalm 34:18, sadness, supply all my needs
I was so honored to have the opportunity to write a very personal piece at Rosevine Cottage Girls a few weeks ago. Cheyenne asked me to join their series on the “unconditional love of a special needs parent.” Oh, yes, please! You see, I believe this article is for any parent. Our children transform us and chip away at selfishness and pride, if we’re willing to let our parenting experiences shape us into better people. Parenting of any kind is saying “yes” to the changes that happen within us when we welcome the possibility of unconditional love into our lives.
For two years, I would sit at his basketball games and silently sob.
Not because Little Man (our youngest son) wasn’t as good as the other kids were. (He wasn’t at the time.)
Not because I was embarrassed to be the only parent with a kid on that team not keeping up.
I would weep because he was cognitively stuck. Like a computer sluggishly trying to process a hard drive full of information, he would stare. The game went on around him, and he lagged 30 seconds behind. He would run down the court just as the team was turning around to head the other way down the court. Then he would remember, briefly, to “guard his man” before getting lost in the loudness of the gymnasium, the overstimulation of the ball bouncing around him, the fast pace of the kids racing past, and the pure anxiety of being in slow-motion when everyone around you is on pace. He would peel his hangnails and wear a perpetually worried look on his face.
My heart would ache and shatter not because he was different but because it was an indication that once again, he was suspended in that time and place called dysregulation, for whatever the reason, and we would need months to partly climb back out again.
Join me over at Rosevine Cottage Girls to read how Little Man changed our lives for the better.
Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: ADHD, anxiety, depression, dysregulated, dysregulation, John 15, mental health, OCD, sensory, sensory integration, sensory overload, special education, special mind, special needs, special needs child, special needs parenting, unconditional love
You may relate to the food allergy piece of this—or the part about a child with special needs. Maybe you understand the mental health bit. Perhaps you struggle yourself. This is just one tiny scenario in our family’s journey. It may seem trivial, and when looked through the lens of one small moment, perhaps it is, but the message drawn from it is hugely significant and important. We all struggle with assumptions and forcing our good intentions, as well being misunderstood. It’s universal.
Today, one tired, squeaky, sometimes defeated little voice comes through in my experience. I believe his voice rings out, joining many others along similar paths. Little Man and I want you to know:
You are not alone.
As she bent over to adjust the blood pressure sleeve, she asked him three times:
“Are you looking forward to school starting?”
She had to ask him three times because the first two times he looked down and wouldn’t answer. She had the best of intentions. She wanted to make my son comfortable.
I know the “goal” here is to have a 9 year old make eye contact, smile, act engaged in and enthralled by conversation with an adult, and respond appropriately with all polite words tacked on.
On his best days, he’s charismatic and very articulate.
I’m well out of range of the goal line right now, however. I really am.
Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: allergist, anxiety, asthma, child anxiety, child therapy, childhood depression, childhood sadness, children with disabilities, depression, depressive episode, food allergies, food allergy, how to approach children, learning-based anxiety, listening to children, mental health, sadness in children, school anxiety, sensory, special education, special needs, worried child
I watched my young son walk by her on his way toward me at dismissal time. She waved a tiny wave at him, and he waved sheepishly back, giving a quick smile.
It had been a year since she was his teacher. They were both broken in their own ways that particular year. Nobody could have predicted it. Seeing them tentatively offer each other a quiet reassurance this week taught me something so profound. I’m not sure I’ll ever forget that scene: The one where my son had a stockpile of grace from somewhere deep within. The one where he got in the car and told me, when I asked: “I made sure to smile so she knew I was smiling at her.”
What? Oh, dear Jesus, please tell me. I want to know where that supply of grace is. Little Man seemed to tap right into it and out of the overflow, he worried about the feelings of someone who shared a sad year with him—someone who was just as stuck as he was that year. Don’t we all have moments, seasons, years like that?
Because I feel so protective of our beautiful school community and the teachers and other staff within those walls, the details of their sad year don’t really need to be told here. Suffice it to say that sadness was matched with unrelated sadness, and it made it hard for Little Man to climb out of his own lack of functioning and depression.
My mama heart was all over the map that year because Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: 1 Peter 4:8, child depression, depression, emotional pain, emotional wound, forgiveness, fortress, give love away, God's love, hearts heal, love covers, proverbs 10:12, psalm 91, refuge, shadow of the Almighty, shelter of the Most High, teacher-child relationship, under his wings
I’ll admit it. Part of me was terrified.
Sitting around the table with everyone who had assessed my child over the past few months, or in some cases—years—was intimidating.
What were they going to say? Were they going to kick him off the boat—not because they don’t want to help him—but because he ranked in need behind other kids when it came time to dividing up the special education pieces of the School Budget Pie?
I had come to find each of these specialists and staff members endearing in different ways. For better or worse, we had been contractually married for several years in the common cause of my son. We were linked, convenanted by legal documents and a mutual desire to help him.
But what if, once we got around that table, the budget dropped between the two sides of the table, dividing us abruptly in half like Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea? What if a former Ally in the Care of My Son now became a Defender of Policy, Keeper of the Budget?
Read the rest of this entry »
Tags: ADD, ADHD, anxiety, come and eat with me, depression, disabilities, disability, iep, mental health, occupational therapy, sensorimotor, sensory diet, sensory integration, sensory seeking, social-emotional, special education, visual memory, visual motor integration, visual perception, visual tracking