Tag Archives: healing

Regarding Mental Health: How the Church Can Be Supportive

This piece was originally posted on http://forum.covquarterly.com/ in response to an article published in The Covenant Quarterly http://covquarterly.com/index.php/CQ/article/view/2Amy Simpsons article, “Supporting Families Living With Mental Illness” resonated deeply with me. Her story speaks of a journey that many walk in silence; one with which I am all too familiar.  I am ordained in the Evangelical Covenant Church but currently am not serving in a pastoral position. However, I do have a ministry. It is through my own family’s journey with our child, who is being treated for Bipolar Disorder, that my eyes were opened up to the need for educating and equipping the local congregation to care for others walking our journey.   Recently, I had the privilege to lead a workshop at the Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women whose children are affected by Mental Illness/ other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common themes expressed included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community; specifically Christian community. Simpson’s calls to action regarding support for families affected by mental  illness, matches my own experiences; both as a parent and a part of the body of Christ. What I offer here, are specific points to ponder as well as practical ways we have found for the local church to demonstrate support.

Recently, I had the privilege of leading a workshop at the ECC Central Conference Women’s Spring Celebration for women with children affected by mental illness or other challenges. The fact that the room was packed spoke volumes. That room became a place of refuge and belonging. Common experiences shared included isolation, exhaustion, and the need for community – specifically for Christian community. Simpson’s call to action to the church to support families affected by mental illness matches my own experiences as a parent and as part of the body of Christ. I offer here some practical suggestions for how the local church can support families struggling with mental illness.
Educate: Become aware of organizations that supply information about the condition. For ministry staff, the questions that arise may include: How do I care for this person and their family? How do I help educate the congregation without drawing negative attention to the individual (and family members)? Since the symptoms fall on a large spectrum, the individuals have different needs.  Some churches have a sunday school class that particularly caters to children with special concerns.  We give practical suggestions to teachers when cues such as frustration or anger are presented.
Understand the impact on the entire family:As Simpson notes, “…behind every person with mental illness is a family that has been impacted-perhaps even devastated-by that illness.” Time, energy and resources are often drastically reduced in caring for the affected individual. Siblings may feel neglected.  One idea that has been welcoming to us is the inviting of our other children to play at other families’ homes. It’s a simple act that benefits everyone and reminds the siblings that they are special too. Any gesture that can ease tension is a gift to the family.
A  note on a theology of suffering: Simpson cautions against a theology of suffering that teaches   “that life should be easy and happy.” While I agree with her, I would also admonish against a belief that  medication/treatment provides a diversion from acknowledging the reality of suffering. I know persons with mental illness who have refused medication because they believe that the illness is a “cross to bear.” People facing other illnesses such as diabetes, heart conditions, etc. do not usually see their conditions from that perspective. In particular, parents of children with mental health issues may struggle with embracing the use of medication to help their child. Further complicating the decision by throwing a misguided theology of suffering on them is not helpful.  I believe that God has gifted individuals to develop medications that help restore “normal” processes of the brain and give those affected a better quality of life.The beauty of the Christian community is that we are made better by growing together.  We gain a bigger picture of God’s character through our interactions with each other.  My daughter loves and is effective in helping in certain tasks.  When she was younger, she placed the communion cups in the trays. She also helps prepare the snacks (and I might add enjoys being creative in this task) for our Café’ which follows our Sunday worship service. Children, in general crave purpose. Involvement affirms the truth that they are an important part of the community. . The Apostle Paul writes, “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up…”. (1 Thessalonians 5:11)  As Simpson states, “Helping people with mental illness is part of the church’s mission and calling. This is true not only for church leaders, but also every Christian.  We are responsible for our response to people in need.”

 

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How Redemption is Found in a Changing Landscape

As I step outside on this spring day, my eye catches the transforming landscape across the way.

For as long as my family has resided next door to Ray, the small strip of land between our driveways has given witness to the hand of our Creator.  On Summer days, my first glance captured the vibrant multicolored blooms lining my black tarred driveway. Further up the strip, tomato plants, zucchini, cucumbers and giant sunflowers towered over anyone standing in their midst. Often our home was blessed with portions of this majestic bounty.

Ironically, as the fruit blossomed, his health withered. In the last five years, the strip of beauty gradually shrunk to a small rectangle. Patches of Earth spawning bits of grass spread where blossoms once lived. But not on the whole piece of land. Despite Ray’s fragile health, his passion for producing a bountiful harvest remained. His adult children now took on his role.

Once again, the symbols of Spring emerge. Traditionally, speaking, planting activity along his side of the driveway should be visible. But it isn’t. A few weeks ago. Ray died.

Much will change this summer. The blooms and the outdoor conversations will cease between us.I have written previously about those unfiltered moments between he and I. Ray resisted the longing arms of his Creator. Yet, God’s voice continued to speak-through the colorful display of nature dotting the land between our homes-and through neighbors. I’m not sure what decision Ray made at the end. We will never know.

Though death has occurred, God’s hand is still working.

Today, there is new movement across the way. Yes, the evidence of death lies blatant. His voice no longer calls to me as I venture out to get the mail in my bare feet; an act for which he would chastise me. “You need to tell your husband to buy you some shoes,” he would say with a slight smile. His blue chair in the driveway appears lonely.  But the ceasing of one rhythm in my life has given way to a new one.

Laughter, the aroma of bbq, footsteps, and machinery compose the new beats. An audio soundtrack accompanies the visual changes. His son and grandson inhabit Ray’s home now; moving forward in steps of restoration and healing.  The deterioration of health coincided with the deterioration of his home. Although his son, lived there, Ray resisted any transformation of his home. I suppose whatever bits of feisty independence remained were reaching to exert control.

Now, a beautiful new landscape develops. Outside, large machinery reshapes overgrown, dried, brush.  New colors and textures emerge on a three dimensional canvas. One which flows inside as well. Fresh coats of paint bring life back into  these old walls. Brokenness begins the journey to restoration. Both in things and in relationships.

Redemption.

As I gaze out my window this morning, I watch a neighbor transport tree trunk sections on a dolly across the street to his home.  Until yesterday, the trunk, rooted in the ground, supported death.  Life had ceased in the body attached to it.  What will become of it now?

And then my mind made the connection: The hands of my neighbor, a skilled sculptor, will carve into the wood. Beauty lies beneath; anticipating it’s birth.

Transformation.

Tomatoes and blooms yield to new. different. hopeful.

Be alert, be present. I’m about to do something brand-new.
    It’s bursting out! Don’t you see it?” (Isaiah 43:19).

The master hand of the Creator is at work. That which is created takes new forms. The process is not yet complete. But what a privilege it is to watch it unfold.

Do You Want to Be Made Well? Identifying With the Man in John 5

” Do you want to be made well?”

The question posed to the man in John 5:5-9 appears rhetorical.

We do not know if he was born with a disability or his physical limitations are the result of an injury. Regardless, he is accustomed to his place near the pool of Bethesda. He’s resided in that spot for 38 years!  He knows the perceptions of how he got there.  Surely his parents must have sinned greatly in order for God’s blessing to be withheld. The whispers and stares are not lost on him. He watches those whom wear the badge of “blessed” murmur as they pass his way daily.  It’s not an abundant life.  But it is what he has accepted.

And then he encounters Jesus. He  wasn’t even seeking Him. Yet, Jesus approaches the man.

Who, would not embrace the offer to be healed? After all, multitudes clamored to be healed through Jesus’ mysterious yet miraculous touch.

What appears to be a simple question actually carries with it a complex web of implications.

Three years ago, my son became sick.  Originally struggling with a chronic upset stomach, epilepsy presented suddenly. Our lives became caught up in a whirlwind of questioning, troubleshooting and despair. Thankfully, God’s mercies held us tight during that year. However, reeling out of that trauma, my son struggled with being made well. As I walked with him in that journey, I reflected on moments in my own life when I too feared “being well,” The voices spoken both audibly and echoing in our heads, appear to hold power and keep us from breaking free.

Restoration changes our perceived identity

Is it no wonder that the man in John 5 became accustomed to his socially appointed lot in life? We are creatures of habit-even if the routine subtly and deceptively keeps us from being restored-fully whole in communion with God..

My son’s visit to Mayo Clinic included a visit with a psychologist who only sees adolescents with chronic illnesses. Why? Because narrowing one’s identity to fit around the illness becomes tempting. My son was exhorted to not let his epilepsy define him.

Our own identities may be informed by life changing parts of our narratives, illness, injury,sinful actions committed against us or sinful areas with which we struggle. Regardless, Jesus has promised us abundant life   Healing may or may not happen here on Earth but restoration is always possible.

How will he recognize his purpose now? What will it take for him to break through the perception that he is no longer dependent on others for basic needs? How will he establish autonomy?

Restoration places us out of our comfort zone; even if the previous zone of habitation limited us. As my son returned to High School for his Junior year, following the previous year of illness, I anticipated that he would welcome the fresh start. However, anxiety filled him as he began. I felt completely blindsided. Why would apprehension fill his heart?

He had become accustomed to his lot. Sympathetic teachers. A force of people supporting him. Extra time at home.

As my writer friend Emily Conrad wrote in response to one of my posts, “I finally got something I’ve been longing for for years and now I find myself on the other side of a situation I had grown comfortable with. I had accepted it. And now that Jesus spoke and I’m moving on, I feel a little wobbly on these legs.”

Transitioning to a posture of empowerment demands walking forward. Even if the ground feels shaky at first.

Restoration expands our view of God’s character

Believe it or not, grasping who God is can cause one to feel a bit unsettled. Humanity has always yearned for the predictable. Comfort is found in explanation. Uncertainty sends our hearts and minds stirring. We simply find difficulty in grasping God’s words through Isaiah”

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
    neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
Doesn’t it seem easier in a chronic situation to adapt and accept that God is not capable of Forgiveness? Mercy? Delivery? Healing?

“Do you want to be made well?”

Jesus heals the man in a way that the man never expected. Not in the pool but simply out of Jesus’ authoritative word: “Rise. take up your pallet and walk.”

Later, Jesus finds the man to complete the process of restoration. “Go and sin no more.”

Suddenly, his daily rhythm of life is altered.

Walking forward demands trusting our sovereign God in our new steps. Acknowledging that we can balance on one leg as we move the other in front in order to stride toward the longed for but unfamiliar horizon.

It’s possible. because of Jesus

Jesus, who desires my wholeness so much to encounter me when I wasn’t looking for restoration.

Jesus, who believes that I am so much more than what I think of myself.

Jesus.

 

What must you surrender to Jesus so that you might be “made well?”