The last few months have been punctuated with unexpected drama and difficulty. If you read this blog or follow this ministry, you’ll notice a large gap between the last flurry of posts and this one. That’s not an accident, and no one went on an extended vacation.
No one looks forward to unexpected difficulty. But unexpected difficulty can set the course of life towards the big dream God has in mind.
Here are a few valuable, shareable things I’ve learned in this time:
1. It is critically important to be connected to a church, a spiritual family – BEFORE the crisis comes.
The truth is, your church isn’t really your family if you’re never there. You have to actually be connected, actually giving to the family to receive blessings when you have a need.
Our church family was instantly there – connecting us to much needed community resources, asking what we needed in the way of tangible help – and then providing that help. The church staff prayed for our family, regularly.
Two dear friends – people I don’t see often – just ‘happened’ to contact me at exactly the right time. The first just ‘happened’ to call me – right after the difficulty erupted; the other stopped by to say hello at another difficult moment. The Holy Spirit loves to put people in the right place at the right time. Both friends gave just the support that was needed.
No one was intrusive at all. They respected the boundaries we established, but made it clear to us that many were willing to help as needed, when needed.
2. If you have to disconnect from your spiritual family for a while, let some people know why.
Mental health struggles and everything related are difficult and messy. They can’t be scheduled, the healing and restoration doesn’t follow a predictable path. It’s terribly easy to retreat from the world.
Speaking only for myself (CSB), as an introvert, a person with some cognitive processing delays in stressful situations, the best way for me to handle a crisis is to retreat, to reflect, to find quiet. It doesn’t mean I don’t want help, it just means I have to determine what’s right for my particular struggle without competing influences and opinions.
If you are inclined the same way, to retreat and reflect – please, don’t do so without letting a few people know. The true Church wants to give its family members respect, but also keep them from falling away. That’s one part accountability, and one part understanding and patience for the hard things that take people away, temporarily, from spiritual family life.
3. Let people help you.
If they want to bring you a meal, even if you are up for cooking, let them do that. If the church family shows it cares in tangible ways that are not your love language, be kind – but also clear about what can really be helpful. For example, if you just can’t bear to talk daily about the difficult situation, but your extrovert friend wants to call you daily, just gently explain that you appreciate voice mails, but don’t have the energy for conversations very often. And caring friend – expect that your wounded friend may not say all the right words when they are in crisis. Give your friend extra grace. Goodness knows they need it.
4. Keep moving forward.
If you are in crisis, don’t allow yourself to get stuck. If you provide care for another person in crisis, take care of your own mental health needs as well. It’s frightfully easy to grow bitter and resentful, mentally rehashing the circumstances. Things WILL be different eventually – in a month, or a year. Letting people help you will make it easier to keep moving forward.
If you are supporting a friend in crisis, don’t try to fix the problem. If mental health problems were simple to fix, they already would be. Short pithy sayings are quite unhelpful. Opt instead for telling how much you care for your friend, how you are willing to listen. Let them talk. It’s amazing how smart you appear when you listen more than you talk.
Focus for 2017
The board of Outside In Ministries is focusing on fleshing out Mental Health Liaison Services. Even large churches may not have members or staff with the expertise and time to devote to connecting their members to appropriate, truly helpful mental health professionals and related services. Don’t let that stop your church from being the change; loving the entire body of Christ includes loving messy people. Stopping stigma begins with YOU.
Years ago, while working for a large southeastern bank, I left my office mid-day to find food.
I don’t recall the time of year, but it was pleasantly warm and sunny, the kind of day Richmonders often enjoy.
Walking down the sidewalk, an apparently homeless man sat in the shade of a high-rise along my chosen path. To everyone passing by, he held out a dirty baseball hat, asking for money.
As I approached, he made the same request of me. My standard response in that situation is to make only fleeting eye contact and shake my head no.
For every person who had gone before me, some using my technique, others using the technique of completely ignoring the presence of this human on the sidewalk, the avoidance methods worked.
When it was my turn, not so much.
Ever so briefly, I made eye contact with the man. As I shook my head, he could take no more.
“I am Robert Foxworth!” he shouted at me.
I’m quite sure I jumped, startled by his actions. “I am Robert Foxworth!” he shouted again.
By now, many people on the sidewalk were looking at this youngish man, obviously down on his luck, shouting his name repeatedly.
I didn’t run, but I didn’t do anything noble like talk to this suffering human. I’m no better than anyone else. I did walk a little more briskly, in case Robert Foxworth tried to talk to me, or did anything more frightening.
I think about Robert Foxworth a lot, though this event happened more than 20 years ago.
More than likely, Robert Foxworth had parents who loved him and a best friend in grade school. He probably had a first crush, a first kiss, a first love. No doubt he had dreams and aspirations. He wanted to matter.
No matter how he ended up begging on the street – whether the result of drug abuse, or criminal activity, or just the loss of a job which led to a spiral of financial disaster, Robert Foxworth still wanted to matter.
God wove into the DNA of every human the knowledge that each of us is made for something special, something unique, that only I and you and each person reading this can give to the world. Being mentally ill or in prison or homeless doesn’t diminish that desire to matter, to be significant, to find that purpose that God has in mind for you or me or Robert Foxworth.
Most people with mental illness will never end up homeless, shouting their name at strangers on a busy downtown sidewalk. Most people with mental illness will live pretty normal lives, but like Robert Foxworth, keep their mental health struggles hidden in the shadows, in places where people who don’t have mental illness can’t see. It’s too hard to be honest about the struggles of mental illness, because the sharing often comes with even more rejection. One of those places where people with mental illness are often not welcome is the church.
Jesus leveled his fiercest criticisms at church leaders who deemed some people not worthy of their time and care, often because of behavior and illness that didn’t fit with the cultural beliefs regarding sin and personal significance. Since our Lord is not capricious, and is consistent in how He cares for the afflicted, the same criticisms apply to believers and Churches who reject the wounded today.
This is the reason why Outside In Ministries is sponsoring the event “Mental Health Ministry in the Local Church” on Saturday, November 19. From 8:30am – 1pm, come hear leading thinkers in psychiatry, ministry, child abuse and other related topics share their knowledge as well as ideas about how your church can minister to individuals and families with mental illness.
No one is immune to mental illness. From Van Gogh to Abraham Lincoln to Jeremiah the weeping prophet to Isaac Newton to me to probably you and every fourth person around you, mental illness is everywhere. It’s time we talk about it in the Church, and learn how to support the people with these struggles that are common to humanity. I can’t solve other people’s mental health problems – and neither can you – but we can learn to come alongside mentally ill people in their struggles, and be the hands and feet of Christ to them when they need it most.
You can register by clicking here.
The one place that’s supposed to be safe is the Church community. Let’s learn together how we can make our churches places safe not just for ‘normal’ people, but for people who struggle with depression, anxiety, PTSD, neurological differences, bipolar disorder and more.
Because one man, sitting alone on a sidewalk screaming to be heard, is one man too many.
In the mental health ministry that’s underway at ironbridge.org, there are lots of things we’re doing: looking at documented needs within our geographic community and within our church body, making decisions about training and securing the right resources to provide the needed training. More details on that in the final paragraph below.
But the harder question, the one we wrestle with fairly often, is ‘So What?’ If we determine training needs and find the trainers and programs, if we set up a coping skills class for parents of kids with mental illness, if we establish support groups, will the newfound support break down the stigma? Will the methods and skills delivered in coping skills class become habit, or just head knowledge? Even with offering training and talking openly about mental health issues, will mental illness continue to be viewed as an ‘us vs. them’ problem?
These are fair questions. Truth is, mental health ministry will only have lasting impact if it is delivered and provided with love. Not mandated by the church leaders, but loving as a way of life of the broader faith community. Not the fluffy Hallmark© kind of love, but true agape – deep, personal, sacrificial.
Through the lens of mental health issues, here are a few modified verses from 1 Corinthians 13:
If a depressed person joins my small group, I will be patient, I will be kind. If an outcast kid in youth group acts weird, I will not seek my own clique, I won’t be provoked to irritation by their behavior, I won’t take into account the socially wrong thing he said. I won’t rejoice in the unrighteousness of those awkward people being cast out of my group, but rejoice with the truth that Jesus loves the one I find unlikable.
Ouch. Sacrifice and serving someone I don’t really like doesn’t sound like very much fun. But it sounds and looks and tastes and smells like the kind of ministry Jesus did. And it’s what He calls His followers to do. Love beyond your own ability to love. Love like that is impossible without the Holy Spirit operating through you.
More 1 Corinthians 13:
When my understanding of mental illness was small, child-like, I reasoned like a child: odd behavior has to be sin. When my understanding of mental illness and neurological differences grew through factual information, I did away with my childish interpretations, and though I still have a dim understanding of mental illness, at least I now understand more clearly, while my Lord fully knows my own flaws and frailties.
More than anything, mental health ministry is about your church community, as a whole, getting the concept that people with mental health issues aren’t problems to be solved, they are people to be loved.
The people most likely to provide that kind of deep, personal, sacrificial love to those who don’t fit neatly into our programs are the ones who have been wounded by mental illness, their own or that of someone they love.
One thing we’re working on, that has been shown to be effective for other education topics: the power of stories. Ask the wounded ones to share their experiences. As theologian Henri Nouwen said of his own depression and why he wrote about it, “What is most personal might be more universal.”
If those who have experienced and lived with mental illness are willing, videotape their stories, so the beneficial and instructional aspects of their stories can be shared repeatedly. The professional mental health community has learned the great value that comes from engaging people with lived mental health experience in helping others navigate their own illnesses and recovery. Within the church community, we can learn from those with lived experience what has been helpful (or harmful) in allowing them to see their mental illness as part of the human condition and the journey of faith.
A 2014 survey of church attenders revealed that 65% of family members in a household of someone with acute mental illness want the local church to talk more openly about mental illness, so that the topic is not so ‘taboo.’ Only 2 in 5 of church-attending people with mental illness surveyed said their church has helped them think through and live out their faith in the context of mental illness. Sharing the stories of those with lived experience is one way to deepen church community and connection, begin breaking down the stigma, and begin delivering support to those suffering silently.
Here’s a link to the mental health ministry implementation outline at Ironbridge. We’re working through the third stage right now; we’re setting up training, working on consistent communications about mental health across the church body; we’re figuring out how to coordinate meeting practical needs. More details on each of these in the months to come.
Recently Outside In Ministries had the pleasure of doing some work for Bethany Place Baptist Church in suburban Richmond. We are very grateful for this opportunity, and thrilled at the recommendation that they wrote for us to use on our website, as follows:
“When a member of our church, Bethany Place Baptist, in Richmond gave a testimony that she had a mental illness and that others with similar conditions would like to form a support group, we didn’t know where to start. Fortunately, we were led to contact Catherine Boyle of Outside In Ministries. She met with us and provided us not only with research materials, organizations like DBSA, and contacts, but also gave us an outstanding presentation tailored to our group’s needs. Catherine was an outstanding resource to help us plan a mental health ministry at our church.” – Doug Cather
Also, here’s a link to a report on what it’s like to be a caregiver for an adult with mental illness. There are many local resources and supports caregivers can reach out to receive, but frankly, being that caregiver is mentally and physically exhausting. The last thing someone this tired can do is to REACH OUT; a trusted friend needs to REACH IN. This is a GIANT area of opportunity for churches to care for people within their own faith family who are supporting loved ones with mental illness. This report is also linked on the “You Can Help” page of the website.
Any ideas and comments about how your church is helping a caregiver of a mentally ill adult are welcome!
Here’s a link to an interview on “State of Belief” last Thursday, June 16 with Reverend Welton Gaddy. We’ll get it up on the Outside In Ministries podcast shortly too.
Registration information available soon! To pre-register, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
We’re THRILLED to share that Key Ministry, a national leader in ministry to individuals and families with disabilities and mental illness, is featuring a blog series about Outside In Ministries’ experience implementing a mental health ministry in a local church. Ironbridge Baptist Church, located in Chester, VA, recently had a kickoff dinner to begin to educate church staff and lay leadership about mental illness, and to understand the specific physical and spiritual needs of these individuals.
Here’s the blog article on the Key Ministry website, in its entirety:
Eighteen short months ago, God impressed on me that my spiritual and vocational focus needed to be on mental health and how the Church cares for people with mental illness. I initiated a conversation with my church’s executive pastor. Surprisingly, the pastoral staff had already been discussing the need for mental health ministry within our faith community.
Fast forward to now. Outside In Ministries was formed in late 2015 with the mission of helping local churches lovingly come alongside and support those in their midst with mental illness. One in 5 people has a mental health diagnosis. That means 1 in 5 people in YOUR church has a mental health diagnosis. Every fourth or fifth person in your pew, row, small group, Sunday morning class, Wednesday night service, mom’s group, men’s group and youth group has a diagnosis.
What this also means is that a different effort is needed to reach out to those who often find themselves on the most difficult, solitary challenge of their lives. If that many people in your church community have a mental illness, but are not sharing with their class or group this part of their lives, then the ministry status quo is not working. A new approach is needed, to create the kind of community where people are authentic about these very real struggles in their lives.
The good news is that no expensive mission trips and no big budget programs are necessary to make a significant impact.
As I began meeting with pastors and doctors, government health care workers, private sector support organizations, counselors, and people living with a variety of mental illnesses, it became evident that the Church has a unique opportunity to provide care, support and love – and help heal some of the wounds of mental illness that nothing else really can.
One of the great things that has happened in the past eighteen months is connecting with Dr. Steve Grcevich and Key Ministry. I’m thrilled to share with Dr. G’s readers about the first Mental Health Ministry we’re implementing with a local church.
Located in suburban Richmond, Virginia, Ironbridge Baptist Church is 30-year-old faith community, currently with a staff of thirteen, including five full-time pastors. Full disclosure: Ironbridge is my very own church!
What makes a church like Ironbridge agree to launch a Mental Health Ministry? I think the biggest factor is a willingness to go to the hard places of life. We know the spiritual maturity it takes to look at the person – not just the behavior – and give love. As best we know how, the Ironbridge community follows where Jesus leads, even into the messiest parts of life.
So if your church has members and attenders who struggle with depression and anxiety, or who have diagnosed major mental illness, or who have children with current or suspected diagnoses, prayerfully consider if God isn’t calling your church to come alongside and care for these people in a new way.
Outside In Ministries recently kicked off this initiative at Ironbridge with presentations by mental health professionals working in local and state government and representatives of the local chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). By connecting (1) the information presented with (2) information about mental health needs in our faith community and geographic area and (3) how the Church often responds to mental health needs, a clear picture came into focus: Mental health issues are significant in our area, and in our church. Ironbridge has a tremendous opportunity to come alongside people as the hands and feet of Jesus, in what is often the hardest struggle of their lives.
Over the next twelve months, I’ll let you know what we’re doing, and how it’s going. Ironbridge already knows some things we want and need to do. We’re just beginning to take steps to initiate some communications and tangible hands-on helps that we’ve discussed in recent months.
Today’s takeaway: if you think mental health ministry is something your church should consider, just start the conversation. If your church is like most, the pastors and staff are already aware of mental health needs in your faith community. Prayerfully consider if Jesus isn’t asking you to step up and reach out to the ones who can’t reach out for themselves.
On Tuesday May 24, twenty leaders from Ironbridge Baptist Church gathered for an evening of good food, good conversation and thought-provoking presentations, all focused on how to better connect with and serve people living with mental illness.
Working with Outside In Ministries, Ironbridge is launching a year-long ministry initiative, with the goal of meeting specific church and community needs, and help break down the stigma about mental illness that often exists in churches.
A monthly blog series, featured on KeyMinistry.org, will chronicle the steps taken by Ironbridge and the results that follow.
Here are a few snapshots of the evening!
Does your faith community want to learn how to meet the unique needs of people living with mental illness? Contact Outside In Ministries today to schedule a consultation.
A year ago, I didn’t know if I would be able to put one foot in front of the other today. Life was very heavy. It was the middle of what I will always remember as ‘The Year of Tears.’
For the last few years, life took a turn – not abrupt, but a relatively slow yet excruciating turn away from what I had formerly envisioned.
I was terrified and confident all at the same time. Confident because I knew that my cause was righteous. Confident in my God, who had given me glimpses – sometimes clear bright vision – of where He wanted my life to go. Of how He wanted me to use what He has given me to bless others. Of how deeply He had called me to love – far beyond my ability to give what I knew to be love.
I was terrified because things I wanted – even the pursuit of righteousness – hadn’t always worked according to my plan. Not even close.
I know a few things to be absolutely true: my God is kind. My husband loves me and our kids. My kids love me, and they love their dad. My life has a purpose. Fact is, my whole life has pointed towards times like May 2016.
So I began working, often feverishly. I was determined that nothing would stop me from reaching my goals: of beauty, peace, righteousness.
For a time, everything worked smoothly. I am nothing if not competent when I attack a project – whether a project like knitting an afghan – or building a life.
But one day, in spite of all my intense and persistent efforts, in spite of my faith that what was being fashioned together was beautiful and would only grow in beauty – it didn’t. Life took a very different turn.
Truth is, life is not linear. Sure, we’re all aging; for everyone, night turns to day turns to night again. But there have been too many days when my plans have fallen apart in ways that make no sense, in things inconsistent with the effort I’ve put into the expected outcome.
Disappointments and heartache, like mental illness, prevent life from following a linear path. Kind of like this afghan.
The afghan pattern calls for curves, not lines, to form a feather and fan pattern. I’ve knit this pattern at least twice before. But this time, when I began the finishing touches in early May, I found a huge mistake.
Halfway through the afghan, my stitches switched direction.
Don’t ask me how it happened. If you’re a knitter, you know it is not as ridiculous as it sounds.
But because of the pattern, and the yarns used, it’s still beautiful. And amazingly, the day I laid out the leftover yarn and cut pieces to make the fringe, another beautiful thing happened: I used all the rest of the yarn, and only had to cut 6 more pieces of a different yarn to finish the fringe. Nothing was wasted.
Maybe this doesn’t seem like a miracle, but it is. I literally guessed at how long to make the fringe, how many to group together, what the spacing should be.
This finished afghan is telling a story – much richer and more dimensional than merely an afghan with a twist.
Last July, I ended a corporate job, and began pursuing this calling that quickly became Outside In Ministries.
This may have seemed like another u-turn, and in some ways it was. In others, it was putting me back on the track that God had laid out for me, before the foundation of the world. I believe that with every fiber of my being.
At the beginning of 2015, after much prayer, God clearly let me know that mental illness was to be my focus, for the rest of my days. Mental illness has been one of the precepts of my whole life. God has equipped me – through u-turns and disappointments, through heartache and despair and mistreatment and mistakes and seemingly endless tears – to be the hands and feet of Christ in a unique way, and to help others do the same.
I am beyond thrilled that Outside In Ministries has just launched our first mental health ministry in a local church. Ironbridge Baptist, located in suburban Richmond, sees the desperate need of breaking down the stigma associated with mental illness and loving marginalized people. Because Jesus does. Without exception.
Maybe your life has never taken a u-turn. Mine has taken several. But I encourage you to look at this afghan, and know – KNOW – that God isn’t finished with you. NOTHING is wasted in His economy. If you let Him, every tear, every sleepless night, every desperate prayer when you have no idea what else to do, will eventually come together. The One Who experienced His own tears, sleepless nights and prayers of desperation holds together all things. Even your heartache.
The pattern of your life may not look like the one you imagined, but God’s vision makes the finished product of your life richer, more beautiful and more Christ-like than any life without a twist.Share Tweet
The organization FIRE (Faith Infused Recovery Efforts of Rhode Island) and the New England Addiction Technology Transfer Center (NEATTC) produced the video below about the impacts that faith communities can have on mental illness, specifically addiction-based illnesses. It’s worth watching if you are interested in the approach other faith communities are taking towards helping people with mental illness.
A couple of great comments, paraphrased: “If Jesus showed up today, the first place He would visit is a recovery community center. These are the kind of people He came to serve.” And another: “How big an impact faith communities could have if we just became more unified in resolve to help people with mental illness.”
I’d love to hear how your faith community is reaching out to the mentally ill in your midst.
May is Mental Health Month! In our world of National Talk Like a Pirate Day, National Vinegar Day and National Absurdity Day, I really appreciate that awareness of mental illness has risen to the level of getting its own month.
There are many designated days for specific mental health awareness within the month of May, and Outside In Ministries will do its part to highlight those.
And how fitting is it that Outside In Ministries is about to launch our first mental health pilot with a faith community, starting officially on May 24. Lots of groundwork has been laid, lots of research, and we’re grateful to this church that’s willing to step up and learn and become welcoming to individuals and families who have mental health struggles as part of their life experience. One in 4 of us has a mental health diagnosis; we’re already in every faith community. It’s just so refreshing that churches are starting to catch a glimpse of the ministry and love of Christ that can be shared in a whole new way, by addressing the deep well of fear, hurt and need that accompanies mental illness.
Stay tuned for more.Share Tweet
Here’s an excellent article from www.watchman.org about the characteristics of spiritual abuse.
Spiritual abuse can be just as devastating, if not more so, than physical, sexual or emotional abuse, because the person abused is harmed by God’s representative in his or her life. If the leader of your Christian organization deems you unworthy to be part of the group, how can you argue against him? Jesus spoke very harshly of these people, stating in Matthew 23:28 “So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” The whole of chapter 23 deals with they hypocrisy and evil nature of shepherds (leaders) who don’t really care about the individuals in their care. Mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, panic disorder and PTSD often come on the heels of such trauma.
Church leaders, if you can’t love those you are called to serve, it’s time to find secular employment.
Just some food for thought for anyone who claims the name of Jesus.Share Tweet
Spending a week with your teenage daughter looking at colleges is one part absolute joy, one part incredible sadness. That was last week.
As a family, we’re entering a season of transitions with both of our kids: from living at our home to living on their own, from requiring more hands on care than I ever imagined possible at this point in their lives and ours to requiring no care at all. With a little fear and trepidation, I state that we seem to be exiting a time of dramatic stress, long-undiagnosed illness and mental trauma to a new season of peace, strength and healing scars. 2015 was my ‘year of tears,’ but not 2016. Even with the presidential election process and all its horrors (kidding, sort of 😉 ).
One more transition: over the next year, I’m winding down Catherine Boyle Ministries, the website, the Catherine Boyle specific books and materials. But this is all good! It’s because Outside In Ministries is ramping UP, in ways I couldn’t have imagined just a few short months ago when I started doing research and brand development and making the initial scary phone calls and meetings. Heck, some days I still don’t know exactly what I’m supposed to do. But I pray, and God speaks, and He opens doors, and He makes the most improbable of connections. It’s been an amazing faith-filled journey so far, and it looks like that’s going to continue.
Many things are in the works now. I covet your prayers, for Outside In to flourish (this isn’t about me, it’s not ‘mine’). My own church is launching an Outside In-facilitated mental health pilot in May, and Outside In will host a community-wide event in Richmond in November. Both have goals not for just a new program or event, but to start effecting cultural change, one believer at a time, one church at a time.
Jesus came to love and care for the ‘lost sheep’; His followers are supposed to do the same. No one is a throwaway to God. Our social culture has embraced this concept; our spiritual/church culture has to take the lead to make the end of mental illness stigma stick.
Special offer: I have quite a few Hungry Souls Bible study books (both for students and study group facilitators); I have a small supply of the Hungry Souls books. THEY ARE FREE FOR THE TAKING, with one caveat: if it costs me something to get it to you, I ask that you pay for shipping. And if you want to make a donation to Outside In Ministries (a tax-exempt 501(c)3 organization), you’ll get a tax receipt for any donation, no matter how small.
Thanks for your support and friendship.Share Tweet
This article stabs me squarely in the heart, in several ways. Let’s just say I have intimate, personal experience with many aspects of this article. And I’ve been compelled through very unpleasant circumstances to learn how to channel my rage in a godly way.
You know some of my story. One day I’ll tell the whole thing. But not yet.
My God is kind. What has happened to me and loved ones, the DNA that lives in my cells and that I share with others is not a cosmic accident. It is God working through me, in the ways He has educated, equipped and empowered me to speak up and speak out to do my part to repair a heartless world.
Here’s an important takeaway as you read this article: ‘quirky,’ ‘square peg in a round hole,’ ‘doesn’t fit in’ aren’t personality traits. They’re symptoms. So stop treating people with the odd behaviors like everything about them is sin.
Educating yourself and changing your behavior might just prevent the next suicide.
#notcontagious #mentalillness #stopstigma #kickstigma #outsideinShare Tweet