Monday, April 8, 2013

Words Without Pictures - Living With - Living Alongside

I was young, not even a teenager. Standing in the church foyer with people all around, young and old, all, I was alone. Maybe a more accurate way to convey how I felt would be to say I was an imposter; not a real part of the church family because of what we had in our family. I didn't feel like I was like the rest - real.

You see, we had mental illness in our family and people didn't really know what to do with that. We didn't really know what to do with that. Looking back from today's point of view, I can't imagine how they would have known what the right way to be was, what the path through could possibly be, or what the path beside may have been. Who could tell them? Not us. We didn't know.

Even now, with many years having gone by, some strides made in the forward direction around awareness while a few taken away by media hype, I'm not sure society, including the church, knows how best to walk alongside the mentally ill. I know I don't, not the best way, just the best I know so far. And it is the same for all of us, we know the best we know so far.

Our family has certainly had opportunity to learn, share, inform, maybe even educate and we've been very fortunate to have many in our church and community today, want to understand. I am very thankful for this, for these caring people who have loved us well and I am also thankful for any chance to expand understanding. There has been improvement. And there is room for more. For all of us, me included, maybe especially.

My mom suffered many, many years with mental illness. So did we. It is not only the mentally ill who suffer but also those who love them and maybe even those who do not. Its reach is far.

This illness, cruel as it can be with whatever face it shows, does not make those who live with it 'less than'. It took me a long while to learn that. It took my son getting diagnosed with mental illness for me to really know that. He is not 'less than'...nor is my mom. Nor am I as a daughter and mother of those with mental illness. They, we, are made in God's image, after all.

My mom and my son have both taught me much with their struggle through crises and their living with the illness. Their courage and hope rock my world. Their journeys are not without struggle and also not without triumph. Like all of ours.


  1. Loving you, and your family... we each face different challenges - some we seem to easily rise above... others keep us in a low place - each one can be used by Him to tell His story! A story of imago dei - being created in His image, and therefore having incredible value.

    And of our need to be radically dependent on Him for EVERYTHING!

    And of our need to be radically committed to each other in love!

    1. Yes, each of us, all of us have challenges and stuff.

      Being aware not just of the mental health issues but of each other and whatever we may hold in our hearts is necessary to relationship, is necessary to community. It is something I have experienced from you and others. It is something I myself have a ways to go in. Seeing those around me as created in God's image and therefore of incredible value moves me in this direction.

    2. And so we journey together....

  2. Wishing you strength, courage and longsuffering.

  3. You are so brave to write about mental illness Carla. It is a subject that unfortunately people don't like hearing about, don't understand and are afraid to even begin the conversation. You write beautifully about your experience... "They, we, are made in God's image, after all." Amen.

    1. I don't feel brave! ;)
      Thank you for your encouraging words.

  4. I'm not sure that churches are naturally prepared to respond in the most appropriate ways to people living with mental illness. Yet, so many congregations have a high number of senior citizens, and depression is so common among seniors that it's come to be regarded as a normal part of aging!

    It would behoove churches to learn more about loving people with mental illness.

    I have heard of congregations that have formed "signature ministries" around learning disabilities and other challenges. All it takes is one member, or one family, to bring the need to light.

    In reflecting on God, it seems to me that there's a strong theme in Scripture about God being larger, and stronger, than whatever it is that might hold us down. My exposure to folks recovering from addictions has shown me that they depend on that very reality.

    Maybe I'm rambling. Thank you for sharing this portion of your story. I will remember it as I encounter your blog entries, so peace-filled. I hope your soul, as an advocate and supporter of someone living with mental illness, is also being nurtured.

  5. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Now I will ramble.

    As I consider this blog post I realize I've likely written this in an emotional reaction to what I have seen in the news. It found its mark on a painful past.

    But I live in the present. I have experienced what it is like to be loved well in a church community. I've watched as my son also has been loved well in this same community. And I've also been encouraged to know that my parents are cared for within their church community, the same church I went to as a youngster. This particular church has a support group for those who live with mental health concerns. Now that is progress! Is there room to learn more, grow more? Absolutely, for all of us.

    So, though maybe not naturally inclined to respond in the most appropriate ways to people living with mental illness, it seems that supernaturally, or spiritually, churches may be. The need does have to be verbalized or seen first. And perhaps as we love each other well, we provide a safer place to do just that.

    God is bigger and stronger and is absolutely our help in times of trouble and also our help in times of calm.

    My desire is for my family's story, this portion or any other, to be a hopeful one (hope for change, hope for healing, hope for strength in illness, hope for whatever it is we need in our own stories). My hope is in my God, not my circumstances. He's way bigger.