As Iron Sharpens Iron…The Special Needs and Disability Ministry Leaders Facebook Group

A place to learn, share and encourage.

Iron sharpens iron,
    and one man sharpens another.

Proverbs 27:17 (ESV)

On occasion, God has prompted me to do some pretty unlikely things. Raise “happy” chickens in suburban Chicago? (Thank goodness I have forgiving neighbors.) Fork over $10,000 I didn’t have to free hundreds of young girls trapped in slavery in Ghana? (Thank goodness He has a generous Church.) Create a national non-denominational online forum for newbie and “seasoned” special needs ministry leaders? (Apparently, God has a good sense of humor.) It’s amazing what God thinks we can do in the face of such unlikely odds.

As a technophobe who barely navigates her way around email (never mind today’s tangle of social media), the idea of my starting a web page I didn’t know how to create to bring together hundreds of people I didn’t know was simply absurd. Funnier still was the fact that at the time, I wasn’t even involved in special needs ministry. But God was insistent.

So I rolled up my digital sleeves and hammered out a very basic Facebook page with a no-nonsense name, Special Needs and Disabilities Ministry Leaders Forum. SNAD-Leaders for short.

Five years old in June, SNAD-Leaders has over 800 members and growing. It has proven to be an interactive, informative site where leaders (both newbies and well-seasoned) can ask their honest questions, wrestle with differing perspectives, offer input, empathize over shared frustrations, and try to help one another in the name of Christ.

And have I mentioned God prompts us to do the most unlikely things? Two years ago, God prompted me to turn yet another direction. It was time to step off the frenetic treadmill of special needs advocacy. No more articles. No more blogs. No more presentations. No more platform building. No more special needs ministry leadership at church. No more interviews. And no more SNAD-Leaders. God made it clear. I needed a timeout – a season of rest, both for myself and for my family.

Until now.

Several months ago SNAD-Leaders lost its administrator. And although I love interacting with our online community and have come to care about our members as dear friends, one thing hasn’t changed. I’m still a hopeless technophobe. I was sure God had another plan in mind.

When I asked Steve Grcevich, (an early SNAD member, co-admin and friend) to take the reins of SNAD-Leaders I knew it was a perfect fit. Steve would have the heart to care about SNAD, as he has since it began, and he would have the experienced staff and knowhow to take it to levels of effectiveness and resourcing I never could.

However, when he answered my question, it was a surprise. Would I step in again as the admin for the site but this time as an employee of Key Ministry? And with a team who could partner with me to provide all the techno-whats-its, gee-whizery, and expertise to make it even better?

So, starting this month, SNAD-Leaders is entering a whole new chapter. While our focus will still be dialogue and discussion, there will be some changes ahead. The appearance of the page will be updated. We’ll provide more opportunities to share resources, information, articles and curricula. We’ll add webinars to facilitate greater interaction and  discussion with experienced disability ministry leaders on the latest issues and most common questions. I am truly, truly excited.

God has a long and glorious history of asking His people to do the absurd or to undertake the improbable. I think He utterly delights in prompting us to do the most unlikely things. But it’s only when we say “yes” that we get to see just how amazing He really is.

Know someone who would like to be part of the group? SNAD-Leaders is a “closed” Facebook group in that membership is limited to persons serving in some leadership capacity in a church or parachurch ministry engaged in disability inclusion. Prospective members will be asked two questions…

What position do you currently hold or role do you play in your church’s disability ministry?

How did you hear about our Facebook page and why do you want to join?

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Kelli Anderson is a freelance magazine writer, blogger, podcaster and the newest member of our Key Ministry team. Kelli is the author of Divine Duct Tape, a sixty day devotional that comes from her own experience as a mother of three teens, two with Asperger’s Syndrome. Many of her articles focus on the practical how-tos of supporting and embracing families of special needs children, especially those who struggle with social, emotional and developmental disorders.

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“A gateway drug to the devil”

A news story making the rounds in California in recent weeks points out the potential for pastors and church leaders to cause harm through uninformed and untruthful statements regarding mental illness and dramatizes how much work still needs to be done to better educate the Christian community about mental health-related topics.

From Fox News:

A bipolar California kindergarten teacher — who was told by a pastor her medicine was a “gateway drug to the devil” — has been missing since she got into a car accident Monday.

Jamie Tull hasn’t been heard from since shortly after she crashed. Tull’s husband, Apollo Tull, told The Modesto Bee his wife called him in tears, saying “I’m not going to see you again.” Soon afterwards, Jamie drove off the road, into fences and a cattle gate. After the crash she told her husband where she was.

Apollo called 911 and drove to the scene. When he arrived, he found police, but no sign of his wife.

Jamie’s father was interviewed by a reporter from KTXL-TV in Sacramento:

According to Devenport-Tull’s father, his daughter has bipolar disorder. He says she has not taken her medication for about six months because a pastor and his wife told her that pills lead to demons.

Her father also told FOX40 that Devenport-Tull was taken against her will about 10 years ago in Southern California. Three years after she had returned she was diagnosed as bipolar, prescribed medication and was considered high functioning until she stopped taking her medication.

Fortunately, Jamie’s story had a happy ending:

The former Modesto school teacher who went missing nearly three weeks ago in Merced County was found alive Friday morning, authorities said.

Jamie Tull, 33, was discovered in a field about a half-mile east of where she crashed her vehicle off East Childs Avenue just past South Cunningham Road, according to Merced County Sheriff’s Department officials.

According to the Modesto Bee, Jamie is very fortunate to have been discovered by authorities when she was:

Posted in Controversies, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Refiner’s Fire

Wanda Parker is a senior saint. She has a remarkable story to share.

Wanda has faithfully served the Lord for over forty years in a variety of ministry roles. She’s served as a children’s ministry director/family pastor in three different churches in Southern California. She worked with Campus Crusade (now Cru) to develop a ministry model for kids in the inner city. She’s helped develop a ministry curriculum for children living in difficult circumstances. For the last sixteen years, she’s been involved with KidTrek, a ministry she founded to help churches reach families in crisis. She’s even served as a guest blogger for us!

Wanda and I have been following one another’s blogs and social media platforms for a number of years. As is often the case for those who seek to faithfully serve God, Wanda has experienced far more than her share of adversity in recent years. Wanda’s husband (Joe) has experienced a series of medical conditions that left him unable to work. After 49 years of marriage, Wanda and her husband lost their home and found themselves living in an unfamiliar city (Atlanta) 2,000 miles away from the people who surrounded them throughout their adult lives. Wanda’s Facebook posts have been a reflection of the remarkable faithfulness and perseverance she’s demonstrated through difficult circumstances. But I didn’t know the half of it. I’ll let her describe what happened next…

Friends began to write me offline, call or come for a visit and I would tell them more of my story which I hadn’t told on Facebook – e.g. more than Twenty years of Terror when I continually cried out asking God to take me home.  Because of those 20 years I truly believed that my senior years would be easy. After all I had done my suffering. NOT!

The friends who connected off-line shared their own struggles. I was overwhelmed with how many who walk with the Triune God are going through pain and there is nowhere to share it, nowhere to get support. There are some things that can be shared openly; however there is much that is kept hidden for fear of judgement or because it involves others – depression, anxiety, betrayal, children not walking with God, addictions (sexual, drugs, gambling). The list is long.

I began to study what the Bible has to say about suffering and discovered it is more of a gift than I ever understood before.

Then some friends began to encourage me to share my story – to write a book. I prayed and prayed. What I feel the Lord has led me to do is write a Blog.

Wanda has begun to share her experiences of faith and  suffering through Refiner’s Fire. Her life experiences and witness will be a great blessing and encouragement to all families affected by disability, both visible and hidden. Along with her story, Wanda has shared lists of her favorite books, music and Scripture for persons who are suffering.

I began to follow Wanda’s story as it is being revealed at Refiner’s Fire and have found myself taken aback by the way God’s presence within her has been so powerfully manifested through extremely trying circumstances. You’ll be encouraged by the words of someone who’s been through the fire and emerged to live a life that gives honor and glory to God. Check it out today!

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shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

Posted in Families, Hidden Disabilities, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Resources, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook and church

Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com

FAKE NEWS ALERT: Mark Zuckerberg never claimed that Facebook would take the place of church. But he did give a speech a couple of weeks ago that ought to spur lots of thought and conversation among those who recognize the transcendent value of Christian community.

Mark was speaking at a gathering for leaders of online Facebook communities. The purpose of his talk was to publicly announce a major Facebook initiative to engage a billion Facebook users into what he referred to as “meaningful community.” I’d encourage you to read the transcript of his speech or better yet, watch for yourself by going to Mark’s Facebook page and clicking on the video from the June 22nd, 2017 Facebook Communities Summit.

Let’s look specifically at what Mark said in reference to the church…

We all get meaning from our communities. Whether they’re churches, sports teams, or neighborhood groups, they give us the strength to expand our horizons and care about broader issues. Studies have proven the more connected we are, the happier we feel and the healthier we are. People who go to church are more likely to volunteer and give to charity — not just because they’re religious, but because they’re part of a community.

Zuckerberg is right about people deriving meaning and purpose from our communities. I happen to believe that there’s something uniquely meaningful about community with other Christians for the purpose of honoring and serving God. That’s why I’m the only guy on this sunny, 80-degree day at our swim club typing on a laptop while my friends and neighbors are enjoying a good book or cold, adult refreshments. I sense I’m fulfilling my purpose when I’m pointing people to the One who might provide them with meaning, purpose and fulfillment that will last forever.

That’s why it’s so striking that for decades, membership in all kinds of groups has declined as much as one-quarter. That’s a lot of of people who now need to find a sense of purpose and support somewhere else.

Zuckerberg is simply pointing out the obvious. A significantly smaller percentage of the population experiences community through the church now compared to one or two generations before. And there are lots of reasons for the decline.. You can read about some theories here and here. The research strongly suggests that growth or decline in individual churches is related to what the leaders think about Jesus and his resurrection, divine judgment, and the importance they place upon evangelism and outreach.

As I’ve traveled around and learned about different places, one theme is clear: every great community has great leaders.
Think about it. A church doesn’t just come together. It has a pastor who cares for the well-being of their congregation, makes sure they have food and shelter. A little league team has a coach who motivates the kids and helps them hit better. Leaders set the culture, inspire us, give us a safety net, and look out for us.

Zuckerberg is onto something here. Our ministry has been blessed by the presence of a number of phenomenal writers and group leaders. Most volunteer their time. Communities work when talented servant leaders are passionate about their cause.

Let’s look at some other ideas from Zuckerberg’s speech:

Every day, I say to myself, I don’t have much time here on Earth, how can I make the greatest positive impact?

Mark poses a great question. If our purpose, as described in the Westminster Shorter Catechism is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever, how might each of us accomplish that purpose each and every day? Zuckerberg is dedicating his life and the company he leads to helping more people experience community. How much more motivated should we be to help direct people to everlasting community in the presence of their Creator, Lord and Savior?

Right now, I think the most important thing we can do is bring people closer together. It’s so important that we’re going to change Facebook’s whole mission to take this on.

I think the most important thing we can do is to point people to Jesus, and be about the work of making disciples through coming together with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Not all communities are equal in significance.

So I started asking the question: if 2 billion people use Facebook, then how come we’ve only helped 100 million of them join meaningful communities?
Well, it turns out most people don’t seek out communities in the physical world or online. Either your friends invite you or on Facebook we suggest them for you.

How are we doing at “inviting?” Earlier in this post, I referenced a study showing an unmistakable link between the importance leaders place upon encouraging non-Christians to become Christians as a determining factor in church growth or decline. If the church is in decline and the numbers of people experiencing Christian community through the church is in decline, whose fault is that?

I’d prefer to think of Facebook and other social media tools as an opportunity for those of us who have come to experience real community with other believers for the purpose of giving glory and honor to God. Our Key Ministry team provides online communities to help connect families of kids with disabilities with churches because we think the church is God’s primary plan for making disciples. We plan to take full advantage of every tool Mark provides to point people to the most meaningful community they’ll ever experience. What about you?

My friendly challenge to each of you…We have between 11,000 and 12,000 followers of our Facebook page for churches and church leaders, and nearly 15,000 followers of our Facebook page for leaders. Let’s help Zuck with his effort to help people find meaningful community through Facebook. I’d ask each of our readers to use their Facebook account (or e-mail, text, telephone, or best yet…a face-to-face encounter) this week to extend an invitation to someone you know to experience Christian community. Invite them to coffee, church, a small group, a Bible study or an online community.

We offer Facebook groups and would love for you to join us! Our groups include:

  • Adoption and Foster Care Community
  • Autism and Asperger’s Community
  • Homeschooling Parents of Kids with Disabilities
  • Mental Health Community
  • Ministry Families Impacted by Disability
  • Parents of Adult Children with Disabilities
  • PTSD and Trauma Community

Click here to join our Facebook groups!

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KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

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The Gospel and Depression…Gillian Marchenko

It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers. (1 Kings: 19:4 )

“WILL YOU SPEAK WITH A VISITOR NAMED JEAN?” MY HUSBAND ASKS AT CHURCH. “I THINK SHE’S DEPRESSED.”

I’m confused. How can he suspect depression after one conversation?

Of course, he can’t know for sure.

SOAP BOX

Mental illness is difficult to diagnose. Careful screening and training is a must. One may assert depression for other reasons; a couple of  down days, a lack of motivation towards faith and life in general, or sometimes a serious excuse for a disinterest in a close relationship with Christ or all out rejection of the gospel.

I sound harsh. Who am I to understand people’s hearts and lives (I don’t always understand mine)? My job is not to pontificate that some people don’t have depression. Situations exists (difficult and stressful times in one’s life) that lead to depression. It’s the real deal. I don’t own a corner on this topic and probably shouldn’t write about it. But we live in a culture (both in and out of the church) that fosters an indifferent attitude towards depression. And frankly, it weakens the legitimacy of mental illness and offends the battle 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. face.

Depression is a bona-fide illness, one that is similar to a person who takes insulin for diabetes or breaks her leg.

BACK TO JEAN

My husband is acquainted with outward indicators of depression because of me. I’ve had major depressive disorder for over a decade, and possibly, my whole life. We can’t know if Jean has depression. But regardless, she is hurting. She needs help.

I locate her after the service and we find a place to talk.

“How am I supposed to live?” she asks. Her jaw clenches and dull, charcoal eyes stare through me. “I pray. I read scripture.” She points to her chest. “Nothing breaks through.”

Jean is not the only one who asks this question. It’s in my veins every second, pumping doubt and fear to my heart and mind like blood.

Lord, how am I supposed to live?

THE GOSPEL AND DEPRESSION

I speak about depression. I write books. But shame exists deep within. Part of the reason (outside of the battle of the mind) is because the stigma is alive in churches. “You are less spiritual than others,’ my illness whispers in my ear. “You can’t be a Christian and depressed,” I believe the enemy chimes in.

And so I, and others like me, tend to cower in the back rows of churches, in the corner pews, or at home on Sunday mornings instead of worshiping with the family of God.

The truth? We know that the stigma is wrong, but we tend to believe it anyway. God will deliver us if we ‘do’ more.

THE THEOLOGY OF GRACE MORPHS INTO WORKS. “I SHOULD DO MORE. WHY CAN’T I GET MYSELF TOGETHER?”

What do people think about the gospel and depression? Sarah Collins and Jayne Haynes take the issue of one’s inability to be a Christian and depressed head on in their book, Dealing with Depression: Trusting God through the Dark Times as noted in this blog post from the Gospel Coalition. Collins and Haynes begin by “reassuring sufferers that being a Christian and being depressed are not mutually exclusive…” They way I read the interview, the authors note the vital role of the spiritual life in depression (I will add, it IS important). But they subscribe to the belief that although faith is a component of health, it’s not about Christians with mental illness praying harder, repenting of sin, trusting God more, and getting their spiritual act together.

It’s crazy, really (bad choice of words), that people are still uneducated, biased, quiet, and judgmental. Close your eyes, open the Bible and point. Chances are you don’t have to read far to come across a person with a distraught soul. King David, Jonah, Job, Hannah, Paul. God used these people in big ways despite their afflictions. Since when did being ‘together and healthy” become signs of faith? What scripture backs up the theology?

THE GOSPEL AND DEPRESSION AS SEEN IN ELIJAH

In 1 Kings, I read about the prophet Elijah’s lowest point. “It is enough: now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.” (Chapter 19:4 )

Is it terrible that it gives me comfort to know that someone in the Bible says this kind of stuff to God?

God’s response is gracious. Elijah falls asleep and an angel of the Lord awakens him twice, providing sustenance through food and water. God comes close. He nourishes him. He sits with him.

Pay attention to the story. What an amazing correlation to important elements of the gospel. ‘I am no better than my fathers,’ (realization of sin), God responds with grace (forgiveness), an Angel of the Lord (many commentators  believe that this is Jesus) provides him food and water (communion with God through the bread and the cup).

Elijah asks God to kill him. God saves him instead. He sits with him. Jesus has conquered death. He does not leave him or forsake him (Hebrews 13:5).

PEOPLE OFTEN ASK ME HOW TO HELP OTHERS WITH DEPRESSION

I’m still learning, but here’s what might help:

  • Sit with them in the pain.
  • Don’t fix, act, or judge.
  • Don’t appease yourself by offering trite Bible verses and walking away.
  • Nourish them with your presence (either near or far depending on how they are doing).
  • Come close to them like God did with Elijah (a ‘stick-with-themness’).
  • When appropriate (maybe when they are coming out of an episode. Maybe not directly. Pray about that one!), point them back to Christ.

Every pain and affliction we experience comes back to the gospel. God is the great physician (Psalm 103:3). He promises that we are and will be whole in the presence of our Savior because of his work on the cross. Speak the truth in word and deed to your hurting friend, but always, ALWAYS from a place of support, love, and understanding that it is not up to them to ‘heal thy self.’

JEAN

“I’m sorry, Jean. Your pain is real. I can’t do much, but can I sit with you for a while?”

Jean wipes her eyes and nods.

How are Jean and I supposed to live? Remember that God came close through Christ and that through the gospel, he’s not going anywhere. Acknowledge that scripture is full of hurting, sick, imperfect people trying to serve a perfect Savior. Our healing is not up to us. God has a purpose with our lives. We are not a waste.

“Even the apostle Paul said that in weakness we discover the glory, power, and grace of God.” – Scott Sauls.

Church, believers, I urge you. Educate yourselves. Don’t dismiss. Sit with those among you with mental illness in word and deed. Find them at the back of the church or hidden in pews. Reach out to them at home on a Sunday morning. Affirm God’s love and presence in their lives by being a person who doesn’t judge or walk away. Search the scriptures and ask God to confirm the theology of weakness (illness) and grace.

The theology of illness and grace is still a mystery to me. But I sat with Jean that Sunday morning, certain that Jesus was sitting with us, too.

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Gillian Marchenko is an author, national speaker, wife, mother, and an advocate for individuals with mental illness and special needs. Her most recent book, Still Life, is a remarkably authentic story of perseverance and faithfulness. Her candor in sharing her experience with depression will be of great comfort to many who have bought into the falsehood that their suffering has resulted from a lack of faith. Buy Still Life at InterVarsity PressAmazonBarnes and Noble, and bookstores across the country.

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Why I’m grateful for Pastor Bob

I never had an opportunity to meet Pastor Bob Hopper. Bob came to my church this past February expecting to serve for two years as our church’s transitional pastor. God had different plans for our church and for Pastor Bob. He went home to be with the Lord following a cardiac arrest late Monday evening.

During my time serving with Key Ministry, I’ve come to appreciate the extent to which people serving in ministry invest their hearts, minds and souls into their calling. That’s especially true of the pastors and staff who serve our church.

When a church or ministry organization assembles a team of gifted and talented people that begins to impact their community for Jesus, a couple of things usually happen. First, they’re guaranteed to encounter significant adversity. I’ve become a big believer in spiritual warfare as a result of our team’s experiences over the past fifteen years and through observing the experiences of many of our faithful ministry colleagues. The other thing that happens is that day-to-day disagreements with very bright, opinionated teammates exert a great emotional toll when they arise in the context of serving Jesus.

I’ve been extraordinarily fortunate to have a church that’s been a continual source of support throughout the time I’ve been serving with Key Ministry. I don’t get to spend as much time with my friends from church as I would like, but the camaraderie and encouragement I sense when we do reconnect helps keep me going. I’m pretty tired by the time Sunday rolls around. The opportunity to experience great worship music and excellent teaching free of the dysfunctional relationships and toxic politics I hear of from too many of my ministry colleagues has been a great blessing. The church is a great support to me in my ministry work.

While I’ve been reaping the benefits of an excellent church, the people responsible for leading our church have been paying quite an emotional price for sustaining excellence. We lost our longtime senior pastor this past summer. Another outstanding teaching pastor preached his final sermon on the day prior to Bob’s passing. Other staff members are hurting. And for the most part, I doubt any of us who aren’t directly involved with the day to day operation of the church would have ever noticed.

I’m grateful for Pastor Bob because of the care and concern he showed to the other pastors and ministry directors who serve so that my family and I can be blessed through our involvement with church. From the words that were shared at Bob’s memorial service this past Thursday night, he provided them with great comfort and support. My sense is that he was a true servant leader. In his short time at the church, leaders felt valued. If his last couple of sermons were indicative of his communication with our church’s leadership, I can understand why many seemed more encouraged and empowered.

In my line of work, we consider it a great honor when other physicians ask us to care for their children and family members. We’re a pretty demanding lot! Pastor Bob clearly demonstrated the experience, wisdom and integrity sufficient to earn the trust of the very gifted pastors and ministry leaders who serve our church. He was a pastor to hurting pastors…and for that, I’m grateful.

At Bob’s memorial service this past Thursday night, the people of our church were asked to come up to a microphone and share how they’d been blessed by his ministry. I thought I’d share my thoughts here with a larger audience.

I have a request to make of our readers… Most of us never fully appreciate the sacrifices our pastors and ministry leaders make in order to serve us. I think a neat way for each of us to honor Pastor Bob’s memory would be through sending a text, e-mail, social media message or best yet, a handwritten note of encouragement to a pastor or ministry leader who has provided us with encouragement and comfort. He’d appreciate that.

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The quiet ministry of a special needs grandparent

February 22, 1995.

When Mary Evelyn woke up that day, she had no way of knowing her life would never be the same. She got up, got dressed and went to breakfast with her husband. Her husband became a passionate student of the Bible after accepting Christ two decades earlier and had begun teaching Bible classes for fellow Catholics. After breakfast, she accompanied him to a nearby church where he’d been invited to deliver the eulogy at the funeral of a neighbor of theirs who attended his Bible classes. Just as her husband stepped down from the altar after completing the eulogy, he experienced a massive heart attack and was dead by the time his body reached the floor.

At around the same time in a world-renowned pediatric hospital 75 miles to the northwest, Mary Evelyn’s only grandchild (at that time) was about to leave the neonatal intensive care unit for the first time on her 100th day of life. Shannon was nineteen ounces when she was born 15 ½ weeks earlier than expected after her mother’s blood pressure rose to dangerous levels. Shannon would ultimately spend eight of her first thirteen months of life in the NICU, and was connected to a ventilator well into her early childhood.

Mary Evelyn may have found herself without a husband by the end of that February day twenty-two years ago, but she most certainly had a purpose. Shannon needed lots of care and support. Her premature birth and the years she spent connected to a ventilator resulted in profound speech delay. Before going to school, Shannon spent all of her time with in-home caregivers, her parents and Mary Evelyn. As sometimes happens in such circumstances, Shannon’s mom and dad are no longer married. When Shannon’s mom needed to go to work, Mary Evelyn was often there to get Shannon off to school and to greet her when she arrived home from school. She helped with meals. She was an extra set of eyes, ears and hands for Shannon’s mom.

As she got older, Mary Evelyn developed more and more challenges with mobility. She eventually moved in with her daughter and Shannon. As she entered her ninth decade, she experienced a number of serious health concerns, including a stroke. Their little family cared for one another. Mary Evelyn continued to provide invaluable support to her daughter in looking after Shannon after she herself became a recipient of home-based healthcare.

When the ambulance came for Mary Evelyn this past Wednesday night shortly before she went to be with the Lord, Shannon found herself home alone at night for an extended period for the first time in her life. Mary Evelyn’s daughter could well have experienced great relief at being relieved of the burden of caring for an elderly parent. Her first response was to wonder how she’d be able to care for her daughter without her mother’s support.

How many grandparents quietly, day in and day out, without fanfare or special recognition provide an irreplaceable blessing through the care they provide to children with disabilities? How many lend the additional hands necessary for their families to function after decades of raising their own kids? And what do we do to support them?

When my father’s ministry ended on February 22nd, 1995, my mother’s ministry began. She, like many grandparents and extended family, stepped up to help without ever thinking of their actions as ministry. Jesus is pleased and my father is proud.

Well done, good and faithful servant!

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KM_ForFamilies_Logo_Color_RGBKey Ministry helps connect churches and families of kids with disabilities for the purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ. In order to provide the free training, consultation, resources and support we offer every day to church leaders and family members, we depend upon the prayers and generous financial support of readers like you. Please pray for the work of our ministry and consider, if able, to support us financially!

Posted in Advocacy, Families, Special Needs Ministry, Stories | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Hoping there’s a place in the church for a kid like mine

This was a big week in the Grcevich household. Our youngest daughter (Mira) graduated from high school this past Thursday night. I’d like to tell you a little bit about her and let you know why she would be an incredible asset to your church someday.

I’ve developed an extraordinary respect for Mira through watching her navigate the challenges of middle school and high school…not so much for what she’s accomplished (she can look back upon lots of accomplishments) or the challenges she’s overcome (multiple), but for the kindness and sensitivity she demonstrates to the people she comes in contact with on a daily basis. A peer from her high school dance team shared this about Mira in a speech at their National Honor Society farewell ceremony:

It was her inner beauty that left a lasting impression on me. Mira has a true compassion for others regardless of who they are or who their friends are or how smart they are or how powerful they are or what size, shape or culture they may be. She sincerely wants the best for each and every person, a quality I have not found in many people.

I came to know Mira as we would don our white leather boots and dance on the football field on Friday night. She would always put a smile on my face with a cute, kind phrase she’d have for me. She would call me a little peach, a ball of sunshine and a glowing rainbow, to name a few. There were always kind words and praises from her, so much positive energy and words.

I all too often found ways to avoid situations and challenges that made me uncomfortable in high school. Mira bravely faced up to – and overcame her challenges. She acquired the self-discipline necessary to endure ten hour long practice sessions as a member of our school’s championship-winning dance team – an activity that didn’t allow her to rely upon natural ability. The self-discipline learned in dance came in handy for managing the academic workload she embraced in school. Mira endured quite a few sleepless nights completing the work required of her to finish among the top 15 students in her graduating class. She did so while pursuing and holding down a job and serving as a volunteer Sunday school teacher to preschoolers throughout much of her time in high school.

Mira will be heading out in August to attend Belmont University in Nashville, where she plans to major in psychology. If that’s the career she ultimately selects, she’ll be really good. She’s very empathic. She’s got a gift for recognizing when people around her are in need of encouragement. She’s a champion for the downtrodden or marginalized. She’s wickedly smart. She quietly makes astute observations about the patterns of behavior and motivations of people encountered by our family.

I was pleased by her college choice. She was offered admission to – and very significant scholarships from – a number of elite schools. Given the nature of her chosen profession, she’s likely to find herself surrounded by mentors and peers quite hostile to the traditional brand of Christianity she was raised with in our home. My wife and I are hopeful that she’ll be encouraged and supported in the development of her personal faith throughout her undergraduate years at Belmont and be better prepared for the time when she’ll be surrounded by people who don’t believe as we do.

Mira will likely be very uncomfortable with my decision to post this brief tribute to her online. She doesn’t like being a focus of attention. She’s a bit of an introvert. She values her alone time. She’s more comfortable hanging out with one or two good friends on the weekend than going to a large party.

I worry that we don’t make it easy for young adults like Mira to assimilate into Christian community when they leave home to attend college or leave college to settle into a career. The ministry environments in our churches tend to be designed by leaders who are very comfortable sharing their faith – and other deeply personal information with people at earlier stages in a relationship than feels right for many. I wonder if we lose a lot of our youth when we focus exclusively on activities and programs that occur in medium to large-sized groups and offer little to kids who are more comfortable in gatherings of two or three? Because of the distance we live from our church, Mira missed out on the opportunity for the relationships with adults from the congregation that are often critical in preventing kids who regularly attended church from becoming statistics.

My hope for her when she goes away to college is that she’ll experience what Jonathan Holmes refers to as “biblical friendships.” Would you please join with me in praying that Mira will find mature adults and fellow students in her new city who will encourage and support her as God continues to form her into the young woman he intends for her to be?

It continues to be an honor and a privilege to be Mira’s dad. I’m trusting that the people she’ll meet in Nashville will come to care for her and appreciate her as much as we do!

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shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

Posted in Key Ministry, Ministry Environments, Stories | Tagged , , , , , | 4 Comments

Physician-assisted suicide in CATHOLIC-run PSYCHIATRIC hospitals

There are no words. I direct our readers to this post from last weekend by Wesley Smith on the National Review’s website describing the decision of a religious order in Belgium that operates 15 psychiatric hospitals with a combined 5,000 beds to permit physician-assisted suicide within their facilities.

From the Catholic News Agency

Raf De Ryce, chairman of the board overseeing the institutions, contended that the new policy was not a major change, the bioethics site BioEdge reports, citing Belgian newspapers.

“It is not that we used to be against euthanasia and now suddenly are for it. This is consistent with our existing criteria,” he said. “We are making both possible routes for our patients: both a pro-life perspective and euthanasia.”

De Ryce said the inviolability of life is “an important foundation” but for the board it is not an absolute.

“This is where we are on a different wavelength from Rome.”

I have some questions…

What responsibility do individuals and organizations identifying as “Christian” have to protect the vulnerable and the suffering? There are few institutions within Western culture where individuals experience greater vulnerability than in psychiatric hospitals.

While this episode took place in Belgium, what safeguards and protections are in place to prevent a similar action in California, Massachusetts, Vermont or New York in the next 5-10 years, or any other state that supports physician assisted suicide?

If the “inviolability of life” is not an absolute for Christians or Christian-led organizations, what is?

What’s the point in being affiliated with a religion or church that doesn’t believe in any absolute truths? Is the absence of religious leaders living out a clear, consistent and immutable faith one reason that so many people in the U.S. and Europe identify themselves culturally as “Christian” but don’t live in a way that reflects traditional doctrine and beliefs?

What will happen to the sick and the disabled if Christians cease to be the salt and light to society? 

“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet.

“You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that  they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

Matthew 5:13-16 (ESV)

 

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May is Mental Health Month. Kay Warren has developed a webpage for #MHM2017 where she shares mental health resources for Christians and church leaders, including videos, testimonies, live interviews, Bible verses, quotes and links to support groups offered by our friends at The Grace Alliance and Fresh Hope. Check out Kay’s resources and share with your friends.

Posted in Advocacy, Culture of Life, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why the church doesn’t “get” mental illness

Editor’s Note: May 1st-7th has been designated as Children’s Mental Health Awareness Week, and Thursday, May 4th is Children’s Mental Health Awareness Day. In today’s post, Dr. G looks at why far too many churches overlook or deliberately ignore the needs of families impacted by mental illness during a time when intentional ministry with persons with disabilities and families is rapidly expanding.

Why does the church struggle so much to minister with persons with common mental illnesses and their families? I suspect that mental illness isn’t easily compartmentalized into the understanding held by many church leaders of body, mind and soul.

Scripture very clearly instructs us to be intentional in serving persons with disabilities and including them in the life of the church.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

 Luke 14:13-14 (NIV)

In recent years, the church has made great strides in growing ministry with persons with physical disabilities. The Bible is very clear teaching that disease and bodily decay is a consequence of living in a fallen world. Healing the sick was so central to Jesus’ earthly ministry that he found himself continually monitoring the potential for his healing to become a distraction from his teaching.  

Jesus challenged the prevailing view of disability in his day and made clear that disability can and is as means through with Christ seeks to build his kingdom.

As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

“Neither this man nor his parents sinned,” said Jesus, “but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.

John 9:1-3 (NIV)

I suspect that much of the church’s struggle to “get” mental illness, and in turn to minister effectively and compassionately with persons with mental illness is rooted in our understanding of how much control we have over our thoughts and our behavior.

From the founding of the church, pastors and theologians have wrestled with the concept of free will – the extent to which we are able to make choices free of coercion. The Apostle Paul struggles with this idea in Romans 7.

We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin.

Romans 7:14-25

Mental illness forces us to wrestle with the concept of moral agency – an individual’s ability to make moral judgments based on some notion of right and wrong and to be held accountable for these actions. Most children and adults with common mental health conditions have the capacity to know right from wrong and are fully responsible for their choices, but they may need to devote significantly more cognitive resources and intentionality to managing their words and behaviors than persons without an identified mental health diagnosis.

Special needs ministry has experienced dramatic growth in the past two decades. The explosion of children and teens identified with autism has been one catalyst to growth. Improvements in medical science have resulted in the survival of many children with severe developmental disabilities and genetic disorders who wouldn’t have survived twenty or thirty years ago. But I’d argue that churches have an easier time embracing ministry to children and adults with severe intellectual or developmental disabilities because church leaders recognize their limited capacity for moral agency.

When someone appears to possess the capacity to know right from wrong and exhibits actions or behaviors that the Bible clearly recognizes as sin and carries with them a mental health diagnosis, many church leaders are all too often inclined to view their mental health condition as a rationalization as opposed to a disability. This is especially true when the persons affected appear to have some capacity for controlling their words and actions.

We are all too quick to forget Paul’s teaching. All of us fall short of God’s standard. While it is undeniably true that through the power of the Holy Spirit within those who have come to faith in Christ are a new creation and available evidence suggests that spiritual practices common to the Christian life help to enhance self-control, none of us will be perfected on this side of Heaven.

Do some mental health conditions result in a greater predisposition to sinful thoughts, speech and behavior? Unquestionably. Is anyone with a human brain and a human mind –  a mind that enables them to be aware of the world and their experiences, to think and feel – capable of living a sinless life and saving themselves. Nope. Do children and adults with mental illness need Jesus any more or any less than anyone reading this blog? Nope.

The truth is that we’re all “disabled” when it comes to our ability to avoid sinful thoughts and actions. The sooner we embrace that reality, the sooner we can be about the work of sharing the love of Christ and making disciples among children, adults and families impacted by mental illness.

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shutterstock_291556127Key Ministry encourages our readers to check out the resources we’ve developed to help pastors, church leaders, volunteers and families on mental health-related topics, including series on the impact of ADHD, anxiety and Asperger’s Disorder on spiritual development in kids, depression in children and teens, pediatric bipolar disorder, and ten strategies for promoting mental health inclusion at church.

Posted in Advocacy, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments
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