Safety: Can I Count On You?

I first met Lawrence Daly back in 2010. Larry was working with a mutual friend of ours to investigate a sexual assault case. The victim was a child with disabilities. They were working out of an office next to mine, so I occasionally drifted over and asked questions. Okay, maybe it was more like a mad dash than an occasional drift, if I’m going to be flat-out honest.

Safety: Can I Count On You?
Image from Photodune.

What sent me running over to get their perspectives? I dedicated my children to the Lord as toddlers—a vow to the Lord I took more seriously than any other earthly endeavor. When I dedicated my children to the Lord, I promised Him that I would raise them in a loving, protected, Christian environment, no matter what. While I have made countless mistakes over the years as a mother, I did not falter on this promise.

How to Protect Your Kids from Abuse

The statistics are shocking . . .

  • Every ten seconds, a child sexual assault is reported.1Childhelp, “Child Abuse Statistics and Facts,” accessed July 23, 2015.
  • Four children die from abuse every day.2Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Child Maltreatment Prevention,” accessed July 22, 2015.
  • 20 percent of students in grades 9–12 have reported being in a fight or bullied at school in the past 12 months.3Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Understanding Bullying, Fact Sheet 2013,” accessed July 22, 2015.
  • 95 percent of abused children are abused by someone they know: parent, relative, babysitter, friend, and caregiver.4Per interview conversation with Lawrence Daly.
  • 50 percent of children who make an outcry to a parent about being abused are not believed.4
  • 1.3 million nonfatal crimes occurred against the disabled in 2012.5Disabled World, “1.3M Violent Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities—The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics,” accessed July 22, 2015.
  • One in four girls and one in six boys are sexually assaulted before age 16.6National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “Understanding Sexual Violence: Tips for Parents and Caregivers,” accessed July 23, 2015.
  • Seven of ten sexual addicts were sexually assaulted before age 12.4

That being said, there is no standard in the world for reporting child abuse, and there is no standard for convicting child abuse criminals.

Lawrence Daly is an international leader, speaker, and skilled professional striving to make this world a safer place for our kids. We must know our rights and responsibilities as adults in our churches and communities today.

Watch the Video

Notes:   [ + ]

1. Childhelp, “Child Abuse Statistics and Facts,” accessed July 23, 2015.
2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Child Maltreatment Prevention,” accessed July 22, 2015.
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “Understanding Bullying, Fact Sheet 2013,” accessed July 22, 2015.
4. Per interview conversation with Lawrence Daly.
5. Disabled World, “1.3M Violent Crimes Against Persons with Disabilities—The Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics,” accessed July 22, 2015.
6. National Sexual Violence Resource Center, “Understanding Sexual Violence: Tips for Parents and Caregivers,” accessed July 23, 2015.

Revolutionary Steps toward Mental Health and the Church

This is a guest post written by my friend Joe Padilla. I pray it sheds light into a struggle you might be facing today.

When it comes to mental health difficulties and support from the church, the Mental Health Grace Alliance has heard it all! Let’s look at the three major frustrations we face and three positive solutions as we work toward sincerely supporting those struggling with mental wellness.

Photo by David Knox of FreeImages

1) Spiritual Stigma

Unfortunately, pastoral staff members grow frustrated when they don’t understand why their ministry methods are not working. In response to their lack of success, they unknowingly go into “religious default” mode, which places the blame on the person being counseled rather than the pastor or ministry. As did Job’s friends, pastors assume that the counselee’s hardship or problem is due to the individual’s sin, weak faith, or demonic oppression. When this becomes the mind-set of the pastoral staff member, the church often backs away from offering help to the individual in need.

When one pastor didn’t see his counselee’s mood disorder go away, he said, “It’s because the sin issues of his youth are finally catching up with him . . . he just needs to will himself to make better choices.”

2) Spiritual Fixes or Miracles

Often pastoral support staff will prescribe to people biblical counseling and intense discipleship to overcome a mental health issue. Some pastors will even insist on “deliverance” ministry or an intensive inner-healing ministry designed to produce immediate breakthroughs. The idea is to have the individual participate in intensive Bible study, prayer, and ministry so he or she might receive an immediate resolution to a problem. It forces the individual being counseled to pray harder or believe more in order to get results.

While we believe God can do the impossible, for many this method doesn’t work and, in fact, can make things worse. I helped one person with a debilitating anxiety disorder move away from a popular devotional that implied that working hard to “overcome” will fix problems and produce positive results. The devotional warned, “If you fret, you deserve what you get.”

3) Spiritual Steps

It’s common to think that mental health can be accomplished by a series of ministry “steps.” This step-by-step counseling approach to health can address many emotional issues, but it can also cause someone dealing with intense symptoms of mental illness to experience more confusion, coupled with self-doubt. Many people being counseled are left feeling they have failed the church and God. I’ve heard this from numerous counselees: “I’m so frustrated with my church and God. I’m thinking of completely giving up on both.”

Photo by GeoC of FreeImages

Photo by GeoC of FreeImages

Why These Methods Don’t Work

Although these pastoral approaches may be well intentioned and offered in love, they demonstrate a lack of understanding of mental health. Mental health difficulties are physiological dysfunctions of the brain, affecting thoughts, moods, and behavior. These types of disorders are more difficult to recognize than physical health issues such as diabetes, cancer, or the common cold.

Difficult symptoms intensify negative thoughts and moods. The brain is not stable enough to accurately process thoughts and emotions. Often, many people receiving counseling experience symptoms such as anhedonia—an inability to feel or express pleasure or emotions, leading to depressive moods and thoughts. Other symptoms include racing thoughts and impulsive behaviors (even destructive behaviors). All of these are uncontrollable and not easily “fixed” by most pastoral methods. By pressing these ministry methods listed above, the individual receiving counseling experiences more disruptive emotions and confusion.

We need to re:THINK church support. The pastoral and community focus ought to emphasize relieving suffering and revealing Christ.

1) Steps vs. Process

Mental health recovery is not linear; it is a process. The process starts with stability, which means transitioning from crawling through life to standing up. The second part of the process is function—visualizing taking life from a slow walk and moving toward a light jog. Lastly, the process involves purpose, when the individual has learned all about his or her condition, what works and what doesn’t, and how to manage life, so that he or she may avoid pitfalls. We’ve seen many come from destruction and develop a purposeful, successful life.

2) Recovery vs. Treatment

Treatment focuses solely on medication and therapy. These are two important elements to achieving mental health, and it’s vital to find the right professionals to oversee these elements. Recovery, however, is distinct because it involves not only finding the right professionals but also looking holistically at the individual’s life needs—physical, mental, spiritual, and relational. (Here is a link to our three, free resources that have proven to provide a strong outline for leading others towards mental wellness: http://mentalhealthgracealliance.org/resources-1)

3) Rest vs. Work

Rather than finding fault and prescribing lots of work, we ought to lead struggling individuals to rest. It is through rest that we find comfort and strength. A pastor should focus on validating an individual’s condition and take the approach that affirms his or her identity and recognizes a couple of key characteristics of God’s comfort and compassion: When we suffer, God doesn’t say, “Work harder and try to find Me, and if you do enough I will come to you.” Jesus came to us and said, “Come to me; I will give you rest for your soul” all the while reaffirming us with His gentleness (Matthew 11:28–30).

* * *

Let Me Hear from You

I interviewed Joe about how the Mental Health Grace Alliance came together. Joe shared openly about his family struggles and their need for hope and help. They tried it all, heard it all, and nothing worked. I urge you to hear his story because it’s where you may be today. Perhaps you are weary because nothing has worked. Perhaps you have endured the negative stigma of mental illness and don’t know where to turn.

I desire to offer you words of hope, because mental wellness is possible. My family members have mental struggles; we have been hurt, but we’ve also found hope. I would love to hear from you and share in this journey with you!

Finally, I strongly encourage you to watch or listen to my interview with Joe.

You can leave a comment by clicking here.

What Would You Say with Only 18 Minutes?

If you had 18 minutes to give the talk of your life, what would you say? I discovered the Web site TED not long ago; I’m addicted. “TED—Ideas Worth Spreading” stands for Technology, Education, Design. One of the fundamental principles of TED Talks is that a speaker has 18 minutes to express his or her ideas or thoughts on a particular field of study, specialized practice, accomplishment, or discovery.

Wood & Flowers
(Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com)

Having listened to some of the brightest researchers, leaders, educators, scientists, and specialists speak on everything from neurological fetal development to the value of failure, there is one universal theme woven into the fabric of these talks, which is why I’m hooked. Each speaker is on a quest for discovery. Regardless of his or her field of study, personal experiences, academic degrees, or intelligence quotient, this person wants to contribute and make a positive difference in the world.

So, if you had 18 minutes to give the talk of your life, what would you say?

Underdogs

I had been sorting through stacks of papers for six hours; it was now 1:00 in the morning. Twelve years of my son Jon’s educational tests, medical reports, teachers’ notes, and therapy summaries—once organized in chronological order—had become stacked in disarray on my study shelves over time. Reviewing twelve years of material is overwhelming for most of us; for caregivers it can also be painful.

The silent message between the lines is the repeated acknowledgement that in this world, different usually means less than . . . not fit for this world . . . an underdog for life.

Additionally, the ever-present load of lingering parental self-doubt and guilt hangs overhead. Sorting through it all is an essential earthly endeavor for our loved one’s care, yet the calm and quiet voice of Christ calls us to remember there are no underdogs in His economy.

(Photo by Teak Sato, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

(Photo by Teak Sato, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons)

Who’s in the Who’s Who?

I’ve yet to find a growth chart, I.Q. test, reading test, or writing sample that qualifies a person as acceptable in God’s eyes. Jesus never pulled together a group of “experts” who sat around tables making decisions about whom to include in the “in-crowd”; the Pharisees had that job covered. The Pharisees, with puffed-up heads and proud souls, made pathetically hypocritical judgments about “who’s who.” And we know how Christ felt about that bunch.

However, Christ went about His business, simply revealing what it meant, and means, to advocate with love for one another . . . let’s say, how to root for the underdog.

That’s you and me.

A Wake-Up Call

A large percentage of those with disabilities struggle in silence because they have an “invisible” condition. Also called “hidden disabilities,” struggling people are often afraid to be open about their condition and work tirelessly at appearing healthy and happy. Those with such “hidden” disabilities struggle to endure their mental, physical, and emotional disorders specifically due to social judgment, harsh comments, assumptions, and accusations—all of which can lead to self-doubt and deep sorrow.

Disorder
(Photo Courtesy of Pixabay.com)

Unfortunately, a shocking aspect of disability ministry is that many non-typical families—families who have members with “invisible” disabilities—run from Christian communities. Why? Because the environment is often caustic and critical, lacking basic kindness and authentic grace. I do not believe most Christians wake up and wish to further injure someone already in pain. But I continue to find that ignorance, as well as a lack of seeking to understand one another, fuels many judgmental folks.

The Need to Wake Up

I address this directly because the agony is pervasive. I commonly speak with challenged individuals or families who have shared their personal agony of visiting or attending a Christian gathering only to receive insensitive or apathetic responses. Finding healing for the resulting wounds is extremely difficult for those already fighting painful and persistent challenges. So please, seek to understand others; take a few minutes to look up some of the more common ”invisible” disabilities listed at the end of this post. There is no test; there is nothing to fear except choosing to stay unmoved.

I have never written this directly to you before, but the need is pressing as the diagnosis rate for many of these disorders has skyrocketed in the last 10 years (http://www.disabled-world.com/disability/statistics/who-disability.php). Thus, I am speaking without reservation. Every professing Christian needs to step up and become better learners and listeners. We must remember that as a result of our own broken condition, Christ left the throneroom of heaven and came to this earth. Sin is an “invisible” disability for which there remains no cure without Christ. What we cannot do for ourselves, God did by sending His Son to live, die, and rise again. Not a person on earth lives with an unbroken, perfect soul. Our names all appear on God’s disability care treatment list with God’s eternal plan of healing should we accept His gift of grace.

Maybe this is the first time you have heard that sin has caused your soul to be disabled. Please, sit with that this week. Allow the truth to sink in.

You are, because of sin, disabled.

When you begin to accept your own disability, giving grace to others is not even a second thought . . . it will flow out of you. So let‘s take this as a wake-up call and stop the wounding, the disasters, the breaking of already broken hearts and remember we are all disabled. God’s grace is the permanent healing remedy. Without it, the diagnosis is terminal. No relief. No hope.

I encourage you to find and read a simple overview of any of the topics listed below. It is my hope that you will learn to see past the “invisible” and into a person’s heart.

List of some mental and emotional disorders:

  • Autism Spectrum Disorders
  • Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder
  • Bipolar Disorder
  • Borderline Personality Disorder
  • Dissociative Disorders
  • Dual Diagnosis and Integrated Treatment of Mental Illness and Substance Abuse Disorder
  • Eating Disorders
  • Major Depression
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)
  • Panic Disorder
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Schizoaffective Disorder
  • Schizophrenia
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder
  • Suicide
  • Tourette’s Syndrome

One Step at a Time

by Michael Woods

adapted by Colleen Swindoll Thompson

One Step at a TimeDon Bennett was on top of the world. He was wealthy; he owned a ranch, an eight-bedroom waterfront home on Mercer Island, and a ski chalet. Life was good, until everything changed. A boating accident resulted in Don losing his right leg; and while he was in the hospital, his business fell to pieces.

After his recovery, he became determined to do something that he had never done before: climb the 14,411-foot Mt. Rainier. With a team of four others, Don began a grueling one-year training regimen, and on July 15, 1982, he and his team began the climb. He climbed for four days, 13 hours a day, sometimes hopping, sometimes crawling up the incline on one leg. On July 18, 1982, Don Bennett touched the top . . . the first amputee ever to summit Mt. Rainier.

Don Bennett accomplished his goal because he identified one essential need: he had to have a support team. His dedicated, dependable, devout support team cared for his needs by helping him remain healthy, find support resources, and learn new skills, and by providing him counseling when he struggled.

God didn’t create us to live independently. This truth is clearly revealed when we are required to care for loved ones who have significant needs. In times like these, we must live interdependently . . . first by having Christ as Lord of our lives, then by humbly accepting the fact that we need one another to help us climb the mountains life places in our path.

Using the caregiving requirements of those with significant needs as our example, teamwork involves these four essentials:

  1. Family and friends—Those who are closest to you can serve as your extended eyes, hands, and legs to help you get things done.
  2. A general medical doctor—Find a doctor who has professional knowledge about your care-receiver’s special needs, such as autism, Down syndrome, dementia, and so on. Make sure he or she understands your child’s or dependent parent’s needs and is genuinely compassionate about your loved one’s condition. Remember, you are your loved one’s advocate. You want a capable and caring doctor on your team. Nothing less.
  3. Training and support—There are a variety of excellent resource organizations that can provide educational materials, listings of support groups, caregiver resources—including information about after-school or adult-daycare programs—respite services, upcoming caregiver events, conferences, webinars, and links to a variety of further helps and supports.
  4. The Internet—You’re going to want to do some “continuing education” online to learn all you can about the specific needs of the person you care for. Also, online support communities are priceless. Finding other folks who have similar circumstances as yours can provide a connection others can’t understand.1Adapted from Michael Woods, “The Top 5 Ingredients of a Good Support Team,” Relational Crisis Prevention, http://relationalcrisisprevention.com/2011/07/11/you-cant-do-it-alone/, accessed September 26, 2011.

Additional Resources

  • Relational Crisis Prevention: http://relationalcrisisprevention.com/about/
  • Special Friends Ministry: http://specialneedsministry.org/

Notes:   [ + ]

1. Adapted from Michael Woods, “The Top 5 Ingredients of a Good Support Team,” Relational Crisis Prevention, http://relationalcrisisprevention.com/2011/07/11/you-cant-do-it-alone/, accessed September 26, 2011.

An Advocate

When I read this, I thought of you and all of us who care for loved ones in need.

An Advocate

by Charles R. Swindoll

An AdvocateJob is portrayed as “blameless, upright, fearing God, and turning away from evil” (Job 1:1) . . . and yet the bottom drops out of his world. He loses everything except his life and his wife.

The man’s misery knew no bounds.

Finally . . . there was no place to look but up; however, even then he felt shut out. He longed to approach God and pour out his woes, but the heavens were brass. Nothing. But. Silence.

What did Job need? An advocate . . . someone who could stand in his stead and represent him. The broken man wished for someone who would understand his predicament, take up his cause, and argue his case. Because he had no advocate, he felt hopeless and helpless, defenseless and depressed.

Victims need advocates. Often, those who are objects of abuse lack the courage or the ability to protect themselves. How important it is for others to come alongside and be their mouthpiece—to actually speak for them!

An advocate is someone who has authority—someone who will be heard and respected, where we would be ignored. The more passionate and complicated the issue, the more vital our need for a qualified go-between. Someone to carry our torch. Someone who understands the issues and is able to articulate the salient points of the argument.

Do you know someone who needs an advocate? Are you willing to step into that role?

A Note from Colleen: Caring for a dependent or disabled loved one means you are already an advocate. You determine what’s best, your love knows no bounds, and you’re there when that person needs someone to stand up for his or her needs. It’s a very tough responsibility, but it’s a necessary act of love.

I want you to know that I want to be an advocate for you! I care about you; I desire to encourage and empower you to be wise, to be steadfast, to be responsible, and to press through difficulties with respect for yourself and others.

Let’s press on together with grace and truth!

Back to School

Back to SchoolIt’s back-to-school time! I’m guessing some parents (including me) are delighted, and most kids are disappointed. Kids tend to ask lots of questions before school begins: “Will I be riding the bus?” “Who is my teacher?” “Are the kids nice?” “Do I wear regular clothes or a uniform?” But kids don’t ask questions just about school. I recently came across some very funny questions and comments from kids about God.
Here are a few:

  • Dear God: In Sunday school they told us what You do. Who does it when You are on vacation? —Jane
  • Dear God: Thank you for the baby brother, but what I prayed for was a puppy. —Joyce
  • Dear God: My brother is a rat. You should give him a tail. Ha ha. —Danny
  • Dear God: I bet it is very hard for You to love all of everybody in the whole world. There are only four people in our family, and I can never do it. —Nan
  • Dear God: We read that Thomas Edison made light. But in Sunday school they said You did it. So I bet he stole your idea. —Donna

Today, going to school is more complicated than it used to be—more bullying, disrespectfulness, anger, emotional problems, blame, and excuses. For the students with disabilities, school is often an unprotected and painful place.

Because my son is a student with noticeable disabilities, I ask the Lord many questions. My questions include:

  • Lord, I’m terrified he will be bullied again. Will you calm my spirit and protect my son?
  • Lord, will you bring aid to help him when he cannot do things on his own?
  • Lord, will you please give him strength when he is exhausted?
  • Lord, he doesn’t have friends; I grieve when I see him alone on the playground. Will you bring him a friend?

Maybe you have questions too. You can call on our Savior for help. He has not forgotten you. He is leading you, so walk by faith no matter how difficult it is. When your faith falters, He understands. We ask Him to guide us through our unbelief. I promise you, He answers every time. Meditate on the following verses of Scripture:

“The steadfast mind You will keep in perfect peace,
Because he trusts in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High
Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress,
My God, in whom I trust.” (Psalm 91:1–2)

If I should say, “My foot has slipped,”
Your lovingkindness, O LORD, will hold me up.
When my anxious thoughts multiply within me,
Your consolations delight my soul. (94:18–19)

Other Resources:

  1. Special Words for Special People: Offering Grace to the Weary by Charles R. Swindoll (CD or MP3)
  2. Hope for the Hurting by Insight for Living (LifeMaps book)
  3. “Hope Beyond Our Trials: ‘When Through Fiery Trials . . .’” from the series Insights on 1 Peter: Hope Again: When Life Hurts and Dreams Fade by Charles R. Swindoll (CD or MP3)
  4. Same Lake, Different Boat: Coming alongside People Touched by Disability by Stephanie O. Hubach