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The Journey: the UCC Mental Health Network Blog

Welcome to the United Church of Christ Mental Health Network (UCC MHN) blog, The Journey. Our weekly posts will explore mental health and addiction through the lens of our Christian faith. We will write about how our personal experiences affect our lives and how our spirituality supports our journey. Everyone who is living with a mental health or addiction disorder, or has a loved one who is affected by a mental health challenge or addiction, is on a journey. Together we can connect with each other and share some ways to travel the path of hope and wholeness.

The Pursuit of Perfection by Karl Shallowhorn

written by Karl Shallowhorn

There is a car manufacturer that uses the tagline, “The pursuit of perfection,” in its ads. Now obviously, there is, nor will there ever be, a perfect car. Considering people have different needs and discretionary income to spend on said vehicle, it’s highly unlikely that there will ever be one brand that meets the needs of everyone.

This concept is analogous to recovery from behavioral health disorders, whether they be mental illness or addiction. One size doesn’t fit all. What is important is that the individual discovers what works for them.

Speaking for myself, I employ several tools to manage my mental health and recovery from addiction. A large component in my repertoire is my faith. Belief in God and Christ has been central in my life and it has gotten me through many serious dark and difficult times.

There is one example I can give that is analogous to my recovery journey. A couple of years ago I participated in a charity bike ride called the Ride for Roswell. This event raises money for cancer research and treatment and annually caps out at 8,000 riders. There are several routes for riders of all abilities. At the urging of a co-worker, I decided to take on the 102-mile “Century” ride. Mind you, I had never ridden anywhere remotely close to this far in my life and being in my mid-50’s made it a formidable task.

The months prior to the event I trained with a couple of friends who were planning to ride the same distance. We got up to 80 miles for our longest training ride.

I was apprehensive the day about the ride but I saddled up and began the arduous trek at 6 a.m. The ride extended from the University at Buffalo and went all the way north to Lake Ontario. I was doing well until about the 80-mile mark when my left upper quadriceps muscle began to cramp. I also was having difficulty with my left cleat which kept slipping out of the pedal, which was worn out.

The last 12 miles were agonizing. I kept getting cramps and was so physically tired. My legs and arms were so sore. I didn’t know if I could make it. My riding partner even asked if I wanted the rescue team to take me to the finish. I said, “No, I want to do this,” and continued to ride.

It was the last 5 miles where I seriously prayed for God to give me the strength to finish. I vividly recall the final mile to the finish. It felt like I was going one mile per hour. I have a tattoo of a cross with the Bible verse, Isaiah 40:31 on it. “For those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will mount up on wings like eagles. They will run and not be weary, they will walk and not be faint.” I prayed that verse fervently.

I finished. Altogether, including the rest stops it took me seven hours.

I share this story because so often we feel like we have to get this thing called recovery perfectly when in all reality it comes down to keep moving forward and never giving up. There have been many times in my life when I could simply beat myself up and throw in the towel. But I know better than that. Christ is there for me, kind of like a coach, saying, “You can do this!”

I also know that there is only one who is perfect, Jesus, the manifestation of God on Earth. It is through his example that I can try to model my life after and pursue the perfection the he possesses realizing that God does not expect me to be perfect and it is through his grace that I am forgiven.

Yes some days are better than others but what I do know is that with Christ as my guide, I can continue to live my life to the fullest and be the best person I can be. 
Karl Shallowhorn is the Education Program Coordinator at the Community Health Center of Buffalo. Karl is a New York State Credentialed Alcoholism and Substance Abuse Counselor and also serves on the Board of Directors for the UCC Mental Health Network, the Mental Health Association in New York State, and the Mental Health Association of Erie County. He is also a contributing writer and blogger for BP magazine as well as for The Mighty. Karl is a 30-plus year member of Pilgrim-St. Luke’s-El Nuevo Camino UCC in Buffalo, NY.

Solitude by Lisa LeSueur

written by Lisa LeSueur

During this season of Lent, I am discovering the power of seeking refuge and solitude in bolstering my own mental health. While I have always spoken of the value of self-care, I admit that I don’t always practice what I preach. In the midst of a life that is much too busy, and many times much too stressful, I find that I often move from one thing to the other, without making time for intentional reflection or appreciation for the moment I am living. Put simply, there are times when the moments of my life seem to blur together, melting into each other, without a period or comma between them. I am trying to learn that there are times when I need moments of solitude and peace in which I can seemingly make the world slow down, if only just for a moment.
These past few months have been more stressful than usual at my house. My son will be graduating from high school in a few months, so our days have been filled with college applications and scholarship information. My daughter will be graduating from elementary school and we have been waiting to hear which middle school she will be attending. As her school year winds down, her calendar is filled with testing and celebrations. As for me, I am hoping that my final exam in seminary goes well and that I will finally graduate in May, adding yet another celebration to the family calendar. These are all wonderful life moments filled with excitement, stress, uncertainty, and busyness. However, as I deal with each overlapping piece of these various events, it often seems as if my life is racing beyond my control, moving along at a pace that is much too fast. 
The other day, I was sitting in my backyard with my laptop open and my books spread around on the patio table. I was deep in thought about the revisions I was making on my final paper for seminary, when I became distracted by the incessant chirping of birds filling the trees around me. This was not simply background noise. These birds were demanding to be heard. I couldn’t help but stop what I was doing to appreciate the different varieties of birds that had filled my trees and the songs that they were singing. I realized that I was alone at home, something that does not happen very often. It was a rare moment that was entirely mine. In that moment, I became aware that I needed to give myself permission to stop what I was doing and allow myself time to just be, in the company of the beauty that was surrounding me. For those few moments, life seemingly slowed down. I had found refuge in plain sight, in my own backyard. 
We often speak of Lent as a time to give up something that is meaningful to us. This Lent I am finding that my spiritual journey has led to me to the power of adding on. In that moment in my backyard, I realized that I needed to become more intentional about finding time for solitude. I needed time for reflecting on my life, adding punctuation where there was once only a blur of activity. Perhaps by adding on, I am finding a way to give up some of the stress my busy life brings, not only for a season, but for my life. 
Lisa LeSueur is a member of the UCC Florida Conference Mental Health Ministry, and is the coordinator for the Mental Health Ministry of Coral Gables Congregational United Church of Christ. Lisa is currently attending Chicago Theological Seminary working on a Master of Divinity, and is a Student in Discernment with the UCC Florida Conference. She lives in Coral Gables, Florida with her spouse and their two children.