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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.

Mindful and Intentional by Rachael Keefe

written by Rachael Keefe

May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Romans 15:13

My baseline of existence is fairly accepting of people, places, and circumstances. I have little patience for technology that doesn’t work the way it is supposed to, and even less for individuals who are purposeful in causing harm. However, I’ve recently had cause to remember just how many things contribute to our sense of emotional, spiritual, and physical wellbeing. Usually, February is a hard month for me. This year, January was rough.

In early December I became the proud owner of a pacemaker. By January, I had recovered sufficiently to be miserable. I wasn’t recovered enough to go to yoga classes or shovel snow or pick up grocery bags. There were physical limits while my body continued to heal. In addition, January was the cloudiest month on record in Minnesota and I felt the lack of sun. And then there were all these unanticipated feelings about needing (and having) a pacemaker at the age of 52. Throw in hot flashes and we’ll just say that January was an unpleasant month.

In short, I was impatient with everything and everyone. I was irritable and irrational and I knew it. I was, and continue to be, grateful for the technology that brings my heart rate into normal range and the access I have to healthcare. Yet, nothing really soothed my disturbed being. I couldn’t help but think about the fact that some other human being had touched my heart, and my heart responded poorly. There were complications during this routine procedure that surprised the surgeon and distressed my wife. I didn’t know about this for a few days, but once I knew, I couldn’t let it go.

As the month wore on, I relaxed a bit. I’ve adjusted to dietary changes (mostly) and I’ve been able to resume yoga. I still experience some physical discomfort as I continue to heal. What I’ve noticed, though, is how many factors there were in my grumpiness. I was physically recovering from surgery. There was a lack of sunlight. My hormones were shifting. I was adjusting to a new diet. I had unexpected emotions about the pacemaker. In the midst of this, one of our beloved cats died which added a layer of grief. I kept saying that I didn’t know what was wrong or why I was so impatient with the world. Looking back, it seems obvious that there was just too much going on for me to find any kind of balance.

As frustrating as it was to be so unsettled in mind, body, and spirit, it reminded me of just how little control we have over life. Even positive events can cause stress. Even successful, necessary medical treatment can provoke unwanted feelings. Healing takes time and it has many dimensions. 

In the midst of it, I knew I would recover. I knew people were praying for me. I knew the sun would show up again. I knew God was with me as I sought healing. I could trust my body to heal, even at its own slow pace. My hormones would settle down again and the hot flashes would be fewer. Yet, even with knowing these things, I couldn’t force myself out of irritability. I just had to breathe through it and wait for it to pass (and try not to take out my feelings on the unsuspecting people around me). It was hard and uncomfortable and sometimes seemingly impossible.

There’s no lesson here, really, except to remember that there is little we can actually control in our lives. Sometimes too much piles up (physical health issues, grief, gray winter weather, hormones, dietary changes, etc) and our sense of wellbeing tips over. It’s okay. We are all human and more fragile than we would like to admit. 

February is an excellent month to be to be mindful and intentional and extra careful with our hearts, our minds, our bodies, and our spirits.

Where we choose to put our attention and our energy matters. God is still at work in the world. God’s promises of love, wholeness, forgiveness, and healing haven’t been revoked. They are out there waiting for us to live into them, and thereby, embody them for all our neighbors. Advent is an opportunity for a strange and wonderful journey from what is to what God promises. May our reluctant hearts find the spiritual encouragement they need in the days ahead.
Rev. Dr. Rachael Keefe is an author, and the pastor of Living Table United Church of Christ in Minneapolis, MN. You can find links to her blog, video series, and books at Beachtheology.com.

Ministries of Hope by Sarah Lund

written by Sarah Lund

Standing in the back of the fellowship hall on Sunday afternoon, my voice hushed to a whisper as I listened to the congregation’s words. Words of welcome. Words of inclusion. Words of support. Words of engagement for mental health. On January 26, 2020, at our congregational meeting, we voted to adopt our WISE covenant for mental health. Prior to this vote, we recited the WISE covenant together and it literally took my breath away.

To be completely honest, I did not expect to be profoundly moved by the power of this moment. I have read this draft covenant dozens of times, critiquing it and tweaking it. Nothing in the words was new to me. Yet, suddenly as the people of God spoke the words aloud in unison, the words took on a new life of their own. The words came alive, and with this life, new life was born in our midst. There in the church basement, I felt God’s powerful presence invite us to co-create the realm of God on earth as it is in heaven. A realm where people with mental health challenges and their loved ones are treated with unconditional love. 

I am a pastor whose life is touched on all sides by mental health challenges, both my own and those of my loved ones. I will never forget the experience of witnessing this historic vote. Before the vote we heard two testimonies from church members whose lives are impacted my mental health challenges: personality disorders, post-traumatic stress syndrome, addiction, and mood disorders. Eyes filled with tears at the vulnerable sharing that shed light on the importance of creating a church community that works to end the stigma and shame associated with mental illness. My heart swelled with love for a God that would invite us on such a healing journey and for a people who would open their hearts to such transformative love. 

I give thanks for the United Church of Christ and the Mental Health Network for our ministries of hope. There is no greater joy than living out and sharing the love of Christ. When we can share this love of Christ with people who experience the pain of mental health challenges and their loved ones, we are embodying the Gospel’s mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves. Now we journey into the future as a WISE congregation, open to ways God’s Spirit will invite us to live into our WISE covenant. All we can do now is open our hearts and say, “Here we are God. Take our lives and use them. May we be a place to belong, a place to heal and a place to love.”

Sarah is passionate about loving God, her family, and being part of faith communities. Her personal mission is to partner with others to share God's healing and hope.  She is an ordained minister with standing in the United Church of Christ and the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has served as pastor to churches in Brooklyn, NY, Minneapolis, MN, and New Smyrna Beach, FL. Sarah also served as Regional Minister for the Florida Conference of the United Church of Christ where she worked with congregations on vitality and renewal. After serving Christian Theological Seminary as Vice President for Advancement, Pastor Sarah was called in January of 2018 to serve as senior pastor of First Congregational UCC of Indianapolis, IN.

She is the author of the widely regarded book Blessed are the Crazy: Breaking the Silence About Mental Illness, Family and Church (Chalice Press, 2014) and blogs at sarahgriffithlund.com.

In April of 2018, Sarah was called to serve on the UCC National Staff in a part-time position with the Wholeness Advocacy Team of Justice and Local Church Ministries, serving as the newly created Minister for Disabilities and Mental Health Justice.