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In this issue: Communion for people with cognitive impairments, having a disability in New York City, and more.

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In this issue: Depression, doubt, dignity, and more.

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In this issue: Suffering, skydiving, multiple sclerosis, and more.

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In this issue: Tsunami relief, schizophrenia, and more.

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In this issue: Autism Spectrum, mental illness, Hope Centre, and more.

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In this issue: A preacher loses his voice, hidden disability, and more.

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In this issue: A blind musician, church membership for Julianne who has severe cognitive impairment, and more.

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In this issue: Alzheimer's, mental illness, church planting with Friendship, and more.

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In this issue: Stuttering, learning disability, and more.

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In this issue: Housing issues, cancer, and more.

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Rompiendo Barreras un Ministerio del Christian Reformed Disability Concerns

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En este número pondremos atención en La salud mental. El plazo para entregar escritos para la edición de invierno acerca de la hospitalidad, es el 15 de Octubre, 2009.

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Enfrentando el desastre: Una guía para las familias y aquellos que apoyan a los adultos con discapacidad mental.

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Ban citizen ownership and the US can have the safe streets, schools, and neighborhoods that Mexico does. 

  That's nice, but for my part I look forward to not hearing voices anymore, and the problem with them is that you can hear them whether your hearing is good or not since they are a product of the brain and not something that comes from the outslde.  I have a hearing impairment also but the only reason my voices no longer plague me as they used to is because I take medications to control them.  For me heaven will mean being rid of schizophrenia for good.  If you identify with your handicap to the point that you can't imagine being freed of it at the resurrection fine and dandy, but personally I can't wait to leave that in the grave.  Or better yet, on my deathbed.

 This is one of the reasons I have decided to become a Regional Advocate.  Fortunately, the classis I work for is receptive to this issue.  Not the gun violence part so much because the right to bear arms is not part of the Canadian Constitution, and as a whole our country counts fewer gun-related massacres in ten years than the U.S.A. in one year.  To give you an idea, here in Québec we still commemorate the Polytechnique massacre that happened in 1989.  There have been a couple more since then, but that's all.  

A great resource is the Friendship Ministries website ( I would also recommend that you not be afraid to direct part of the message directly to the friends and to use some sort of visual or tacticle lesson if possible. 

 It appeared in May of last year, either the 19th or the 26th as a guest post. 

Here's the article on the network that Michele is talking about: On Chronically Normal People

Thanks for the information. Michele, where on the Network can we find that one article?

 Oh, and by the way there will be two articles in the Spring issue of SZMAGAZINE due to appear on April 4th that I wrote. They only publish online now, but you can get a subscription for $50.00 that will allow you to print as many copies as you want.  These subscriptions are mostly for organizations since they usually have the funds to afford that. One of them was already published on the CRC Network. 

I am very encouraged to hear about this cross training teaching at Neerlandia. When I am there in June, I would love to hear more about how it went.

Hello again Ron: I am commenting from home tonight as I am thrilled to see the "conversation going". If I were in my church office I could add to the list of resources.  At Neerlandia CRC, during the month of March, Pastor Ron Klok and I put together a CrossTraining series on Mental Illness Toward Understanding and Responding. That prompts me to say that for now I would add that our church family can be a valuable resource once we open up the topic for discussion. Blessings to all as we continue the conversation. Liz Nanninga, RN and parish nurse NCRC

Thanks for the recommendation Mark. I plan to add this to my reading list

Ron, thanks for this. Another book I highly recommend is Ministry with Persons with Mental Illness and Their Families. Mark

Thank you for this Michele. 

 Among periodicals for people who are not specialists in the field of mental health are Anchor Magazine for people who suffer from depression and anxiety disorders. SZMAGAZINE targets those who suffer from schizophrenia and schizo-affective disorder. I believe there is also one for those afflicted with bipolar disorders, but you can check out the site for more information.  These magazines are published by an evangelical Christian, named Bill McPhee.

Michele, that's very good news that you have congregations wanting you to make presentations in your area. Disability Concerns has a number of people who are part of a mental health speaker's bureau who will do the same. We have speakers in Toronto and Hamilton areas in Ontario; Edmonton Alberta; Northwest Iowa; Central California; and west and northern Michigan. I'll send you a note in case you would like to be added to the list. 

 In the CRC it depends on the individual classes( regional groups of congregations).  Some, like the one where I serve as Regional Advocate, are fairly open and receptive, and others are still at the stage where they tell people to confess their sins and the symptoms will dissipate.  At the spring meeting of Classis Eastern Canada one minister made a presentation on a pilot project to provide leave of absence for pastors suffering from a mental illness that was well received, and the next day I made a presentation about my experience with schizophrenia, and the only question I was asked when I asked if there were any questions was to know if I were willing to go make presentations to individual congregations.  And as long as my expenses are paid I have no problem doing that, but I live on Disability Income, and can't afford to travel much.  So you see, it's very uneven.  The elder who drove me to Ottawa (ON) for the meeting said that there had been several Art.17 separations between congregations and their pastors based on mental health issues, so I guess they decided to address the problem.


 Mark, as long as some people in the CRC will continue to consider mental illnesses as spiritual problems rather than brain diseases we'll be dealing with the health and wealth gospel.  Those people claim that people are more than chemical reactions.  Granted, but the brain is a very complex organ, where a lot what happens is caused by chemical processes, and because it also happens to be the seat of our mind and personality, when faulty connections happen they manifest themselves as mental illnesses.  In fact, I think I'll add this to my power point presentation.  To dismiss mental illnesses merely as spiritual problems is to dismiss the possibility that the brain as an organ can become sick, which is absurd. 

Christine, thanks for reminding us of your talk: "From Cure to Community." I listened to it shortly after you gave this talk and was blessed by your honest sharing. As people like you, Michele, and many others share with others your journeys with mental illness, you open the way for others to share too, even if not so publicly. I can only imagine the feelings of vulnerability at this risk you are taking, so thank you . . . to both of you! 

Hi Michele. I live with a mental illness myself and appreciate the considerable theological and social challenges that this can contribute when participating in a faith community. I can't speak for CRC churches since I am from a different denomination (though I follow this blog regularly) but I suspect our denominations are not that different as regards creating welcoming and safe spaces people who live with mental illnesses. An important part of my work is dismantling the stigma of mental illnesses in faith communities and in this regard we have a long journey ahead of us. You might be interested in a video talk on our website in which I talk about the stigma I've experienced and the ways we can interpret the Bible to reinforce or challenge stigma. Here's the link: 

Michele, yes, a lot of people still need the basics explained to them. That's why I love the continuum, the 5 Stages of Disability Attitudes, because it assumes that people are all over the map, encourages people to identify where they are on the continuum, and suggests what they need to do to move forward toward more biblical attitudes toward people with physical disabilities. I'm afraid there never will be a "once and for all" debunking of any false gospel. But you are right, the health and wealth gospel is still alive and well. One time, someone (not a CRC person, though I'm sure you are right that that attitude is among us as well) told me that our daughter lives with multiple disabilities because my wife and I don't have enough faith. She went on, "If you had faith in God, your daughter would be cured of her disabilities." Not only is this not the gospel, it's hurtful. That's why the work we do as advocates is so important - to speak the truth in love. Appreciatively, Mark

 Once again I got the impression that this classis is still at the breast milk stage when they should be eating meat.  In other words, they still need to have basic concepts explained to them, and the author only talks about physical disabilities.  What would it be if he were to discuss mental illnesses?  One of these days some preacher in that classis, or in the whole denomination for that matter, should undertake to debunk the Health and Wealth Gospel for good and show it up as the bullcrap it is.  It's a shame that people in this denomination that prides itself on being more knowledgeable than other churches still believe that nonsense.  I can think of at least two passages off the top of my head that contradict its assumptions: Job 42 :7,8 ; and John 9 :1-5.  And there are probably other ones that could be found if someone did a thorough study on that subject.  How about it? Anyone up to the challenge?

 I did watch this webinar, and it reminded me that even though anxiety is not a major problem of mine, I do tend to get anxious when responsibilities pile up and I have to be careful that I don't take more than I can handle.  Having schizophrenia even if I'm functioning at a high level still leaves me more fragile than people who are healthy.

Caryn, you're welcome. That's why we keep posting stuff here! So glad to hear it will be helpful. Be sure to check out the video by Barbara Newman too that I reference in the note. I think you'll find her advice right on the mark for your needs. Mark

Thanks for posting this! This speaks perfectly to some things our Sunday School program has been dealing with! 

Not only toy makers but also clothing makers are expanding their line to include kids with disabilities. Here's a story about Tommy Hilfiger's work.

Thanks for posting this. Very powerful. 

 That's the issue in which my story appeared.  I still have copies of it. 

 People who say that mental illness is a sin don't know what they're talking about, so I'm glad you didn't cry about it.  I won't tell you not to let it affect you, because that sort of nonsense does affect us whether we want it to or not.  In a documentary I watched on YouTube titled "Schizophrenia : Stolen Minds, Stolen Lives" we can see two identical twin brothers, one who has schizophrenia, and the other not, and at one point both brothers undergo an MRI, and you can see the difference in their brains.  So, therefore, if mental illnesses manifest themselves at the neurological level where most people have no control over their brain's morphology, how can mental illness be a sin?  God doesn't hold us to account for things we can't control.  Only stupid people do.  So try not to take it too personally when you hear that sort of comment.  They're WAY out in left field.

Michele, thanks so much for sharing a bit of your journey. I appreciate your vulnerability, letting us get a glimpse of some very painful experiences. I hope your sharing will help me and others who read this to be a little more understanding and compassionate.


As a child I was slow and had coordination problems that were "side effects" of the schizophrenia that developed in adulthood. (See "Schizophrenia : Stolen minds,Stolen Lives" on YouTube.)  For example, I had a neurological handicap that prevented my eyes from focusing at the same time, and still makes it difficult for me to see things in three dimensions, which is why I don't drive.  And because I was born left-handed but was taught to use my right hand to write, it was difficult for me to do basic tasks like setting the table because I always had to think first on which side of the plate to put the cutlery.  But my father was an impatient man, and he would often call me names if I didn't do things fast enough to his taste or do them himself so they would be done faster thereby denying me the opportunity to practice and become more skillful at them.

In addition, I was also bullied at school because I was different in some way than the other kids.  At times I had a weight problem, and they would pounce on that. Or I 'd have to wear glasses, and back then glasses only had one style of frames--black and square--regardless of age or gender, and that also made me a prey to those kids. Whoever believes that kids are naturally good has never been living with a handicap in a schoolyard.  Anyway.  Good thing cyberbullying didn't exist back then because I would have been overwhelmed.  Between my dad and the kids at school I had little reprieve to begin with, and when I did start hearing voices, one of those voices telling me to kill myself was my own father's.

I did forgive.  Because I don't burden myself with grudges.  For me, forgiveness is a matter of psychological hygiene.  I can go for days now without hearing the voices, but if something upsets me there they are again, and forgiving whoever is the cause of my getting upset shuts them up so fast they don't know what hit them. And even if they do know they're still silenced.

Michele, Great question! Sounds like people with disabilities are part of the fabric of your church, for which I praise God. I have been in other congregations that are the same way, but that certainly is not true of all churches.

 I don't think people in my church are afraid of people with disabilities, because very often, in our congregation, the people who have disabilities now are people they have had around as they grew up.  I've been attending this church for 40 years, and other people who have developed disabilities with age have been around for even longer.  A couple of individuals have had strokes while others had accidents where they fell down a flight of stairs and now use a walker to get around, but some of those people are founding members of the congregation.  Others have joined our church, but what's one person with a disability more or less when you're used to having them around already?

Michèle, thanks for your story and comments. You describe the enormous challenge that public health officials have. On the one hand, we don't want to go back to the era of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, when people were institutionalized inappropriately. The bar is set very high for involuntary hospitalization. On the other hand, it seems that people usually have to hurt themselves or another before they can be hospitalized against their will. And in the case of your story, even in the tragic instance of the murder of a child, your cousin was still allowed to refuse help. The intrinsic challenge of judging when and when not to hospitalize someone against their will, combined with limited public dollars allocated for mental health and overworked mental health workers results in a lot of suffering that could be abated somewhat. Thinking about these challenges, about the story of your cousin and her child, and about other similar stories in which people refused help even though they could have benefited from it makes me start to feel hopeless. I'm thankful that you are helping me and others at least to be aware of the issues. Perhaps some better way can be found. God, help us! God bless the public health officials and lawmakers with compassion and wisdom. Amen

 Even trying to get help for an adult family member who is psychotic and paranoid and refuses that their psychiatrist inform the family is difficult.  As soon as the patient is 18 or over they are considered able to decide for themselves, even if they obviously aren't.  A cousin of mine who was suffering from paranoid psychosis would not cooperate with her treatment plan as proposed by her doctor, and seeing signs in tree branches that her landlords wanted to kill her, she broke her lease every three months and moved before they'd have time to carry out their somber plans.  Eventually, she killed the one child she'd ever had by drowning the girl in the bathtub after drugging her so the kid would not resist.  And then she tried to kill herself by throwing herself in the nearest river.  (Montreal is an island located between two rivers.  The Rivière des Prairies on the north side and the St.Lawrence on the south.)  When she didn't drown fast enough to her taste, she got out of the water and walked to the nearest house where she was arrested after she'd told the owners her story and they called the police.  After that she fired one lawyer after another as soon as they suggested she get treated for her obvious disorder, because she wasn't aware of being ill.  Psychosis will pull that trick on people. Not all people with psychotic disorders have what is referred to as anosognosia, a term borrowed from neurology to describe the sequels suffered by some stroke victims where they are not aware of having lost abilities, but it is believed that 50% of people with schizophrenia and other forms of psychoses are afflicted in this way.  If it can comfort their close relatives and caregivers, they don't refuse to cooperate just to aggravate you.  In those cases they really don't believe they're ill.

Anyway, at her trial, the Crown prosecutor recommended she be sent to the Philippe Pinel Institute, a prison for the criminally insane, but she refused and ended up in a regular federal penitentiary for women, where she ultimately died by killing herself after three failed attempts.  

Fortunately, not all psychiatric patients suffer such tragic fates.  I am one of the fortunate few who had the symptoms hard enough to know what I'm talking about yet mild enough to be able to talk about the experience.  Some of those who know they're ill are just too severely afflicted to be able to talk about their illness in a cogent manner, or they started being ill at such a young age that it prevented them from getting an education because their symptoms interfered with concentration.  I know from personal experience how ineffective studying for a test can be when you haven't slept a full night in weeks and you're hearing voices.  It doesn't work. I'm writing this so that those who feel frustrated by trying to help mentally ill people and don't get any cooperation from the system will know that they are not the problem.  A system that considers adult people with mental illnesses in a psychotic state as competent to decide whether they need help or not, and entitled to have their privacy respected when they obviously need outside intervention is the problem.  Our system of individual rights was not designed for such patients.

Thanks for bringing up Jeremiah! I am currently studying his live in a Bible study and amazed at the trials and pain he endured. Through it all, he maintained a dialog with God and was obedient. What a challenge for me today. 

Michèle, thanks for sharing from the heart. The power of Scripture is truly amazing. Your image of bearing the pain in your bones, and the indelible mark on your soul, reminds me of an amazing article by the late Nancy Eiesland. Dr. Eiesland was working as a chaplain in a rehab center with people who had spinal cord injuries. She asked residents how they would know if God was with them and understood their experiences. One resident said, "If God was in a sip/puff*, maybe he would understand." Later on, Eiesland was reading the story of Jesus revealing himself to his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:36-39). It struck her that the disciples needed to see the marks on his hands and feet to know who he was. Then she writes, 

It wasn’t God in a sip/puff, but here was the resurrected Christ making good on the promise that God would be with us, embodied, as we are – disabled and divine. Reading this passage, I realized that here was a part of my hidden history as a Christian. The foundation of Christian theology is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Yet seldom is the resurrected Christ recognized as a deity whose hands, feet, and side bear marks of profound physical impairment. In presenting his impaired body to his startled friends, the resurrected Jesus is revealed as the disabled God. Jesus, the resurrected Savior, calls for his frightened companions to recognize in the marks of impairment their own connection with God, their salvation. In so doing, this disabled God is also the revealer of a new humanity. The disabled God is not only the One from heaven, but the revelation of true personhood, underscoring the reality that full personhood is compatible with the experience of disability. 

Praise the Lord, Christ bears the marks of his suffering and death on himself throughout eternity, and we are better for it. (Eiesland had congenital bone disability and died in 2009.)

*A "sip/puff" refers to wheelchairs and other assistive technologies that are maneuvered by sipping from or puffing into a straw-like apparatus.

Jeremiah speaks specifically about his pain.   

"I remember my affliction and my wandering,

the bitterness and the gall.

I well remember them and my soul is downcast within me.

Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:

Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed...."

This passage always leaves me close to tears because I remember the mental pain I endured before medication took effect and reduced it to the point where I am more affected by its side effects than by the illness itself.  At my lowest point, when I was watching the river flow by and considering throwing myself in the water God convinced me not to give up on life, and I never came that close to killing myself again even though things didn't improve right away.  Actually, not for at least a year after that, and as a result I think I got that pain in my bones so to speak.  It left an indelible mark on my soul, and I can't forget it.  I guess that's what keeps me credible when I talk about my illness.  Nobody can say that my witness is trite because I REALLY know what it feels like. I can still recall it in a heartbeat.  And Lamentations expresses that better than any other passage I've come across so far.

Hi Michèle, thanks for your comment. What is it about Lamentations 3:19-33 that you find especially helpful? Or to ask another way, what is it about this passage that moves you so deeply?

 I don't know if I ever mentioned this in these posts but one passage that means a LOT to me is Lamentations 3:19-33.  I prefer it in the NIV than the New King James Version.  Actually, the whole chapter, even the whole book, would be pertinent, but for the sake of brevity I narrowed it down to this passage.  I find it comforting, but at the same time it seldom fails to bring tears to my eyes even though I haven't been depressed in years, and depression was my dominant negative symptom for decades next to insomnia.

Michele, no apologies necessary. I praise God with you that your mother is doing so well. My mother-in-law is almost the same age and is just as sharp. It's wonderful. 

 My maternal grandfather developed senile dementia in his last years, mostly from age 87 to 90 when he passed away in 1984, and when I went to see him with my mom he seemed only a ghost of the man I'd known as a child and young adult when he taught me how to make his liver pâté, so we began our mourning process long before he breathed his last.  I wasn't there on that day, but my mom and dad were.  I'm sorry that you're losing your mother that way.  Mine, however, is still "all there" on the verge of her 89th birthday, which will be on January 31st.  She even drives her car still and got a new one last spring.  She's also planning on moving to a larger apartment in her seniors' residence in March that will be closer to the elevator to make it easier because some of the medications she takes for her heart condition make her dizzy and the hallways are long there.  But it IS a seniors' residence and NOT a nursing home.  And it doesn't smell like a nursing home.  

Sorry that the contrast between my mom and yours is so stark, but I'd rather have my mom the way she is than with senile dementia any day, and I imagine you'd prefer it this way too.

Hi Terry and Michele: 

It looks like this litany/prayer was provided by Church of the Crossroads (with permission to use). I've added in this information. 

Thanks for asking!

Yes, please use it, Michele!

BTW, even though the Network attributes the litany to me, I am not the author. I inherited it in my RCA Disability Concerns role.

 Do you mind if I use this in Sunday's order of worship?

Christine, I wondered if Sheila was Mennonite, being from Goshen. I'm thankful for the connections that Disability Concerns has with ADNet, and that we can be co-laborers in God's work.

Michele, I guess that would be called a balanced perspective on your disability. I am one (among many I'm sure) who is thankful that you are able and willing to share so openly about living with schizophrenia. 

 I've come to figure out that the reason God allowed me to suffer from schizophrenia was that I would have it hard enough to know what I was talking about yet mild enough to be able to speak on behalf of those who can't tell what it's like to live with schizophrenia.  How's that for God' will?

Thanks for bringing this article to light! Some time after Sheila wrote the article you quote from, she became one of the founders of Anabaptist Disabilities Network. Sheila continues her disability advocacy both informally and formally, working now in Deaf ministry at College Mennonite Church, Goshen, Indiana. She is my go-to resource person to review materials I write or edit on hearing loss and the Deaf community. 

Christine Guth, Anabaptist Disabilities Network,

Well said, Mark!  You express the thoughts of many of us at the CRC who knew and loved Paul.

We all loved Paul here at the CRCNA in so many different ways, his tenacity for life and smile will forever be embedded in my memories of him. Thanks Mark for this tribute.

Thank you for writing this piece, Mark. With the links you included, it's a beautiful window offering a glimpse into Paul's remarkable life.

I'm grateful for the brief exchanges I had with Paul, who obviously made an impact on lots of people. While I did not know him well, the flood of comments from so many sources all seem to have a consistent sentiment expressed in them. I can't think of anyone for whom the "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter into the joy of your reward" salutation seems more appropriate.