Loving the Broken by Feeding the Heart through the Stomach

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They didn’t have to reach out the way they did. They didn’t have to do anything. But they did.

I don’t know what the little group of Christian women thought when they heard I’d gone missing, or that the police were called. How could a CHRISTIAN be suicidal, and be taken to the EMERGENCY ROOM for DEPRESSION?!?

I knew at least one of them didn’t believe in chemical imbalances and the use of antidepressants. But when my sideways brain landed me in the ER, they did what Christians often don’t.

It may be less common as churches get bigger and as people in modern society are separated from each other by electronic connection. But providing meals for families when one of its members is sick, injured, or hospitalized is a traditional way churches demonstrate Christ’s love, and neighbors care for each other.

When Mom goes to the hospital to have another baby, people are happy to talk about it, and be involved in the blessed event by preparing a meal for the happy family. When Mom has surgery, they are glad to lighten the load. If she breaks a leg, or arm, healing is defined. But what if Mom is incapacitated by her own mind? We can’t put a cast on it, or remove it like a wonky gall bladder. When is she sick enough that we feel comfortable stepping in to lend a hand by feeding her family, and when well enough to not need some extra support?

No one is comfortable talking about that kind of hospitalization.

We prefer to ignore what we don’t understand. We avoid subjects and situations that make us uncomfortable.

Cancer is like that, too. Most of us have never experienced the discomfort and pain of treatment, and we don’t know what to say, or how to behave, in the face of a limited-time-left prognosis.

It’s difficult for the healthy to communicate with someone in the grips of a physical or mental health crisis.

But, as far as believing the patient deserves our help and comfort, we don’t typically blame the individual who develops cancer. We’re not suspicious or afraid of her.

There’s still significant stigma attached to mental illness. An undercurrent of blame still flows in and outside our churches. Their faith isn’t strong enough. They’re hiding sin. They lack self-discipline. They’re weak. The result has been “no casserole.”

Whatever these women thought about my situation, they chose to extend love and support into the unknown. It was possible because one of them is a proven friend, who understands depression is not a moral failure or character defect. Intentionally or unintentionally, she followed through on my purpose to use my experience to encourage and educate others.

I was humiliated when I found out those women knew what I was doing and where I was going while my brain was sideways. Putting my words out on the internet is different. Most of the people who read them don’t know me.

But those people who don’t know me, know me better than most people I see all the time.

It’s different to look someone in the eye and know they know your weakness, and fear they judge you for it. It’s even harder when the darkness is swirling behind your eyes and you feel like your weakness is there for all to see.

It’s different when someone knows intimate details while you’re experiencing them, than when you’re sharing them, rationally, from a safe distance.

Very different.

I had no control. I was vulnerable and exposed. I hate those feelings.

Those women couldn’t understand, but they could pray. And they did.

Whether or not they judged me, they extended love and comfort to my family. And to me.

They put together food that could be used for several meals, and included thoughtful little gifts.

God has interesting ways to work on our pride.

Maybe some of those women did judge me. I certainly judged them; maybe, in a way, I still do, as I hold one up as an example of wrong-headedness. Maybe knowing someone in the heat of struggle with mental illness helped soften their perspective. I know mine of them did.

One conversation around a table had put me on the defensive.  I’d felt accused when one told about an article she read online about the fallacy of chemical imbalances as evidenced by antidepressants taking time to work. The argument was that if a chemical imbalance was the cause of depression, then it shouldn’t take months for an antidepressant to work. If a pill fixed the “imbalance” then the depression should be cured.

I expected her to look down on me.

Accepting help is hard. Sometimes when we feel like we’ve been broken down as far as we can, we find that we still resist accepting an outstretched hand.

Love can be hard. To give and receive.

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