Peer support

My Father’s Love: Assurance of No Abandonment.

I have been thinking about how my father showed love for me.

One dramatic demonstration of love was when he ran after me when I tried to run away. For whatever reason, I was cranky and wanted to live in the forest. Dad knew I wouldn’t last long out there, but, as if to underscore how much his love yearned to have me at home, he ran wholeheartedly after me and caught me and pulled me kicking & screaming and brought me home and gave a whooping. Then, in that place, tears streaming down my face, I felt loved. My father would run after me and get me if I ever got lost. Every child needs a father who will do that for them. The Lord disciplines those He loves, and I am thankful that our father disciplined us.

Another time I experienced my father’s love was when we went on the journey of a lifetime. We called it our East-West-and-Crazy trip, visiting most of the states west of the Mississippi and many of the national parks in the contiguous Western USA. Many significant memories were formed on that journey. It was a family forging journey, like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. Anybody who has had to zip through the west with a minivan full of a bunch of kids with no air conditioning and seeing the wonders God has performed in shaping the earth will know how suffering creates healthy, if traumatized children. We were on the journey together and experienced first hand vistas that many only see in the movies or on TV or photo books.

Years later, I fell ill. It was not fun. I was in the process of maturing from childhood to adulthood. Though I had been voted most likely to succeed in my graduating class, I suddenly felt like the biggest failure. At the worst of it, I was having seizures and could not even go to church. I was weak, tired, exhausted, nervous, anxious, scared, alone in my heart, all rolled up in one big bundle of trouble. I probably didn’t look that sick to a passerby, unless I was out walking around the neighborhood trying to get exercise by swinging a baseball bat and wearing a blanket like a kilt. I so craved to be normal again: going to school, reading regular non-children’s books, feeling alive again, feeling human again. I remember that during this season of my life there were times when I lost whole days of memory and cried when asked about things I couldn’t remember. I wanted to carry on a normal conversation and could hardly get a sentence out of my mouth. I sought medical help, but doctors only seemed to make things worse, most of the time, I sought pastoral counsel, but they didn’t know what to make of me since I couldn’t even talk and appeared to have no infectious diseases and had no apparent sin.

In the middle of that worst season of my life, I one time tried going to church, but fell into petit mal seizures once again. My dad prayed with me. Sat with me. and waited. My mom spent as much time as she could then went to her meeting. My dad lingered, then, I remember him getting up and saying, “I’m going to have to leave you, but I’m not going to abandon you. I’ll be back.” Then he went off to the prayer meeting.

However, I kept mulling over what he said. He had left with a smile, and I managed to smile back, however faintly. Most likely, the church continued to pray for me as they had since I had first developed the seizures following a medical error. I had no profound epiphany, but I felt loved. I needed a dad who would love me even when I could do nothing for him or with him or ever expect to repay him.

It was also in this season, the deepest season of depression and agony that I have ever been in, that I encountered what it means for God to pour out His Spirit of adoption again on one of His children, on one who is poor in spirit. If there ever was someone afflicted, it was me. I had seizures in church. NOT FUN. Suddenly I couldn’t talk, my muscles stiffened, I was a dead weight. It happened right after going to the single’s class at church and my last words were, “I guess I’m in the right class.” I was single, yes, but God wanted me to go home.

That day, the pastor and some elders prayed for me. They continued to pray for the weeks following. It was also that season, when I had a profound turn around. I had tried everything I knew to get better. I had even complained to God. He seemed silent. One day though, almost as if I had no place else to turn, I sat one evening in the Laz-E-Boy recliner that has since been incinerated. I would spend long hours there while I was sick. That evening though, I was alone in my thoughts until I turned my thoughts once more to the Lord.

I handed over my life to God again, “I may be an invalid the rest of my life, Lord. But I’m going to be the best invalid You ever had.” Then I got up and went to bed, ready to sleep a long time.

The next morning, I awoke. For the first time in a long time, my heart was at peace. My Mom, who had chosen to take a break from work while I recovered, greeted me in the kitchen. She said, “Mert, you look different, what happened?” I answered, “I feel different. I feel like God is my Father and He is holding me in His arms.”

Everyone needs time to come home to the Lord, when He will embrace you and receive you just as you are, with all your pain and loneliness and anger and agony and fear and rage, and He will simply embrace you. No mere human can fully mediate that grace. My Dad is the best dad a young person could ask for, but he could only be with me so much. At that moment, I needed my Father in Heaven to smile on me and embrace me as His son, well loved, accepted and approved.

If you ever feel ill and like your life is wasting away, I dare you to pray like I did, “Lord, I may be an invalid the rest of my life, but I will be the best invalid You ever had.” God will hear your prayer and prove to you that in His eyes, you are very valid and most precious, accepted in the Beloved..

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My Darkest Night: A Confession

My darkest night and day, inside was pain, my soul bound up in chains.

I looked confounded, looked uncertain, certainly looked confused.
I tried rejection, I tried inspection, and I tried just to refuse.
My soul was heavy, my mind a mess, my heart got torn in shreds.
I was left alone, adrift, and nearly left for dead.
This is what I almost, nearly, and completely would have done.

Looking out, looking up, looking all around.
Feeling lost, feeling forward, feeling like I might be found.
I hear a cry, I cry for help, I cannot help but cry.
I wonder how, I wonder where, I mostly wonder whom and why?
What could I, should I, would I do?

I look away, I look inside, yet I seem to only stare.
My hands hang limp, brain disconnected, yet I truly care.
I am not wise, I’m at a loss, I am not self-improved.
I want to hide, I want to run, yet inside I am moved.
What can I, shall I, will I do?

I look behind, I look within, and then look far beyond.
I have no power, no potion, and no magic wand.
A little truth, a little prayer, and lots of simple mercy:
For my family, for my friends, and for my foes quite early.
This is what I could have, should have, and will have done.

For, Yes! Redemption came, my mind was changed, and I rose up not the same.

Categories: Good News, Peer support, Poem, Suffering, Testimony | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Mental Illness & the Message of God

Dedicated to all my friends & family with “mental health challenges,” myself included.

The beginning was once a mere mystery,
Now it is revealed history.
Wanting the very best, I find my self broken.
Being broken, I offer something more precious than treasure from within.
I pour out grace & wisdom that can’t be measured.
My stigma a sign:
Though curses cross my path, I fear no wrath.
Though you call me crazy, we have Christ’s mind.
With that, let the Word of God be spoken:
“Reorient your life, since the kingdom of God is at work.”

I’m honored to be loosely associated with Jesus, the Son of Man,
humbled to have my prayers answered eventually
in the name of the Son of God.
with a simple heart and much learning in store,
I’m a fool for Christ, though a fool no more.

Ridiculed for following the law that leads to the deep well of freedom.
Crazy enough to believe the truth is personal, universal, and tangible.
Mocked for telling others that life is eternal,
and also light and love in the Father’s family.
Though my faith was a flickering wick,
now the light of Christ is well lit.

Glad to be called a moron for the Messiah.
Happy to be treated as the local village idiot.
Rejoicing to be regarded as demonized
as they regarded the Christ, (John 8:48)
Blessed with the Holy Spirit.

Angry at sin, yet seeking not to.
Care free in the world, yet caring for you.
Liberated by the friend of sinners, I regard weak souls as winners.
The strong shall be shattered the voices mere clatter,
but all that will matter is that the Lord shall appear,
Yes, the One who came as our ultimate Peer,
Yes, the Lord, He is near.

So let love be your bond, and life be your banner.
Let the music go on as the fizzles grow flatter.
May our meds do no harm;
May the angels be our morning alarm.
Yet peculiar people need not fear,
for yes, the Lord, He is near.

Categories: Peer support, Persecution, Poem, Suffering, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Loss & Love

Why am I so afraid?
A loss of love is a terrifying thing.
Losing the ability to love is worse.
The pain of the process of loss is terrifying.

Where do old folks go when they leave the old folk’s home?
Do they go on to glory?
Or do they merely live on in stories?

Where does love go when I am left alone?
Does my Love cause my heart to groan?
Or does my heart merely turn into stone?

What happens to me when I die to self?
Do I fear less and love more?
Or am I near less and shove more?

Who am I and who are you?
How will I know your answer’s true?
Let us come apart and chat a while …
Before the nation comes apart and we march in single file into a dark inferno.

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Recovery

Today I participated in a NAMI Conference for Washtenaw County, and this seems appropriate to pass the publishing gate. Not all who suffer get this bad, but sometimes this is the only way to get out of the fog. A quick shout out to all those that I got to talk to there. I especially enjoyed hearing the fellow play a bit of Bach.

Lesson for the day from all those I got to hear:
Those of us with mental mazes are not social problems,
we are social pioneers and can be mentally amazing. But I digress.
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Dedicated to those who suffer from chronic mental illness.

As winter comes
and days are shorter, colder, and less friendly,
I huddle up, hugging blankets,
hoping to love, and be loved in return.

And when nothing happens but the dull passage of time,
I see a choice:
to hide forever digging deeper into darkness
or to rage against it all.
I have already hidden,
. . . but if I were to rage, would I rage against the walls?
or would I rage until I slid beneath in cowers?
or would I rage against the Living God?
or would I rage against some foe so tangible to me,
invisible to you?

The walls would yield till I fell cold.
My energy must not be wasted, for there is too little.
My rage must not be spent in ways as foolish as despair.
The Living God has long withstood my rage,
and all my hammering is empty,
looking so much like rebellion
that I have come to despise myself,
yet I shall see the face of God.
So if I raged against the foe who hides
and preys on weaker souls,
would "they" call me crazy?
Would I give up too soon, too short of victory?
Would I be crowned a hero for the day?

They have already called me crazy.
Awakening to victory against the enemy is worth
a thousand yesterdays of failure.
I have no choice but to rage in a hidden, friend-filled place
my love exploding gladly in the face of fear.
till God rewards with rich, undying, open grace.

Categories: Peer support, Poem, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Comfort, Comfort, My People Jerusalem

Right now the Middle East remains in an uproar: Egyptians are in an uproar, and Palestinians are raging against the state of Israel. Jordan is facing a flood of refugees. Bethlehem may soon have a few tourists. But I find that the “Jerusalem Syndrom” or “Stendhal Syndrome” to be most interesting of all this: people go to the “holy” city only to find that there are a bunch of sinners there. Sinners needing to be evangelized, so they evangelize them, or at least attempt to, in their own religious versions.

I’ve been there and done that! In 1994, I was a short term worker in Washington, DC. Enjoyed my time, but got a little too isolated from the group and my mind started to wander away from the mission. I started to peregrinate and preach. I dare say, it was fun. I thought the world was going to end in 3.5 days. (Times, time, and half a time, you know.)

Well, it didn’t, and the Lord forgave me for my false prophecy. So I am no prophet. Big deal.

But that does not mean I am not an evangelist. I may not be called upon to bring a final serious message of judgment, but I can bring a message of joy to the world. That joy is found in Jesus. Moral reform is good. Preaching is good. But all cities need this preaching. All souls need the good news. I am not much of a church planter, though my efforts to disciple others have resulted in a small disciplemaking movement.

The reality is though, that my life is marked (or some would say marred) by something else: suffering and disappointment with the worldly and the temporal hopes dreams. I work part time for a government agency that works among the least and among of those in the worst circumstances as a certified peer support specialist. In other words, I’m not just certifiable, I’m certified. I have a plaque to prove it.

That sits at my desk like the the Plaque I once received as a Distinguido Guesped used to at my dorm in college. I was a Distinguished Guest of the governor of Sinaloa State or Mayor Mazatlan there in Mexico, or something like that. Yippee!! Distinguished guest. All I had to do was do a little dramatic interpretation and travel with a bunch of choral members to a podunk, persecuting part of our Southern Neighbor and have a good, clean, moral life as I honored Jesus. The Bible says, those who honor God, God will honor.

What if the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre in Israel, were to not issue a certificate of insanity, but of honor to these guests, who like Saul (i.e. Shaul) had a few chips shy of a full bag, with a certificate for their intense interest and compassion for this city of conflict. Imagine how you would feel going on vacation to Hawaii only to find all the natives working in gray suits and ties and all the land given over to the chaos that happens on Wall Street … Doesn’t sound like a vacation.

Just because you went to such an advertized “tropical paradise” that had been corrupted and spoke out for a little common sense, would you want to be called a fool? No.

But Hosea said that the prophet will be called a fool (Meshuggah). When a nice person meets a wicked world which has been worshipped with wonderful words, that nice person might get a little upset when they find out the reality. You would … Right? I hope you would.

So, back to the issue at hand. As these prophets / religiously fanatical tourists recover, why not give them a certificate for wanting the city of Jerusalem to be morally pure and peaceful?? Honor them for their ability to cope again with a sinful world. Commission them in Jesus name to preach peace to all nations.

Use those with Jerusalem or Stendhal syndrome to become Fools for Christ … people who don’t fit in with the world because they love God. Let us be a little loony for the Lord! Let us give him our minds and let us give the world a piece of it too.

Maybe those that the world calls misfits are simply called to fit into another world, a world yet to come. A world that is perfect.

In this world, we will have trouble. BUT, TAKE HEART! Jesus conquered the world!!! He is alive! He’s not dead. He’s not crazy. He’s not lazy. HE really is LORD and HE really dead get up and folded the grave clothes at the tomb. Now, he is busy building a new Jerusalem.

The old Jerusalem is like Sodom and Gomorrah: it distresses the righteous lot who try to live their so much that they can’t stand staying there forever, they run for their lives. Distressed and dispirited. But Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He takes care of souls who go to great cities like Mecca, Rome, and Washington, DC and New York City, only to lose their grasp on “normalcy.” He comforts us with the hope of His return. He is the Messiah. We are not.

Now, what about those who think this world is all there is? I feel sorry for them. They may be in animistic tribes wearing animal parts or they may be in the ‘hood wearing hoodies or they may be businessmen wearing ties and going to fine restaurants or they may be on a campus wearing a backpack or they may be taking care of a posse of kids whom they hope will grow up to be “normal.”

Let’s get real. It is OK if dreams are shattered and illusions are exposed. It is OK to be different. It is OK to preach outside or in the streets. Let the prisoners free! Let the slaves go free! Let the fools go free! Maybe if Jerusalem had tolerated the most Divine Fool she would be a cultivated city today, instead of a city where the past is nearly all that there is to celebrate about it at the present.

Blessings on all who go to Jerusalem to comfort my people: the mentally ill and non-conformists. May God’s people surround the saints restrained with comfort and friendship.

Categories: Evangelism, Peer support, Suffering | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Rewards of Hard Work

Mert at work.

Mert at work.

I work in a community mental health agency. I invest time in it and expend effort, so it is work.

I got the position through many hard life experiences and continue in the job through hours in the office and with folks I serve. Sometimes saddened by the choices people make.

BUT, the longer I continue in this, the more I am finding that some people are willing to make good decisions. While reasonable pay is one kind of reward, seeing lives change for the better is an even more rewarding aspect of the work.

Here is an overview of my work & its rewards:

http://jottingjoan.com/2013/04/11/peer-support-helps-healing-process/

Peer support helps healing process

A couple years ago my son, Merton Hershberger, began working at a community mental health agency as a peer support counselor. He recently described to me the physical benefits as well as the financial benefits already seen in this pilot program.

From the late 1950’s to the early 1970’s, across the country, governments were setting up community mental health agencies (CMHs). While for some it was an improvement over asylums, for others, it simply meant a change in residence. It did not end the fact of their diagnosis with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder (manic-depression), chronic depression, anxiety or some other host of problems.

In fact, recent studies have shown that people who receive services through CMHs die, on average, 25 years younger than the rest of the population. There are several factors: people with serious mental health challenges are more likely to be obese, smoke and abuse alcohol, aside from a higher rate of suicide. Poor mental health tends to lead to a lack of ability to focus on other areas of health.

As this fact came to the surface and the startling barriers to recovery were faced, beginning in 2009, federal grants to facilitate integrated health in these CMHs were given.

Washtenaw County in Michigan is the home of a forensic psychiatric hospital, three inpatient psychiatric hospitals and a Community Mental Health Agency, along with a couple of schools for social work and graduate psychology and psychiatry programs. It is a great place to get sick if you have a mental illness.

However, people with a mental illnesses tend to die younger and that is not so great as was underscored with the recent news that another agency client died. My job is to help reverse those trends, and we are seeing SOME progress.

Michigan is a national leader in equipping those with a history of mental illness to give back by opening the door of employment for those who are further along the road to recovery to share their lives and stories and hope with others.

For several years, the CMH in Washtenaw County has had an Integrated Health program which sought to address chronic health conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, obesity and respiratory disease (often caused by smoking), as well as prevention and now substance abuse. While there are other issues that have been addressed, these are what helped lay the foundation of a bridge from mental illness to creating a medical home and giving broader access to mental health services.

We are finding that as we engage with clients on a personal basis, whether our role is as a nurse, dietitian, nurse practitioner or peer, people are recovering.

Sometimes people are hard to reach or will not return phone calls, but those who respond to our interaction are more likely to get better as they walk with us on the road to recovery.

I have seen people become more active physically in taking walks, working and biking. I have seen people make reductions in their smoking habits and choose healthier diets and lose weight. I have even seen one fellow get to the point where he no longer needed diabetic medication. Another is frequenting the hospital far less and visiting the doctor and making safer, healthier decisions that have led to weight loss and greater involvement in the community. Another has become a deacon in his church and said he feels better now than ever before.

Clients are being hospitalized less frequently and, consequently, they are using fewer government dollars. So while it did require some initial government aid, in the end, it is costing less. The investment in health is paying off.

There is no magic formula. We cannot mass produce this. While we teach classes, this is not where the most change happens. Statistically, when we give personal attention to those who are most vulnerable, they get better.

Whether we as peers are taking folks to food banks to get enough food or walking with them through the park, or just hearing them recount their series of medical dilemmas and going to appointments to advocate for them, people are realizing that they count. Their lives and their choices matter. Those we serve are coming to value themselves and their role in the community.

We are also connecting people to new resources and information so that they can improve their own health and wellness. We are helping them access their own medical records so that they can take even more personal ownership of their health.

Some peers focus on helping people get free of addictions. There is also a registered dietitian who works with clients to create meal plans and to guide in managing diabetes and weight. A nurse practitioner sees clients without insurance for non-emergent concerns. Nurse case managers educate and assist clients with a wide range of appointments and medical concerns.

The team provides an extra set of eyes and ears for the case managers. When they are unaware of what is going on, we let them know.

The purpose of the team reminds me of another team assembled by a wise leader. He sent them out two by two to heal the sick and remove the spirits which would afflict. He also said, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” In walking with them, He showed the way. Indeed, He is the Way, and He walks among us still.

(Writing with her son, Merton, Joan Hershberger is a reporter at the News-Times. E-mail her at jhershberger@eldoradonews.com.)

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