I sit here with my fingers on the keys wondering where in the heck I am supposed to begin. My days have been consumed with the planning of a groundbreaking event at my church called, Shattering Stigma with Stories: Mental Health and The Church. The conference took place on Saturday, and today I am left sitting here drained of energy but filled to the brim with awe and hope and pleasant shock.
I don’t have words, right now, to even begin articulating the divine power by which the stigma surrounding mental illness shattered into million brilliant pieces. One of my dearest friends and fellow bloggers attended our conference as a special guest speaker–she has given great voice and imagery to what happened on Saturday, and I hope you’ll go read it–> From Roots and Lungs.
I need more time to process and pray about the day; however, I want to tell you about the most life changing thing that happened for me:
My parents, brother, and I rarely talk about my mental illness with each other. I have anorexia; I am in the midst of navigating a relapse that began last summer. While I have had the desire and yearning to talk more openly about it with my family, I haven’t had the courage. My family knows about my illness, but we’ve never really fully dug into what anorexia is/does in my life. Fear holds me back–would they understand? Would they be mad? Would they believe I was really sick? Would they blame me? Would they care? For me I worry about what the reaction or interaction might be, and I am not in a place right now where I could handle or cope with negative response. Negative reaction is always a possibility no matter who we share our story with. My mind naturally focuses on the worst case scenario.
But at this conference I openly shared my story for the first time–in front of nearly 300 people from my church and community, including my parents. I worried mostly about what my dad might think/feel, yet I so wanted him to hear what God had given me to share.
My dad did hear.
When I came down off the stage after my talk, well … this:
Following the conference, he publicly expressed on his Facebook page:
I have known for a few years my daughter had an eating disorder. She was getting treatment for it along with some physical issues caused by certain foods. So, I was rather nonchalant about her eating and comfortable that is was just an inconvenience. Today, she stood in front of about 250 people at a conference to tell her story. When she boldly said “I have a mental illness”, it brought me to tears. I’ve always known the disorder was a mental illness. It wasn’t until I stood proud of her at the side of the room and heard her say those words did it hit me how ill she really is. My wife invited me to pull a word off of the “stigma” mirror at the conference where Leanne was speaking. I pulled off “apathy.” It best describes my attitude to her illness to date. Since hearing her speak this has touched me to my core, I need to process and find what best to offer her for support.
This is how God works. He doesn’t strike down with lightning bolts and orchestrate explosive miracles. He works through hearts; He pumps power through what is weak and fearful and uncomfortable so we can be restored, revived, and realigned with His purpose. His work is anchored in His great love for us and is manifested through us in how we live–our stories.
Take this one moment with my dad and me and multiply it by the nearly 300 people who filled our event hall on Saturday– you see now why I sit here today overwhelmed at the prospect of articulating through words the full power of what took place there.
I will leave you with some pictures from our day and the video of my talk if you are interested in hearing what I shared that day.
Top: Our event hall filled to capacity.
Left: Our pastor’s wife, Debbie Sander, sharing her story of living with bipolar disorder.
Right: Guest, Pastor Jerry Beres sharing his story of living with anxiety and ADD.
Client/fellow blogger (A Way With Words)/friend/Keynote speaker, Tony Roberts sharing his story of living with bipolar disorder.
Me sharing my story of living with anorexia.