In 2006, shortly after joining Brentwood Park Alliance Church, I founded the Living Room support ministry for people with mental health issues, a ministry which eventually spread to other areas of Canada and the USA.
I had lived with bipolar disorder for forty-one years, ever since the age of nineteen. Life had been tough. I truly did suffer. But at age forty I started on a new medication, and – better than that – I started believing in God. I now had a God I could trust to help me with the struggles. Not only that, I found that He had a purpose for it all.
As the year 2006 approached, I recognized the great need for Christian support for those living with common disorders like depression, anxiety, and bipolar and I discovered that the needs of such people were seldom being met by the church. God led me to try and make a difference – to help understanding grow.
And so I, a person who had struggled with social anxiety most of her life, became an activist. I started a blog that passionately pointed out the need for church support, I wrote articles for the media, and I started writing a book called A Firm Place to Stand.
But I struggled with fear and anxiety. What am I doing trying something as big and new as this? God soon showed me that it was His work I was doing, not mine alone. All that was asked of me was to follow Him. To walk where He told me to walk, to write what He told me to write. When I saw it that way, the work was not so hard. It became exciting to see where God would take me next, to see what God could do.
Soon I received approval from a supportive pastor, Don Dyck, to start a Living Room support group at our church. Remembering what God had done for me, I wanted to help others experience God the way I had. If those who were in emotional crisis could only realize how much God loves them! If they would only see how Jesus has compassion for them. He suffers along with us. We are not alone with our illness, and we have nothing to be ashamed of.
In the fall, the first Living Room meetings started. What a wonderful experience that was! People with mental health problems arrived from all over the community, at first a handful, but growing quickly to twelve to eighteen per meeting. We discussed God’s Word and how we could apply it to our lives. Participants spoke freely about themselves and their faith, and there were always small groups where we could share how we were coping. Compassionate listening amongst this group of peers was the rule; advising and fixing were not allowed. We ended each meeting with prayer for all present.
Those who came found they were no longer alone with their struggles. They had each other and they had God. A comment heard upon the closing of a meeting was, “I love coming here. This is the place where I can most be myself.”