The Drop Box: Opening TODAY and showing March 3, 4, and 5 nationwide

Drop_Box_Official_Image.jpg;wadropbox43bd6d22939cb2b3When Key Ministry was asked to screen The Drop Box movie for an endorsement, I (Shannon Dingle) jumped at the offer. As a mom to six, four of whom were adopted via special needs programs, I wanted to see this film. To be honest, I didn’t approach it as a fan. I made it clear to the promoters that I planned to be critical, as I get nervous about romanticized portrayals of the hard places in adoption and global orphan care.

They said okay.

Shannon Dingle memeI watched it.

And? I was blown away by the transparent portrayal of one man, Pastor Lee, and his family and ministry in South Korea. This movie doesn’t shy away from the messy realities that have to exist to lead to the creation of a baby drop box – that is, a place built into the wall of their building where babies can be left, somewhat similar to Save Haven sites in the US. Furthermore, this doesn’t present drop boxes as the solution to societal problems but rather as one approach.

More than that, though, I was impressed by the way this movie challenges all of us to consider disability: not as something that diminishes a person’s worth but as just one characteristic of a fellow image-bearer of God. We should see humanity first, not disability.

Here’s my full endorsement:

Our worldview about disability and human worth needs to be challenged, and The Drop Box does just that. This isn’t a South Korean issue. It’s a worldwide heart issue! No parent should feel like their only option is to discard a child, and no child should be treated as anything less than deeply valuable. This movie tells the story of Pastor Lee Jong-rak and his ministry, but more than that it tells a wake-up story to all of us in the church. If we truly believe that our worth rests in Christ and not in our own abilities, then how will we share that truth with a world who needs to know it? My prayer is that all who see this will follow the model of Pastor Lee Jong-rak, asking God what we should each do wherever we are to reflect his love to those who our society discards.

Happychild.jpg;wadropbox0642d1eeb073550cIf you’d like to see the movie or find out where it is showing near you, go to this link:


2000x770 S DINGLE CHRCH4EVCHILD 2Check out Shannon Dingle’s blog series on adoption, disability and the church. In the series, Shannon looked at the four different kinds of special needs in adoptive and foster families and shared five ways churches can love their adoptive and foster families. Shannon’s series is a must-read for any church considering adoption or foster care initiatives. Shannon’s series is available here.

Posted in Adoption, Advocacy, Families, Foster Care, Key Ministry, Resources, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

What if medication is a tool that helps us resist sin?

IMG_0905In the fifth installment of our Winter 2015 blog series, Sin, Mental Illness and the Church, we examine one perspective Christians might ponder in considering medication or psychotherapy as treatments for mental health conditions that increase our propensity to engage in sinful behavior…

From the Apostle Paul…

For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.

So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin.

Romans 7:15-25 (ESV)

What if some of us have “broken brains” as a consequence of the Fall? What if our spiritual self seeks to do right and to avoid sin, but we experience a mental health condition that increases our predisposition to some specific sin? Could we argue that medication (or other treatment) that enhances our ability to avoid sin or to do good might be a useful tool for the individual Christian? Further, could we argue that the decision to take medication under such circumstances is God-honoring?

But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 5:22 (ESV)

We know that people with ADHD often struggle to self-regulate their emotions and are prone to impulsive speech and behavior. If medication helps a Christian with ADHD to avoid injuring others through their words or actions, would that be desirable?

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20 (ESV)

We know that impulsive sexual behavior is often associated with manic episodes seen in persons with Bipolar disorder and is a frequent complication of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). Is it desirable for Christians to take medication to prevent the recurrence of manic episodes that impair one’s ability to self-regulate inappropriate sexual behavior or to engage in evidence-based treatments including Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to reduce impulsive sexual behavior associated with BPD?

What if due to our anxiety or obsessiveness we become prone to hoarding our possessions, struggle with generosity when we’re directed to give or become so preoccupied with past wrongs that we’re unable to forgive? Would making use of medication or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) be the right thing for a Christian to do?

“Woe to the world for temptations to sin! For it is necessary that temptations come, but woe to the one by whom the temptation comes! And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.

Matthew 18:7-9 (ESV)

I’m not in any way suggesting that we forego spiritual approaches for dealing with these challenges. We have time-tested spiritual disciplines to help with all of the issues described above. But given the seriousness of Jesus’ words pertaining to sin, why would we not want to consider the use of any God-given means necessary to avoid sinning as an adjunct to spiritual disciplines if we’re convicted of such sin in mind and soul, aware of a mental condition that increases our propensity to sin and able to access medical or psychotherapeutic treatments that may help us to avoid sin?


GA-Social-Media-StephenGrcevich-1Consider joining us this winter for Key Ministry’s online group study that will accompany our blog series…Sin, Mental Illness and the Church. This study will be a combination of Bible reading/study and supplemental readings/material to enlighten participants as we examine the following questions…

  • How has the understanding of mental illness evolved in the evangelical movement in America over the past half-century?
  • How do past and current attitudes in the church influence outreach efforts to families of children and teens impacted by mental illness?
  • What can we learn from Scripture of God’s purposes in the lives of those impacted by mental illness?
  • How can we help more kids and families impacted by mental illness to experience the love of Christ through involvement in a local church?

Anyone can join us, but a Facebook account is required. Click here to register!

Posted in ADHD, Anxiety Disorders, Bipolar Disorder, Controversies, Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

What about them? Karen Jackson of Faith Inclusion Network

Karen and SamanthaPeople often ask me, why did you start Faith Inclusion Network? As we excitedly prepare for our 4th bi-annual That All May Worship-2015, Embracing Inclusion Conference, the following provides a brief look back at the start of FIN and why we are so excited to invite you to Virginia Beach, VA this March.

I didn’t always know about disability, advocacy and autism. In fact, being trained as a professional educator in the field of instrumental music, even my educational background did not include learning about special needs in any way. And then my second child was born…and like many parents of children with disabilities, I became an expert.

Of all I had to learn however; therapies, treatments, medications, educational protocol, what I was the most surprised by was the realization that my child did not seem to have a place in our church. I had absolutely no idea what to do about that and began to seek out some answers.

Fast forward to 2008. My family and I had started attending a new church, one where we were embraced and accepted as we all carefully navigated our way through including Samantha, with her autistic behaviors and severe communication challenges. My daughter did have a place in a church now, but what about all those other families affected by disability? What about them?

These questions evolved into a fervent prayer to God: “What more can I do?” His answer was simple and direct: Faith Inclusion Network.

Well, I suppose it was not exactly simple, but I embraced the challenge. In 2009, after just a couple meetings of the newly established “Faith Inclusion Network”, we held our first conference, “That All May Worship-2009” and a network was born.

Today, we prepare for our 4th bi-annual conference, “That All May Worship-2015, Embracing Inclusion”. Over the course of the past seven years, I have educated myself; reading, attending conferences and most importantly, meeting and learning from some of the most amazing and generous national leaders in the faith and disability movement. Without a doubt, people like Rev. Bill Gaventa, Erik W. Carter, Ginny Thornburgh and others help put me and Faith Inclusion Network on the right path.

This is why, as our FIN Board began planning this year’s conference last summer, I proposed an outrageous vision. “Let’s hold a retreat for faith and disability national leaders. And while they are here in Virginia Beach, let’s professionally film them and create a resource to share with both our local and the national community.”

In March, this vision will become a reality when FIN friends from 9 different states will come to Virginia to participate in a retreat hosted by FIN and then stay to share their expertise at our daylong conference on Friday, March, 20. While I am immensely grateful and excited to welcome all of our guests to Virginia, I am even more overwhelmed with gratitude to an amazing God, who has been a part of the FIN ministry from the start. No one could have been less prepared then I to undertake such a venture as starting a regional faith and disabilities network. But I did ask…and that can be a very dangerous thing to do! Praise God!


FIN-LOGOKaren Jackson is the Founder and Executive Director of Faith Inclusion Network of Hampton Roads. She is the author of the newly published book, Loving Samantha, Stories of Family and Friends, Faith, Love and Community in a World that Includes Autism and Special Needs,

For more information and to register for “That All May Worship-2015, Embracing Inclusion”, go to or contact Karen at


Posted in Advocacy, Families, Inclusion, Intellectual Disabilities, Resources, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What if you have a disability? Chuck Swindoll’s teaching this week at Insight for Living

Chuck Swindoll 10/7/11We heard about a couple of fabulous resources of interest to our readers being offered by Colleen Swindoll-Thompson and our friends over at Insight for Living in the next week or two that we’d like to share.

First, Chuck Swindoll will be teaching on the topic What if you have a disability? this coming Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday (February 24-26) as part of his current series What If? airing from January 26-March 16. Here’s a description…

What if . . . ? What a haunting, yet profound question. We’ve all found ourselves in situations where we have felt helpless to determine our next step if the unknown were to happen. Either due to lack of knowledge or lack of ability, we wonder what we should do.

And yet, that very act of wondering, of asking questions like, “What If You Have a Disability?” stands as a perfect opportunity to gain biblical wisdom about a difficult subject.

As you make your way through this series about the difficult questions and decisions we face, remember that it’s in wrestling with the questions that we come closest to the Lord.

Here’s a link to access the broadcasts this week if you’re unable to listen through a local station or SiriusXM.

During the month of March, Colleen’s new book When Life Isn’t Fair: What They Didn’t Teach Us in Sunday School will be available as a premium to those who donate to Insight For Living.

Colleen's bookTo love someone, or to be loved through tough circumstances is a gift-an opportunity to experience the fragile beauty of those made in God’s image. And it’s a reminder that all people stand broken in front of God.

In her book, Colleen weaves together Biblical truth, practicality and her own growth experiences as a mother of a son with special needs. She writes with raw honesty about her personal crisis of faith as well as the hardship and humor that come with learning to trust God through difficult times.

Colleen’s book offers a touch of hope, help and a touch of humor for those seasons when life is difficult or downright disabling.

We’ll have more here on Colleen’s book when available next month. In the meantime, we encourage you to check out her blog for a sample of the help and encouragement she’ll be offering through her book.


slide-jonathan-colleen3Join us every first and third Monday of each month at 10:00 PM Eastern/9:00 PM Central at for “Chat with Colleen,” an opportunity to interact live with Colleen Swindoll-Thompson live as she shares full-length versions of the video interviews of ministry leaders made available through Insight for Living’s Special Needs Ministry. Replays of Colleen’s interviews will be available at 8:30 AM, 6:00 PM and 10:00 PM Eastern daily.

Posted in Advocacy, Book Reviews, Resources, Spiritual Development, Stories | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

One father’s spiritual legacy…

Dad and Kids - Version 2Twenty years ago today, my dad went home to be with Jesus.

While I wasn’t there when he died, the Lord honored him with a pretty remarkable sendoff.

My dad was raised in a Catholic home, but became “born again” around the time I started high school. He became a passionate student of the Bible, and for many years co-lead the Christian Businessmen’s Bible Study in our hometown of Boardman, Ohio. He served faithfully on the Board of the ministry charged with feeding and housing the homeless in nearby Youngstown. He had been asked to become a national speaker for CBMC near the end of his life, but developed heart problems and colon cancer shortly thereafter and was unable to travel.

Throughout his life, he was actively involved in the ethnic church where he was baptized. One of his passions was teaching the Bible to his fellow Roman Catholics. He developed a popular course in which participants could cover the entire Bible.

On his last day, he had the opportunity to go to his favorite breakfast place with my mother (Bob Evans)…although I suspect he would have enjoyed Chick-fil-A had they made their way into Ohio in the early ’90s. They then went to the church near their home where he taught. A woman who was active in my father’s Bible Study had died, and her family had asked him to deliver the eulogy at her funeral.

St. CharlesMy dad finished the eulogy, looked at my mother, stepped down from the pulpit and died at that very moment of a massive heart attack, right at the foot of the altar, in front of the cross.

While I was obviously bummed about temporarily losing my dad, I couldn’t help but be happy for him for achieving his life’s goal…getting the opportunity to meet Jesus. I thought it was incredibly cool that he was called home while doing what he loved in God’s house.

His outlook on life was pretty much summed up in Philippians 1:21-23…

For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

He made quite an impression on my wife when he was excited about having had a heart attack because to him it meant he was getting closer to meeting Jesus. He wanted to meet Paul next, because he had a laundry list of questions he hoped to get clarified about the Epistles.

Clearly, seeing the way he lived over the last twenty years of his life made a big impression on me and my family.

Friday night, I was hobbling back into the hotel after having the opportunity to speak at the Joni and Friends’ Global Access Conference thinking that I’m getting the chance to finish the work that my dad started. He never got to go on any speaking trips before he became too ill to travel.

A couple of months ago, I was digging through one of those cabinets where one hides old news clippings and found an obituary written about my dad in the Catholic Exponent. While my dad was a teacher for a time, his primary career was as a broadcaster. He had a classic, deep voice for radio, and was an early rock and roll DJ in the late ’50s. He later went on to start the telecommunications department at Youngstown State University, launching a public radio (WYSU) and television station (WNEO/WEAO). After he retired, his last job was working for the Catholic Diocese of Youngstown, helping to grow a cable television station started to reach people in his area who couldn’t get to church.

Two entirely different upbringings and career paths, but yet we ended up with pretty much the same task in the Kingdom, separated by a generation. I do wish I’d inherited his voice and his skills as a baseball player as opposed to his sensory stuff…he hated long-sleeve dress shirts because he didn’t like how they felt, and I have the same issue, but with collared shirts and ties. Coincidence? It’s clear to me that God orchestrates our paths.

Stephen Front Door 3While I’m glad to celebrate the 20th anniversary of my dad’s homecoming this weekend, there are only two things I’m sad he missed out on…getting to know his grandkids and being on the team for and our Front Door online church. He was quite the “techie” in his time, and he would freak (in a good way) if he saw the technology that’s available for sharing the Gospel with families impacted by disability.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to take the next step with the work God gave my dad to do and mindful of trying to be as good a model for my kids as a spiritual leader as he was. I do think it would be pretty cool if I could be serving somewhere when it’s my turn to meet Jesus and hear what he unquestionably heard twenty years ago today…

“Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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Including Kids and Teens With Mental Illness in the Church and Community…#globalaccess2015

shutterstock_15545299_2Here’s the Slideshare of Dr. Grcevich’s presentation today at the 2015 Global Access Conference, presented by Joni and Friends…Including Kids and Teens With Mental Illness in the Church and Community.

You can download a .pdf of the presentation here.

Here’s a link to Dr. Grcevich’s Slideshare account to access earlier Key Ministry presentations, along with lectures offered as a faculty member at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and Northeast Ohio Medical University.


KM Logo UpdatedKey Ministry has assembled resources to help churches more effectively minister to children and adults with ADHD, anxiety disorders, Asperger’s Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, depression and trauma. Please share our resources with any pastors, church staff, volunteers or families looking to learn more about the influence these conditions can exert upon spiritual development in kids, and what churches can do to help!

Posted in ADHD, Advocacy, Anxiety Disorders, Autism, Bipolar Disorder, Families, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Matt Walsh, responsibility, stigma and ADHD

shutterstock_68372575Matt Walsh is a popular blogger in the Christian community. He has over 250,000 Facebook followers, his writing is featured on other websites and he describes himself as being part of a community engaged in the battle for the traditional family. He’s developed his following (in part) by making very controversial statements about hot-button social topics. It’s how he makes his living and supports his family. I’d like to consider this post my contribution to his family’s sustenance.

In the middle of attending a wonderful conference on the topic of how the church can better care for and include persons with disability and their families, the mother of one of my patients messaged me with a link to Matt’s blog post from today on ADHD after her teenage son read the post this morning and was concerned about what she thought. I’ll share a brief sample with you to give you the flavor of his piece.

I have all of the “symptoms,” but I don’t have a disorder because there is no disorder. There might be people with legitimate disorders who get labeled with this one, but this one, this specific thing we refer to as ADHD, is a godforsaken lie. I don’t care who is upset by that statement, who will stop reading me because I said it, or how many angry and disappointed Facebook comments are coming my way. ADHD is a fraud…

I’ll share a little more. Having read Matt’s stuff in the past, I often find a kernel of truth in some of his statements that sometimes gets lost in a presentation style that seems designed to generate clicks, tweets and Facebook shares…

ADHD is not a matter of psychology or neurology, but of institutions. Schools can’t deal with kids who act this way, parents don’t want to deal with them, daycares aren’t equipped to deal with them, and society at large has no patience for any of it — so, we call it a disease and start passing out the prescription strength speed.

Does any Actual Illness work this way? If you go to the doctor complaining about bronchitis, will he ask you if the bronchitis is “creating problems at work on an ongoing basis”? No, because that doesn’t matter. Bronchitis is bronchitis is bronchitis. But ADHD is only ADHD in very specific circumstances. Public school, by the way, is a very specific (and temporary) circumstance. A child’s inability to succeed in that environment might be troubling for his parents, but it is not itself proof or indication of a mental defect. Why don’t we ever stop to consider that the defect lies in the institution that cannot function unless millions of its students are hopped up on drugs?

It’s true that with many of the conditions we categorize as mental illness in kids and teens, kids experience difficulty functioning in some environments, but not others. Matt’s personal story is very consistent with what I see among the kids we serve in our practice as they get older…when they’re old enough to either choose their area of study in school or choose a job with functional demands that fit the way they process and experience the world around them, ADHD becomes far less of a problem.

So…when do these traits cross the line into becoming a “disorder” for which treatment (medication, educational interventions, therapy) is indicated? When they significantly interfere with the individual’s functioning in two or more major life domains (I look at these domains as school/work, family, friends, and community).

What Matt’s right about is that the expectations we have for kids in our educational system  in terms of their capacity to sustain focus and generate gobs of academic product aren’t consistent with the way many of our kids are wired. Ben Conner described this phenomena in his wonderful little book, Amplifying Our Witness

“It is our culture that disables.”

“When one is disabled, the problem is not really that they have impairments and social skill deficits. The issue at stake is that they live in an ‘ableist’ culture that rarely affords them the space or opportunity to make their unique contribution to society and does not lift up the value of choosing them as friends.”

Unfortunately, the consequences of failure in school are far more significant now than they were for my generation. Matt may have failed chemistry in high school, but modern-day Matts who fail chemistry don’t qualify for the scholarships that they need to attend college. The battles that parents engage in to get their kids with ADHD through school destroy the relationships that form the foundation of the influence parents have in shaping character.

VyvanseThe kids I see in my practice don’t want to have this. Much to the chagrin of the drug companies, most patients with ADHD take medication only take it when they absolutely need it. Try telling a kid who spends six hours a night doing the schoolwork that their friends get done in two that they don’t have a disorder. Or the kid who is having an anxiety attack at home after forgetting to bring home the right books from school for the third time in a week. Or the kid who struggles with impulse control and emotional self-regulation to the point that they can’t make or keep a friend? Or the family that has been asked to leave church because their child struggles with self-control?

The vast preponderance of parents who come through our practice are slow to accept a diagnosis of ADHD and anxious to find alternatives to medication as a treatment strategy. The ones who are out there looking for a pill after downloading a checklist from the Internet pretty much conclude that we’re not the place for them before they get to the end of our phone screen in the office. Not many realize that the odds of a marriage ending in divorce if a child has ADHD are greater than those marriages in which a child is diagnosed with autism.

Our parents are fighting to do the best they can for their kids in the face of an educational and healthcare bureaucracy with a propensity for pounding square pegs into round holes. They’re uncomfortable enough without someone in their culture with a platform shaming them by implying that their kid’s problems may result from parenting issues while communicating to their friends and neighbors that their kid has a non-existent condition. Way to go in supporting the traditional family, Matt! Sarcasm intended.

I’m speaking this Friday on the topic of how churches (and the community) can better serve and include kids with mental illness. One of the challenges we face in getting churches to serve families with the issues we see in our practice is that no one sees a need for intentional disability ministry outreach for those who aren’t thought to have a disability. Matt and others like him aren’t making my task any easier.

Responsibility comes with having a platform. Articles like this one…articles that leave my teenage patients questioning whether they have a genuine condition, have consequences. Google “Jenny McCarthy” and “measles,” for example.  We can do better than this in the Christian subculture.

For your reading pleasure, I direct you to the 148 published papers I found on the National Library of Medicine website using the search terms “neuroimaging,” “genetics” and “ADHD.”


ADHD Series LogoKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource page for church leaders and parents addressing the topic of ADHD and spiritual development. This page includes our blog series on the topic and links to helpful videos and resources for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents. Access the resource page here.

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Shannon Dingle…Why do you keep writing about how broken kids in foster or adoptive placements are?

© 2014 Rebecca Keller PhotographyA reader gently asked me this, and I immediately understood what she meant. I’ve written about trauma and attachment difficulties, and I’ve written about permanent brain changes resulting from institutionalization at an early age. I wrote a whole post about how “all kids do that” dismisses the hard histories that have shaped some of the behavioral responses our children show. I’m speaking soon at the Global Access Conference about the special needs of foster and adoptive families.

So, yes, I can see how it might seem like I’m saying that kids in foster or adoptive placements are broken while other kids are whole. That’s not what I’m saying, though, so I want to take a moment to clarify.

We are all broken. In Genesis 1, we see a perfect world in which everything God created was good. In the absence of sin, everything in the garden would have stayed good and pure and right and perfect. In the garden, adoption and foster care would never be necessary because no parents would die or be unable to care for their children or get sick or abuse their offspring or be coerced into giving up parental rights or neglect the ones born to them or give birth to a child outside of a loving and safe family environment.

But then we know what comes later in that book and what effects the first sin and all the ones that came after, including yours and mine, have reaped on this world. The need for adoption and foster care is one result of the brokenness of this world, and those of us parenting children who entered our home through adoption or foster care see daily the impact of that particular kind of brokenness.

But all of us are broken. I see the impact of other kinds of brokenness when the daughter who grew in my womb comes home in tears because someone made fun of her hair and when a healthcare professional rudely said “What’s wrong with him? Get it together, hon,” to my son whose sensory issues were manifesting a meltdown that didn’t seem age appropriate. I see it in the slumped shoulders and quivering lips of my dear ones when I lose my temper and yell at them instead of respectfully addressing whatever issues are at hand. I see it in our marriage, when a disagreement can escalate because I tend to shout more because that’s what my family did growing up while my husband withdraws more because that’s the behavior he learned at home.

It’s true, though, that I often write and speak specifically about brokenness in adoption and foster care. That observation is valid. We at Key Ministry are seeing an increase in the number of families telling us of challenges in church involvement after adopting and foster care, an uptick in the number of churches asking for help in including these families well, and – in Steve’s case as a child psychiatrist – a rise in the number of families seeking professional help for the children who entered their homes through adoption or foster care. At the same time, we’re seeing positive stories shared without the challenges (often because sharing those wouldn’t be respectful to the children involved), sermons about the need for orphan care with no comment on the difficulties that may arise, and memes that romanticize and glamourize the brokenness that leads to adoption or foster care.

Do I love adoption and foster care? Yes. Do I think the church ought to be involved in both locally and globally, as well as family preservation efforts to prevent their need? Certainly.

But I also want to make sure we’re telling the whole story. I’m not saying “don’t adopt” or “stop it with those memes” but rather standing in the gap between Hallmark movie versions of adoption/foster care and the hard realities that sometimes persist after placement. I’m saying “we’re all broken, but it seems like we’re glossing over this kind particular kind of brokenness.”

As Christians, we are people of the Truth, so let’s act like it by telling the whole story and loving children and families in the midst of both the beauty and the brokenness of adoption and foster care.

ga-ad-300x250-2This week at the Global Access Conference, presented by Joni & Friends, Shannon will be leading a session titled The Special Needs of Foster and Adoptive Families. There she will share five specific ways your church can make itself a safe place for these children and teens, drawing from her experience as a special educator, a disability ministry leader, a church consultant for Key Ministry, and a mom of six children, four of whom joined their family through special needs adoption.


NCTSDKey Ministry offers a resource page on Trauma and Kids to pastors, church staff, volunteers and families. The resource page includes links to all of the posts from our Fall 2013 blog series, links to resources from Jolene Philo, the National Child Traumatic Stress Network and Empowered to Connect. Check it out today and share the resource page with others who would benefit.

Posted in Adoption, Advocacy, Controversies, Foster Care, Key Ministry, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

Dr. Oren Mason…Wondering what a pill will do to me?

oren_informal_close_up_websizeEditor’s note…Dr. Oren Mason is serving as our guest blogger today. We’re delighted to share a first-person account from a highly respected physician and author of his personal experience with taking medication for ADHD.

Those who have ADHD were born with it. You learn everything with an ADHD brain and never know what learning, living or executing a plan are like for folks without ADHD. When you figure out that others have better emotional and executive self-control than you, you can’t really imagine what it’s like to be them. Imagining better self-control is about as easy as imagining living on the other side of the world. You can guess dozens of details, but thousands never occur to you, till you get there.

When I held the very first ADHD pill I took in my hand, I tried to imagine what I would be feeling in an hour. An hour later, the answer was ‘nothing’. By the end of the day, the answer was still ‘nothing’. I felt no joy, no elation, no energy, no buzz, no euphoria, no calm, no peace and no different. But looking back on the day, there were a thousand differences from the patterns of the previous forty years that were all small, but collectively stunning.

I learned a lot about ADHD in the first few days after I started medication for it by what changed and what stayed the same. I found myself able to do things that I had never been able to do before. It was far more exciting for me in some ways, than for my wife.

“Guess what I can do?” I prodded her excitedly. “I can simultaneously talk to patients AND keep mental track of the time!” This was very new and different. I could think of a world of useful things that could be done with such a super-power. Not get an hour behind my schedule every day for example.

Her response couldn’t have been more deflating. “Yeah, hon, everybody can do that.” She didn’t even look up from the book she was reading.

“Well I couldn’t before the meds, and I can now,” I replied.

She looked at me with utter incredulity, like I had just told her I’m Martian and need to catch a shuttle back there now. Her concept of ADHD was changing just as fast as mine. The surprise in her eyes relaxed, and she grew more reflective.

“I never imagined you couldn’t do that,” she said. “I thought you were choosing not to.”

We had been married almost 20 years, and she had never known this stunningly basic fact about me. She assumed that I wanted to come home late every night more than I wanted to be with the family. There were plenty more surprises those first few days.

I drove home from work one night (an hour earlier than usual) in crowded, but fast-moving traffic. The driver in front of me was very erratic and irritating. I felt the manly impulse to drive right up her rusty tailpipe, flashing my lights and generally intimidating her into driving less erratically. (“Great plan with a high chance of success!” you’re probably thinking.) The thought of arriving home safely and calmly also flashed through my mind, and I backed off a couple car lengths.

“Does this pill make me a driving wimp?” crossed my mind. The only answer I could think of to my own question was “No, given the choice, I’d rather relax and think my own thoughts than to be a butt-head.”  Once again, it was a brand new thought for me that I had a choice of reactions to this annoyance, and the simplest choice was to relax and not be obnoxious.

The most remarkable thing, though–and it occurred time and time again–was how simple small work tasks became. I could look at several necessary jobs, pick the top priority and start working on it with less effort than it takes to read this sentence. People who don’t have ADHD probably never imagine how much effort goes into the smallest task, the simplest morning routine, nor do they know how frustrating it is to spend that much effort and still do it badly.

With ADHD, the amount of internal wrestling you go through to start a mundane task is many times the work of the task itself. If you’ve ever spent 10 minutes getting your teenager to spend 2 minutes taking out the trash, you know what I mean. People with ADHD cajole and plead with their inner teenager to finish every item of the morning routine, to start every simple task of the work day, to pick up every piece of clutter.

Experts refer to this as “motivational impairment”, but it really deserves a much more descriptive name, such as “the soul-wrenching effort to shame yourself into doing small, mundane tasks, by imagining that God and your ancestors will hate and disown you if you don’t”. “Motivational impairment” is the short-cut the experts use to save time in their busy research labs.

The need to start a task occurs hundreds of times in a day. People who do hundreds of tasks in a day deserve to feel tired, and they deserve their rest at the end of the day. People with ADHD may only accomplish dozens of tasks, because of the exhausting inefficiency of wrestling our minds from task to task. We may be working harder than anyone knows behind the scenes, but only get credit for the work accomplished. There is no credit for the motivational “pre-work”.

Being able to do a full day of simple work is the most amazing thing I experienced after starting medication. It’s like waking up and taking a deep, delicious breath of the morning air, and realizing that—as far back as you can remember—all you’ve ever known is breathing through a straw.


UnknownDr. Oren Mason lectures and teaches about ADD/ADHD to professionals, educators, patients and families across North America. He serves as Associate Professor in the Department of Family Practice at Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Clinical Associate Instructor at Wayne State University School of Medicine’s Grand Rapids Medical Education Consortium.

He lives in Grand Rapids, MI with his wife, Christine, co-owner and operations manager of his private practice, Attention MD. They have two sons and five Sudanese foster children.

Dr. Mason’s first book, Reaching For A New Potential: A Life Guide for Adults With ADD From a Fellow Traveler is available through Amazon.


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Why many in the church don’t see ADHD as a disability…

shutterstock_185745920In the fourth installment of our series, Sin, Mental Illness and the Church, we look at the sources of a mindset that exists in many churches that ADHD isn’t a real disability and fails to recognize the challenges parents of kids with ADHD might face in regularly attending church.

“People in the church believe they can tell when a disability ends and bad parenting begins.”

This statement was made by a parent from my church during a disability awareness Sunday service conducted in the late ’90s. Sadly, it summarizes the experience of church reported by all too many families passing through our practice over the last 20+ years.

Within the evangelical subculture, some very prominent leaders and organizations have espoused opinions on the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD that would lead parents of kids identified with questions as to whether they or their children are welcome at church.

macarthurbioJohn MacArthur is a highly respected pastor and Bible teacher from Southern California. I grew up listening to his teaching…my dad accepted Christ around the time I started high school and MacArthur’s radio program was on in the background just about every morning when I was getting ready for school. It’s probably safe to say that I may be the only child psychiatrist in America who owns (and uses) MacArthur’s Bible Commentary. Nevertheless, he’s a big proponent of the Nouthetic Counseling movement and has some decidedly countercultural things to say about ADHD

“Parents who have been programmed not to spank them because that’s been reclassified as child abuse, parents who really don’t know what moral system to teach them, parents who are too busy to bother largely are now trying to deal with these children who are angry because they’re not given the love and affection and attention that they need, who are uncontrolled because they have not been taught self-control. Parents are now trying to deal with these children in the most frightening ways.

It takes a lot of time to train a child, a lot less time to give him a pill. But turning your disobedient child, your child that lacks self-control, maybe your angry child because that child is not cared for properly, turning that child into a drug addict, is that a solution?”

“You know who they’re describing? All of our children. Don’t kid me, that’s all of my children. That’s all of my grandchildren. That’s me. I don’t have a disease. Every kid is like that if he’s not taught self-control.”

“I had a lot going on in my head, and I couldn’t concentrate on just one thing because I was busy with a whole lot of things. God made me a certain way, wired me to be able to deal with a lot of stuff. And that’s my life now. I’m glad my parents didn’t turn me into a drug addict. I didn’t have a disease or a disorder, that was just me.”

Pat Robertson has said some pretty provocative things over the years on the cable television channel operated by his ministry. Some statements he made a couple of years ago about adoption got the attention of many of our readers. Pat had some especially interesting things to say in the last minute or so of this video segment looking at one alternative approach to treating ADHD…

john_rosemond_headshotJohn Rosemond stands out as perhaps the most prominent (and vocal) critics in the church of the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD. Rosemond is a popular speaker at church-based parenting events, and authored The Diseasing of America’s Children: Exposing the ADHD Fiasco and Empowering Parents to Take Back Control. He has some provocative things to say about ADHD in his book…

“Where ADHD is concerned, neither verifiable, objective evidence nor replicable experimental results exist to support the claims of the ADHD establishment. We are convinced, therefore, that the science behind ADHD and other childhood behavioral disorders it has birthed (primarily, oppositional defiant disorder and early-onset bipolar disorder) is not science at all.”

“We are alarmed that so many parents are allowing members of the Establishment to manage their children for them through the use of powerful, potentially hazardous psychotropic drugs. As we will show you, these drugs are unnecessary. We have seen enough children diagnosed with ADHD begin behaving functionally at home and school without medical intervention to know that this is not a medical issue. We further know that parents who accept responsibility (not blame) for their children’s problems take the first step toward self-empowerment and disentangling.”

“But is ADHD a disorder? Does its nomenclature accurately reflect that there is something amiss with the children in question, that for whatever reason-biological or otherwise-they can’t “think straight,” and thus their behavior is often chaotically disorganized? Or is attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder simply a more scientifically-sounding way of referring to what, not so long ago, people simply called a spoiled brat?”

Rosemond has lots of good parenting advice to offer and encourages parents to raise kids who will accept responsibility for the consequences of their own behavior. He also appears to have won acceptance within evangelical culture. He has interviews and podcasts over at the Focus on the Family website, and one of his books was a premium for those who contributed to their ministry.

One critique of mainstream psychology and psychiatry that Rosemond and proponents of Biblical Counseling share that I fully agree with is the failure to recognize the sinful nature each and every one of us is born with. I like to remind my atheist/secular progressive colleagues of this reality when their two and three year olds start hitting, kicking and tantruming…behaviors they surely hadn’t been taught or observed at home! I would question the extent to which the twenty-month old child who was the subject of this consultation was capable of exercising free will…

Had this mother not been willing to accept that her child’s sinful nature had awakened, she and her husband might have fallen for the currently popular notion that any persistent behavior pattern that deviates ever so slightly from the norm is a sign of either psychological or physiological problems. Both of these explanations—which are really two sides of the same post-modern coin—deny the sinfulness of human nature, deny that even a toddler exercises free will, and deny that a child is (and should therefore be held) fully responsible for his behavior. These parents might have wasted years, not to mention thousands and thousands of dollars, pursuing a chimera. They would have begun, when their child was not yet two, ceding authority in his life to medical and psychological professionals who would have had a field day with his “case.”

Ed WelchSome voices within the Biblical Counseling field have come forward to temper criticism of the diagnosis itself and parents who pursue the mainstream treatment approaches recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Ed Welch, who had previously written a book critical of the diagnosis and treatment of ADHD, posted a very thoughtful article on the website of the Christian Counseling Educational Foundation (CCEF). Here’s a brief excerpt…

These are helpful observations but now the real fun begins. With our spiritual lenses we can see even more as we place these observations into a much richer context.

Wisdom: Many of our daily decisions are moral ones but there are also decisions that are not essentially right or wrong, though Scripture’s wisdom still guides us. For example, a decision to embezzle money is a moral one but a decision about how much money to save or give away is not; it is a matter of personal wisdom. In the same way, decisions about medication are not right or wrong; instead, medication might be wise for some children and unwise for others. This should take some of the pressure off parents.

As the series progresses, we’ll discuss how our attitudes and understanding of disability in the church has led to specific conditions being included (or excluded) from the scope of what most churches understand as the purview of disability ministry.


ADHD Series LogoKey Ministry has assembled a helpful resource page for church leaders and parents addressing the topic of ADHD and spiritual development. This page includes our blog series on the topic and links to helpful videos and resources for pastors, church staff, volunteers and parents. Access the resource page here.

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