Going to church as a family on Christmas

418053_4496514405313_1535520335_nAs I reflect upon Christmas past, I’ve observed that many of our family’s traditions revolve around attending church for the holiday.

stacks_youngstownMy father’s family was desperately poor while he was growing up during the depression. They lived in Youngstown in a rented house with railroad tracks in the backyard separating them from the steel mill where my grandfather worked. My father’s parents were immigrants from Croatia and were faithful Catholics. They attended an ethnic church about a 2 ½ mile walk from their home where they heard the Gospel read and the sermon preached in their native tongue.

12400754_10205435797441058_1298667585739094956_nThere were years when my father and his brothers received nothing but an orange for their Christmas gift. His family always attended the Midnight mass at their church and would walk home together after mass with others from their neighborhood. They may not have had money for presents, but they always had lots of food when they got home…usually cold and hungry after the long walk. They enjoyed a feast of kielbasa and lots of ethnic delicacies after returning home.

When my sister and I were old enough, our family continued the tradition for a number of years. There came a point after high school when my dad and I continued to go after the rest of the family opted for sleep. The last time we went to Midnight mass together was during my time in medical school, in the midst of the worst cold weather outbreak our state has ever seen in December. It was impressive to see his church nearly full at a time when the attendees were predominantly elderly on a night when the weathermen were warning people of death if their cars broke down in the cold.

img_0601When my wife and I started our family, church on Christmas Eve became part of our tradition. We told our older daughter (Leah)  about her little sister’s (Mira) impending arrival after the Christmas Eve service in 1998. As my dad and I did back in the day, Leah and I will head out to an 11 PM service at a church near our home where she and her sister volunteered and attended Sunday school. They put on a lovely, small service culminating in communion at midnight and the singing of Silent Night.

It’s fitting that we signed the papers to create Key Ministry in our senior pastor’s office between Christmas Eve services fourteen years ago tonight. After all this time, we’re still about helping families of kids with disabilities (the vast majority representing “hidden disabilities”) to find a church where they’ll be welcomed and experience the opportunity to grow in faith while using their gifts to serve others. Our mission is successful when all families have the opportunity for memories of attending church together to form the foundation of their Christmas traditions.

KM greenTonight, I’d ask our followers to do two things. First, I’d ask if you would consider making a financial gift to support the work of our ministry. We’ve lost a number of major donors in recent years and find ourselves in need of a large influx of small donors to provide for our needs going forward. If you’re unable to give at this time, please pray for others to step up to meet the need. Second, if a member of your family has a disability, either visible or hidden and you’re attending church tonight or tomorrow, can you have someone take a picture of your family and send it to me (steve@keyministry.org) or post it on our Facebook page?

On behalf of our entire ministry team, I’d like to convey our best wishes to you and your family for a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed and Joyous New Year!

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The implications of “safe spaces” FROM kids with special needs

shutterstock_506499808Count me among a very small number of child and adolescent psychiatrists very troubled by the proliferation of “safe spaces.”

In the last few years, the idea has proliferated that students on college campuses are entitled to protection from speakers, literature or instruction communicating ideas that result in personal discomfort. As a parent of a high school senior, I cringe every time some school to which she plans to apply makes a public display of silencing viewpoints outside of those accepted by the predominant culture. I expect her to come into contact with ideas and values that differ from those she has been exposed to in our home. I also expect that she will be shown tolerance when her ideas and opinions depart from the predominant view in her academic community.

I recognize the desirability of efforts to protect trauma victims from experiences likely to reactivate intrusive memories, nightmares and flashbacks. My practice is filled with kids who are exquisitely sensitive to the verbal taunts and harsh judgments of peers. But our failure as a profession to make distinctions between deliberate efforts to inflict psychological harm through words or actions upon persons with an identified disability or significant vulnerability and exposure to thoughts, ideas, opinions or world views that evoke feelings of anger, guilt or discomfort has jumped the walls of academia. The metastasis of our failure is beginning to infect Western culture in ways we can scarcely imagine.

I appreciated this post from former college president Judith Shapiro, in which she described “a tendency toward what we might see as self-infantilization on the part of students.” She continues…

How can I respond in a way that plays to my students’ strengths as opposed to their weaknesses? How can this serve as an occasion to increase their wisdom and self-confidence? How will I help them to grow up?

To invoke the timelessly wise words of the Rolling Stones: If students can’t always get what they want, if we try sometimes, we might just find they get what they need.

One consequence is a generation of young people lacking sufficient resilience to work through times of adversity in life. If a college student can’t cope with the idea that there are people in their immediate environment who support a different political candidate than they do, how are they going to cope when they lose a job, experience a serious illness or the death of a parent?

As it turns out, the desire to protect some from the pain caused by their consciences is being used as a weapon against advocacy for the most vulnerable. We head to France to check out the newest application of the Law of Merited Impossibility in the ongoing culture war between moral relativism and the remnants of traditional culture.

The Global Down Syndrome Foundation produced a video in response to an e-mail they received from an expectant mother…

I’m expecting a baby. I’ve discovered he has Down syndrome. I’m scared. What kind of life will my child have?

A French court upheld a ruling by the country’s broadcast commission to ban the airing of the video featuring happy, smiling children and young adults as a commercial. Why would the government want to ban such a positive and uplifting video?

The court said the video’s depiction of happy Down syndrome children is “likely to disturb the conscience of women who had lawfully made different personal life choices.”

If the type of advocacy demonstrated in this video is no longer socially acceptable in a large, Western democracy, what’s next? You guessed it.

They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.

Romans 2:15-16 (ESV)

The “elephant in the living room” in our ongoing culture wars is that Jesus, Christianity and the teachings of Scripture make some people very, very uncomfortable. If any teaching or content with the potential to cause emotional distress is “off-limits,” where does that leave the Word of God and those who seek to live by it? Scripture describes itself as a weapon against the conscience…

For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

Hebrews 4:12-13 (ESV)

Those of us who identify with Christ and with the church need to embrace the reality that we’re foot soldiers in a war that’s been waged on Earth since the beginning of time against an enemy that doesn’t fight fair. We need to take advantage of any lull in the action to seize as much territory for our King as we can. Advocacy on behalf of our most vulnerable kids and families will get the attention of those who aren’t aligned with our King. And we can anticipate that they’ll hit back. Hard.

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I’ll close by directing you to this article by Ash Milton, who explores the argument that secularism functions as a religion

We live in an age where this paradigm now informs the values of our generation. Its fundamental claims of equality and personal freedom are more or less unquestioned. It informs our actions as well. To support the next big Cause is good, and proof of your tolerance and open-mindedness. To practice a religion with traditional values is acceptable so long as you don’t contradict the overarching narrative. To actually challenge that narrative is something only bigots, reactionaries, and basement dwelling virgins do. (As an aside, a good rule of thumb about what beliefs are respectable is to see which shaming language is okay to use.)

Like the Russians a century ago, this generation in the West has experienced the victory of a new memeplex. What makes this memeplex fundamentally different is that it doesn’t claim the authority which religion does, or even like other political ideologies do. It insists that tolerance and personal freedom, free from judgement, are the Most Important Thing. Can’t we all just get along? But this is a delusion. In order for societies to function, commonality of values and visions must exist. Even a society which values tolerance above all else draws the line somewhere. Inevitably, certain ideas win out. Certain attitudes gain cultural dominance. Others become unfashionable, disrespectful, or outright heretical. Only bad people say or do those things. True, the new memeplex isn’t necessarily a religion, united in a single institution. But when all is said and done, when new orthodoxies are in place and new groups of heretics are shamed, purged, and punished, the only major difference is that the Church knew what it was.

Are you ready?

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KM greenOur team at Key Ministry appreciates the prayers and support of all our followers, but at this time of the year, we find ourselves very much in need of your financial support. It will cost approximately $80,000 to maintain the free training, consultations and support we offer to help connect churches with families impacted by disability. We’re currently $30,000 short of covering our expenses for 2016. Please consider making a personally significant gift to supporting the work of our ministry.

Best Wishes for a very Merry Christmas and a Blessed New Year on behalf of the entire Key Ministry team!

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An adoptive father returns home

15220196_10207849971792711_7856518105733868503_nKevin Kelley finally went home this past Wednesday.

Kevin had been raised in the Catholic faith and he lived out the values imparted by the Jesuit education he received at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland, followed by college at the College of the Holy Cross.

Kevin and his wife (Lyn) found their way to our church after adopting their sons from Eastern Europe. They had been very involved in their local parish prior to the adoptions, but their church didn’t have the supports in place to enable them to attend Mass as a couple. Thanks to our church’s special needs ministry, they were able to continue their practice of worshiping together.

Kevin joined our ministry Board shortly after our inception. While serving on our Board, Kevin was actively involved in establishing a dialogue between Key and our local Catholic diocese so that other families wouldn’t be faced with the difficult choice that he and his wife experienced.

I associate two things with Kevin that were foundational to our ministry. One is the appreciation he brought us for the challenges adoptive parents face in staying involved with the church when their children experience emotional, behavioral or developmental challenges that make church attendance difficult. The other is the idea that every church should be prepared to welcome families of kids with “hidden disabilities.” While our church was fortunate to have Kevin for two decades, he and his wife shouldn’t have had to leave the church they were part of for many years to find a place where they could worship together as a family.

Kevin had retired after serving nearly 25 years as an insurance executive. He faithfully served as the greeter at the main entrance to our church’s 9:00 AM contemporary worship, and his family is a regular fixture near the front of the church on the right hand side. Late this summer, he was diagnosed with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and was conspicuously absent from his post at church throughout the fall as he experienced an especially rapid progression of his illness. He had an opportunity to meet Jesus face to face this past Wednesday.

The faithfulness that Kevin and his wife demonstrated in seeking to maintain the family’s practice of worshiping together following the adoption of their sons resulted in a significant spiritual legacy. Kevin was an important influence in the early days of our ministry. His wife has served in leadership positions in our church during important times of transition. Their boys grew up in a home where God was honored surrounded by a summertime church family.

On behalf of our entire Key Ministry team, we would like to extend our prayers and condolences to Lyn and their sons, Jordan and Adam, along with our appreciation for Kevin’s service to our ministry.

His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’

Matthew 25:21 (ESV)

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What Key Ministry is about…

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A different way of looking at mental health ministry

shutterstock_428175340I wish all of our readers had been able to attend the Mental Health Ministry in the Local Church conference this past weekend, presented by OutsideIn Ministries and hosted by Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester, VA.

Catherine Boyle and her team at OutsideIn have a vision to bring persons with mental illness into the Body of Christ. I left feeling very encouraged that the Lord is raising up like-minded people in many different places to champion the development of mental health inclusion ministry as he is doing for special needs ministry.

The range of speakers selected for and topics presented at the conference challenged church leaders to consider a broader approach to mental health support and inclusion. Featured presentations examined the science behind mental illness, legal tools to help individuals with mental illness and the importance of developing trauma-informed faith communities.

fullsizeoutput_22bcCatherine presented OutsideIn’s model for mental health ministry. She used the illustration of a three-legged stool to represent the cultural support for mental health needs, with one leg representing the government, one leg representing service providers and support/advocacy groups and the third leg representing the church, with the church being uniquely positioned to offer relationship. In their model, components of a mental health ministry include…

  • An identified mental health prayer team
  • A mental health liaison
  • A communication director/team
  • A care team
  • A plan to identify church and community needs
  • Mental health training – including mental health first aid, child abuse training/response, suicide prevention and emotional CPR

I found her “job description” for a mental health liaison to be especially helpful. I’ve wrestled with the idea of having a “concierge” to provide a single point of contact for families impacted by mental health conditions who struggle with some aspect of church participation and to advocate internally for appropriate accommodations and supports to optimize involvement.

The team at OutsideIn Ministries has much to offer churches looking for help in building a foundation to support a substantial commitment to mental health ministry.

The best way for me to communicate the spirit of the conference is to share this brief video in which Mark Jordan, the Senior Pastor at Ironbridge discusses why his church places such high value on welcoming and embracing families impacted by mental illness.

Editor’s note: My presentations from the conference on Mental Health Inclusion Ministry…The Mission Field Just Outside Your Door and Seven Strategies for Promoting Mental Health Inclusion in the Local Church are available here.

Posted in Advocacy, Hidden Disabilities, Inclusion, Key Ministry, Mental Health, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The man on the pier

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Editor’s note: Andrew Schneidler is the author of today’s post in honor of Orphan Sunday. He and his wife (Michele) are former foster parents who have adopted three children, and among the leading advocates for adoption in the American church. They are speaking this weekend in Wheaton, IL at the Refresh Conference Chicago. Here’s Andrew…

One day, a man walked to the end of a long pier, jutting out to the sea.  Along the shore, throngs of people gathered, chanting “jump jump jump” as he neared the pier’s end.  The closer the man got to the end, the louder the crowd grew.   “Jump! Jump! JUMP!!!”

Looking down at the swirling waters, the man called back, “Should I jump?”

“JUMP!!” the crowd returned.  By this time marching bands had joined the crowd and people wore matching tee-shirts and waved banners that read “JUMP!” 

As the volume of the chants increased, so did the man’s courage.  With his toes over the edge, he yelled over the noise to the crowd on the shore. “I THINK I’M GONNA DO THIS!”

By now thousands had gathered and the crowd reached a frenzied pitch.  “JUMP! JUMP!! JUMP!!!!!” 

Finally, emboldened by noise of the crowd, the man jumped in. 

It is only when his body hit the water the man realized the water was freezing cold.  He couldn’t touch the bottom, and in fact, he didn’t even know how to swim. 

“HELP!” he cried from between the waves.   But this time the crowd was silent.  Gone were the drums, banners and chants. 

“HELLLLLLLLLLLLLLP!!!” he screamed, the water filling his mouth as he fought to stay afloat. 

At last one person on the shoreline broke the silence. “Um…. We don’t know how to help.  We only know how to say ‘jump.’”

Many foster and adoptive parents can relate with the man at the end of the pier.  In the last decade or so, the issue of “orphan care” has become rather en vogue within the Church — even to the point of having an “Orphan Sunday.”  And that’s all good and well, but if we are not careful, the Church could be the crowd on the shore.  But what if, instead of saying “we only know how to say jump,” the crowd had rushed to the end of the pier, with arms outstretched, yelling “Hang on! Help is on the way! Don’t lose hope!  We are right here with you.  You are not alone!” as they threw the man a life ring?

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Throwing a life ring is exactly what the annual Refresh Conference in Redmond, Washington is about.  After welcoming a child into their homes, many parents feel as if they are drowning from the extra care required to meet the special needs of the child in their home.  But Refresh is here to help.

Started back in 2011, Refresh was created by parents who “jumped in” and found themselves floundering to stay afloat.  Building on this base of common experience, they sought to create a unique two-day conference where nationally recognized experts in the area of attachment and trauma, grief and loss gather to equip parents.  But more importantly, everything about Refresh is designed to encourage parents to realize they are not alone – many of their challenges at home are common with the other attending parents.  This time of refreshing is achieved through amazing worship, plenary and breakout sessions, creative times of whimsical enjoyment and generous surprises throughout the weekend.

The comment most frequently heard from Refresh attendees is “It felt so good to know we weren’t alone.”  Upon arriving at Refresh, haggard parents are sure to find more than a thousand other parents in the “waters” around them.  But this time there is a multitude of people standing on the edge of the dock, arms extended, ready to lend a helping hand.

Some people say Refresh shouldn’t be called a conference because it really is more of an experience.   And you know what?   They might be right.  So call it whatever you want, but just come and check it out. If you feel like you are barely keeping afloat, you are not alone.  Reach out for a life ring and join us at the next Refresh Conference on March 3-4, 2017 in Redmond, Washington. www.therefreshconference.org.

schneidler-2A former foster parent of 7 years and father of 3 adopted kids, Andrew Schneidler is founding attorney behind the Children’s Law Center of Washington, a 501c3 law clinic offering free & low-cost legal services to achieve permanence for Washington’s orphaned and vulnerable kids.  Andrew and his wife Michele co-founded the Refresh Conference for foster & adoptive parents and run the foster-adoption ministry at Overlake Christian Church in Redmond, Washington. 

Posted in Adoption, Advocacy, Families, Foster Care, Training Events | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The false gospel and mental illness

shutterstock_94601887Bad theology hurts people. Through my experience working with families as a child and adolescent psychiatrist and my involvement with Key Ministry, I’ve come across far too many stories of those who have been hurt badly by the advice and counsel they’ve received from pastors, church leaders and fellow attendees at church.

Mike Vonderau is one of the pastors at the church I attend. He was preaching earlier today from 1 John 4:1-6 on the threats of false teaching. He pointed out that false teaching may not overtly deny Jesus…it adds to the story of Christ or detracts from it. Sometimes, the message is compelling or the motivations of the teacher is good.

Most of his message addressed what he referred to as the “gospel of self-sufficiency.” This particular false gospel is often responsible for intensifying the distress experienced by persons with mental illness and their families from teaching or advice they received from church. To paraphrase Mike, we burden people with the Gospel of self-sufficiency by making them the solution to life’s problems…by casting them back upon themselves. The problem with that perspective is that Jesus says that he is the vine and that we are the branches, and as such, we’re totally dependent upon him.

We like to assume responsibility for identifying the solutions to all our problems, because when we do so, we feel as if we’re in control of our circumstances. When people come for counseling, we want them to begin to accept responsibility as part of the process. But what do we want them to be responsible for? And what is God’s responsibility according to Scripture?

All too often, when someone in the church is struggling with mental illness they are encouraged to do the following…

  • If you pray enough…
  • If you study the Bible enough…
  • If you identify patterns of sin in your life and confess them…

Or, if a child has significant difficulties managing their emotions or behavior, we in the church assume that the problems will get better if the parent(s)…

  • Pray enough
  • Are sufficiently dedicated to parenting and discipline
  • Loves their child enough

All of these actions are good (and appropriate) things. But what happens when things don’t work out? We assume that the fault lies with the individual and often fail to recognize that other purposes may be in play. Consider the story of Job and his well-meaning friends. But that thinking reflects a perspective that we’re ultimately responsible for our health and well-being as opposed to God, and leads us to depend less upon God. The enemy also uses that type of distorted thinking to shame us into withdrawing from God and withdrawing from one another.

We fail to recognize that it may be OK with God if we struggle or suffer so long as it accomplishes HIS purposes. Guiding us into a deeper relationship with him and a greater dependency upon him would certainly fall under that category.

Do we need to be wise stewards of the resources God has given us when we find ourselves or a family member struggling with symptoms of mental illness? Should we take advantage of the wisdom of counselors or the benefit of prescription medication when offered? Absolutely. Should we listen when someone with spiritual discernment who knows us well suggests we commit ourselves to prayer, study or a process of self-examination? Yes.

At the same time, we need to reject the false gospel that the outcome of our efforts to obtain relief from the burden of mental illness for ourselves or our loved ones hinges not on our efforts to heal ourselves, but on God’s mercy and grace. We also need to recognize that the ongoing presence of mental illness in ourselves, our friends and our family members may not be a barometer of faithfulness so much as a necessary step in the fulfillment of God’s purposes.

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OutsideIn_horizontalSAVE THE DATE! Key Ministry is pleased to partner with Outside In Ministries to offer Mental Health Ministry in the Local Churcha one-day conference for pastors, ministry leaders and faithful Christians seeking to take the next steps in helping their churches welcome, serve and disciple children, adults and families impacted by mental illness. The conference will take place on Saturday, November 19th, from 8:30 AM – 1:00 PM at Ironbridge Baptist Church in Chester (suburban Richmond), Virginia. Tickets are currently available here.

Hope to see you on November 19th!

Posted in Key Ministry, Mental Health | Tagged , , , , , , , | 1 Comment