What I have learned through my experiences at work is that many of the people who attend our program have a deep love for Jesus, even though it is sometimes mixed in with their illness. They have a strong, inherent sense that Jesus knows and loves them. When you hear them discuss their faith, they are confident and have joy that is contagious.
Joan is an African-American woman who has raised children and had multiple full-time jobs in the past. She has a professional manner about her, and if you saw her, you would never suspect she has a severe mental illness. At times, she has stopped taking her meds, become extremely aggressive and required hospitalization. When asked about her faith, Joan’s eyes light up, and she talks about going to church. She likes to sing gospel songs, and she explains how she couldn’t have survived what she has been through, without Jesus. She wrote a song about her faith. When asked to sing it, her faith shines brightly through her strong gospel voice. Her face is animated and wears a huge smile. She hopes to record her song, so others can grow in their faith through it. She explains to me how much Jesus helps her, and as she has an intimate relationship with Him. You can tell she knows she is loved, and she feels perfectly comfortable with Him. How many of us can say the same thing? Do we remember daily what Jesus has done for us? Do we even know what Jesus has done for us?
The next story I want to share with you is about Connie. Connie is an older African-American whom I met at her house for a non-denominational faith group. I listened as each person in the group talked about their faith. Connie shared how she would go to church with her family when she was little and how they still picked her up to go to church. Connie listened intently as I read scriptures, as if she savored each word. When I would ask the other attendees what they thought the passage meant to them, Connie always related it to the way Jesus loves her and how He wants us to love others. When she talked about Jesus loving her, she spoke without hesitation. She left no doubt to the strength of her conviction. Of God’s love for her, she felt confident. Connie also liked singing and she knew all the words from many old hymns. Even though her voice had grown weak with age, her faith made the message loud and clear. Connie was in love with Jesus!
Yet another lady who touched my life was Angela. She is a Latin-American in her mid-forties who lived a very difficult life. Angela tried to commit suicide many times. It is amazing that she is still alive. She has much potential, even having been in the mental health system for many years. She has many questions about Jesus and has a hunger to know Him more each day. She knows that He is where she will be loved and cared for, no matter what. When asked about her faith, Angela will quickly say that, without Jesus, she wouldn’t be alive today. She encouraged me to start a non-denominational faith group at our program. I contacted my supervisor and explained how I would not push my own faith, but let members talk about theirs. I gave my supervisor an agenda of what I would cover, and the group received approval. Angela wanted to lead the group, and I encouraged her to do so. I talked with her before the group met, to explain how this would be a safe place for people to talk about their faith without judgement.She seemed very open to that, and shared her excitement about the group.
The people who came shared Christian backgrounds, and we sang, did art projects and read encouraging words from the Bible. Angela seemed to be a natural group leader, and it boosted her self-esteem. She talked about how Jesus had helped her through many rough experiences and how she knew Jesus loved her and understood her, when no one else could. As she spoke, her faith and passion for Jesus proved palpable. Not only did she want to share her faith, but she encouraged others to share their love of Jesus. It was inspiring to see!
Andy is the gentlest man I have ever known. In his fifties, Andy’s girlfriend Marsha not only has severe mental illness, but suffers major medical problems, as well. Andy himself has schizophrenia and hears voices. Still, he is devoted to Marsha, and they’ve been a couple for many years.
Andy would help Marsha with whatever she needed. He obviously loved her, and showed her this in many ways. Andy’s faith was built on solid ground, and he has deep, wonderful wisdom beyond his years. He knew Jesus didn’t belong to just one church denomination, so he went to a different church each Sunday. He came to our prayer group at a senior citizens’ home I used to visit. Even though he didn’t talk about his faith very much, his love for Jesus was visible. And, he knew Jesus loved him. Without this broad love, he never would have been able to help Marsha and attend different churches. Andy would go about in his quiet, gentle manner following Jesus, and sharing His love with all. What a blessing and inspiration he was!
As I think back about these people I have mentioned, I reflect on what they have taught me. Jesus doesn’t look at how “successful” we are, according to man’s terms, nor does He care if we are appreciated and honored in our culture. He sees our hearts. The people I mentioned are never going to be heralded as heroes, or have a high-paying job in a powerful position, yet they have taught me more than many workshops, classes, or books I’ve read.