12697466_569333873231958_3591638956668564421_o“I . . um . . . I’m pretty sure . . . that I will never be loved.” Kyle told me those words about nine years ago when he began to see me after just being recently diagnosed with schizophrenia. It wasn’t the illness that Kyle blamed for being unworthy of love – it was the terrible, cruel things this illness told him.
* You’ve never really belonged.
* Your life is meaningless.
* You cannot trust anyone.
* You can’t trust yourself.
* You can’t trust God.
* You’ve sinned and hurt people, and you are unforgivable.

I have no idea about the other voices Kyle battled daily. They became so loud, he couldn’t work, take care of himself, take care of his dog, or trust his family.

According to a recent survey by USA Today:

More than half a million Americans with serious mental illness are falling through the cracks of a system in tatters. The mentally ill who have nowhere to go and find little sympathy from those around them often land hard in emergency rooms, county jails and city streets. “We have replaced the hospital bed with the jail cell, the homeless shelter and the coffin,” says Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Pa., a child psychologist leading an effort to remodel the mental health system. “How is that compassionate?


Whether it’s the woman, who when she is anxious, scrapes the sides of her fingers until they bleed; or the person who feels the pain of the world so intently, that they see no way for relieve except to self-medicate with drugs and alcohol; or the person with bottles of prescription promises or holistic remedies – we are all broken. (By the way, that woman I just described is me.)

My heart and mind were listening and my eyes watching as I began the privilege of knowing this family, who taught me so much – not just about mental illness – but about being human.

1. WE ARE ALL BROKEN. We are all terminal, neurotic, anxious, depressed, frantic, striving, waiting for the next “fix” of approval or achievement people. Physician and author Gerald May writes:


* Have you ever felt like you didn’t belong?
* Do you feel like you are living a purpose-driven life – all the time –   even when you’re waiting in the carpool line trying to imagine what you might fix for dinner?
* Who do you trust completely – body, soul, and spirit – with you?
* Is there a secret that you fear if anyone knew, they would be disgusted by you, at best; and walk away from you completely at worst?

We all suffer from the same condition.  You know your doubts and questions, and you also know the truth of the Scripture, that “we all fall short of the

Punk guy looking at himself in a shattered mirror in the city streets

glory of God.” Some of us just look more broken than others.

What if Kyle were one of us? Then maybe the next time we pass someone hunkered down on a street corner asking for help, announcing on their cardboard resumes that they “need a miracle,” maybe we’d remember Kyle and that the man or woman is an image- bearer and we’d give a gift card, or a few dollars, or our own warm coats and gloves.

It’s painful to be broken, but it’s somehow easier, when we know – heart and soul – that we are in this together. We have to be.

Singer/songwriter, Andy Gullahorn reminds us that “that guy” who looks more broken than we do, is desperate for grace. St. Francis of Assisi said, “You cannot love the leper without, until you love the leper within.”

Andy merges both thoughts in his song, “That Guy”:

I can love when it’s convenient
But it’s not always convenient
It’s not always the easy road . . .
[That guy] messed up again
Wanted to disappear
But he can’t cause he’s not hard to find
I see him in the mirror
And God loves that guy . . Teach me to love like that.

2. WE ALL NEED HELP. It’s not any easier for the mentally ill to ask for help than it is for those of us not so easily identifiable as needy. Every week my wild child daughter takes peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to those in line at the Rescue Mission. I’ve gone with her a few times and am always astounded by the joy that those in desperate need have in receiving that which costs us so little.

What if Kyle were one of us? If you were hiding from family because of paranoia from the illness; if you were hungry; if your body was bruised and bleeding from being mugged the night before; if no place felt safe and no one seemed safe . . . if that were you, what would you want?

I know the need is great, but the reassurance – “that nothing you can do can make me stop loving you,” may find its way between the cracks and get to the wounds, which is where Love gets in. A peanut butter sandwich, new gloves, a tender offer to bind the wounds, and a blanket gently laid over someone sleeping on a heat grate in a covered garage – these things matter. They don’t matter because they turn us into saviors for the mentally ill. They matter because they make us human beings. They matter because Jesus said, “when you feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, provide shelter for the homeless, you do these things for me” (Matthew 25:35). Have you ever pondered that verse? I think it means that Jesus is in that scared kid who hears voices threatening condemnation for eternity; that Jesus is in the woman who has no food for herself or her children and is stuck in a filthy motel with no directions to get out; that Jesus is in the homeless addict who is so numb, he can’t even receive kindness, and so Jesus receives it for him.

Lauren Slater, in her amazing book on treating schizophrenic men, reminds us of something we must not forget.

Wounds, I think, are never confined to a single skin but reach out to rasp us all. -Welcome to My Country

3. WE ARE ALL HOMELESS.  The Apostle Paul describes our pilgrimage:baglady

And so we cry out in frustration . . . we are living in conditions that seem like a stopover in an unfurnished shack, and we’re tired of it! We’ve been given a glimpse of the real thing, our true home . . . God puts a little of heaven in our hearts so that we’ll never settle for less. -2 Corinthians 5

What if Kyle were one of us? He’d tell us don’t get too comfortable here – you’re not home yet; don’t build up big barns and fill them with earthly treasure – this isn’t your home; don’t turn away from those of us who can’t make our appearance very palatable; and don’t turn away from your own heart that wanders from addiction to accolade to relationships to accomplishments . . . trying to find home.

I read a story recently about a woman who found a bunch of blankets in the park. They were crusted over with ice and dirt – not adequate shelter from the winter. She gathered all those blankets, washed them, folded them, and returned them to a bench in the park. What if we lived like we’re not home yet, but we are practicing for when we get home, where there will not be a sad face to be found and we will be who we have always been – whole and healed – made to give and receive love.

I don’t begrudge anyone a new home or a nice vacation, but I have the feeling that if we really saw the mentally ill, addicted, homeless people – who are just like us – we might find another purpose than collecting riches. The words of G.K. Chesterton are convicting:

Among the rich you will never find a really generous man even by accident. They may give their money away, but they will never give themselves away; they are egotistic, secretive, dry as old bones. To be smart enough to get all that money you must be dull enough to want it.

And that brings me to the final thing we must know about mental illness. Kyle actually taught me this lesson.

4. WE ALL NEED TO BE KNOWN, FORGIVEN, AND WANTED. Kyle had come to my office for one of his first appointments.  He and his family were just getting their heads and hearts around this cruel diagnosis. Kyle could barely sit still. He tapped his fingers and looked in different corners of the room, not knowing how to control his broken brain. A few minutes into the session, he looked straight into my eyes, and he said, Sharon, are you okay?”

An hour earlier I had received an email from someone I love very much, who out of their own anguish, lashed out at me. I told Kyle, “Actually, I just received a mean email from someone I really love.” Without blinking an eye, he kept his eyes fixed on mine and said, “Love will have the final world.”

I am sad today at the loss of my friend, but I do not suffer as those who have no hope. Mental illness does not have the final word; addiction doesn’t; cancer doesn’t; family and friends don’t; idiotic bureaucracies don’t; even death does not have the final word.

On that terrible afternoon when Kyle could not suffer any more, Jesus had the final word. Quite to the surprise of the medical examiner, there was no blood at the place to which Kyle fell. The medical examiner couldn’t explain it.

Oh, but don’t forget, there is more here than meets the eyes.

I believe that before impact, God took Kyle. I can see him holding Kyle in his arms and gently saying, “You have suffered enough. It’s time to come Home.”

What if Kyle were one of us? Well he is, and he left reminders – that we are all broken, we all need help, our home is not on this earth, and the deepest need of the human heart is to be known, forgiven, and still wanted.

It astounds me that Jesus became one of us. His body was broken in hundreds of places as his blood was shed; He had no place to lay down  His head; but he chose to take all our sin, woundedness, and confusion to the cross where He died the most excruciating death imaginable . . . and then He arose again. In His resurrection, He is telling us something that we cannot miss – that all this pain, loneliness, and heart shattering experiences do not have the final word. May we live as if we believe that, especially in the way that we care for those who are most broken. May we live as if we believe Resurrection is coming, and so we can give a little more, pray more, sacrifice more, bring food, drink, clothing, shelter. We don’t need to hold on to any stuff here.

As the poet Wendell Berry writes, “Practice Resurrection.”

“Jesus said to her, ‘I am the Resurrection and the Life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die.” John 11:25