When I began writing A Firm Place to Stand, I had not thought of creating Living Room. Living room was born out of reflection and the writing process. God was working in me as I poured out my thoughts and as I was mentored, pastored, and prayed for. The group became the heart of all I did.

I had experienced the secular mood disorder support groups of the Mood Disorder Association. Their peer-based support meetings were an example we followed, but with a strong spiritual focus.

Excerpted from A Firm Place to Stand:

Living Room is not a therapy group. It’s not led by professionals. Instead, it is based on self-help, facilitated by people who themselves have a mood disorder. By helping each other, we help ourselves.

An important rule at Living Room is “no advising, no fixing, no saving, no setting each other straight,” borrowed from Parker J Palmer’s ground rules for his Quaker “Circle of Trust.” No one has all the answers. And we don’t want to make the same mistakes Job’s friends made when they tried to support him in his grave illness and losses. They tried to fix Job by advising him to repent of his sin, wrongly assuming that was the problem.

How can the church support people with mental illness? Not by advising, trying to fix, trying to save. We need to help people carry their burden of pain. That means that we should be there for them when they need to talk about what they’re going through, trying to understand, trying to sympathize, to feel with them. In this way, we show acceptance and love. When we advise, it’s as though we’re being judgmental. We should demonstrate the unconditional love God taught us, through Jesus Christ, to have.

Everyone at Living Room groups are fully accepted, no matter where they are emotionally or spiritually. We share openly, knowing that this is a safe place where honesty is valued and no one judges. We support each other with compassion because we all travel similar journeys.

At Living Room, we talk about our faith and receive prayer. We study Scripture to learn how to cope with our mental health challenges. By sharing our troubles with people who understand, we find healing. At Living Room we can shed feelings of guilt and shame because we no longer have to keep our mental health problems a secret.

From the beginning, I felt that Christians everywhere needed faith-based support like this. I understood what a group like this could do for Christians with mood disorders, and I saw it as a pilot project that could serve as a model for other groups. To encourage others to form Living Room groups, I wrote a set of manuals describing how to set up and facilitate a group. This project was followed by a website, put together by my son Cornelius and his wife Jeanette.

The founding Living room group at Brentwood Park Alliance Church (BPAC) brought me great joy. As I wrote Riding the Roller Coaster and A Firm Place to Stand, I could only imagine the people I was writing for—people who, like me, suffered from mood disorders. Through my group, I came to see and talk to those people, eat with them, and walk with them. I showed them what God had taught me about living a tough life and helped them realize how much God loves us.

I felt the Holy Spirit at work in me as I welcomed members to the meetings. Showing them that God’s love did not require effort. God was present in this work. I was doing what God created me to do, and that made me strong. After meetings, I prayed joyously. “Thank you, God, thank you.”