From the moment the small ad about the new faith-based Living Room support group for mood disorders was posted in the Burnaby Now, calls started coming in from people wanting to know about it. “What do you mean by ‘faith-based’?” And I would tell them about the Christian faith the group was founded on. I told them about my belief in the importance of faith to our mental health.

I ended up talking for a while to quite a few. Stories started spilling out about struggles with their mental health and how their church had responded. Many started coming to the group. Many one-on-one support relationships started that way.

A fair number of troubled individuals were also brought to me by my pastor and his sister because they knew I could help people with emotional problems. I often wished that healthy people in our church would also try to help instead of so quickly bringing them to me. Over my nine years as facilitator of my group, I helped many work through the crises they were dealing with. But it all took a lot of time.

On September 17, 2007, I emailed the following to my pastor:

I’m coming to realize that I need to set boundaries if I’m going to stay well and if I’m going to do all the things I’ve set out to do. But that’s so hard to do when people come to you with nowhere else to turn. I seem to be doing more one-on-one work all the time. It’s something I do willingly, yet there is only one of me and I have so many responsibilities.

A lady called me twice today needing to unload a lot of horrific stuff. I don’t resent doing that at all. I know that the way I listen and respond to these people is helpful to them, but this lady wanted to get together with me. Doesn’t feel she could share the secrets, she shared with me with a group like Living Room.

I told her I’m too busy this week, but perhaps we could go for a walk next week. Trouble is, this is becoming stressful, especially since there are so many other things I feel pressed to do to serve the bigger picture. Where do I draw the line and how do I draw the line?

Somehow I believe there shouldn’t be a line where true need is concerned. I know you don’t believe that, and with mental health there is such a huge amount of need. Yet there is such a thing as boundaries. People talk about them all the time. As a Christian, where should they be?

Later, that same night, I sent another email:

This lady who called me today so much needed to hear that God is still there and that he loves her. She was hungry to hear that, and it’s so wonderful to have an opportunity to help her in her faith. I should never be too busy for individuals like this. And I thank God for letting me be there for her. I will stay in touch with her.

Actually, this work is extremely exciting and I’m feeling less stressed.

But it would be nice if there were more of me.

My pastor’s response was a long one, in essence reminding me of how Jesus responded to the many who came to him. He also wrote:

You could set up boundaries, but you have to be careful that boundaries don’t become limits you set on what God can do through you. I believe you need to guard yourself when you can. Give yourself time to renew and refresh—be re-created. That’s what Sabbath is all about. But you always need to be open to opportunities God brings your way, knowing that when He does, He will also empower you to be His healing presence in the lives of others.

In November, I was struggling again and wrote to my pastor:

I just pray that I’ll have what it takes to minister to these people in the way they need to be ministered to. People’s lives are at stake and I feel the burden is on me to help them. It’s the work God has put before me. It’s part of being a Living Room facilitator, and there doesn’t seem to be anyone else to give them spiritual help.

But sometimes I wonder if I’m not trying to do more than God intends for me. And sometimes I wonder, “Who am I to be trying to do all this?” I know God is with me, but I hope he will be with me enough to give the kind of help with these people need. I wish I had better training more like what you’ve had.

 I guess the best thing is to share with people what God has done for me. The best thing might be to witness, and I can do that. In the case of the woman who doesn’t believe in God, I can tell her that I didn’t believe in God at one time either. I can tell her how I came to believe.

Sometimes I just feel that I’m too small and inadequate for what I’m trying to do. But of course I could never abandon these people or this work. And I do feel God’s presence with me. God will be with me as I share with these people and as they share with me.

Thank you for being there, for listening to me as I work through this stuff. I could never be doing all this without your support. Thank you for being my pastor.

In a person struggling with an illness like bipolar disorder, moods can greatly affect how one feels about things. And so, I was constantly having to go to my pastor and his sister to process the many ups and downs I went through as I tried my best to serve God in the way I felt called. I valued them greatly.

In December 2007, I spent some time reflecting on Philippians 4:6-8.

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

The scripture reminded me to be thankful, especially for my Christian friends. I see God’s goodness shining through them. That’s what has given me the brightness in the past while their love has upheld me. I have felt God’s love through them and when I think of them I do feel God’s peace.

As well, I have found blessings when I support other people, and especially when I see them starting to do well. I sense their pain when they hurt and worry about them. But when they do well, I feel joy. And what a reward that joy is! These people are not a drain on me at all.

“Lord God, when I carry others at Living Room, I come to feel your presence, and that’s such a huge, beautiful thing. Your love is magnified within me when I share it with others.”

The steady flame that is Living Room is an amazing and mysterious thing. It is God at the center. It’s made of love. It heals.