So I’ve been working in nonprofit for 13 years but I really didn’t start getting professionally challenged until I started working at my first Center for Independent Living.
I had a boss that I both loved and she also drove me a little crazy. She was deeply in love with Jesus and knew that I was a believer as well.
A few months into my job as the program manager for the life skills program, I got my first stalker.
I worked closely with men and my status as a single, reasonably attractive woman was an occupational hazard.
So I found myself with a man who was hopelessly infatuated with me, wrote letters, hung out at the office, tried adding me on Facebook, continually tried to touch me. Pretty much made me feel super comfortable.
I went to Wendy, my boss, with the solution.
“I can’t work with him! I need to feel comfortable doing my job.” I told her one afternoon.
Wendy had twenty years of experience working with mentally ill individuals. She looked at me tenderly as I complained.
“Has he threatened you?” She asked.
I stood there for a second, my stomach twisting. “No….”
Wendy took a deep breath. “Then you still have to work with him.” My eyes grew big. She continued. “We can get him help but we can’t just kick him out because you feel uncomfortable. That doesn’t reflect Christ to him.”
I was livid. Why didn’t my comfort matter?
Because the man was obsessed with me, we had one of the other staff meet with him and help him get connected to resources. He got better and most importantly, we treated him with value and care. I never forgot the lesson my boss had taught me about how to treat someone with a mental illness.
I definitely didn’t forget it when I was sitting across a group of pastors as they told me I was not allowed back in my community group because I had an obsession with the pastor who ran the group.
“He needs to feel comfortable doing his job,” the senior pastor told me.
But has she threatened him? I could hear Wendy’s voice in my head.
At that point, I didn’t know I was sick. I just knew the pastors were wrong. A small, elderly, single woman named Wendy had taught me a better way. For all the education these men had, they couldn’t hold a candle to the wisdom she had.
In case you haven’t noticed, I’m in the process of starting a business. I want to see churches approach mental illness in a different way.
I’m going to rub people the wrong way. I know it. Because Wendy rubbed me the wrong way. But you know what? I’ve had two more stalkers since that first incident and both times, I have handled the situation the same way Wendy taught me. Not only have I never been hurt but those men got the help they needed.
When the church kicked me out, they didn’t just ask me to leave. They called the police. And from a worldly perspective, they did everything right. Conventional wisdom says that when you’re dealing with a mentally ill individual, you report it to the police. And I would agree that if that individual has threatened someone or been violent, that is absolutely the right thing to do.
But what happens if the individual has never threatened anyone, been violent or brought weapons onto your property? What happens if the person is just talking to the voices in his head or in my case, shares the hallucinations she’s having with the people around her?
Christianity is not about your comfort.
Scripture says, whoever loses their life for Christ’s sake gains it. Whoever tries to save their life will lose it.
If you say all of life is all for Jesus but at the first sign of trouble, you fail to reflect the love of Christ to the person in front of you, what does that say about your doctrine?
I’ll be honest – every time I encounter a stalker, I’m scared. I’m scared that one day, someone will really kill me. But I keep that scripture in my head. What am I willing to risk for the kingdom of God?
Churches may not like to hear that. People may not like to hear that. You may stop reading my blog because you’re just so horribly offended by my assertion.
I want to see real change in the mental health community. My community. And I have a woman named Wendy to thank.