Sunday, January 24, 2010
I know I said I hadn't disappeared and I'd be updating soon, but obviously it hasn't really worked out that way! I'm afraid my posts are going to be sporadic at best until further notice. For once, this is not because of my emotional state -- things are actually going pretty well, and there have been a lot of good things happening!

I'm taking a bit of a heavier course load this semester as compared to last, and there are a couple of classes that I really need to put my all into. Besides that, I am training for a 50 km cross-country ski race at the end of February. Combined with continuing to focus on my own healing and recovery process, I've got quite a bit on my plate right now. So unfortunately, this blog will have to go on the back burner for a while.

It's a difficult decision to make because this is so important to me, but I'm starting to learn that I can't do everything, no matter how much I may want to! I just don't have the time or energy. I'm hoping to still be able to crank out a post or two occasionally when I've got some extra time, and maybe in a few months I'll be able to keep up with a more regular posting schedule. Until then, I'll do my best to reply to any comments or questions, but please don't take it personally if I don't, or if it takes me a while.

Take care, all!


Don't worry, I haven't disappeared again!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009
Life has just been kind of busy lately, with finals and then Christmas. I promise I'm still here, still reading comments, still working on some new posts. I'll probably be able to sit down and reply to the comments soon, and I'm hoping to get a new entry up in the next week or two as well. Stay tuned! =)

Quick Request

Friday, December 11, 2009
For those of you that pray, a close friend of mine is having some serious health problems right now, and is in the hospital. She has many health problems as it is, and she has been in so much pain lately. Please keep her in your prayers!!


Thursday, December 10, 2009
I'm working on another post on God's Creative Power, but in the meantime, I have a question for fellow Mercy survivors in particular, but anyone else is welcome to answer as well. 

Is it difficult for you to hear/sing songs that remind you of Mercy?

Sometimes we sing Hillsong songs in praise chapel at my school. Mostly, as long as I prepare myself, get it in my head that they very likely will come up, I can deal with it. But if I forget, and one catches me by surprise...I freak out. I honestly want to plug my ears and run out of chapel. (I actually did quickly get out of chapel once!) Sometimes I just can't deal with it. 

This morning, for instance. I'm not going to make a habit of putting my current personal struggles up here for all to see, but occasionally there's something that I feel all right about putting up. We had praise chapel with the orchestra this morning -- those are always my favorite ones, they're amazing! But the second song was "Lord, You Are Good" by Israel and New Breed. Not Hillsong, but the only time I've ever heard of them is at Mercy, so the same association is there. And it just went downhill after that. Not that they're bad songs, I think I'd love them if I didn't associate them with Mercy. But every song after that was either Hillsong, or something that sounded an awful lot like Hillsong. Just a little ways into it, my legs were shaking so bad that I had to sit down. Fortunately, I carry a couple of little things in my pocket to hold onto if something like this happens. I decided to focus on the orchestra, and when I was listening for them, I didn't hear the words as much. I just kept telling myself stuff like, "It's okay. You're 22 years old. That was 3 years ago, and you never have to go back there again." Even though logically I know all this, when I'm in an emotional flashback, it helps to ground me. So, made it through the rest of praise chapel sitting down, talking to myself, holding my little rock, focusing on the orchestra. Whew! And I'm still shaking -- my counselor last year told me that that's just the body releasing energy after a stressful situation, so now that I know why it happens, I'm not as self-conscious. 

Anyway, I just wanted to see if anyone else can relate to that -- if it's a fairly normal thing for people who have been through what we've been through. And I just wanted to share my experience, because I know there have been a lot of things that I thought were "just me," until a fellow Mercy survivor mentioned them. So hopefully I can let someone else know that they are not alone, and reassure myself at the same time. =)

A Christmas (Concert) Story...

Saturday, December 5, 2009
Note: I began writing this before the concert tonight, and finished it afterward. I know it is quite long, but I found the process of writing it all out to be healing for me, and so I don't want to cut anything out just because it is long. I think being able to finally share this full story - I never have before - will also be healing. If you can't make it all the way through, I understand. But if you do, thank you. Thank you.

This is kind of a different post in that it's just a story from my life that I would like to share, in hopes that someone may be encouraged by it.

Tonight is the opening night of Christmas at Northwestern, my school's annual Christmas concert. It has been a long week, with long rehearsals almost every day, but the concert is finally here, and it is going to be amazing. I absolutely love being able to sing as a part of the choir, listen to the band and orchestra and the narration in between songs. It is the most worshipful concert I have ever had the privilege of participating in. We aren't just up there singing pretty words, we're singing words that we believe, that we truly mean as we are singing them. We're not just singing to the audience, we are singing to God and leading the audience in worship. I love it so much.

Last year was my first year at Northwestern, but it was not my first year performing in Christmas at Northwestern. Back in 2001, I was a part of the Vivace Voices youth choir through the Academy of Music here. It was rare for the youth choir to be invited to sing in Christmas at Northwestern, but I'm guessing it had to do with the processional at the beginning of the concert. I've sung it in other choirs since, and there is a part that can optionally be sung by a children's choir. That is the part we sang in Christmas at Northwestern. So because we were already there for the processional, we also got to sing two songs on our own. For the rest of the concert, we had a few rows near the front reserved for us. Since our two songs were in the middle of the concert, we got to sit through all three concerts.

Fast-forward to last year, Christmas at Northwestern 2008: This is important for me to explain before I continue. My first Christmas at Northwestern as a college student! What an experience. I think my favorite part of the whole thing is at the rehearsals, or before the performances, when one of the directors or a student from one of the ensembles will get up and talk to us about what this means. About how this is not a performance, but a worship service. Just encouraging us and helping us to prepare our hearts for this time. Last year, at one of the rehearsals, someone had the idea that we should go out into the auditorium and pray over the seats, for the people who would be sitting in them each of the three nights. That they would be touched by our music. That they would see God's love in what we were singing and playing. That God would use the concert to speak to them, no matter their situation. Wow. What a powerful way to get us to really think about the audience and the message we would be communicating to them. What a way to remind us of our purpose in this event. I kept that fresh in my mind as we continued to rehearse and through the actual concerts. I'd look out at the audience, and remember what I was up there for, and pray for them once again. Let me tell you, a concert means a lot more when you know it will be touching people's lives like that.

And now back to 2001. How do I know the concerts will be touching people's lives? Well, along with the many times the directors tell us, and the knowledge that God answers prayer, I know from experience.

I was in 9th grade. It would be an understatement to say that it wasn't such a great year. It was pretty rough. Starting the summer before, with working every day to remodel our grandparents' old house so we could move into it. It was a terrible summer, but that's a story for another time. It was during that miserable summer that I began having suicidal thoughts. At first, it didn't seem like a big deal. I'd never actually do anything like that, right? It was just thoughts. Things would get better once school started. For a little bit, they did. But then it was back to the same old misery and self-hatred. Eventually I realized that I was probably dealing with depression. I was afraid to tell anyone, but the longer I put it off, the worse it got. Every day, I'd walk into school, and tell myself that today was the day I would go into the counseling office and make an appointment. Every day, I walked right past it again. Sometimes multiple times a day. Never the courage to open the door and walk in. By December, I felt like I was reaching the end of my rope. I thought of it as being stuck in a deep, dark pit, alone, with no way to get out.

That's where I was, that Saturday of Christmas at Northwestern. One of our songs was called "We Are The Children Of Light." I remember thinking, how can I sing about being a child of the light when I am so stuck here in this deep, dark pit? 

Since I had already heard the whole 2-hour concert the night before, I had plenty of time to sit and think while I was listening. I searched my mind for ideas, ways I could maybe ask for help. Eventually I concluded that none would work. I just couldn't do it. I would never be able to tell someone. I didn't think I could stand living in that darkness for much longer, and if I'd never be able to tell anyone anyway, what was the point?

*Suicide Trigger*

My ideas and plans turned to a different direction. I had gotten a ride to the concert with the family of a friend who was also in the youth choir. My parents were at an annual Christmas party hosted by some of their friends. I knew they wouldn't be back until late. I'd be back hours before they would. I had done some thinking on this before, but there was just never a good opportunity. And now I had one. I spent the rest of the concert making plans and refining them. I was going to kill myself when I got home. Take all the pills I could find and just go to sleep. My parents wouldn't find me until morning, and by then I'd be gone. I didn't want the shame of waking up in a hospital because someone found me earlier.

*End Trigger

I remember two specific points in the concert where I found myself wavering in my determination to go through with my plan.

The first was during a song that the band played. "Russian Christmas Music." It was almost thirteen minutes long, and it was amazing. From where I was sitting, I could see the two girls playing the chimes, which are used a lot in the piece. It was so cool watching them. (I have actually loved chimes ever since, just because of this song!) As I was sitting there watching the band play this beautiful, intense song, a thought came to my mind. I am never going to hear this song again. This is the last time I will ever get to listen to beautiful music like this. I won't be here tomorrow to hear them play it again. It made me want to cry. And that shook me a little.

The second was when the men's chorus sang "Prayer of the Children." The impact of this one will be best understood with the lyrics written out:
Can you hear the prayer of the children
on bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room?
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
turning heavenward toward the light.
Crying," Jesus, help me
to see the morning light of one more day,
but if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take."
Can you feel the hearts of the children
aching for home, for something of their very own.
Reaching hands with nothing to hold onto
but hope for a better day, a better day.
Crying," Jesus, help me
to feel the love again in my own land,
but if unknown roads lead away from home,
give me loving arms, 'way from harm."
Can you hear the voice of the children
softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
blood of the innocent on their hands.
Crying," Jesus, help me
to feel the sun again upon my face?
For when darkness clears, I know you're near,
bringing peace again."
Beautiful song. Sad -- yet hopeful. This one was intense too, but in a different way. I know the song is meant to be about the devastating effects war has on children. But so much of it spoke right to my heart, to what I was dealing with that night.

I felt so empty, hopeless. Defeated. 

Then that first plea: "Jesus, help me to see the morning light of one more day..." Somewhere deep down, some small part of me was making this same plea: "Please, God, don't let me do it. I don't want to die." I didn't know it, but it was there. 

Then, "Reaching hands with nothing to hold onto but hope for a better day, a better day." That's how I felt...silently reaching and screaming for help, for someone to see that I was not all right. But no one did. I hid it too well. I didn't have anything to hold onto anymore. But maybe...

"Give me loving arms, 'way from harm." I had such a longing for this. For someone to care and to help me and protect me. Someone I could trust. Who wouldn't hurt me. Someone safe...but no one was there.

"Can you hear the voice of the children softly pleading for silence in their shattered world?" Shattered. Maybe not in the way the song meant, but emotionally, I felt shattered. I had even used that word in a poem I wrote over the summer (a broken plate, shattered. / like-- my summer. / like-- my life.). I just wanted it to stop. I didn't want to hurt anymore. I didn't want to continue being hurt. Pleading for silence...no more yelling, swearing. I just wanted to feel safe again. I wanted somebody to see I was hurt, to care, to gather up those broken pieces and help me put my life back together.

Crying, "Jesus, help me
to feel the sun again upon my face
For when darkness clears, I know you're near
bringing peace again."

When I looked up there at the men's chorus singing, with gentleness and with passion, I truly felt like they meant what they were singing. 

I needed to know that someone cared. That there was hope, and not just hurt. I needed to hear that Jesus cared. I found myself silently pleading, "Jesus, help me!" along with the men when they sang it. Jesus, help me...give me hope...lead me out of the darkness...let me see the sun again. That song was just what I needed.

As I left the concert that night, I was unsure of what I would do when I got home. I still wanted to go through with my plan...but now, part of me didn't.

On the way home, I managed to quietly admit to my friend, after making her promise she wouldn't tell anyone, that I thought I was depressed. I didn't go any further than that, but that was enough. I had told someone. And if I told one person...maybe I could tell another. =)

God saved my life that night. God used Christmas at Northwestern to save my life. And that's why I can say with certainty that people's lives are touched by this concert. That's why the focus on leading the audience in worship and praying that God will use our music to reach them wherever they are at is so important to me. Because I know He will and He does. And maybe there's someone out there in the audience that's like me back in 9th grade...maybe there's someone out there who feels like they've lost hope and they don't want to live anymore. And maybe God will use our music to save them like He saved me.


Friday, December 4, 2009
It was just brought to my attention that people have been unable to comment on my blog! I am sorry if this has been a problem for you. It should be fixed now, let me know if it's not. =)

God's Creative Power: Introduction

Thursday, December 3, 2009
So, I know I said I was taking a break from writing about Mercy, but something came up today that I really feel like I should write about.

In my World Religions class today, we were talking about Animism. How it can be present in all religions - for instance, Christians who carry their Bibles around with them, not because they're going to read them, but because they feel like as long as they have their Bible with them, they'll have a good day. If they forget it or leave it someplace, then it's going to be a bad day, because they don't have their Bible with them. It can be subtle, and I don't think a lot of people realize they're doing it.

Anyway, this reminded me of a little book I got when I first arrived at Mercy. (I'm sure anyone who's gone through the program knows exactly what book I'm talking about!) I vaguely remember being told something about how this booklet would become the most important book to me while I was there (second to the Bible, of course).

This little booklet is called God's Creative Power Will Work For You

I've seen a few other people mention it, but haven't seen anybody really write in depth about what this book contains and its role in life at Mercy. And I think this is an important part of Mercy life that people should know about, so I will be going through the book, talking about it in relation to Mercy, and give my own views on it. It will take me more than one entry, I know that - I'm not sure just how long it will get, though! I can say a lot on this subject. When I mentioned the word of faith movement and this book to my World Religions professor, he said, "Let's not even go there!" There's just so much there that can be talked about. My professor actually called it heresy, which surprised me a bit. That's a pretty strong word to use, and although I agree, I've never actually said that myself for fear that I was overreacting. It's nice to know I'm not! I feel like every person who backs up my thoughts about Mercy and different beliefs and practices there helps me get a little closer to really truly believing it and being better able to speak the truth about Mercy without being ashamed. Helps me get a little closer to, "Oh! It really wasn't just me!" There's a difference between knowing something and truly believing it. I'm not there yet, but I'm slowly making my way towards believing it with confidence and assurance that it is the truth.

So, I arrived at Mercy and got this booklet. I soon learned that we were supposed to read the section of affirmations out loud twice a day (?) and sign this sheet saying we had done it. And we were encouraged to read it more. Some girls carried their GCP book with them most, if not all, of the time. I would see and hear other girls reading their GCP at different times of the day, in the living room, in the hallway, in the library. My roommate read them before bed every night. Reading the GCP out loud was a big key to healing from our issues. And the more we read it, the more we would believe it, and be healed.

I suppose I should probably explain what it is about before going any further! From the back cover of the booklet:
Words are the most powerful things in the universe today! They are containers of power.

Many people have been defeated in life because they believed and spoke the wrong things. They have allowed the words of their own mouths to hold them in bondage.

God created the universe by speaking it into existence. He has given that same ability to you in word form. To be effective in life you must speak words of faith. Every faith principle, every spiritual law, every promise of God was set forth for your growth. He has designed His Word to put you over in life.

Learn how you can release the ability of God by the words of your mouth.

Fear-filled words will defeat you, but faith-filled words will put you over!

On my first read through the book, I didn't quite know what to think. I wrote about it in my journal, the entry is dated 11/20/06, so I had only been there for five days.
Something about those "God's Creative Power" books just doesn't seem right. And I'm frustrated, because I don't know what it is. I don't know if they're Biblically sound or not ... My critical thinking skills are coming in handy, yet also being kind of frustrating, because I feel like I don't know enough to know if these things are Biblical or not.

There's quite a bit more to the entry, but that's the relevant part. I didn't write about negative things in too much detail, because while something didn't seem right, I felt like I shouldn't be thinking those things. I believed that maybe it was just Satan attacking me - trying to get in the way of my healing, trying to turn me away from God, trying to get me to leave Mercy. I now know that it was actually God, not Satan, trying to get me to leave Mercy! That feeling I was getting about something not being right? Pretty sure that was the Holy Spirit nudging me to do some critical thinking and realize that this was not a good place.

I couldn't make up my mind, the whole time I was there. One day, I'd feel sure that Mercy was a great place, and that I just needed to be more open to what they were teaching. The next day, I'd feel sure that there was something not-quite-right, and I needed to figure out what it was, so I could know what to do. It was very confusing.

And with that, I think I will have to take a break. More on God's Creative Power soon!


Wednesday, December 2, 2009
On one of the mental health related forums I am a member of, someone started a thread about personal experiences of stigma and stereotypes, and what we do to combat those misconceptions. As I wrote out my reply, it kind of turned into a "what I want people to understand about me" post. The roots of most of this are in my family, and I greatly fear others having similar views. The rest mainly stems from inadequate explanations on my part. When it comes to talking about my mental health related problems, I have a hard time saying things straight out -- I tend to talk "around" things instead and hope people pick up on the implications. Also, I just plain have a hard time explaining things out loud. If I write it out, I can go back and change the wording, clear things up, make it easier to understand. I can make sure I'm really saying what I want to say. So, these are some things I wish people understood about me.

People don't understand. I try and explain, but they just don't understand why I can't just do everything "normal" people can do.

I hate it when people don't take emotional abuse as seriously as other forms of abuse. Like because I was never physically or sexually abused, I should just get over it and stop whining. Same with depression...just because it's common, apparently it's less serious than if I had some other mental illness. "Yeah, but depression's not a real mental illness, not like bipolar or schizophrenia or something."

It's like, "Oh, you've *only* been emotionally abused, you *only* have depression, what are you complaining about?" Like I'm just pretending to have a difficult time with things. Like I'm just not trying hard enough. Like I'm just being lazy, manipulative, looking for attention. Hearing those sorts of things is part of what messed me up in the first place.

I'm trying, I'm really trying! With school, with working, with taking care of myself. I'm trying so hard, but they just push and push and tell me to try harder, to not let fear get in my way, to not make excuses. They make me feel like I'm not good enough because I can only handle taking 8 credits (2 classes) at a time right now, when the usual course load is 12-18 credits. And if I'm still having trouble keeping up, I must not be trying, I must be sitting around all day, and depression is just an excuse, I'm just trying to be manipulative. The only reason I haven't found a job is because I'm lazy, because I have no motivation, because I'm obviously not trying very hard and I just need to get out there and try! They don't understand that I can't -- not without help! I have a very real (and understandable, given my past) fear of being employed.

I wish they could understand that I don't want to be like this. I would love to be able to take a normal course load and be able to keep up. I would love to have a job and be able to work without this fear that stresses me out to the point of becoming suicidal. I would love to not be afraid of people, to be able to just go and hang out with my friends, to even have friends like other people! I would love to stop feeling like I have to hide away in my room, I would love to stop feeling like I'm bad and I don't deserve to talk or be around people or be noticed. I would love to stop feeling like my very presence, my very existence, is a problem, like I need to hide, I need to not take up space in the world. I would love it if I didn't have to worry about random emotional flashbacks when I'm out in public -- suddenly feeling so small and vulnerable, in a big scary place with big scary people that might yell at me or tease me or hurt me, and I have to run, I have to hide, I have to make myself as small as possible so they can't see me, can't get me.

I'm not being manipulative. I'm not faking or exaggerating. I'm not looking for attention. If I was, why would I try so hard to hide these things and not talk about them? Why would I try so hard to blend in and be normal and put my happy face on?

I just wish people would understand.

Now, just to clear something up: I don't want to give the impression that I don't have any friends, because that's not true -- I have some amazing friends who care about me a lot. And I know if they knew -- if I was open about the things I am dealing with -- they would be there for me. They've proven this many times when I have talked about stuff. I just have a hard time trusting people, believing that they really do consider me a friend and want to spend time with me.

I was taught early on that just because someone says something nice to you doesn't mean it's true. People lie to be polite, so you won't feel bad, or because they feel sorry for you. If they think you're annoying, if they don't want to be around you, if they're sick of hearing you talk, if they're embarrassed to be seen with you, they're not going to tell you. They'll lie and reassure you that you're not annoying, you don't talk too much, they enjoy spending time with you, you're their friend, etc. -- because they're nice people and don't want to hurt your feelings.

So that's why I say, "I wish I could have friends like other people." It's not because there's no one who wants to be my friend. It's because I have such a hard time believing that they'd want to be my friends. And so I hide in my room. I often eat meals alone, although I've gotten better about being able to go and sit down at a table with people I know. I just generally don't spend time with people unless I'm invited. Because...what if they don't want me around?

I know it's distorted thinking, but it can be awfully hard to just step around it. I'm trying, but it's going to take a while. It took a long time for me to become this solid in this skewed perspective...it's going to take a long time to replace those lies with truth.

Walking on the Wire

Sunday, November 29, 2009
I hope all of you who celebrate Thanksgiving had a great one! My life is going to be especially busy over the next month or so (whose isn't?), but this week in particular, I have music rehearsals every day, so if I'm not around, that's why. I really would like to get to writing out my Mercy story, but I have to be in a fairly stable place before I try to delve into all of that again. With so much going on right now, I just can't afford to fall apart after digging into something I "thought I could handle." So I'll get back to it as soon as possible, but for now I'll be focusing on some things that are a little easier for me to write about.

If you've written me any emails/messages asking questions about Mercy or my story, I fully intend to reply, but it might take me a while. Please don't take it personally. I care, and I want to give you the most well-thought out reply that I can, but in order to do that, I need to take care of myself first.

In my personal life, I am hoping to do something this week that I view as a pretty big step forward in my healing process, so I am both nervous and excited. I'd rather keep the specifics to myself, but I'd like to talk a bit about taking steps towards healing.

I wrote a poem a couple of years back, on the way home from spending a week with some of my favorite people in the world. I've shared it with a good number of people since then, and have been told that it's touched many of their lives. I am amazed that a simple stream-of-consciousness poem written from my own experiences can do that, but I will admit it's one of my favorites I have written. I hope it can touch someone reading this blog as well.

(Feel free to share it if you like, but please credit to this blog. This poem is very personal. It means a lot to me, and I would be hurt to see it passed off as another's work.)


here i stand,
stripped of my pretenses,
an open book.
no more masks,
no more walls to protect me,
here i stand before you --
no more pretending
denying, avoiding...
past hurts are once again fresh,
and i am scared.
i can't do this on my own,
please hold me.
reassure me,
encourage me.
give me strength to do this.
i am walking on the wire,
give me your hand...
don't let me fall!
here i stand before you,
no walls,
no masks,
just me.
will you teach me to love myself?
tell me i am beautiful,
remind me how much i have to share?
will you tell me until i believe it?
it's going to take some time.
but here i stand before you,
my deepest secrets laid bare...
standing at the edge of the cliff --
i am ready to begin.

Mostly, I'd like to just leave it at that. I feel like too much of my rambling on about all of the meanings and stories tied up in the poem can take away from the power of the simple, straightforward words that are there. If you would like to know more, I would be happy to tell you. There are a couple of experiences alluded to in the poem that I know I will be sharing about in the future. But for now, I just want to share part of what I wrote underneath the poem, where I have it saved on my computer.

"I was thinking about recovery, and having to open myself up to people...how it makes me feel naked, exposed. This poem was the result. All those parts of me I hid for so long, all those parts I didn't want anyone to see...they've got to be out in the open if I ever want to truly recover. I have to trust people."

It's difficult. It's terrifying. But it's good. That's recovery.

Update - Change of address

Thursday, November 19, 2009
Well, as I said I would a week ago, I have now changed the address to this blog, which you have probably figured out if you're reading this. =) Rather than my original idea, I decided to go with "gracetolight.blogspot.com." As much as I loved the "xmercy" in the name, I figured that is only one (albeit important) part of this blog now, so it would make more sense to have a more general name.

I've got a lot of work to do in the near future on the X-Mercy stuff. A few messages to write to women who are considering going to Mercy, in particular. For those of you who pray, I would appreciate your prayers on that. I really want to write to these women, and feel a great responsibility to share my story with them, but I've found that writing out my story is really difficult for me. Partially because of the emotions and the memories it brings back, and partially because there's just so much to say, that I don't know where to start. I don't want to overwhelm anyone with too much information, but at the same time I don't want to give too little information. And I want to give the right information, rather than getting stuck on a lot of less important points. So it's important for me to find a balance. And also just to be able to organize my thoughts, which can be really difficult when writing about a subject like this. (The essay I wrote last year for my composition class was originally going to be at least twice as long as it ended up -- for example, I didn't even get into the whole mind control thing! I can say a LOT on this subject.)

The good news in my personal life is that I really feel like I'm starting to build up a good support system, between friends at church and school. I feel like maybe I'm starting to find that sense of community again, which I have missed so much since WWC. I feel like I'm beginning to rebuild my faith in God, and just made a couple of new friends last night that I'm hoping will help to hold me accountable in spending time reading my Bible and in prayer and worship. I feel like maybe there is some sense of stability that is slowly coming back to my life: knowing that my life and my hope are built on the firm foundation of Jesus Christ. That doesn't mean it's going to be smooth sailing -- I often compare life to the experience I had cliff-jumping during my year at WWC (perhaps I will elaborate on that later). But the key is to remember that no matter how out of control life feels, GOD is always IN control. And He won't let me fall -- I cannot fall out of His hand. And that gives me a lot of hope and peace, just knowing that, and reminding myself of that truth. =)


Friday, November 13, 2009
Just to get back in the swing of things, I thought I'd try and write rather frequently right from the get-go. We'll see if I can keep it up. Besides being busy with schoolwork, choir, and handbells, I find that it's very easy for me to get overwhelmed.

I have a hard time writing and talking about the subjects I plan to explore here. I can write or say what I want to, but afterwards I start freaking out. This is an effect of emotional abuse in my life: I was consistently made to feel as though I talked too much. I was often told by family members, while I was speaking, "You know what? I really don't care." (That was mostly my brothers - my parents said it a little nicer. "I think we've heard this before." or "I know, I just heard you telling [dad/mom/brothers].") Or they just flat-out ignored me. So I've learned to keep my mouth shut, believing I have nothing to say worth hearing, and nobody wants to listen to me talk. My views and opinions don't count for anything, what I want is not important. If I'm going to say anything, it has to be on other people's terms, such as answering when they ask me a question. Otherwise I'm just bothering them.

Obviously, Mercy did not help in this area at all! Like I said in my paper, when telling my story I often say that Mercy stole my voice. Which was really rough, coming right off of an amazing year at college. It was a very close-knit community, and my "family" there - the other students and staff - were so great. I made so much progress while I was there. Learning to open up and trust people. Actually feeling like I belonged and was accepted and liked! Realizing that I didn't have to prove anything to them...they liked me for me, not for what I did or did not do, whether I was struggling or doing well. WWC (the college) taught me how to speak again...and then Mercy stole my voice.

It's a long road, recovering from all that. I think in some ways it's been harder after Mercy - remembering what I had at WWC but not being able to get back to it. Someday maybe, but not yet. It's going to take a long time, a lot of work, and some caring friends who won't give up on me to get there. The growth that happened while I was at WWC, the lessons I learned, were not learned because someone simply told me. I learned those things because they told me and they showed me. Just kept loving and supporting me through it all. And refusing to see me as my problems, but seeing me for me.

I think that can be hard for people to do sometimes. I know it's hard for me. It's so easy to let my issues define me, to look at myself and see "problems" instead of Grace. I think with other people as well, my issues can get in the way. If I don't talk to them, don't hang out with them without being invited...basically, close myself off from them...it's awfully hard to see me behind all that. Over the course of that year, my WWC family did, though. And because they saw me for me, it was easier for me to let go of hiding behind my problems and see me for me, and be me.

Okay, so talking about WWC always tends to get me off on tangents...good tangents, but tangents nonetheless.

So, talking....oh yes, I was saying that recovery is a long road. It is. And it's hard. But I am trying. I've told quite a few people about Mercy in the last few months. I joined the choir and the handbell group at my church - both fairly small and close-knit groups, so it is a way for me to have fun, serve God, and find that fellowship and community that I long for. I'm finding it easier to get close to people there than at school. Maybe because I know they won't leave in a few years? Anyway, I am making progress, although it may be frustratingly slow at times. Well, most of the time!

In any case, I'm hoping that I will be able to keep up with this blog now. Hoping I won't get too overwhelmed. Hoping that I won't get scared and run and hide because I'm afraid I've said too much, or said things I shouldn't have said. It's a scary thing...but hopefully I will be able to press on through it.

Re-post: Mercy Ministries: Lives Damaged. Hope Destroyed.

Thursday, November 12, 2009
I have hidden previous posts due to information that could potentially identify me, but this one is important enough to re-post. (Admittedly, there is always a risk of being identified when sharing personal stories, but I'd rather not have my name out there for all to see anymore.)

Note: This is an essay I wrote for my composition class. I have cited sources where appropriate - if you see one I missed, comment and let me know.

I had just finished my first year of college. I had wanted so badly to succeed academically, but my recurrent depression had gotten in the way once again. With a GPA of less than 2.0, the college would not accept me back for another year. I was on my way home, back to an emotionally abusive environment that I knew would only make things worse. I wasn't sure I'd survive the summer; I wasn't sure I wanted to.
One thing gave me hope: a program called Mercy Ministries. They offered free residential treatment for young women dealing with "life-controlling issues," including eating disorders, self-injury, chemical dependency, depression, unplanned pregnancy, and abuse issues. They promised individual and group counseling, Biblical teaching, discipleship, and true healing and transformation in six to nine months. With three homes in the United States (along with several others worldwide), a 20-year history, and impressive success stories on the website, I was sold.

I entered Mercy's St. Louis home on November 15, 2006. One month later I returned home, confused and withdrawn. Mercy Ministries, rather than being the successful Christian treatment program it claims to be, is an unqualified organization that uses questionable treatment methods that have a damaging effect on the women it attempts to help.

One former resident describes Mercy Ministries' staff as "power tripping 20 something year olds with no qualifications in mental health, no compassion, and no Jesus." (Sean the Blogonaut). While this is very much a generalization, and by no means true of all Mercy Ministries staff members, other women have also spoken about negative experiences with staff. When Megan Smith, a former resident of Mercy Australia, talked to staff about her increasing problems with self-injury, she was reprimanded and called a "fruitcake." "The [staff member] said I was attention seeking, bringing negative energy to the environment and taking her valuable time away from girls who really need her." (Pollard, "Prayed to cast Satan"). Another resident who had problems with panic attacks was also accused of "acting for attention." She says, "It was obvious that the staff had little to no knowledge of how to help me, or how to let me help myself." (Sean the Blogonaut). Personally, I found most of the staff members to be distant and unapproachable. None of them really seemed to care to get to know me, and I felt that they always had the attitude of "Don't bother me; I'm busy." Yet each one had their three or four favorites that they always greeted warmly and took time to talk to. The rest of us were simply overlooked.

Psychological treatment in the home was also inadequate. Judy Watson, the executive manager of programs at Mercy Ministries Australia, told the Sydney Morning Herald that, "Mercy Ministries counseling staff are required to have tertiary education and qualifications in counseling, social work, or psychology." (Pollard, "Prayed to cast Satan") The women who have been through the program, however, say differently. "The 'counsellor' I had was not qualified to treat mental illness...nobody there was," said Megan Smith. "She was in the middle of a Mercy 'in-house program' to teach her how to prayer counsel." (Brunero). Victoria Lucas, one of the few American women who has spoken out about Mercy, also states that her counselor "was not a licensed psychologist, or trained in any sort of eating disorders counseling." (Sean the Blogonaut). My own counselor in St. Louis told me that when she first started working at Mercy Ministries, she did not feel qualified and was unsure if she really could help the young women she was required to counsel. I was never told what qualifications she had, and that statement has made me wonder if she had any at all. I agree with an editorial in the Sydney Morning Herald that states, "An organization holding itself out as providing mental health services should be subject to rigorous medical standards, and employ qualified staff for accredited programs of treatment." ("Quality of Mercy") Mercy Ministries clearly does not.

Mercy makes it clear that they are not a medical facility, but tells women that they will have access to medical treatment if needed. What the women are not told is that they will not be allowed to talk to a doctor alone, but will be accompanied by a Mercy staff member. Judy Watson confirmed this to the press. The Australian Medical Association said in response that, "forcing sick, vulnerable patients to see a doctor in the presence of an unrelated third party was both dangerous and potentially unethical." (Pollard, "Ethics, financial probity").

Some former residents have also disclosed that they were denied medical treatment or medication when it was needed. Rhiannon Canham-Wright, who spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald about the program has asthma but was not allowed to carry her inhaler with her. "Every time I had an asthma attack they told me to stop acting," she says. "I was punished, I had to do an assignment about why God believes lying is wrong." (Pollard, "Prayed to cast Satan"). While I was in the St. Louis home, there was one girl who would get very carsick. I remember seeing her crying and telling staff that she felt sick. She was told to stop crying, to pray about it, and stop speaking negative things (i.e., that she felt sick) over her life. Other residents have told stories of not being allowed sleeping medication or basic painkillers when they were needed (Pollard, "Hell or a godsend"). One woman got a skin infection that became an abscess before staff would allow her to see a doctor (Sean the Blogonaut).

The counseling methods used at Mercy Ministries have also been found to be questionable. They follow a controversial treatment model known as "Restoring the Foundations." It was originally devised by charismatic ministers Chester and Betsey Kylstra, who claim the program was revealed to them by God while they were in Bible college (Smietana). Training people to counsel using this method can be done in as little as two weeks. RTF "counselors" do not need to have a degree or any sort of accreditation (Mercy Ministries: Truth). The program is split into four different areas: Sins of the Fathers and Resulting Curses, Ungodly Beliefs, Soul/Spirit Hurts, and Demonic Oppression (Smietana). Mercy claims to offer individualized programs, but according to one former resident, "The RTF counseling model was used for all residents across the board regardless of their individual illnesses...The sole focus of my treatment was on taking me through the generic steps listed in the RTF counseling manual." (Mercy Ministries: Truth). Other women have confirmed that Restoring the Foundations was the focus of their treatment as well (Sean the Blogonaut).

My counseling sessions at Mercy Ministries were once weekly, and consisted of prayer and going over the next few pages of the Restoring the Foundations materials. My counselor would then give me my assignments for the week, usually the RTF materials along with a book to read or tape series to listen to and a handwritten one-page response. I have seen several counselors, both before and after my time at Mercy, and each of them worked to help me specifically with the issues that brought me to see them. At Mercy, my depression and emotional abuse issues were barely mentioned, and my self-injury was only mentioned to put more restrictions on me. Instead, my first major assignment was to listen to Joyce Meyer's tape series on "Bitterness, Resentment, and Unforgiveness," and make a list of everyone in my life I needed to forgive. This confused me. I was still very hurt by the actions of certain people on that list, and the effects of their abuse have permeated my entire personality and sense of self. Rather than helping me, the tape series and immediate focus on forgiveness made me feel like I was at fault rather than the people who had abused me. I wrote in my journal:

I'm learning some things about myself. Some things I don't really like. And it's hard. And confusing. I don't know what to think. Because as I look at myself, I'm realizing that maybe some of my problems are my fault. Some of my issues with my family are my fault. Some of the things they say about me are true. I am selfish and lazy. I can't help but feel like maybe it's all my fault. Maybe it was all in my head. Maybe I brought it on myself. Did I? I don't know anymore.

One part of the Restoring the Foundations model that I did not experience in my short time at Mercy was the final section on Demonic Oppression. Nancy Alcorn, the founder of Mercy Ministries, claims that Mercy's approach to issues is "superior to conventional psychology, which often relies on psychotropic medication...girls with issues like sexual promiscuity or eating disorders have opened themselves up to demonic activity." (Smietana). Mental illnesses are also seen as demonic activity or "spirits of oppression," rather than severe medical conditions (Sean the Blogonaut). These beliefs have led to one of the most disturbing experiences described by former residents: exorcisms. When her panic attacks did not improve with prayer and Bible reading, staff members told one resident that demons were causing her symptoms. She was taken into an office and forced to have an exorcism:

They shut the door and pulled the curtains so that nobody could see in, then had me stand in the middle of the room while they laid hands on me, and cast the demons out of me, one by one, calling them by name. They spoke loudly, then quietly, then loudly again, alternating between speaking in tongues and speaking in English. I wanted to cry. I didn't understand why they were yelling. I was so frightened.

She was then told that the panic attacks would not return, since the demons had been cast out. When she had another panic attack two days later, Mercy staff told her that she was either "acting for attention," or she had "knowingly and willingly" invited the demons back in (Sean the Blogonaut). Despite similar stories from other residents, Peter Irvine, Mercy Australia's former managing director, insists, "Claims of exorcism are simply untrue." (Irvine).

Although Mercy Ministries is the only long-term residential program I have ever had experience with, I have also spent time in the adolescent behavioral health ward of a local hospital, as well as a county-run group home by the name of Willow Haven. I look back on both of these experiences as beneficial, yet I believe my time at Mercy did more harm than good. In Willow Haven and the hospital ward, the rules were sometimes strict but very clear and simple. Mercy's rules were complex, and sometimes seemingly made up by staff on the spot. Rather than making me feel safe, the rules at Mercy kept me in constant fear of being disciplined for unintentionally doing something wrong.

A feeling of being safe and protected, something I rarely experienced at home, is one of my best memories of both the hospital and the group home. Unlike Mercy, the staff were warm and approachable, and I felt free to express my emotions and talk about my struggles. Mercy Ministries discourages the expression of negative emotions, and does not allow residents to speak to each other about what brought them to the home or any related issues. I had a hard time knowing what was acceptable to talk about and what was not. One issue with the emotional abuse I have experienced was being made to feel that I talk too much, no one wants to listen to me, and I have nothing to say worth hearing. I had been a very quiet and closed-off person for years because of this. It was an area I had been making progress in before my stay at Mercy Ministries; unfortunately, my time there resulted in a major setback. I have often said since leaving the program that I feel like Mercy stole my voice. Although there are still many improvements to be made in public mental health services, in my experience they have been many times more helpful than Mercy Ministries.

Just because Mercy is a Christian organization, that does not automatically mean it is a trustworthy one. This is an assumption I was guilty of making when I first looked into the program, and I believe many people who support Mercy Ministries have made the same mistake. I do not fault them for this; Mercy is a secretive and deceptive organization, and until recently the only information widely available has been from the organization itself. I am very grateful to the three Australian women who chose to speak to the Sydney Morning Herald about their experiences in March of 2008, triggering many other women to speak up as well, revealing the truth about Mercy to the world. A friend of one of these women commented, "If Mercy Ministries was run the way they claim to run on their website, then nothing would really be wrong. It's what goes on behind closed doors that is secretive, and extremely abusive." (Journeys in Between).

Some people have accused these women of being bitter and angry towards Mercy, and Peter Irvine responded to the news articles with the statement that the girls "have psychological issues" and "make a lot of things up." ("Group denies claims"). It is important to note that not all of the girls who have spoken out about the program since the news articles were kicked out of Mercy. Some left of their own accord, and others are even graduates of the program (Sean the Blogonaut). Naomi Johnson, one of the women who spoke to the Sydney Morning Herald, even admits that she does not believe Mercy intended any harm, although they certainly caused plenty in her life alone (Journeys in Between). "Even now, three years on, I don't socialize widely," she says, "I don't work full time, I don't study full time...there is still a lot of remnants hanging around from my time at Mercy." (Pollard, "Prayed to cast Satan"). In response to the claims that she is simply bitter, Naomi says, "...it's not bitterness I feel...what I feel is a heartbreaking cry: 'Why wasn't I worth it?'" (Journeys in Between).

Despite the harm Mercy Ministries has done to Naomi and countless other young women, Peter Irvine claims that the program is ninety-five percent successful ("Group denies claims"). There are many success stories on the website, and I know several successful graduates personally. I do not doubt that Mercy Ministries has helped some girls, and many others may graduate from the program fully believing that they have been cured. Unfortunately, as one former resident writes:

There is little said of individuals who do not maintain recovery after leaving the program and by coercing its residents into submission, thus removing their ability to think critically or make independent decisions, it is likely that, far from "walking in freedom, a sizable number of its graduates relapse upon leaving the program's cult-like, closely controlled environment (Mercy Ministries: Truth).

Even if some girls have been truly helped by the Mercy Ministries program, the truth is that many other girls have been harmed, myself included. Over a dozen women have come forward in Australia, and as the news is reaching the United States, more women here are speaking out as well (Pollard, "Mercy to close home"). However, due to the cult-like mind control techniques used by the organization, many women are still too scared to speak up. I still struggle with a lot of shame and fear myself. As Naomi Johnson explained, "even though [you] know that they were wrong, there is still a part of you that just even now wants to be accepted by Mercy. (Pollard, "Prayed to cast Satan).

Mercy Ministries promises true healing and complete transformation to hurting and vulnerable young women around the world. As the tagline on their website once read, "a place where unconditional love conquers all." Unfortunately, without qualified staff and proven methods of treatment, love is not enough to cure women from severe problems such as mental illness and addiction. People need to know the truth. This organization is not what it claims to be. The extravagant promises, for many, go unfulfilled, and when the program they believed was their last hope has failed them, they are left broken. Mercy Ministries may have began with good intentions, but the damage it has done outweighs their most impressive success stories. We must not let this debacle continue.

Works Cited

Brunero, Tim. "How to cure anorexia with exorcisms." Live News. 18 July 2008. http://www.livenews.com.au/Articles/2008/07/18/How_to_cure_anorexia_with_exorcisms_101

Irvine, Peter. "On a mercy mission to rescue lives." Sydney Morning Herald. 24 March 2008. http://www.smh.com.au/news/opinion/on-a-mercy-mission-to-rescue-lives/2008/03/23/1206206916406.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

Mercy Ministries of America: Truth Will Out. 21 June 2008. http://mmoa2.blogspot.com

Pollard, Ruth. "Ethics, financial probity for review." Sydney Morning Herald. 18 March 2008. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/ethics-financial-probity-for-review/2008/03/17/1205602293119.html

Pollard, Ruth. "Hell or a godsend: women tell their stories." Sydney Morning Herald. 18 March 2008. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/hell-or-a-godsend-women-tell-their-stories/2008/03/17/1205602293125.html

Pollard, Ruth. "Mercy Ministries to close home." Sydney Morning Herald. 7 June 2008. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/mercy-ministries-to-close-home/2008/06/06/1212259115375.html

Pollard, Ruth. "They prayed to cast Satan from my body." Sydney Morning Herald. 17 March 2008. http://www.smh.com.au/news/national/they-prayed-to-cast-satan-from-my-body/2008/03/16/1205602195122.html?page=fullpage#contentSwap1

"Quality of Mercy looks strained." Sydney Morning Herald. 18 March 2008. http://www.smh.com.au/news/editorial/quality-of-mercy-looks-strained/2008/03/17/1205602284363.html?page=2

Sean the Blogonaut. 17 March 2008. http://nautblog.blogspot.com

Smietana, Bob. "Mercy Ministries has high success rate." The Tennessean. 1 August 2008. http://www.tennessean.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2008808010410


Well, I figured out a name and found a great layout for it! To The Light is the name of my NAMIWalk team. NAMI stands for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, and it is a wonderful organization! NAMIWalk is an event to support them and the work they do. I thought the name would be fitting here as well, since the purpose of this blog is to bring these issues to the light. Out where everyone can see them.

I will be changing the address to my blog in a week. The new address will be xmercytothelight.blogspot.com.

(I'm also changing my name on my profile -- I'd appreciate if that name was used from here on out.)

Starting to do some work here

Well, I'm finally starting to do a little work on this site. One thing I am seriously considering is changing the name of my blog. Because of the content I am hoping to post in the future -- specifically, any personal experiences of mine -- I am not sure I want my name attached to it. This is for my own safety, as I am afraid of certain people in my life running across it. 

For example, when I wrote the last post, I was at my parents' house. I was all excited about the news I had just read about Mercy, and said something to my dad about it, mentioning this blog. After I said it, I realized, "Ohhhh shoot! I mention my family in my paper! PLEASE let him forget what I just said!" Fortunately, since my dad hates computers, and doesn't really care about anything I have to say about Mercy (well, along with a lot of other subjects), I think I'm pretty safe. But the point is, I don't want to have to worry about being so careful about mentioning the blog, especially when I'm using it to try and get the word out about important issues! If my name isn't on it...even if I mention it in passing, no one will be able to find it using my name.

I'm still trying to come up with something good, but if you'd like to be informed if/when I do change names (as the URL will be changing as well), let me know!

Also, aside from my blog housekeeping stuff, I just found out that Mercy Australia is now CLOSED DOWN!!! Totally made my day. So I wrote about it on facebook and put a whole bunch of links up. =D

GREAT WORK, everyone who contributed to making this happen!! It's so great to hear. And it gives me hope that we can do the same in the U.S., and I want to do my part in making it happen.

It's a good day. =D

Back After A Long Disappearance!

Monday, October 5, 2009
Well, after over a year of silence, I am back to the world of blogging. I apologize for disappearing as abruptly and without notice as I did. Not too long after I posted my last entry, I ended up in a crisis home. It took me a while to recover from that (the stuff that put me in the crisis home - the home itself was very good!). Even when I was stable again, I just didn't feel up to posting here again. It was just too much for me. But I have been keeping up on the news, and lately the subject seems to be coming up quite a lot with friends around school. (I have given my "Mercy rant" to at least 5 people  who hadn't heard it before, haha! And one friend in particular has heard it many times over.)

So the fact that it just keeps coming up is really making me see the need, once again, to speak up and get the word out. And I really want to start up this blog again. I'll probably be cleaning it up and uncluttering it soon. My original purpose for this blog was just to write out my own experiences, and then have all of the links I found regarding Mercy in one place for myself. But my purpose has changed, and I will be expanding the subject matter as well.

My intention is to restart this as a blog on various issues I feel strongly about. Some major ones: Mercy Ministries (of course), self-injury awareness, mental illness awareness, and possibly child abuse (emotional in particular) but I'm unsure how much I want to share on a public blog that people who know me and my family could potentially see. 

I'm not sure when I'll start writing again, it may not be for a while, so if I disappear again, it's probably because I've just gotten caught up in schoolwork and all the other things in my life. Schoolwork has to come first, but I'm hoping in the time leftover I will have time to write.

It's good to be back =)


Links posted do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the writer of this blog.