GraceFor God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1:7


“I was only eight years old when Nancy began to change,” says Cathy Platenburg. “It might as well have been the wind for the little I understood of mental illness.” That wind took “hold of our home and locked us all out in a ferocious snowstorm.” This is how Cathy describes her childhood memories of her beautiful older sister diagnosed with schizophrenia. Cathy felt Nancy “was thrown across the room, all the warmth…sucked from her heart,” taking away “her compassion, patience and intelligence,” leaving her “brittle, frightened and enraged.” That was in the late 1950’s.


Today, Cathy is Nancy’s caretaker, visiting her in the long term care facility where she resides after years in a state hospital, group homes and other placements. Shock treatments left Nancy with the mind of a child, but her sister now describes her as “one of the most cheerful people I know.” When Cathy comes for a visit, Nancy claps her hands in glee. Together they make art projects, sing songs and enjoy each other’s company. When Nancy is especially happy, she grins at her sister and declares it “a six candy bar day.” Nancy’s joy has returned, even though the path of her life did not go the way it might have.


Many people fear those suffering from mental illness, but it is important for the Christian to remember Christ’s commandment: “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15). How we go about carrying the Good News to others may change, especially with those who have limited understanding. Cathy cannot discuss deep theological matters with her sister, but she can be present in the moment and enjoy her company as it is. She can be a much-needed advocate for her sister, to ensure she gets her needs met from care center staff, medical personnel and others with whom she comes in contact. Most of all, Cathy can bring to her sister her own love of Christ and the unspeakable peace and joy that the Lord has given her.


Lord, grant us compassion and understanding for those with mental illness. Amen

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