By Debbonnaire Kovacs, Dec 3, 2015 “I frightened most people at church. Depression is often mistaken for tossing away one’s faith. They stood back and assumed the worst. I didn’t have the energy to chase after them. A visit or a phone call would have helped so much. You don’t have to understand in order to love. While friends cannot replace mental health professionals, the pros don’t replace friends, either. If I had broken my leg, a deacon would have opened the door for me instead of waiting in the background for a professional. Since I broke my mind, they stood back and prayed.” (Emphasis supplied.)
So writes Linda Werman Brawner, Mansfield, Ohio native, in her new book, Surviving with Grace. I had received a notice from TEACH Services about a new book we might like to review in Adventist Today, but decided this needed more than a book review. There was a story here.
When Brawner attended Ashland University as a young woman, she was not a Christian and in fact was, in her words, “deeply disappointed” when she discovered it was a Christian institution [founded by the Brethren Church]. So she decided to sign up for a course on the Bible as literature. She wanted to evaluate Christianity for herself, from the Bible alone, without having it interpreted by someone else’s ideas. “By the end of the semester, I was a Christian—all because the Bible spoke for itself,” Brawner told me.
She was majoring in creative writing, and she said that the minute she became a Christian she thought, “Now I have something to write about.”
She met a Seventh-day Adventist who attended Ashland, and within a year from her conversion, became an Adventist. Over the following years, Brawner wrote a fair amount for the church, including for Guide, Insight, and Review.
Then came a nervous breakdown, followed by the illness and ultimate death of her husband. Brawner said, “I had to reevaluate why I was an Adventist, because of the pain I was receiving from the church. If I was just there because I thought it was a nice thing to do, I would have quit going.”
Surviving with Grace tells the story in more detail. It is a revised combination of two small books she wrote: Keep Sweet, Help and Strength for the Hurting, in 2005, and Thriving with Depression, 2007. Notice that latter title. It’s not about thriving despite depression, or even thriving through depression. Brawner said, “Through recovering from the breakdown and caring for my husband, I received the gift of evangelism.” She truly believes that gift came as a result of the faith that God grew in her during those hard times. “After my husband got sick and died, my focus became on showing people Jesus Christ and accepting them where they were. I just felt that what I had experienced could help hurting people learn how to get around what others do and find Jesus Christ.”
The book is in two parts.
Part 1: The Courage to Say Good-bye
This recounts the story of her breakdown and her husband’s illness, as well as the difficulties she experienced. The quote at the head of this article comes from the first chapter, and is one of the best descriptions Ive seen of the discomfort many Christians feel when dealing with illnesses that are brain-based rather than based elsewhere in the body. Brawner told me, “I want to be very careful not to slam church people! While I was in that state, I did my share of awful things. We all make mistakes and do hurtful things.” Her desire is to share a better way.
Part 2, Hope for the Hurting
This section contains helpful information for people in hard times, as well as for people trying to help those in hard times. Here is a sample from the introduction:
“Each chapter in this section is a block in the patchwork of what makes us well. Some of the pieces may not make sense until you see the whole. Please don’t give up on this section. Read it all. Feel free to tailor what has worked for me into a comforter that suits your needs and tastes. This section of the book is my comforter, my pattern of values and coping skills. I pray that it inspires you to take an active role in seeking good mental health…
“God, professional care, and supportive family and friends are important to the comforter we make of our lives. … The Bible is the sturdy thread that holds my comforter together. I will paraphrase passages in my own words for ease of reading. I will provide references for those who want to read it in context. I highly recommend doing that. Keep this in mind: You can’t have a very good comforter without all the pieces. God can fill in the gaps while you collect the bits and fobs and stitch away, but it takes years to get it together. Enjoy the process. It is called growing up.”
Brawner concluded, “All I want to do is show people Jesus. Church and doctrine are important to me, of course, but much more so, I want people to know about a saving relationship with Christ. All my writing is focused only on glorifying God.”