One year after her son's suicide, Kay Warren, wife of pastor Rick Warren, said Friday night she's ready to move on after realizing there are still beauty, meaning and goodness despite the ruins in her life.
"Mental illnesses are terrible, but God is not helpless among this ruins," she proclaimed during the closing sessions of Mental Health and the Church Conference on Friday, March 28, 2014. "He is not helpless among my ruins. He is not helpless among your ruins. And that is our only hope to know that God's love is still working."
This ground-breaking one-day conference was led by Rick Warren, pastor of the 30,000-member evangelical church Saddleback Church, and Roman Catholic Bishop Kevin Vann, head of the Diocese of Orange County, where 1.2 million Catholics reside. The event aimed to show why church must lead this effort, to remove the stigma and reduce fear about mental illness, to educate and equip church leaders, and to raise awareness of many available resources for families and churches.
Individuals who had been diagnosed with Schizophrenia and families with a son living in rejection of other's care were invited to share their experiences, in which some couldn't hold back their tears as they talk about their journeys. However, the common theme among them was the conviction that God is greater than all of these circumstances or God was the reason why they were able to endure through the treatments and isolations till full recovery.
With this as the backdrop, Kay Warren took the stage and shared how ten years ago her life had been drastically changed after reading that 12 million children were orphaned in Africa due to AIDS. She felt that God had "ruined" her life, but opened her eyes to the desperations and needs beyond herself and engage in the fight against the pandemic. Last year, when her son committed suicide, she again felt that her life was "ruined," but there was "nothing glorious" this time around. She felt her life torn apart with no remedy in sight.
Kay Warren, who authored the book Choose Joy, said she realized recently that beauty still exists in this world despite the destructions in her life. When she was walking through her home that has been under renovation, she cried when she saw the parallels between the torn-down walls as her life, and the equipment used to knock down the wall as her son Matthew.
"It was my son and he was in the middle of our home. He destroyed himself and our lives," she said. "My beloved son was the agent of his own destruction through his mental illness."
As she stood next to the "agent of destruction" or "transformer" and continued in her sorrow, she suddenly caught a glimpse of the outside from the line of sight of the tool.
"It was a beautiful day. Fluffy clouds with gentle breeze blowing through the canyon and I can hear the birds signing and the trees and plants were green and I stood there in shock, taking in that even in the middle of destruction there was still beauty in the world," she said.
She knows that Matthew is now in heaven, where, she believes, that he is already experiencing a complete restoration. "His life is better than it ever has been every single day in this life time and all of God's promises to him have come true.
"And I thought to myself, I can go on," said Kay Warren, who had expressed earlier this month her anger over some telling her to move on. Now, she is ready to move forward and see what God will through all these pains.
She encouraged the more than 3,000 attendants at the historic "Mental Health and the Church" Conference and thousands more listening online through the webcasts:
"Many have felt that your life have been ruined by mental illness or the effects of it and you find that each day is difficult to survive. You felt anguish, despair, and lost beyond words, broken relationships, pain, darkness. Sometimes you can't even see your hands in front of your face. Marriages shattered, self-esteem broken, families and conflict, the realizations, shame, denial, anxiety of what the future will hold.
"In short, ruin, wreck, I can't sugar-coat it," she said. But she quoted Eric Liddell, Olympic champion and British missionary, who died in the concentration camp in China during World War II, "He comes in and takes calamity and he uses it victoriously, working out his wonderful plan with love."
While she places her trust in God, she acknowledges that she doesn't know for sure how God is going to take the calamity of her son's mental illness and his death and use it victoriously.
"It's only been a year, but what I am certain is that God's love is still working," she said. "As we stand together in suffering and in hope for mental illness, we don't know where this will all go and what's going to come of all this. But if nothing else, I believe that God wants us to spread this word - "God is not helpless among the ruins."
As the saying goes "only a widow understands the heart of a widow," her message was received with applause and was a great encouragement for many of the listeners dealing with pains and sufferings in life.
The Mental Health and the Church Conference concluded with a powerful message by Pastor Rick Warren, who addressed those wanting to overcome mental illness and have a healthy mind and inspired all to commit their lives to living diligently to the truth of God's word, not conforming to the patterns of this world. Through this, God will transform our lives through the Holy Spirit in all areas where we had previously thought impossible to change, he exhorted.