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Mental Health Ministry Conference

Last week, April 25-27, I attended the Association of Catholic Mental Health Ministers' Conference, held on the University of Our Lady of the Lake Seminary campus in Mundelein, Illinois. The conference's focus is to bring together clergy and lay ministers to share their experiences, highlight best practices, and create an atmosphere where the free exchange of ideas can flourish. I have been an active participant in the development of a mental health ministry in my role as Coordinator, Federal Association-Order of Malta Mental Health Ministry, and, on a more personal scale, my parish back in Virginia. Consequently, I attended the conference hoping to take away a solid sense of direction toward successfully guiding our efforts to bring healing and understanding to those facing mental health challenges, and I wasn't disappointed.

Yes, the presenters shared a bountiful amount of information about their successes and disappointments, and I came away with a clear understanding that every approach is valuable and that I shouldn't be disappointed if my efforts aren't keeping up with my expectations. After all, I am a Marine, and I thrive on taking the next hill quickly and without unnecessary casualties. In fact, my expectations can be too ambitious. This conference allowed me to modify and adjust my goals moving forward.

But, the arena I was most appreciative of was the time spent with fellow participants, individually and in groups, around the meal table, where we candidly shared our personal stories about how and why we found ourselves at this particular time and place. Although many of the presenters have personal ties to family and friends who have suffered death by suicide, the table discussion went beyond a prepared script and stabbed directly into the heart as we talked, listened and, on occasion, cried.

I drove to the conference from my home in Virginia with my service dog Raider (a big hit), excited about what might surface that I could take back home. I usually listen to YouTube presentations on mental health-related topics to help the miles pass. The return drive was different. I turned off the prepared videos and replaced them with the many reflections from the conference. The miles went by much faster, and my mood was even more elated than the trip up.

Isn't that what this journey amid the minefield of mental health challenges is all about? Recognizing that there are thousands of suggestions out there, but in the final analysis, finding the golden nuggets we can make our own as we count our blessings, we have made it one more day.

God loves you.

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