Calgon take me away, PLEASE!

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How can water help when you’re drowning? Would staring at it help? How ‘bout tossing a coin into it, with a wish all your troubles would vanish?

Maybe you could hold it all together if your sole responsibility was to parent a child with mental illness (MI). But MI doesn’t come in a vacuum. For me it comes with being a wife, mother to my son and his wife, grandmother to their two daughters, patient of multiple sclerosis…

Perhaps water could help. A marine biologist believes water has stress-reduction qualities. I read about it in Washington Post’s article By Eric Niiler “‘Blue Mind’ explores the calming effect that water has on people.”  The title grabbed my attention.

The article, posted on Jul 28, 2014, had huge implications for people living with MI. Marine biologist, Wallace J. Nichols wrote a book entitled Blue Mind to share his research findings. He found evidence of the healing power of water.

In a telephone interview with The Post Nichols was asked, “What is ‘the blue mind?’”

He replied, “It refers to a mildly meditative, relaxed state that we find ourselves in when we are in, on or under water. It’s something I’ve been experiencing and observing my whole life.”

So the solution to our troubles lies in immersing ourselves in water. For how long? Could we go on a scuba diving excursion and return home to a normal life? I doubt it.

I do believe the key lies in water, however. Passages which involve water offer much hope. In Mark 4:38, for example, we read about how Christ, “rebuked the wind and said to the waves, ‘Quiet! Be still!’ Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.”

It’s easy to give into feelings of abandonment. We’re tempted to cry, “God, where are You?” It helps to know Christ’s disciples looked at the turmoil surrounding their sinking boat and assumed He didn’t care. They dared ask Him, “‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown (Mark 4:37)?’”

Christ didn’t rebuke the disciples. He rebuked the wind. Because of His love for the disciples. He wants us also to bring our cares to His throne of grace.

We can pray to the One who calmed the wind and waves:

Dear Jesus,

I don’t know why my child has MI. But I believe You care about my child, my family, and me. I praise You for Your power over all things. In the midst of this tumultuous time, calm my fears. Restore peace in my child and household. In Your precious name I pray, Amen.

That prayer could be whispered in complete confidence that Christ hears and answers. Or it could be spoken with uncertainty.

Did He hear that? Was He listening? Will He answer? It’s possible. Maybe. I hope so. What if He doesn’t?…

Rough waters give us a picture of doubt. James 1:6-8 describes the prayer of one with shaky faith.

“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do (James 1:6-8).”

When Chris was a toddler, he’d ask me for his lunch. I’m pretty sure he didn’t follow up his request with these thoughts:

I wonder if my Mom will feed me today. Did she hear me ask for my lunch? Should I ask again? Did I remember to say ‘please’? She fed me yesterday, but maybe she’s too busy today.

A young child can be certain of his earthly mother’s love and care. Jesus used our imperfect love to help us understand God’s abiding care.

“Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him (Matthew 7:9-11)!”

His point: we can ask with certainty that God hears and answers.

It’s nice to have data from a marine biologist to validate what we know: water is relaxing. It’s also refreshing. But the living water Christ spoke about in John offers much more than quenching a thirsty mouth. Jesus promises that, “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them (John 7:38).”

Several commentaries help us understand the richness of that promise.

Benson’s Commentary explains that whoever believes in Jesus, “shall not only be refreshed and comforted himself, but shall be instrumental in refreshing and comforting others.”

God’s comfort can flow through us to our hurting and vulnerable child with MI.

Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary provides this insight: “The comfort flows plentifully and constantly as a river; strong as a stream to bear down the opposition of doubts and fears. There is a fullness in Christ, of grace for grace. The Spirit dwelling and working in believers, is as a fountain of living, running water, out of which plentiful streams flow, cooling and cleansing as water.”

God’s comfort is limitless. No matter how often we seek His comfort, we can be sure it will never end.

Ellicott’s Commentary for English Readers describes the indwelling power. “There is in him a power of life which, when quickened by faith, flows forth as a river.”

We have unlimited comfort and grace flowing through us. Now THAT’S refreshing.

So I don’t cry, “Calgon take me away!” Instead I cry, “Christ, flow through me today!.”

You can be an extreme survivor.

football.mercy.best

Can an enemy be more than dead? Are there degrees to an army being slaughtered? None of my history books made distinctions between defeated foes: slightly destroyed soldiers VS completely demolished warriors. Victory is victory. So what’s the meaning of Romans 8:37?

“In all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Sounds like the kind of victory I’d love to have. Is it possible to be more than a conqueror of a trial? How ‘bout the trial of raising a child with mental illness (MI)?

The phrase, “more than conquerors” reminds me of how my second graders would write. Their limited vocabulary didn’t stop them from expressing emotion. If they wanted to convey extreme excitement, they simply used repetition.

“We had a very, very, very, VERY, good time!” The level of enjoyment dictated how many ‘verys’ were used.

Adults use much more sophisticated language. We use superlatives.

Some superlatives can be offensive. Like an obsolete term assigned to individuals with an intellectual disability. People with cognitive limitations used to fall into one of three categories: mildly mentally retarded, moderately mentally retarded, or severely and profoundly mentally retarded. It’s now unacceptable to refer to a person as someone who is severely and profoundly mentally retarded.

I once had a conversation with Chris about words used to describe children with disabilities. He was interested in hearing what I’d be teaching my college students in an upcoming Foundations of Special Education class.

“We’ll be discussing our nation’s history of special education. We usually have a lively discussion about labels which are used to describe children,” I explained. “It seems there’s a label for every exceptionality except gifted.”

“I’m severely gifted,” Chris playfully replied.

As always, I enjoyed his quick wit. His humorous oxymoron lightened the conversation.

It’s difficult for me to understand the phrase “more than conquerors.” However, I could relate to the phrase if it was “partial conqueror.” Having a son with MI fills my life with alternating victories. One day is peaceful—a delightful conquest. The next day is filled with challenges and I’m filled with despair—a surrender and retreat.  Spiritual territory is regained the following day as I rely on God to help me respond. I give an gentle answer in return for unprovoked anger—another battle won.  Maybe I’m more like a “sputtering conqueror” … relying fully on God one day, then not even seeking Him the next.

I’d love to believe I’m more than a conqueror. My problem is that I lose sight of the Victor. “We are more than conquerors THROUGH HIM WHO LOVED US.” During uncertainty I tend to forget the battle’s already been won.

Athletes know when the battle’s been won. Football players realize there’s no need to ravage an inferior team. When the score reflects the opposition has no chance of winning, they precipitate the ending. The mercy rule specifies that the clock should keep running (except for limited reasons).  The intention is to put an end to the misery as soon as possible.

God has His mercy rule in place. Eternity’s clock is ticking. There will be an end to our misery here on earth. In the meantime Romans 8:37 assures us that, “We are more than conquerors.”

Yes, the battle has already been won. God has gained an overwhelming victory. Believers can rest in His promise and presence. We’ve been promised eternal life with Him in heaven. And if that’s not enough, we have His presence in the form of the Holy Spirit. His indwelling power helps us with our earthly trials.

When things get tough with MI, we wonder if God has left us. We ask, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword (Romans 8:35)?”

Romans 8:38-39 assures us no hardship—not even MI—will separate us from His love.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The mention of angels and demons reminds us there’s a spiritual battle being waged. God’s angels protect His people. Sometimes God sends a heavenly messenger. Like the one sent to Daniel. Here’s how Daniel described the divine interaction:

“Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. ‘Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,’ he said. ‘Peace! Be strong now; be strong.’ When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, ‘Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength (Daniel 10:18-19).’”

How did Daniel qualify for that celestial encounter? The messenger explained what Daniel had done to earn the honor.

“Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them (Daniel 10:12).”

Heavenly Father,

I come before You humbly. I’m determined to fully understand Your victory. When all around looks dismal or when things seem out of control, help me remember Who’s fighting the battle. As Your messenger did for Daniel, strengthen me and give me Your peace. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

The more we reflect on God’s love and power, the more we find rest in Him. How can we even explain such love? By using surperlatives. Like Chris Tomlin did in his song ‘Indescribable.’

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gWdM4B1HEyI

 

Desperation

desperation

What picture could represent desperation? What image would fully convey helplessness and hopelessness? Is it possible to depict an extreme situation that is intolerable, unbearable, shocking, and dangerous?

Rather than capture the essence of dreary desperation in a portrait, I prefer to focus on beautiful desperation: my desperation to know more of God’s love. Yet how could I ever describe His love when I haven’t come close to grasping the depths of it? The more I seek it, the greater I understand it. A right focus is the key.

Perspective is everything in dealing with life that includes mental illness (MI). Those of us raising a child with MI have a choice. We can choose to maintain an earthly perspective of the challenges we face. By contemplating all the problems, and striving to find solutions. Or we can shift our focus heavenward to gain a divine view. To seek God’s wisdom and path.

Each fall I used to explain multiple sclerosis (MS) to my second graders. I was grateful God had given me a message to share with my students. My MS gave me a lesson no teacher’s manual included. I could show them how to face trials in life. Perspective is everything.

“When you face hard or sad times, you have a choice,” I’d tell them. “You can either focus on the problem or on the Truth. The Truth is that God’s in control. He is greater than any problem you face. He has a perfect plan for your life and He’s faithful to fulfill all his promises: to comfort, help, and guide.”

“Does it hurt to have MS?” they’d ask.

“Sure it stinks to have MS,” I’d answer honestly. “But that doesn’t change who God is. I know He loves me. God’s love is perfect, present, and endless. We may not understand it or always feel His love. But we can be sure of it.”

The lesson ended with one of their favorite songs, ‘Jesus Loves Me.’

“Sing the song slowly so you can think about each word,” I’d instruct them.

I often need a personal review of that lesson. MI trials can blindfold my spiritual eyes at times. Making it hard to see God in the situation. But those situations in life don’t change who He is: a loving Father who is still on the throne. Keeping a watchful eye, with His constant love. So, “I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39).”

Even MI can’t separate us from God’s love.

It seems impossible to describe God’s love. But there’s one picture that captures the heart of a Father. It’s a painting of His Son dying on the cross for us.

I’m desperate to fully understand God’s love. Is that possible? Or is it like trying to hold water between our fingers?

trying.2.hold.water

Ephesians tells us Christ’s love surpasses knowledge.

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:17-19).”

I may not come close to knowing the full measure of God’s love for me. But I’m certain that keeping my eyes on Him will help me through the challenges that accompany MI. I need Him to guide my responses.

Years ago I held a critical position that forced me to keep a correct focus. As a school administrator, serious problems came to my attention every day. If I didn’t handle them carefully, they could blow up in my face. If I reacted poorly, I could enflame the situation or spark a conversation malfunction (AKA: an argument). So my daily prayer each morning was:

Dear Father,

Guide and direct my thoughts, words, actions, and emotions. Give me Your perspective on situations and people. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

He faithfully answered that prayer and gave me His wisdom. Guiding me to His solution for every problem. So I’m sure that if I want to know more of His love, all I need to do is ask Him to reveal it.

As a mom raising a son with mental illness (MI) I’m desperate to know more of His love—for me and for Chris. Hillsong’s ‘The Greatness of our God’ echoes my prayer: to increase my understanding of His love and calm my fears. Here are some of my favorite words in that song:

Give me grace to see

Beyond this moment here.

To believe that there

Is nothing left to fear.

 

That You alone are high above it all.

For You my God, are greater still.

 

There is nothing that can ever

Separate us from Your love.

No life, no death, of this I am convinced.

You my God, are greater still.

Be blessed as you listen to that song:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vf2YJAG84_8

 

Wishes

jeannie.bottle

What’s your favorite old-time show? One of mine is I Dream of Jeannie. Who doesn’t fantasize about having a personal Jeannie? We fantasize because it’s fun to imagine obtaining what we’d never be able to gain. But we know such power is false. God’s power is real. So what would be your greatest request of God?

Here’s what one mom asked Jesus to grant for her sons:

“Then the mother of Zebedee’s sons came to Jesus with her sons and, kneeling down, asked a favor of him.

“‘What is it you want?’ he asked.

“She said, ‘Grant that one of these two sons of mine may sit at your right and the other at your left in your kingdom.’

Sounds like a reasonable request to ask. If you’re going to seek favors from the King of kings why not request the best seats in heaven?

Before mental illness (MI) struck your child, were you like that mom? Did you wish only the best for him? Did you have grand aspirations for him? MI has a way of adjusting the prayers for our kids.

Listen to how Christ responded to that mom’s request.

“‘You don’t know what you are asking,’ Jesus said to them. ‘Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?’

“‘We can,’ they answered.

“Jesus said to them, ‘You will indeed drink from my cup, but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared by my Father (Matthew 20:20-23).’”

Christ’s response hinted at the sons’ future suffering. He also foretold of the suffering He would endure on the cross.

That familiar passage offers hope to me, for life in heaven and for my time on earth. I’ll be eternally grateful for Christ’s gift of salvation. He endured agony and sorrow for my sake. He experienced extreme torment, pain, and suffering. Therefore it’s a comfort He understands my son’s torment and pain.

Christ sympathizes with my sorrow as well. Not only does MI cause distress to Chris, but it brings tremendous heartache to me. Jesus knows what it’s like to endure deep sorrow. It helps when Someone understands what I’m going through.

Like any mom of a child with MI, I yearn for the day my son is restored to good mental health. The restoration of Israel described in Isaiah 54:11 symbolizes what I envision for Chris.

“You poor city [Afflicted one]. Storms have hurt [battered; tossed] you, and you have not been comforted. But I will rebuild you with turquoise stones [gems], and I will build your foundations with sapphires [or lapis lazuli] (EXB).”

Like any mother, my greatest desire is for Chris to be content. I pray for the GREAT peace God promised Israel in Isaiah 54:13.

“All your children will be taught by the Lord, and great will be their peace.”

 

Where will my child fit in?

square-hole-round-peg-web-i

Mental illness (MI) has a way of altering parents’ expectations for their children. Howie and I just want Chris to be happy and healthy. But Chris wants more. Can you blame him? He’s a typical adult who yearns to live on his own.

When Chris graduated from college he realized what a tremendous accomplishment it was. He gave himself permission to take some time off. During those years he occupied himself constructively. Often he’d work on computer projects for himself or for others. He also spent time working out at the gym and by volunteering at the Christian school where I worked.

Now Chris is ready to find a job that would provide enough money for him to move out.  I’d love to point him in the right direction and say, “Check that job out. It would be perfect for you. I know the manager.” But Chris is an adult. He wants to search on his own. So I have to trust God to guide him.

I don’t know about you, but that’s hard. You think by now I’d be an expert at trusting God. To place Chris in the loving and capable hands of the Creator of the universe. It helped me to remember a driving lesson I had with our other son, Rob.

Rob had had about four lessons. So he felt like an expert. Before he pulled away, while the car was still in park, he revved the engine. With a playful grin he said, “Watch this!”

To say the least I didn’t find any humor in it. It took all my emotional resources to find the courage just to let my baby sit in the driver’s seat. He lacked experience and ability so I could not rest easy while he drove. It was necessary for me to be alert, on the lookout for any possible danger that he would not foresee. As he gained more experience I felt more comfortable with him driving. Not nearly as comfortable as I would feel if God were in the driver’s seat.

That thought floods my mind with a vision of God at the wheel. As I pass the keys to Him I say, “Here are the keys to my life’s journey. Here are the keys to Chris’s exploration of job possibilities. Here are the keys to my heart.”

He looks at me with a smile and says, “Watch this!” I sit back and relax. I’ve witnessed Him drive me safely up MI Mountain. He faithfully protected me around winding curves in our journey. I’ve grown to trust Him as the expert Driver of my life. So this is just a new road to travel. He knows the way. I’ll just enjoy the scenery.

When my faith in Him wavers, I’ll recall past experiences. Memories of His provision and protection during heart-wrenching episodes with Chris’s MI.

We’ve invested so much in the lives of our vulnerable children. So I think it’s only natural for us to plan our child’s future. We try to figure out where our child with MI will fit in. That can be mentally and emotionally exhausting. We need to cast those cares on the Lord. Knowing He will carry that burden.  He’s been faithful before and He’ll provide again.

Our experiences with MI give us a peek at His power. We can be assured He has a plan for our child’s life and a purpose for him. And He’s fully able to guide our child towards that purpose.

“A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps.”  Proverbs 16:9

So here’s what I pray for Chris as he applies for jobs:

Dear Father,

Help Chris be sensitive to Your leading. Reveal to him Your plan for his life. Close doors to activities which would cause undue stress and open those You’ve prepared for him to enter. In Jesus’ name, Amen

Dictionary.com defines work as, “exertion or effort directed to produce or accomplish something; labor; toil.” I have multiple sclerosis (MS). At a support group meeting a mother of a child with MS said, “I tell my daughter that her job is to take care of herself.” I appreciated that comment. My progressive illness makes it harder and harder for me to contribute. It’s necessary for me to do water walking to maintain my mobility. Getting to the gym requires tremendous effort. Without a doubt it’s ‘exertion to accomplish something.’ Doing that exercise is like running a marathon. It’s work.

People ask me, “What do you do?” They expect to hear the typical answer. Like what I do to earn money. Sometimes I proudly answer, “I water walk.”

We can help our kids understand that part of their job is to take care of themselves. That’s nothing to be ashamed of. Beyond that there are other things your child can do with his time. The Bible is a great place to find possible “occupations.”

Spreading the Gospel

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).”

I know a young man who has serious MI. He also loves the Lord. All he wants to do is tell others about Christ. He spends his time going to church and Bible studies. In spite of the emotional turbulence he feels and the voices he hears, he smiles and talks about Jesus. Now THAT’S a life full of meaning!

Doing Good Works (helping those in need, visiting the sick, helping the poor, etc.).

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).”

“This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men (Titus 3:8).”

“But someone will say, ‘You have faith, and I have works.’  Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also (James 2:18, 26).”

“My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth (1 John 3:18).”

“Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me (Matthew 25:37-40).’”

Bringing Joy Into The Lives Of Others By Sharing A Talent

“And so it was, whenever the spirit from God was upon Saul, that David would take a harp and play it with his hand. Then Saul would become refreshed and well, and the distressing spirit would depart from him (1 Samuel 16:23).”

“Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the Lord’s people. (Philemon 7).”

Our Chris has his father’s musical gift. He can pick up any instrument and play it. He’s shared his talent by playing in church and at nursing homes.

Perhaps your child is creative in other ways. Maybe he’s able to paint well or sculpt. Those projects could become gifts for loved ones or sold on a website.

If you think your child has nothing to offer the Lord, think again. Scripture tells us that weaker members have an important purpose.

“There is [absolute] necessity for the parts of the body that are considered the more weak. And those [parts] of the body which we consider rather ignoble are [the very parts] which we invest with additional honor, and our unseemly parts and those unsuitable for exposure are treated with seemliness (modesty and decorum) …But God has so adjusted (mingled, harmonized, and subtly proportioned the parts of) the whole body, giving the greater honor and richer endowment to the inferior parts which lack [apparent importance] [1 Corinthians 12:22-24  (AMP)].”

The world may consider individuals with MI to be less important. It’s comforting to know God gives them greater honor.

Detecting Blessings

miracle.baby.McKenzie

How can you transform creepy crawly things into something beautiful? By freezing and framing them in a snapshot. That’s what I did with worms. They mimicked a lace design. What drew my attention to something I distained? A high school assignment which challenged us to photograph beauty found in unlikely places. Creating the project required a new perspective. I discovered exquisite beauty by seeing things differently. Viewing the familiar more closely, from underneath, and in unusual lighting revealed a new world of splendor.

Blessings are like beauty. We notice the ones which are easy to spot. Like the miracle baby our son and his wife just had. Infertility experts informed them they’d never conceive. So they adopted a baby girl. Then along came the “impossible”—a pregnancy. Last week I held their infant daughter, baby McKenzie. No one had to point out the obvious: my hands held God’s bundle of blessings.

Sometimes it’s harder to recognize a blessing. When mental illness (MI) hits, it engulfs life and eclipse blessings. But they’re there.

How did I find some? By viewing my situation differently. Concern over Chris’s MI was sucking me into the quicksand of despair, discouragement, and depression. In anguish I cried the prayer of a sinking soul: Where are You, God?

Determined to find Him, I set out to compile a list of His faithfulness and love. I trusted God hadn’t left me. And believed He’d been leaving trails of His powerful works along my path. I needed Him to open my heart and mind. To find evidence of His care and compassion.

Reveal Your blessings, Lord.

With pen in hand I sat silent. And waited for God to guide my thoughts.

He led me on a mental tour of His love.

The first blessing popped into my head:

Chris is stable.

Then another:

He’s safe.

And another:

He occupies himself constructively and doesn’t remain isolated.

Before I knew it, my paper was filled.

Chris works out regularly.

He sets goals for himself.

He’s responsible with money.

He laughs as refreshing humor.

He willingly helps me with computer problems….

Then a wonderful thing happened. My thoughts shifted to other areas of my life. Proof of God’s provision poured from my mind faster than my pen could write.

I highly recommend you ask God to lead you on a mental tour of His love. He’ll point out blessings.

The Psalmist shows us how to detect God’s blessings. Psalm 77 gives us a picture of turmoil which was abated by recalling the mighty works of the Lord.

“‘Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?’

“Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the Lord; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds (Psalm 77:7-12).’”

I’m grateful for that passage (and others like it). It’s God’s way of telling me I’m not the only one who asks those questions when things seem too much to handle. It also shows me how to find God when I’ve lost sight of Him.

As I wrote this message, a familiar song kept running through my head.

“Count your blessings, name them one by one,

Count your blessings, see what God hath done!

Count your blessings, name them one by one,

And it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.”

Enjoy the same spiritual refreshment and be blessed by that hymn:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9fMjgS4vu4o

 

 

Signs of Joy

Chris.Vic.Christmas  Chris.waving

What’s my remote tail wager? My smile. When our cocker spaniel was alive I’d flash a full-teeth smile in his direction. Allegro’s tail would instantly wag like fast-speed windshield wipers. Then I’d switch to a tragedy-mask sad face. He’d match my expression by freezing his tail and dropping his head. I’d alternate the faces and get the same mirrored emotion from my pet. Happy face—wagging tail…Sad face—motionless tail.

My furry family member appeared to be able to detect my mood. But detecting a person’s mood isn’t so simple. A cheerful expression doesn’t always mean someone’s happy. Many smiles conceal the opposite emotion. Like Sunday church smiles intended to hide heartaches. Or professional smiles worn to impress. Or actor’s smiles used to entertain.

I never knew how much I missed Chris’s smile until a friend asked me a simple question.

“What makes Chris smile?” she asked.

Her words released a flood of tears. My emotional dam had been holding them back.

“I’ve stopped hoping to see him smile,” I responded, choking back tears.

A toddler’s smile can be trusted. Carefree joy flashes across their face as they delight in new experiences.

As a toddler Chris seemed to smile all the time.

“He seems like such a happy baby,” strangers would observe as they offered back a beaming grin. His contagious smile would light up their faces.

That was before bullying jolted the joy right out of him. Fellow classmates taunted him. Chris’s attention deficit hyperactive (ADHD) made him an easy target. Difficult peer interactions reduced the frequency of Chris’s smiles.

When mental illness (MI) hit Chris’s facial expression appeared lifeless. No smile. No curve to his mouth. Just a flat appearance. The sparkle in his eye was replaced with a dark, dead stare. Nowadays it’s rare to see him with a genuine smile. His occasional smiles look a bit strained. Like the Kodak moment kind of poses.

Mental illness (MI) can wipe away any pretense of happiness. Facial expressions can be windows into the soul. Especially when a person has MI. The pain is so great it’s reflected on the face. The mother longs to see signs of joy in the face of her child. How long can a mom endure seeing signs of turmoil, depression, or anxiety?

Can we find any comfort from the Bible? What can we learn from scripture? Proverbs tells us what we know. “A happy heart makes the face cheerful, but heartache crushes the spirit (Proverbs 15:13).”

We know MI can crush our child’s spirit. So the cry of our heart is for God to create in our child a happy heart. A clear-thinking mind. A peaceful spirit.

The Bible has much more to say about countenance than about smiles. That’s because smiles display superficial happiness. Genuine joy comes from deep within. It’s all about the heart.

King Artaxerxes understood that Nehemiah’s demeanor reflected his inner sorrow and said, “Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart (Nehemiah 2:2).”

The good news is that God can change hearts. He can do what we can’t.

What can we do? Proverbs 12:25 encourages us to speak kind words to our kids. We know they make a difference. That’s some comfort.

“Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up (Proverbs 12:25).”

We can also share Truth with our children, trusting that His Word will not return void. Here are just a few verses of peace, joy, and hope.

He’s promised peace:

“For he himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).”

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).”

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you (2 Thessalonians 3:16).”

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid (John 14:27).”

He restores joy:

“He fills your hearts with joy (Acts 14:17).”

He gives hope:

“You are my hope in the day of doom (Jeremiah 17:17).”

Dear Father, use these verses to comfort and heal our children.