Why was I so surprised?

GodsLove

The mom stood speechless looking into her son’s bedroom. Who’d cleaned it so promptly? Her proud son took her on a tour of the spotless room. Such quick obedience was so uncharacteristic of him. No wonder his mother looked stunned. Normally he has to be reminded at least five times.

Some parents hope for eager and rapid compliance from their children. But deep down inside they harbor low expectations. Procrastination and delay have been the pattern. It’s as if one simple reminder sparks a battle of the wills. “Clean your room.” (inaction) “I told you to clean your room.” (silent resistence) “Get up and clean your room now.” (slow-motion action)

It’s understandable that a parent would be shocked at a child’s uncharacteristic prompt obedience. But I’m ashamed to admit something. I’ve often been stunned when God has answered my prayers. Why is that? It’s not out of character for Him to show His power and love. Quite the contrary. I know He hears my prayers. Yet I’m frequently surprised when I witness His mighty power in our lives. I suppose it’s because I haven’t begun to fully understand His limitless love, and immeasurable power.

Maybe I should tape the words of Ephesians 3:20-21 to my refrig. They’d remind me, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

The past fifteen weeks I’ve been sharing the details of our story. Last week left off with Chris heading off to college. During his five years God provided in ways I could never have expected. He provided immeasurably more than I could have imagined.

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“In your decades of practice, how many patients with schizoaffective disorder have attended college?” I asked Chris’s psychiatrist.

“Only two,” he answered. Proving what a victory God had already worked in Chris’s life.

In the context of such an accomplishment, Chris faced additional stressors. Some were minor. Like when he lost his backpack which contained all his textbooks, notes, and student ID card. I surprised him by driving to his campus in order to purchase an additional set of textbooks, etc.

“I found my backpack,” Chris declared when he greeted me. It wasn’t a wasted trip. Chris felt supported.

Other situations arose which were much more difficult to solve. Like Chris’s serious back pain. Chris had joined Penn State’s Marching Blue Band. The high-step marching exacerbated his pain. Several epidural steroid injections eased his pain. But only delayed the inevitable. Back surgery would be the only procedure that would end his pain caused by two severely herniated discs.

During summer break Chris had a laminotomy—a procedure that removed part of his herniated discs.

“Can I march in the band this fall?” asked Chris.

“No. You could re-herniate the discs,” warned the neurosurgeon.

Chris marched anyway. God protected his back from further injury. And helped Chris manage the demands of college. The long band practices and studying didn’t overly stress him. He seemed fine until his blood tests revealed elevated liver levels.

“I’m going to reduce the dosage of your medication. That might bring them back into normal levels,” Chris’s psychiatrist said.

The reduced medication caused Chris to unravel. He was in his final semester of his program. Easter break was fast approaching. Soon after, he’d graduate college. But that dream seemed to be slipping away. Chris started calling home ten times or more each day. At all hours of the night. He seemed to be getting worse. There wasn’t much we could do.  It would take hours to drive to his campus.

“Call Dr. Kipley. He’ll know how to help,” I told Chris.

“I already did.”

“What did he say?” I wondered.

“You need to go to the hospital.”

I knew Dr. Kipley was right. But would Chris willingly admit himself into a psychiatric unit of a hospital? Especially after having experienced the horror previously?

Chris kept calling late into the night. Until that final brief phone call.

“Mom I’m in trouble,” was all he said before hanging up. That click thundered in my head. Like a bomb exploding.

What does THAT mean? Is he going to kill himself? Hurt others? Run away?

Howie and I prayed and asked God for wisdom. The Lord directed me to start calling hospitals close to his campus. We discovered Chris had admitted himself into the psychiatric unit in the hospital closest to campus. His heavenly Father gave him the courage to get help. In spite of Chris’s fragile and unstable emotions he managed to call a cab. Undoubtedly with God’s sustaining power.

We spent Easter visiting our son in the hospital. Once Chris was released the challenge remained. Would Chris be able to graduate on time? I turned to God who is able to do “immeasurably more than we ask or imagine.”

Dear Father,

Please help Chris graduate on time. I know there seems no earthly way he can pass his finals. Not without full clarity of thought. But I know you’re able. Please give us wisdom to know how to help.

Thankfully Howie was able to tutor our son. Chris was released from the hospital into our care. While at home recovering from his near psychotic episode, Howie helped Chris study for his finals. Amazingly Chris passed all his tests and graduated on time. To God be the glory; great things He does!!!

Multiple Diagnoses

Psalm 23.2

“I can’t take it anymore.” What’s your ‘it?’ Mine was more bad news from a doctor. I didn’t think life could get more stressful. But I was wrong.

It had been hard enough for me to bear knowing the challenges Chris faced because of his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). And even more heart-wrenching watching mental illness (MI) ravage his life.

Life seemed to be back on track for Chris. God had helped us pass through turbulent waters and we were enjoying smooth sailing. Then multiple health scares plunged us back into troubled waters. Took us by surprise.

But who expects to have trials? Not me. I expected the opposite. We’d just endured trying times with MI. Somehow I thought God would space out our struggles. So we could catch our breath.

It didn’t seem possible for me to withstand the next storm. So I turned to the Bible for solace. God reminded me, “No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he’ll never let you be pushed past your limit; he’ll always be there to help you come through it [1 Corinthians 10:13 (MSG)].”

He also assured me that He’s the Good Shepherd who, “makes me lie down in green pastures” and “leads me beside quiet waters (Psalm 23:2).” So I trusted Him to calm my fears.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

The first few weeks of college for Chris seemed to be running smoothly. He communicated with me daily. Sometimes by computer, but usually by phone. He needed to hear our voices. Calling frequently helped him through the adjustment to his first semester.

“How are things going, Chris?” I’d inquire.

“Pretty good,” he’d replied convincingly.

“How are your classes?” I asked during his first week away from home.

“I like them. But mostly I like my schedule. I can sleep until noon just about every day.”

I barraged him with typical questions. Covering all the necessary inquiries about his physical needs.

“What are you eating? How’s the food? Are you sleeping well? Do you have warm enough clothes?…”

He tolerated my motherly interrogation. So I ventured into more sensitive areas.

“Are you interacting with others, rather than isolating? Are you taking your medication? How are things going with your roommate?…”

“Yes, Mom. I’m taking my medication. My roommate is hardly ever in the room,” he replied.

That’s probably less stressful for Chris. Kind of like having a room to himself. Thank You, Father, that Chris is willing to answer my questions and that he’s taking his medication. Thank You for calming my fears.

As planned, I drove to his campus Friday afternoons so Chris could spend the weekends at home. Like any mom, I needed to see Chris face-to-face. It helped to look into his eyes and know he’s okay. He really did seem happy. Until one weekend.

Like most Fridays, I had arrived at Chris’s campus early. I never wanted to make him wait. Chris approached my car walking stiff-legged. It was so pronounced that it looked like he was walking like a robot.

That’s odd. Is he hurt? He didn’t say anything on the phone.

“What’s wrong, Chris? Why are you walking that way,” I asked as soon as Chris opened the car door.

“My heels hurt,” he explained.

“Maybe it’s from all that marching you did in high school. I’ll get you some orthotics for your shoes while you’re home. They should provide added support and comfort.”

Problem solved. Or so I thought. Each week Chris seemed worse, not better. After about two months Chris began to complain of new soreness.

“My back and shoulders hurt.”

“Do you think it’s because of all the books you’re carrying across campus?” I asked, hoping that was the cause. Fearing it wasn’t as simple as that.

When the pain and stiffness spread to more parts of his body I realized Chris needed to see his doctor. When Dr. Kent saw Chris, he was shocked at the severity of Chris’s condition. Chris couldn’t turn his head, rotate his arm, or bend over to put on his shoes.

“It appears you have Rheumatoid Arthritis, Chris,” he predicted. “I’m going to prescribe some blood tests. The results may confirm my suspicions. It will take several weeks for us to get the results. In the meantime, I’ll also prescribe some anti-inflammatory meds to ease your discomfort.”

Several days before Christmas Chris came home for the semester break. We got a call from Dr. Kent. The results of Chris’s blood tests had come in.

“It looks like…The results seem to indicate…It’s possible Chris has systemic lupus.” I didn’t know anything about the disease. But the doctor’s stammering and halting words concerned me.

Dr. Kent paused for my response. Fear gripped me. I couldn’t process the information. Dr. Kent explained the next step.

“No one wants to hear they have lupus. We’ll need to have Chris seen by a specialist to confirm the diagnosis. A rheumatologist will know if that’s the cause of Chris’s pain and stiffness.”

I hung up the phone and found Howie.

“That was Dr. Kent. He said Chris’s blood tests indicate he has lupus.”

“What’s lupus?” Howie asked.

“I have no idea. I’m going to check it out on the computer.”

A quick google search led me to the National Lupus Foundation and other sites. Someone recommended the book The Lupus Book; A guide for Patients and Their Families by Daniel J. Wallace, J. D. So I ordered the book. Big mistake.

Wallace’s book arrived Christmas Eve. I had been busy making our holiday meal so I only had time to glance at the inside cover. I learned the hard way that it’s not a good idea to investigate lupus on my own. The information I read terrified me.

“Lupus, a disease of the immune system, can be quite deadly, claiming the lives of thousands of patients yearly.” Chris’s previous bout with psychosis prior to his stiffness seemed consistent with systemic lupus.

Does this mean Chris will die young? Had he overcome MI only to be struck with this deadly disease? Father, this can’t be. Oh, please, dear God, don’t let this happen!

I began to sob. I became filled with sorrow and fear.

Please, Father, calm my fears.

The well-respected rheumatologist had a long waiting list. We scheduled an appointment for a weekday so Chris could be seen as soon as possible. We’d have to wait two months before getting a final diagnosis. That seemed like an eternity.

The day came for the appointment. Howie drove Chris to the doctor’s office located in the city. I had to meet them there since it was difficult for me to take off from work. As I drove toward the city I realized that in a short time I’d find out Chris’s fate. I tried to ignore my fears. But it got harder as I got closer to my destination. I felt as though I was about to hear a sentence from a judge: life or death for Chris.

When I reached the city I drove through stop-and-go traffic. I noticed the narrow city streets were filled with teenagers and young adults. None were dressed in business attire. The streets seemed to be speckled with police officers.

Something’s going down.

Suddenly I heard what sounded like rapid-fire gun shots.

Lord, help me arrive at the office safely. And find a safe place to park.

In the doctor’s office I overheard someone talking about the firecrackers going off to celebrate the Chinese New Year. There had been no danger. I had feared the worst before knowing the facts. That’s precisely what I’d done with Chris’s diagnosis also. The specialist informed us Chris did not have lupus. He had psoriatic arthritis. A condition treatable by medication. Never deadly.

Months later, at a follow-up visit with his primary physician Chris needed more blood work done. The results of those tests revealed that Chris had developed a thyroid problem. He’d have to take medication to treat that condition. The total amount of pills climbed to fourteen a day. He hadn’t gotten an early-death prognosis. But I worried about his future. How would he manage college? Would he face more pain? More suffering?

Another illness for him? I can’t stand watching Chris go through any more pain. Please calm my fears and remove all my anxieties.

 

Moving On

next.chapter

What’s harder than parenting? Stopping parenting. Sure, we never really stop parenting. But there comes a time when children grow up and move on. A mom attends her ‘baby’s’ graduation with pride in her heart, a camera in one hand, and a tissue in the other. Tears are sure to flow.

Graduation marks a time of reflection. To recall God’s faithfulness. To think about the graduate’s accomplishments. To gaze into his bright future. But what if the future didn’t seem so bright? What if it seemed fragile? Or uncertain?

How does a mother of a child with mental illness (MI) deal with her emotions when facing such a milestone? We’re tempted to continue protecting our child. To keep handling everything. We’re torn between letting him go out on his own or keeping him safe in a stress-free lifestyle. How do we find a place for our child? Is there a place for a young adult with MI? What does the future hold?

Those were questions that badgered me in the spring of 1998. Chris was about to graduate high school. I found peace and assurance by looking back. I recalled God’s faithfulness throughout Chris’s life.  God had provided all Chris needed: comfort whenever peers bullied him, caring and capable teachers who understood his Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), healing and restoration when he suffered a psychotic episode.

Chris was about to travel to Germany, return home, and then go off to college. I needed to know he’d be okay. Would I be able to trust that my Father would be with Chris wherever he went? God reassured Jacob, Moses, and Joshua. He promised that He’d be with them wherever they went. They believed God would do what He said. Could I believe in that promise?

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I had perfected the art of squelching painful emotions. The secret: deaden the feelings with details. A mountain of responsibilities can bury the worst fears. So when the headmaster asked me assume another role, I welcomed the opportunity

“Would you be willing to fill in for one of our second grade teachers? Her doctor recommended bed rest during her final weeks of pregnancy.”

“Sure,” I gladly accepted. I still had to handle everything related to my position as Director of Instruction. But the busyness would keep my mind off Chris’s upcoming graduation.

All the arrangements for Chris’s graduation had to be done after work. I purchased party decorations, bought his gift, addressed invitations, etc. We even arranged to surprise Chris with a limousine to pick him up after graduation.

I also had to help Chris with preparations for his trip to Germany. That involved getting gifts for the host family doing laundry, getting traveler’s checks … The high school held a meeting for the families who were involved with the exchange program. Howie, Chris, and I attended the meeting.

As we planned for Chris’s trip, we also prepared for Robert’s trip. As soon as the school year ended, Rob would be off to a two-week Christian camp where he’d be a counselor in training (CIT). As if our lives weren’t complicated enough, Rob had to have a mole removed. It looked suspicious to the doctor. I managed to find an afternoon that matched an opening with the doctor’s schedule.

Even my nights were packed. That was the only time I had to complete paper work. None of it could be done during the day because I was teaching in a classroom.

The busyness of life made it easy for me to stuff my emotions. Shoving my feelings deep inside couldn’t work forever. Sooner or later they’d escape. And escape they did.

One evening while grading papers I heard Howie playing the piano. Suddenly I recognized the song. It was “Pomp and Circumstance.” A tsunami of emotions erupted. I found myself sobbing.

School had been such a struggle for Chris. Not because of the academics. Learning came easily for him. His ADHD made it difficult for him. He had to work hard at developing social and organizational skills.

“One day you will graduate,” Howie and I would say to encourage him. “Then life will get easier. Adults aren’t as mean to each other as children.”

That “one day” had arrived. It had come so quickly. I was unprepared for the emotion I felt. The river of tears flowed from painful memories of all Chris had endured. They also flowed from tremendous joy that Chris had made it. He accomplished so much in spite of ADHD and MI.

Just eighteen months earlier, during Chris’s psychotic episode, I didn’t even know if Chris would be restored to reality. I had wondered if his broken mind and shattered life could be restored. But now he was graduating with plans to travel to Germany. And then to college.

Chris had received the John Philip Sousa band award. An honor bestowed on only one student each year. The inscription on the plaque read, “In recognition of outstanding achievement and interest in instrumental music, for singular merit in loyalty and cooperation, and for displaying those high qualities of conduct that school instrumental music requires.”

What triumph over adversity! Thank You, Father for Your grace and power!

As I reflected on Chris’s life, I realized that, like Paul I had “learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11).” They weren’t easy lessons. There were times I wasn’t sure whether Chris would live or die. Whether he would ever think rationally again. But over and over God had shown His faithfulness. My trust in Him had grown. My faith hadn’t been shaken.

I never expected to be spared form tragedies other Christians have to face. When those trials hit, the promise of God’s grace comforted me. When I didn’t know how things would turn out, I clung to the fact He is a loving Father. I reminded myself that He had a perfect plan for our lives. Through it all I remained firm in my belief that God would sustain me.

Summer arrived and both boys were away. Freedom from responsibilities with the boys and work allowed more time for reflection. My thoughts naturally shifted to the next chapter in Chris’s life. He’d soon be going away to college.

My baby will be leaving home for college soon. I know You’ve prepared the way for Chris, Lord. But I need You to help me with these emotions I’m feeling.

Once Chris came home from Germany I returned to my familiar coping strategy. I cluttered my mind with details in an attempt to crowd out the emotions. I made lists of what to buy and what to pack.

The time came to drive Chris to college. I felt emotionally stronger and up to the task of letting him go. We had to take two cars to fit all his stuff. Rob came along to help move Chris into his dorm. We arrived on the campus and proceeded to unload the cars.

Chris’s room looked unwelcoming. I got to work unpacking his belongings

I’ll get all this stuff unpacked. Then this room will feel more like home for Chris.

Chris interrupted my motherly ritual. “I’ll do that Mom.”

The time had suddenly come to say good-bye. I had successfully managed to deliver Chris to college without getting emotional. I hugged Chris.

“Isn’t this the time for you to share some motherly wisdom with me, Mom?” Chris asked.

I hadn’t prepared any pearls of wisdom. I had forced myself to do just opposite. I didn’t want to think about the fact that we were turning the page to a new chapter in our lives. The Lord helped me give the most important reminder.

“Remember, Chris, the Lord is with you everywhere—even at college.”

As we drove home my head was flooded with questions.

Will Chris remember to take his medication? Will anyone find out about his medication and condition? How will he get along with his roommate? How will he handle any stress? Will he make friends with anyone? Will he call?

Wondering can easily lead to worrying. So I stopped wondering and focused on the fact that Chris planned on coming home every weekend.

Anyone can make it five days apart from a loved one. He’ll be fine. God is with him.

 ♦♦♦♦♦♦

As Jacob journeyed to a new land, the Lord promised him in a dream, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go (Genesis 28:15).”

God reassured Moses of His presence by saying, ““My Presence will go with you, and I will give you rest (Exodus 33:14).”

In Moses old age, he transferred his leadership to Joshua. His dying message echoed God’s reassurance: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you (Deuteronomy 31:6).”

After Moses died, the Lord Himself reminded Joshua of His abiding presence saying, “As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you (Joshua 1:5).”

God enabled me to rest in the knowledge of His presence in Chris’s life. When you think of it, we all need to trust in God’s presence in our child’s life. Even the youngest child won’t be in our presence every minute of the day. There’s comfort in knowing God’s presence remains when we’re absent from our child.

 

School Pressures

wisdom

What’s worse: the terrible twos or the temperamental teens? Many parents would contend that it’s tougher to raise teenagers. That stage of development can leave a parent wondering what happened to their peaceful home. Like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, parents of teens can feel like the tornado of life has whacked them on the head. Leaving them muttering, “There’s no place like our old home.”  Homework and hormones and cars, oh my…Homework and hormones and cars, oh my. Yikes!

Raising a teen with mental illness (MI) can be even more challenging. How does one interpret a grunt? Is it the normal teen code for yes? Or is it the sound of an emotionally turbulent teen expressing garbled depression?

MI complicates everything in the life of a teen. How does one counsel a troubled child about peer pressure issues? When should the teen be allowed to drive?

In this part of our story, life seemed to be getting back to normal. The new medication had stabilized Chris. I was grateful Chris didn’t have to endure another psychotic episode. Though relieved, I still felt ill-equipped to discern how Chris was thinking or feeling. The Lord provided wisdom along the way.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

During Easter vacation Chris seemed happy and relaxed. He was more talkative, much like the old Chris.

“My stress level is only a two,” Chris informed me without prompting. On a scale of 1-10, ten was the most stressed. So a two indicated a normal level of stress. Good news.

Rob and Chris rehearsed a skit to show the family on Easter. They memorized the “Who’s On First?” skit by Abbott and Costello. I loved hearing them so happy and carefree. Their play practice assured me Chris’s new medication was working.

All too soon Easter vacation ended. The night before we all had to return to school I became concerned. Chris was wandering around the house aimlessly. I was trying to get myself back into the swing of things. I focused on my regular school night routine: get lunch money, check dinner plans, review my school schedule…

I went into the dining room to get lunch money for the boys. Chris followed me.

“Here’s your lunch money Chris,” I said and quickly turned to move on.

In the kitchen I checked the upcoming menu I’d planned.

Hum. Beef stroganoff. I’ll need to put the meat in the crock pot in the morning.

I moved the beef cubes from the freezer and placed them in the refrigerator to defrost. I spun around to grab the noodles and seasoning from the cabinet. And knocked into Chris. He had followed me from the dining room.

“Excuse me, Chris.”

I scurried to the living room to check my date planner.

What’s on my schedule for tomorrow morning?

Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted Chris sitting near me. He had followed me from the kitchen.

“Chris, are you bored or are you nervous about getting back to school tomorrow?” I snapped.

Chris glared at me and walked away.

Perfect! I’ve just added to his stress and made it difficult for him to talk to me. I know I should have been more compassionate. But I’m so busy. Father, help me know if Chris is feeling stressed.

Surprisingly, Chris returned.

“I’m having a difficult time just thinking about going back to school,” he reported.

“Let’s watch a movie to keep our minds off it,” I suggested.  “You might even be able to fall asleep watching the movie.”

“Sounds good,” Chris agreed. “Could I sleep in your bedroom?”

“Sure Chris,” I replied.

His question concerned me. Certainly Howie and I would have no objection to him sleeping on our floor. We were happy to do anything to help him relax. But his question made me wonder.

Why does he want to sleep in our room? Is this an indication that he’s feeling stressed? I can’t keep imagining his MI is getting worse. But what if he is becoming emotionally fragile? Dear Father, please give me wisdom to know what to say. Help me know if he’s in trouble.

Chris asked to sleep in our bedroom for three consecutive nights. He also asked me to call his psychiatrist.

“Mom, can you call Dr. Newman? Find out if I can take a tiny bit of my new medication at school when I’m feeling extra stress. Like I did with my old medication.”

It didn’t surprise me Chris was feeling more stress. The Spring Arts Festival was fast approaching. There would be many rehearsals. Chris’s schedule would become busier. Pressure would build.

College added to that pressure. Many high school seniors become apprehensive about going away to college. Chris was no different. But he had made a wise choice to minimize his adjustment to college living. He had selected a small college fairly close to home. The small campus would be conducive to finding rooms and offices easily. The close proximity to our house gave Chris the option to go home on the weekends. That would alleviate any anxiety.

In the spring we visited the college Chris would attend. We planned to travel to the college on a day other than orientation. That way, Howie and I could support Chris privately. We visited the nurse to share helpful and confidential information. After that Chris led the way as we went to the bookstore. He selected his textbooks. Then we headed to the Student Affairs office to inquire about Christian organizations on campus. Getting involved with fellow Christians would provide support for Chris.

Chris walked through campus with a spring in his step, his head held high, and a smile on his face. It was reassuring to see him so happy and confident. Chris was looking forward to living in a dorm. He embraced the challenge of living on his own. He had always been a risk taker. And always super focused on achieving his goals.

Around that time Chris joined the church’s bowling team.

“What can bowling teach us about life?” Chris asked. He had a way of asking philosophic questions. And expected a profound or theological answer. As usual, he asked the question while I was involved in some mundane activity. I was unprepared to ponder a spiritual response.

Oh Father, give me the words to answer Chris. Help me respond with an answer that will help satisfy Chris.

“Paul tells us in the Bible that we should be like athletes and keep our eye on the goal. In life we should always have goals. But we need to keep our focus on the smaller steps that lead to accomplishing the larger goals.”

Chris smiled and nodded in acknowledgment. My answer satisfied him.

Thank You, Lord, for giving me an analogy he can relate to bowling. Whenever Chris uses the marks on the bowling alley to aim, help him remember the message You gave me for him. Fill Chris with the assurance that life won’t seem so overwhelming if he takes it one step at a time. 

In May Chris could see the finish line. Final exams came before graduation. Chris excelled in math. English was harder. Especially since he was taking an Advance Placement English course (a college-level course). The remainder of his grade would be comprised of the last marking period and two exams (the midterm and the final exam). If he failed the last marking period and either of the major exams, it was possible for him to fail English for the year.

“My English teacher assigned a project that will be counted as a final exam,” Chris shared.

As the days clicked down, I prodded Chris with casual reminders to do the project. In spite of my reminders, Chris waited to the last minute to work on the project. The night before it was due, he came to me asking for help.

I reviewed the assignment. Students were to demonstrate what they had learned about English literature for their four textbooks—their four HUGE textbooks.

“Chris, summarize what you’ve learned.”

He couldn’t tell me anything!

Dear Father, calm my anger. I can’t believe Chris waited ‘till now to ask for help. I want to yell at him. Rebuke him for procrastinating. But I know that could push him over the edge. I need Your wisdom. I have no clue where to begin. Help me to know how to guide Chris.

God gave me the idea to use the contents of each book to formulate questions. Those prompts helped him remember what he had learned. Amazingly Chris received a ‘B’ for that project. To God be the glory!

There were only a few days left of school. I could tell Chris was cherishing every day he had with us. Soon he’d be going abroad. Four days after graduation he would leave to go to Germany. He would spend a month with a family as part of an exchange program. Then he’d be home for only several weeks during the summer before leaving for college. We would all need to trust God even more.

I’m only human.

Vic.only.human

What do you think would happen if you fell apart? Would everything around you swirl into chaos? Is your greatest fear that others would find out you’re not Super Mom? If life became too much to manage for you, would you worry about what might happen to your child with mental illness (MI)?

There is comfort in knowing that if we fall apart, let others down, fail our child with MI, God understands. He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. That’s His job. Christ understands the stress of life and our human limitations. He is all-knowing.

The biblical word for all-knowing is omniscient. Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines omniscient as, “having infinite awareness, understanding, and insight.” This next part of our story illustrates how much I needed someone to understand why I fell apart. God, alone, knew it all.

I had reached my limit and couldn’t remain calm any longer. Like a boiling tea pot, I sounded off. Releasing my frustration. You can imagine how guilty I felt. Like a complete failure. After beating myself up, I remembered God understands everything.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

We waited to see if Chris’s new medication would work. Would it prevent another break from reality? Or would it exacerbate his symptoms and necessitate hospitalization?

At times it was hard to tell if the new medication was really working. Sometimes Chris wouldn’t answer me. I’d consider the possible reasons.

Is he refusing to answer because he’s a typical obnoxious teenager? Is he simply tired? Or is this because the medication is making his symptoms worse? Is he heading to another psychotic episode? Should I call Dr. Newman?

One night after dinner I asked him a direct question. “Chris, are you having trouble thinking?”

He only replied with a silent message. He frowned and shook his head no.

“Chris, are you having trouble thinking?” I repeated. “Answer me. Are you feeling okay?”

“I feel fine.”

“Chris, are you having trouble thinking?”

“If you don’t want to talk, you should at least say, ‘I don’t feel like talking right now.’”

He just glared at me.

Is this some sort of game? I can’t take it anymore.

Finally I gave into the temptation to show my frustration and anger.

“If you’re feeling fine and can think, then you should answer! Since you’re not talking to me I’m going to leave you. I won’t want to talk to you later. If you do this to other people, you’ll push them away from you.”

I walked out of the room and headed to my bedroom. There I flopped onto my bed. Feeling frustrated and upset with myself.

What’s wrong with me? Now I’ve done it. I’ve probably just pushed Chris deeper into depression. How could I lash out at him when he’s hurting? What kind of a mother am I?

I turned to the only One who understood it all.

Dear Father, forgive me for how I acted. You know how hard it’s been for me to remain calm. It’s only because of Your peace that I’ve been able to comfort Chris when my own heart is breaking. I’m thankful You understand all my emotions: my fears, my sorrow, my insecurities, my anxieties, my hopes … You see all I’ve done to help Chris while taking care of all my other responsibilities. As a wife, as a mother to Robert, as an administrator. You know how tired I am and how I’ve relied on Your strength. Help me. This is such a critical time. Dr. Newman needs us to give him accurate information. To figure out if his medication is working. Now’s not the time for me to give up or make things worse. You know if the meds are working. Give me discernment and Your wisdom. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Chris came into my room and sat down.

“Can we talk?”

I felt like saying, “Forget it! It’s too late now!”

Maybe he really is upset. He’s reaching out. Thank You, Father that Chris is willing to talk.

“What do you want to talk about?” I asked.

“It’s a lot of responsibility to be a squad leader. I’m supposed to call all my squad members and remind them to go to an after school practice tomorrow.”

“Were you able to remind all of them?”

“Yea…I did,” he answered with a concerned tone.

“You seemed worried. What’s the problem?”

He shrugged.

Knowing how demanding his band director was, I assumed Chris was worried of failing him in some way.

“If you’re worried they won’t show up, that’s not your problem. You’ve fulfilled your responsibilities. If a member doesn’t show up and your director tries to hold you responsible, remember that it’s not your fault.”

I’d recently read Steven Covey’s book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.  I had read his very thought-provoking statement, “The problems, challenges, and opportunities we face fall into two areas–Circle of Concern and Circle of Influence.” That gave me an idea of how I could comfort Chris.

“I just read a book by Steven Covey. He wrote about two different kinds of responses to problems. Some people focus on things out of their control. That leads to fear, worry, sadness, and helplessness. Others focus on the things they can control. Those people approach life with courage and optimism. It’s a good message for you. Keep your focus on the thing you can control. You can control your actions. You can’t control what others do or don’t do. What makes you a good leader doesn’t depend on if your members show up to practice. You’re a good leader because you did what you was expected of you.”

That conversation provided an opportunity for me to remind Chris of God’s sovereignty. So I shared my biblical view of Covey’s approach to life.

“Covey’s message left out one big circle. The circle of those things in God’s control. Christians have three circles in their lives: the circle of concern—things out of their control, the circle of influence—things that can be controlled, and God’s circle. I try to remember all things in my life are inside God’s circle—even everything in my circle of concern. That gives me hope and helps me rest in His perfect peace.”

♦♦♦♦♦♦

What a comfort: God controls all and knows everything…even when we act, well, human. He loves us unconditionally and holds it all together.

Stability

God.stronghold

Why would thousands of commuters approve of the decision to shut down a bridge on a major highway? Is it because they look forward to adding more time to their already long drive into work? Could it be they eagerly anticipate the adventure of finding new routes amidst already clogged roads? Hardly! It’s because they understand the bridge is unstable. They fear what might happen. The tilting bridge could collapse.

That’s a picture of life in the home a child with mental illness (MI). Life with MI can be as flimsy as a house of cards. Normalcy and peace in the home can be as fragile egg shells. There’s instability and no one knows what might happen next. The uncertainty instills fear. Violence may or may not occur. But change is inevitable. That’s a troubling reality, a sad fact.  It’s hard for moms to accept their child won’t be the same. Can others understand?

Getting a new house, a new spouse, or a new job can be both fearful and wonderful. Wonderful because of the exciting adventure ahead. Fearful because of the changes that will occur. Change is unsettling to most people.

How can we cope? What can we do when we sense a new trial looming on the horizon?

This next part of our story provides one answer. I turned to my unchangeable Savior. Christ offered stability in the face of oncoming instability

♦♦♦♦♦♦

In March Chris behavior became alarming. He acted strangely, but different than the first time he suffered a psychotic episode. The first incident happened when he made an odd comment.

“I found the verse in the Bible about what should happen to a child who hits his parents,” he told me.

The verse in Exodus 21:15 came to my mind. ““Anyone who attacks their father or mother is to be put to death.”

“What did you think when you read that verse, Chris?”

“I think I got off easy,” he replied.

Chris still didn’t understand that his behavior was a result of his MI. Prior to his first psychotic episode he’d never been violent to us or anyone else. Quite the contrary. He was a loving and appreciative son. Often he’d thank me for making dinner.

That conversation signaled turmoil simmering inside Chris, tormenting him once again. I braced myself for another incident. Whatever that would be.

Early one week he didn’t communicate with us. He didn’t respond to our questions or share in our conversations.  He stopped smiling.  Within that week his behavior deteriorated quickly. New red flags popped up.

When I insisted he respond to us, he became belligerent.

“Don’t you ever shut up?” he’d ask.

Each day seemed worse. It took him longer and longer to respond.

“What did you say?” he sometimes asked.

I sensed he was having trouble thinking. It seemed hard for him to process information. Thankfully my teaching experiences helped me know how to respond. Some of my former students had significant processing delays in their thinking. They simply needed to hear a question repeated. So I’d repeat my questions to Chris slowly, using a minimum of words. Still he struggled to understand.

Everyone noticed Chris’s difficulty thinking. His brother, Robert, pointed it out. Chris’s teachers called to share their observations. The band director reported similar behaviors.

It progressed to the point that Chris wouldn’t even answer at all. No matter how many times we’d ask him something. No matter how slowly I’d post the question. Chris even started putting his fingers in his ears when I spoke to him.

“That’s typical teenage behavior,” some of my friends told me. Trying to comfort me.

I knew it was worse than typical teenage behavior. God gives mothers intuition and insight into their kids. Especially the most vulnerable ones.

Dear Father, I sense Chris is heading to another psychotic episode. Chris seems to be unraveling again. He’s become unstable again. Ease my anxiety.  I don’t know what we’ll be facing this time. Help me focus on Your stability in the midst of instability. Thank You that You never change. I know You’ll be faithful, just as you were last year. Once again I need Your peace, protection, and guidance.

The psychiatrist told us Chris was heading for different kind of psychotic episode. His first one caused his thoughts to race. This time his mind was slowing down.

By Thursday of that week Chris sat motionless with his head down. I knew I needed to take him to the psychiatrist.

“Chris you need to stay home tomorrow. I’ll take you to see Dr. Newman,” I informed him.

Chris silently refused. He just glared at me.

Reluctantly I allowed him to go to school. Friday was the day Chris’s physics teacher had breakfast with his students at a local diner. Our whole family frequently joined them. After breakfast Howie would take the boys to school on his way to the train station. I would drive my car to work. That morning the waitress was much slower than usual. In spite of that, the boys wanted to stay and finish breakfast.

“I’m not going to have time to take the boys to school. Can you drive them?” Howie asked me.

“I’ll drive you. Chris can take my car to drive himself and Robert to school,” I answered quickly. The time pressure caused me to make a poor decision. Chris was in no condition to drive.

When I got to work I did the final preparations for the Math and Bible Olympics. They were scheduled to be held that afternoon. I put in a call to the psychiatrist. Hoping he could prescribe a minor adjustment to Chris’s medication.

“Chris isn’t talking at all. He sits motionless with his head down. He even glared at me last night,” I reported

“I’m deeply concerned. I need to see him first thing tomorrow morning,” he said with urgency in his voice.

His tone scared me. Chris has the car. What if he completely loses it while driving home from school? I have to get to him as soon as possible.

The elementary school principal could fill in for me. She had helped with all the plans for the Olympics. The only problem was that she was pregnant. Due any minute.

“I need to meet Chris at his school before he leaves. I can get the Olympics started. Will you be able to run them?” I asked her.

“Sure. As long as I don’t go into labor!” she agreed.

Dear Father, please be the stability in this day. Keep her from going into labor. Prevent Chris from driving before I get to him.

I left work at 2:00 PM and flew to Chris’s school. I arrived there just before he left. And followed him home.

That night was Gym Night at the high school. All the students were divided into two teams (by last names, according to the alphabet). Chris had signed up for two events. One of them was Simon Says (much like the band march off). With him being son unstable, I was afraid of what he might do. I feared that if he got eliminated and the opposing team cheered, he would run to attack someone.

I watched him pacing before his events. Thankfully, he behaved normally during those events. As I watched him compete, his focus amazed me. It seemed impossible for him to hold it together under all the pressure of a gym filled with noisy spectators. Gym Night lasted several hours. All that time I studied Chris. Sitting poised and ready to leap off the bleachers if he acted peculiarly or violently.

Dear Father, please help Chris behave normally. My emotions are churned up. Please be the stability of my heart tonight.

Thankfully, the evening ended without incident. The next morning Howie and I drove Chris to see Dr. Newman. After one hour of observing and Chris and talking with us, Dr. Newman determined that Chris’s psychotropic medication was no longer working.

“We need to wean him off that medication and phase in another type of psychotropic medication,” he told us.  “This will be another very critical time. I can’t predict what will happen,” he warned. He then instructed us to, “Take Chris to see his psychologist today. Also get the paperwork started at the hospital in case Chris has to be admitted again. Call me if anything changes.”

I didn’t know what the future held for Chris. But it was enough that I knew Who held his future. God had been our stability during this instability. He’d continue to carry us through whatever was in store.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

Yes, life with MI can feel as flimsy as a house of cards. But God is our Rock and Stronghold.

“I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies (Psalm 18:1-3).”

Not Alone

Not.alone

Whoa! I didn’t see THAT coming!!!

Our lives had become less stressful and more uneventful. Chris seemed more stable. Life felt somewhat normal. The turbulence of Chris’s mental illness (MI) had disappeared. Or so I thought. It simply took up residence inside me! I never expected inner turmoil to hit me. Not when things seemed to be resolved. Chris had appeared to have recovered from his psychotic episode. God had helped me hold it together during the time Chris needed me. It made no sense that I’d start losing it for no apparent reason.

This part of our story illustrates how God met my personal needs. When loneliness and torment hit, God provided: freedom from my anguish, strengthening of my heart, restoration of my soul, protection of my sanity, assurances of His presence, and healing as a result of His comfort.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

MI had shaken our lives. But our household seemed to be recovering. We were picking up the pieces of our lives and moving on. Just like the calmness that follows an earthquake. But just like with an earthquake, I experienced aftershocks.

Merriam-Webster’s online dictionary defines ‘aftershocks’ as, “an aftereffect of a distressing or traumatic event.”

My mind, body, and emotions were reacting to the traumatic events surrounding Chris’s hospitalization. Painful reactions hit unexpectedly. Without obvious provocation.

December 1997 was a tough month for me. The holiday season brought many reminders of the previous year. Buying gifts, baking cookies, addressing cards, and … band rehearsals.

Something would trigger a memory and I’d experience a flashback. Before then, I didn’t know much about flashbacks. I had mistakenly thought flashbacks only happened to soldiers who had witnessed horrific things in battle. Suddenly they became very real. Too real. My mind and emotions would instantly be rocketed back to the Christmas season of 1996.

Like the time I attended a faculty meeting. Teachers were meeting with the music teacher to discuss details of the upcoming elementary Christmas program.

“First graders will be singing ‘Joy to the World’,” she explained.

She began playing the carol. Memories of Chris playing that song sabotaged my thoughts and emotions. All I could hear was his trumpet playing the tune in a distorted way. His voice, almost audible, echoed in my mind saying, “When I sound the trumpet by playing the song the right way, the world will end.”

The flashback unleased suppressed emotions. My heart began pounding. The dam, holding back months of tears, started to leak. Before it erupted, I quietly excused myself and headed for the nearest bathroom.

Obviously the year before I hadn’t processed what I’d seen. Hadn’t dealt with my emotions. No wonder. I had been consumed with helping Chris return to reality.

Flashbacks caught me by surprise. Causing my emotions to spill out. I found myself falling apart at unexpected times and inopportune places.  The more my mind periodically replayed awful scenes, the deeper my depression grew.

The enemy taunted me with fears that I might lose my own mind. But I trusted in the promise that, “The peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:7).”

Dear Father, Your Word says, “You will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you (Isaiah 26:3).” Oh how I need Your perfect peace! Help me through my grief and flashbacks.

I rested in my firm belief that, “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind [Timothy 1:7 (NKJV)].”

A sound mind. That was my goal. God was the Glue that held me together. My divine Sanity Preserver prevented me from tumbling into a deep pit of inconsolable despair.

I felt exhausted all the time. So I ate foods with carbohydrates, hoping they’d give me the energy needed to face each day.

During this time of flashbacks and depression, sound sleep eluded me. I needed rest. Like God’s people who wandered forty years in the wilderness. God knew they were tired and fearful. So He gave Joshua the perfect words of encouragement for them. Joshua relayed the message and said, “Remember the command that Moses the servant of the Lord gave you after he said, ‘The Lord your God will give you rest by giving you this land.’”

When I read Joshua 1:13 it felt like God was speaking to me.

Thank You, Father, for Your promise to give me rest.

The familiar twenty-third Psalm offered new hope for me. It guaranteed my soul would be restored. And promised me His presence and comfort.

“He restores my soul;He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me [Psalm 23:3-4 (NKJV)].”

Each flashback threatened to break my heart once again.

“God, help me!” is all I could utter. Offering up the prayer of a drowning person. God threw me His Life Saver in the shape of Psalm 31:23-24.

“Oh, love the Lord, all you His saints! For the Lord preserves the faithful … Be of good courage, And He shall strengthen your heart, All you who hope in the Lord  (NKJV).”

Yes, Lord, my hope is in You. Thank You for hearing my cry. I praise You for strengthening my broken heart.

My carbohydrate diet led to weight gain. I gained lots of weight. That motivated me to go to Dr. Kent (the physician who first treated Chris when he became out of touch from reality).

“What can I do to deal with my fatigue?” I asked.

Knowing what I’d been going through with Chris he asked, “Is it possible you’re depressed?”

“I guess it’s possible,” I replied.

“I’ll write you a prescription for Prozac. That should help remove the cloud and help you sleep better.”

Reluctantly, I took the medication. If I’d learned nothing else, I’d learned to take MI seriously. Even my own depression.

Once the holiday season ended, I began feeling much better. As Dr. Kent predicted, the medication lifted the cloud and helped me sleep better. So I stopped taking the Prozac. There were a few more months before the next critical period. During those winter months, things remained uneventful with Chris.

Work got busier for me. In addition to my usual responsibilities as Director of Instruction and Director of Special Education, I was planning a Math and Bible Olympics for the school. Applications for new students began pouring in. With not enough time to do everything at work, I read the applications at home. I was back to spending time working at home. But this time I was careful to spend a more reasonable amount of time. Mindful of my need to stay focused on Chris’s well-being.

During that winter the Lord led several parents my way who had children with some sort of MI. Many of the mothers expressed trouble dealing with their situation. I wasn’t alone in my struggles.

One of our neighbors told me her daughter had symptoms of a head injury.

“Kelly has suffered a head injury. We don’t know what caused it. And we don’t know what the future holds for her. Life has become so uncertain.”

“I have some idea what you’re experiencing. Chris suffered a psychotic episode a year ago. His MI turned our lives upside down,” I confided.

My news helped the mother feel safe to admit the truth.

“Actually, the doctors told us Kelly’s symptoms are psychosomatic. They didn’t find any evidence that she suffered a head injury.”

“A psychiatrist would know what’s best for Kelly. Let me know if you want the name of a good psychiatrist.”

“I’m not convinced she didn’t have a head injury. Please don’t tell anyone what I’ve told you,” was her only reply.

Apparently the mother couldn’t deal with the thought of her daughter having MI. It seemed easier for her to continue believing the cause of the symptoms was related to a head injury.

Another mother told me she had to take medication to treat panic attacks.

“My son’s MI has caused me to get panic attacks,” she confided.

Several parents asked me for advice. Many wanted to know how to get their children with MI to agree to speak to a psychologist. One father of a teenage son with MI asked a slightly different question.

“My son isn’t happy with the psychiatrist he’s going to. His MI prevents him from going to school. If he discontinues treatment, he’ll never get back to school. What should I do?”

“Find another psychiatrist,” I answered.

He answered in an exhausted tone, “Yeah, I know that might help. I just can’t seem to find the time or the energy to even begin looking for another doctor.”

I completely understood.

Another husband and wife were contemplating putting their seriously depressed son in foster care. A mutual friend shared the news with me and added this judgmental statement:

“Can you believe they would even consider abandoning their own son?”

“Unless you’ve experienced what they’re going through, you can’t begin to understand what it’s like. You can’t possibly imagine what it’s like to have a child who is suffering from an illness you can’t see or measure. You can’t know the pain of having a child who rejects your love or attempts to nurture and comfort. And there’s no break to the misery. Because of the nature of MI, parents can’t get out together. They go months without any respite time for themselves.”

It helped to discover I wasn’t alone. Knowing others who were experiencing MI comforted me some. Not nearly as much as the realization that God was with me at all times. His constant presence comforted me. I found true rest and perfect peace in His presence.

His steadfast companionship yielded great strength and courage. I faced each new day with the assurance He’d be with me. When I started to feel emotionally fragile, Deuteronomy 31:6 restored my confidence. Reminding me to, “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the Lord your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you.” And He never left me.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

You may be experiencing flashbacks or struggling to recover from bad experiences with your child’s MI. Ask God for His grace by praying the words of Psalm 25:16-17.

“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.”