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.

Proof Individuals with MI Can Contribute

HappySadmask

It’s easy to laugh with the comedian, but hard to understand the man: Robin Williams. He was gregarious on the outside, yet tortured on the inside. Why was it such a shock when he committed suicide? He openly revealed his mental illness (MI). The news stunned us because he hid it so well.

The Bible tells us about such concealed torment.

“Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, and the end of mirth may be grief [Proverbs 14:13 (NKJV)]”

The Message translates that verse this way:

“Sure, those people appear to be having a good time, but all that laughter will end in heartbreak.”

Robin Williams’ emotions were like a termite-infested house covered with fresh paint. His delightful demeanor hid destructive pain. People refer to the battle he fought. They say be wrestled with demons. In actuality he struggled with a disease: severe depression. In his mind lived both unbridled humor and inconsolable depression.

Fellow actors speak of his empathy and big heart. Imagine the effort it took for him to give so much in spite of his emotional pain. With his life snuffed out, one bright lesson remains: people with MI can contribute. That should be of some encouragement to those of us raising kids with MI.

But there’s another lesson for all to learn. Something else contributed to his death. What pushed such a seemingly successful man to end his life? He had recently spent time in rehab. But that apparently couldn’t cure him of his depression. Could it be that shame and stigma compounded his inner turmoil?

As mothers who know that shame. Let’s commit to praying for an end to the stigma that surrounds MI.

Dear heavenly Father,

Move in the hearts of people. Build a culture of compassion for those with MI. Restore joy and clarity of thought in the minds of those who suffer with MI. Especially our children.

In Christ’s name, Amen

 

In Need of a Husband’s Support

Howie and Chris

Howie and Chris

Chivalry came from the most unlikely gentleman.

“Here, let me get that for you,” he offered. The blind teenager had enough vision to notice his teacher struggling to open the door. In one hand I held a heavy metal braille typewriter. The other held my bag of supplies and student files.

My student saw a problem and solved it. Like most males.

Men are wired to repair broken things. The reality is that some things can’t be fixed easily. Like a child’s mental illness (MI). Many fathers try to remedy the problem by explaining it away. Denying the diagnosis can only last so long.

How does that fit with a wife who has moved on in her grief to anger, bargaining, or depression? She needs emotional support from her spouse. When her mate is unable to provide what she needs, anger grows and bitterness can set in. Does that sound like your situation?

How can a husband care for his distraught wife if he’s not yet able to face the illness? If my blind student’s vision had been worse, he would have been unable to see my problem. He wouldn’t have come to my rescue.

What can a grief-stricken mother do when her husband can’t provide what she needs? Allow me to share what I’ve done. I don’t presume to have all the answers. I’m not a psychologist. Just a fellow mom who’s been through what you may be experiencing.

  1. Pray for God’s perspective of your husband. Imagine his need to fix the unfixable. That could only lead to helpless feelings. Think about his desire to protect his family members. Then contemplate what it would be like for him to realize he can’t protect your child from MI. Men love their tools. But no tool can reach inside your child to restore clarity of thought and joy. No gizmo can guard against turbulent emotions.
  1. Pray for your husband’s emotional healing. Look beyond your husband’s avoidance of the whole situation and see a grieving father. Any loving dad will surely feel sorrow. He won’t express it like a woman. But it’ll weigh like a concrete brick in the pit of his stomach. Perhaps your husband harbors guilt feelings. Ask God to move mightily in his heart and mind. So your husband can find forgiveness and peace from a loving Father.
  1. Ask God to provide what you need while your husband is grieving at his own pace. Through scripture He’ll speak words of healing you long to hear. Ask your Father to send a godly woman to support you. To cry with you, pray with you, and listen without judgment.

Let me encourage you. God hears your prayers. He heard mine. Howie has become attentive to my emotional needs regarding Chris. And he is gentle in his interactions with our son. God’s perfect peace has settled Howie’s heart. Yes, he’s sad. But Howie’s calm assurance comes from eyes lifted heavenward. He’s learned to let God carry the burden.

I told Howie this post would pertain to husbands raising kids with MI and asked him for any message he’d like to share. Here are his words of experience:

“It makes it easier when you realize there’s nothing you can do. It helped me when I realized it’s out of my hands. You still show love but you know you can’t fix it. That takes a long time to get to. Years.”

Howie hasn’t given up on Chris. He’s just given Chris over to God. Not given up…given over. When he seeks help for Chris, he doesn’t run to our tool shed; he goes to our prayer closet.

The centurion in Matthew faced an impossible situation with his suffering servant.  As a man, he understood authority. So he pleaded with Jesus to heal the servant.

“‘Lord,’ he said, ‘my servant lies at home paralyzed, suffering terribly.’

“Jesus said to him, ‘Shall I come and heal him?’

“The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.’”

“When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, ‘Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith (Matthew 8:6-10).’”

What got Christ’s attention was his faith. Ask the Lord to increase your husband’s faith. To help him understand the power of the greatest Contractor of all. The Repairer of lives is accessible. Just a prayer away. When pipes are leaking a man gets a plumber. When wiring is frayed he hires an electrician. When his child is ill God can provide healing and comfort. Free of charge!

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 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 resistance) “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 Chris’s five years away at college God provided in ways I could never have expected. He provided immeasurably more than I could have imagined.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

“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?

  ♦♦♦♦♦♦

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.

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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.