Tangible Reminders

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What’s the strangest thing you have in your home? I’ve got a giant work boot, the size of an umbrella stroller, and a mannequin.

Mannequin

Why, you ask? Those items were part of a collection I had when I taught second graders. The mannequin served as a 3D bulletin board. The giant boot was the perfect size for an eight year old to rest and read a book.  They remind me of fun times.

Other items remind me of God’s work in my life. Like the Post-its in my Bible. When our son, Rob, was a senior in high school, he wanted to have devotions with me. The Post-its represent portions of the Bible we read together. I’ll never remove them.

There’s someone in the Bible who put an unusual item in his tent (or some believe he put it in God’s tabernacle). Read what the boy, David did just after he killed the giant.

“David took the head of the Philistine, and brought it to Jerusalem; but he put his armour in his tent” [1 Samuel 17:54 (KJV)].

What an odd thing to do: store the enemy’s armor in his tent! Why would he do such a thing? It served as a reminder of how God enabled him to have victory over a giant.

Has God enabled you to have victory over the mental illness (MI) giant? What can you use as reminders? Why is it important to have tangible reminders?

We try to forget horrible times when our child struggled with MI. So, we tend to forget that God revealed His power, peace, and presence when we needed it most. That’s why we need reminders. Concrete items preserve the memory of His sufficiency. They help us when challenges return (as we know they will with MI). When the enemy attempts to incinerate our faith, those memories extinguish his efforts. Each memory strengthens our fortress of divine assurance, which protects our heart from breaking.

I know God will carry me through, just as He has done in the past.

My tokens of God’s goodness include: entries in my journal and Bible verses God embedded in my heart during difficult times. I also cherish photographs which depict Chris’s restored mental stability and renewed joy.

What items do you have or could you collect?

Standing Together

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I had selfish reasons for asking my friend the question. “Is your daughter still dealing with depression?” Truly, I wanted to know if her daughter’s medication was helping her deal with the demands of life. I had been praying for her. But, I also needed to hear how my friend was dealing with her daughter’s mental illness (MI). If she could hang onto her faith, then I’d find renewed confidence in my own faith. An encouraging word from my friend would remind me that God is able to help us in the midst of a very dark time.

Happily, I found that the new medication was helping. What’s more, my friend expressed unwavering faith. Her strong trust in the Lord bolstered my faith.

If she can keep her eyes on the Lord through this trial, I can do likewise.

Godly friends can show us the way to handle great sorrow. When the enemy tries to saturate our soul with fears, they serve as living examples of how it’s possible to rely on God’s peace.

It reminds me of Paul’s inner struggle when he wanted to see his fellow believers in Thessalonica. Satan had been hindering Paul from going to them.

“For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way” (1 Thessalonians 2:18).

Has your child’s MI made you feel like Satan is blocking your way, keeping you from moving on?

How did Paul respond?

“So when we could stand it no longer, we thought it best to be left by ourselves in Athens. We sent Timothy, who is our brother and co-worker in God’s service in spreading the gospel of Christ, to strengthen and encourage you in your faith, so that no one would be unsettled by these trials. For you know quite well that we are destined for them. In fact, when we were with you, we kept telling you that we would be persecuted. And it turned out that way, as you well know. For this reason, when I could stand it no longer, I sent to find out about your faith. I was afraid that in some way the tempter had tempted you and that our labors might have been in vain” (1 Thessalonians 3:1-5).

He got to the point where he couldn’t bear it any longer.

We can relate to that, can’t we?

What did Paul do? He sent Timothy to go to Thessalonica. He needed to know if his fellow believers had been under similar temptations. He needed to know that their faith remained strong.

Timothy’s encouraging report comforted Paul.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, in all our distress and persecution we were encouraged about you because of your faith. For now we really live, since you are standing firm in the Lord (1 Thessalonians 3:7-8).

We gain strength from each other when we stand firm in the Lord. It’s uplifting to hear that a fellow believer has remained strong in the midst of dark trials.

Those of us who have lived many years supporting a child with MI can encourage others who are new in their journey. We can share how God revealed Himself in the midst of trials. And those starting their journey can be encouraged to persevere.

We can relate stories about how God has been true to His promises. And bolster a fellow mom in her faith walk.

We can tell about God’s faithfulness, and others will gain strength to carry on.

We can endure our own trials when we know others are finding strength in the Lord. Because we share the same living God. Who cares for us, helps us, strengthens us, provides for us, protects our children, and comforts us.

We’re connected in raising children with MI. And we’re connected in our faith. We can carry on by encouraging each other in our unwavering faith.

Remember, Paul needed to reach out to fellow believers. And so do we.

The Wrong Way?

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Is it wrong to keep your child’s mental illness (MI) a secret?

Friends or relatives may offer the common social inquiry: “How’s …?” or “What’s new with …?”

You wonder:

Does she really want to know about my child? If I told her how he’s really doing, would she judge my parenting abilities? Would she blab it to others?

Perhaps you refrain from telling others out of shame, or because of your desire to protect your child.

But, how can we answer? What if we can’t provide a fairy tale answer? Maybe you’d love to boast, “Oh, his soccer team won all of their games this season.”  But, your child’s been barely motivated to take care of his basic hygiene. Perhaps you’d love to brag, “He made the honor roll again.” But, he’s been receiving home-bound instruction.

Surely, it would be wrong to unload all the sordid details. It would be wrong to provide an answer like, “His medication isn’t working. He’s been deep in depression and anxiety for weeks. We can’t find a good psychiatrist. I don’t want to even think of hospitalization. But, it seems inevitable if we can’t get him stabilized. I can’t take any more days off from work without losing my job. I don’t think I’ve slept fully in weeks…”

Yes, that response would be the wrong way to answer a casual question. So, what’s the right way to respond to, “How’s …?” If you’re like me, your go-to response is, “Oh, he’s fine.”

We silence the truth and protect our child. We know others don’t always respond with compassion to MI. Does that fact cause you to sometimes feel like an outcast? Is there a right way to handle feelings of isolation? The Bible gives us some examples of those who were isolated due to a health condition.

Outcasts in the Bible:

Levitical laws of purification identified conditions which priests declared unclean. People having certain conditions like leprosy or extensive bleeding, suffered consequences. A person branded as unclean might be isolated from the presence of God and His people. Surely, such separation led to humiliation and shame.

An Old Testament Example:

“King Uzziah had leprosy until the day he died. He lived in a separate house—leprous, and banned from the temple of the Lord” (2 Chronicles 26:21).

A New Testament Example:

Luke tells us about a woman who, “had been subject to bleeding for twelve years, but no one could heal her” (Luke 8:43).

When Christ came in her area, she pushed through the mob to get to Jesus. We’re told that, “She came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak, and immediately her bleeding stopped” (Luke 8:44).

Jesus made a statement that caused her to tremble. He said, “Someone touched me; I know that power has gone out from me” (Luke 8:46).

“Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at his feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched him and how she had been instantly healed” (Luke 8:47).

What caused the woman to fear? Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible  explains why the woman trembled.

“She came trembling; for fear of the anger and resentment of Christ, and lest the favour would be revoked, and the penalty of the law inflicted.

The word ‘law’ in that commentary’s explanation referred to the Levitical law of purification (Leviticus 15:25). A woman’s excessive bleeding was viewed as a deplorable condition. She was required to remain separated from her husband during her time of bleeding.

Christ’s Response to an Outcast:

So, did Christ react in anger? Here’s what He said to the woman who was courageous enough to touch His garment in public:

“Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace (Luke 8:48)”


That woman knew the right thing to do with her private suffering. She went to Jesus. We’re not like those under the Levitical laws of purity who were banned from His presence. So, the right way to handle our isolation is to go to Jesus. No illness, not even MI, can separate us from His love. During our secret silence and sorrow, Christ sees our faith. He offers us the same peace He extended to the woman.

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

To find more verses that will encourage your heart: click on ‘verses about peace’ (below).

verses about peace

Life Interrupted

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Nothing can bring everything to a halt like a fractured back. Several weeks ago, my mother fell and injured her back and groin. That’s why I didn’t post anything for the last 2 weeks. I drove an hour away and stayed with my aunt so I could be close to my mom’s rehab facility (coming home on the weekends to see my husband).

I would have gone back this week if my body hadn’t let me know I’d pushed it too much. I started to feel dizzy and listless. There’s only so much one can do with MS. The nonstop days with my mom started at 6:00 AM and ended at 11:00 PM. I’m grateful God provided the necessary stamina for me to be with my mom those 2 weeks.

I’ll soon get back to posting messages.

Gone, but Not Gone

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Here’s what I have to say to my illness.

Wretched multiple sclerosis (MS),

You may have whittled down my ability to teach. You may have invaded my brain with countless lesions. Making it difficult for me to meet the demands of full-time teaching. But, I’m still teaching occasionally. You may suck the energy out of my body. But, not my life. I’m NOT gone. Neither are my skills and talents.

Always defiant and victorious, Vicki

Life created by God:

Consider a forsythia bush. It maintains the potential to display beauty regardless of the season. In winter, its branches look dead. But, deep inside its lifeless appearance lays a vibrant life.

I’m like that winter branch. I still have the potential to share God’s love regardless of my symptoms. I’ve found new ways to bless others. Instead of baking cookies, I snap photographs of God’s creation. And use them to design calendars.

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Regardless of the seasons in my life, I remain the person God created me to be. I have the assurance that, “I am fearfully and wonderfully made…” (Psalm 139:14a). MS hasn’t destroyed who I am. My disease may have altered my plans. But, my illness can’t demolish God’s plan for my life.

Similarly, mental illness (MI) may have stripped your children of their desire to do anything. But, it hasn’t robbed them of their God-given talents and skills. Ask God to reveal evidence of those abilities.

God has given me glimpses of my son’s talents and skills. Chris occasionally plays his keyboard. The music I hear doesn’t merely fill me with pride. It fills me with gratitude.

That’s the Chris I know and love.

Recently, Chris was telling me about the operating system (OS) he had created for computers.

“Check out my website, Mom. Visitors will find instructions how to install the free OS.”

When I clicked on his site, I had no clue what it all meant, but was amazed. I was blown away by the clarity of his language. Obviously, MI hadn’t robbed him of his technical ability, or his ability to explain directions in understandable terms.

Life with a purpose:

Has despondency has left your child with little or no motivation to function? Or does your child desperately want to contribute, but isn’t sure how? Does MI seem to present insurmountable obstacles?

Do you look at our child with MI and wonder what will become of him? You’re not alone. Many grapple with the question, “What gives meaning to my child’s life?”

Perhaps, you’re determined that his existence won’t be all about MI. Ask God to arouse in him a desire to use his creativity or skills. Seek God’s wisdom to discern His plan for your child.

Power for living:

We imagine our kids living a life full of challenges. And our hearts are broken. What hope can we gain from the Bible? Did anyone face unending trials? The apostle Paul did. So, when he shares hopeful words, we listen.

First, read what Paul endured:

“Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was pelted with stones, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my fellow Jews, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false believers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked” (2 Corinthians 11:23-27).

It’s no surprise that Paul didn’t think he could endure it any longer. Join me in my “conversation” with Paul.

When you reached your limit, what did you do, Paul?

“Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9).

So, God’s grace helped you?

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me” (1 Corinthians 15:10).

It’s encouraging to hear that God’s power and grace worked through you. I pray my child will experience that same indwelling, divine power and grace.


Grace that’s never gone

So how did Paul endure? God’s grace remained with him.

 Regardless of the challenges our kids have to face, they will always have access to God’s grace.

Like Paul, I can say, “By the grace of God I am what I am.” And by the grace of God, our children will be who they are…who the Creator made them to be.

If you feel beaten down, let Hillsong’s “You Are My Strength” minister to you. The lyrics tell of God’s amazing grace:

“In the fullness of Your grace

In the power of Your name

You lift me up

You lift me up”

Listen to their song over and over until the lyrics block out all the thoughts that attempt to discourage you. The Truth is that God’s grace will lift you up.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iwvGFWKBo4o

Power for the Powerless

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Could the gunman’s mother have prevented the Dallas June 13th attack? Once again, the nation’s attention is on parents of a killer with mental illness (MI).

As you watched the drama unfold, did you scream at the TV and yell, “That man is obviously mentally ill. The mental health system is broken! Who is there to help when an adult with MI goes off his meds?” We couldn’t help but fear for the lives of law officers. And pray that innocent citizens would be safe.

After it all ended, the investigation began. All-too-familiar questions were raised. Where there warning signs? How could a man with a troubled mind and past gain access to an arsenal of weapons and an armored vehicle?

Did you sympathize with the mother? How much did she know? What had she already endured? Stories soon came out with reports.

Yahoo’s online article “Dallas suspect had talked of ‘shooting up schools and churches’” (by Jason Sickles), shared a quoted made by the gunman’s mother. Sickles reported that, “Boulware’s mother told a detective that her son ‘talks to himself quite frequently and appears delusional, but also said that he is not taking any medications.’”

Her son had gone off his medications. She verified what we suspected. Those of us raising kids with mental illness (MI) can only wonder how Boulware’s mother felt. After the recent incident, Jeannine Hammond, Boulware’s mother, provided some insight.

She released a statement which was quoted in The Daily Mail’s article “Crazed Dallas gunman went on nine-hour rampage after losing custody of his son to his own mother as judge who oversaw case says ‘I knew this would happen’” (by Kelly Mclaughlin, Kieran Corcoran, and Thomas Burrows). The article stated, “Hammond wrote in a statement released by an attorney … She said that he talked to himself ‘quite frequently and appears delusional …We apologize to the police for his behavior … We loved him and will remember him as the man he was before all of this took place. We are so grateful that no other families are having to bury anyone because of his actions.’”

Surely, Jeannine Hammond is grieving the loss of her son. Her statement reveals that she knew her son had MI. It also tells us that she didn’t stop loving him and never forgot what he was like before MI ravaged his life and the lives of others.

Feeling Powerless?

We can just imagine how powerless she felt to prevent such an attack. But, she wasn’t alone. Apparently, even a judge was powerless to prevent the attack.  The Daily Mail’s article reported about a judge who encountered Boulware in her courtroom for a custody hearing. The reporters shared that Judge Kim Cooks stated “Boulware threatened her multiple times after the custody trial and said she was ‘in shock’ after hearing about what happened at the police headquarters.” They went onto quote Cooks as saying, “‘’I knew he was going to do something, but I always thought his target would have been me.’”

If that judge couldn’t stop that man who threatened her life, who could?

It’s worth emphasizing that most individuals with serious MI don’t become killers. But, moms raising kids with MI can surely identify with a mother who feels powerless to help her child. A daughter has an eating disorder and a mom tries to get her to eat. A son is severely depressed and the mom tries to get him to talk, smile, or do anything. A son explodes verbally or physically and a mom is no match for his unprovoked anger. An adult prodigal with MI calls home periodically. His mom tries to convince him to take care of himself (to take his meds and not attempt suicide). To no avail.

Helpless and powerless find power. Our Source of Power:

Is there power for the powerless? Yes. There is One who can work in the hearts and minds of our children. Our almighty Father created the entire earth into existence simply by His word. Surely, God has the power to protect and guide His creation—our kids and us.

Just think about His incredible power. He said, “Let there be…” Instantly, He spoke beauty on the earth in all kinds of species, rock formations, and constellations. Held together by Him in perfect order and in breathtaking colors.

Stopping to reflect on such amazing power helps shrink the size of our problems. Suddenly, they seem smaller in light of His awesome strength.

His power is unmatched and personal. We need to remind ourselves that we have access to that power.

Sun and Son:

Solar panels rely on the sun for power. They serve as reminders to us. We can rely on God’s Son for power. His power gives us strength to endure each day.

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“I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 1:18-20).

On days when MI seems like an unconquerable foe, repeat that passage over and over again. Then, ask God to make that power real in your life.

Dear Father,

Thank You for assuring me that Your incomparably great power is for me. If Your power can conquer death, I will trust it to do a mighty work in my child’s mind, heart, and life. Increase my faith and help me see evidence of Your power today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Power: It’s blowing in the wind.

Wind turbines use wind to make electricity. They remind us that it’s God who causes the wind to blow, giving power to the turbines. Our almighty God, who controls the strongest tornados, has power carry us through.

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“The Spirit of God has made me; the breath of the Almighty gives me life” (Job 33:4).

Dear Father,

Breathe new life into me today. As Your Son used His power to calm the wind and waves, calm my heart. In Your Son’s precious name of Jesus, Amen.

“You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people.

Praise be to God! (Psalm 68:35).

Preparing for the Unexpected

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Certain signs can’t be trusted. Like signs that say, “Construction ahead.” After sitting in a sixty-minute backup, we finally arrive at the construction site.

No workers? Really?!!!!

No wonder we’re tempted to ignore the warning signs along the highway.

My husband and I recently traveled over 400 miles to visit our son and his family. Along the way, we actually saw numerous work crews repairing sections of the turnpike. We realized the sign “Construction vehicle—keep alert for sudden stops and turns” had accurately predicted that traffic would be halted.

“Keep alert for sudden stops and turns” got me thinking. Would a warning sign have helped prepare me for my son’s mental illness (MI)? What would I have done if a sign warned, “Suffering and sorrow ahead”? Probably nothing. I was powerless to shield Chris from the wretched illness.

Some dangers can be avoided. Like fallout from a bomb explosion. When I was growing up, my parents built a bomb shelter in our yard. (You read that right…a bomb shelter! Not a built in pool, but a bomb shelter.) We were prepared for any incoming bombs.

Sadly, there are no MI shelters. We can’t run for cover to escape the onslaught of our child’s MI.

Yet, that sign “Keep alert for sudden stops and turns” holds wise advice. Periods of manageable symptoms can be suddenly interrupted. Without warning, new burdens blindside us. A familiar trial torments our child. Fragile emotions re-emerge. Routine details of life come to a screeching halt.

Keep alert for sudden stops and turns. What does that mean? Should I remain in a vigilant state? Would that be good or even helpful? Could I possibly prepare for the unexpected?

Preparing for any trial:

My mother couldn’t prepare for my father’s impending death. Back in 1992, my dad fought lung cancer. Doctors performed surgery and treated him with chemotherapy and radiation. It became evident after two years that nothing would cure him. As his end drew near, my mother asked me, “Is this really happening?”

Clearly, there were warning signs that my father might lose his battle. Yet, nothing had prepared my mom’s heart for her loss.

Can anything prepare our heart for the struggles and losses our children will face?

When our son, Chris had his first break from reality, I had to be on alert—literally. One minute he’d be explosive and pound walls. The next, he’d be curled up in a ball, weeping. I learned to expect anything. Like what he did after we arrived home from the store one day. I parked the car and Chris took off running. Prompting me to drive around the neighborhood looking for him. Only to return home to hear a phone message from a neighbor saying Chris had gone to their house.

Being alert meant staying half-awake most nights. Chris’ psychosis prevented him from sleeping soundly. He’d pace the floor, while rambling on about things that made no sense. Mumbling bazaar comments. I’d strain my ears to hear sounds that might let me know of any danger.

Nowadays, Chris is doing fairly well. But those words on the sign still echo in my mind:

Keep alert for sudden stops and turns.

Does the Bible help us know how to keep alert – to prepare for the unexpected?

Peter instructs us to, “Keep a cool head. Stay alert. The Devil is poised to pounce, and would like nothing better than to catch you napping. Keep your guard up. You’re not the only ones plunged into these hard times. It’s the same with Christians all over the world. So keep a firm grip on the faith. The suffering won’t last forever. It won’t be long before this generous God who has great plans for us in Christ—eternal and glorious plans they are!—will have you put together and on your feet for good. He gets the last word; yes, he does” [1 Peter 5:8-11 (MSG)].

Thanks, Peter, for those reminders. We’re not alone; others are experiencing hard times like these. Suffering won’t last forever. We need to keep the faith.

How do we “keep our guard up”? By praying unceasingly and specifically for our child and our family. And by staying in His Word.

Belts:

Seatbelts protect us from injury in cars. God’s belt of Truth helps us stand firm in our faith.

“Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand. Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist” (Ephesians 6:13-14a).

Reality and truth:

Some of our children cling to a thread of reality in their minds. Often even we struggle with the reality of our lives. Life tends to seem surreal.

Some truths can be shattered. I used to believe that my husband and I could teach our kids how to handle stress. But, then came along MI. My fragile truth collapsed. I used to think that I could protect my children. But, then MI struck. My truth of motherly protection evaporated.

Happily, I find unshakable Truths in the Bible. That’s something to hang onto. I can depend on His promises. God’s character is never-changing. So, I rely on God’s belt of truth. So can you. Buckle up! (one size fits all!)